Penfolds II Cabernet Shiraz Merlot 2019
Bordeaux meets the Barossa Valley. The concept here is principally to showcase the great Australian red blend – cabernet shiraz – to the world. The addition of merlot (percentage unknown) into the mix is something of an aside to the star duo, contributing some aromatics and plushness to the palate. The French component was made at two Dourthe-owned wineries in Bordeaux, then blended with Penfolds shiraz and bottled at its Nuriootpa winery in the Barossa. The Bordeaux harvest was punctuated by the odd heatwave and drought conditions. Similarly, the Barossa experienced a hot summer. This has produced a generous flavour base for the wine filled with a rich selection of chocolate notes, black berries, stewed plums, violet, anise, clove, cinnamon. And earth, that touch of Bordeaux cabernet, which plays with the pencil shavings-smoky oak, and teams with plush fruit and some focused tannins to deliver a wine that is good drinking now but with the ability to age.
Bottle Price: $500.00
FWT 585 Cabernet Merlot Petit Verdot 2019
This wine is heralded as the beginning of a “new chapter” for Penfolds in France. It is 100% sourced from vineyards across the Haut-Médoc and carries the FWT (French Winemaking Trial) moniker, a sibling of the RWT (Red Winemaking Trial) series from Penfolds. Immediately, FWT 585 has a presence. Boasts a Penfolds feel to it, both in the precision oak – a mix of French and American barriques, new and seasoned – and the seamless blending of a number of parcels of fruit. Bright blueberry fruit, blackberry and a host of dried herbs, tilled earth and leaves launch the bouquet. On the palate they are set into a firm, fine tannin framework, mixing with complex flavours, some of them oak-derived, of bitter chocolate, black licorice and a light nutty savouriness. This is one wine that changed and evolved in the glass, stamping its presence and interest. A wine of poise and elegance. The Penfolds FWT series is off and running with a top-notch quality red. Can’t wait for the next instalment.
Bottle Price: $120.00
Bin 149 Cabernet Sauvignon 2019
A blend of Napa Valley and South Australian fruit, the exact details of sourcing remain a little vague. Penfolds senior winemaker, Steph Dutton, is on the ground in California and oversaw a lot of the wine’s sourcing, production and style. The latter is important to the Penfolds brand. It’s based on the art of blending and, unusually, the wine is blended and then aged, not the other way around. That is a bold and confident approach few companies enter into. A confident elegance resides here. Unusually for most Penfolds cabernets, there is also a marked meaty savouriness, charcuterie and smoked meats. It works in tandem with an oak presence that also lends dark spices. Forest berries, blue fruits, undergrowth, anise join with super fine tannins to bring a long finish to the wine. There’s a mineral element, too, that contributes to an overall balance. It holds itself well.
Bottle Price: $225.00
Bin 704 Cabernet Sauvignon 2019
In the words of Penfolds, Bin 704 “seeks to redefine Napa Valley cabernet through a Penfolds lens.” I am not sure why Napa Valley cabernet needs to be redefined in such a way. Or, frankly, whether it succeeds. It’s a big softie, a celebration of juicy, plump fruit (14.5% alcohol) and doesn’t quite deliver the complexity drinkers might be expecting. Indeed, its ripe tannin overlay and smooth textural palate would suit earlier drinking. Plums, wild red berries, dried herbs, wine gums and light confection jubes hint at a sweet fruit spiciness that is central to this cabernet. Is this the part where Napa cabernet is redefined? It seems a touch overdone, larger than life for a Napa cabernet.
Bottle Price: $120.00
Bin 600 Cabernet Shiraz 2019
A selection of vine cuttings from Penfolds’ Kalimna and Magill Estate vineyards were planted in Californian soil in 1998, marking the start of the company’s foothold in the US. Grapes from that original planting form the basis of Bin 600. The Penfolds stamp is well and truly imprinted here. From the prominent role of American oak (including 40% new oak for 17 months) to the über-generous ripeness, it offers a rare insight into a Californian interpretation of the classic Aussie red blend. It’s big, soft, ripe and spicy. Anise, leaf, blueberry, blackcurrant mix with an earthy mix of spices on the bouquet. Immediately there’s a sense of savouriness. It’s confirmed on the palate together with the presence of rich, choc-malt oak and sweet, sweet fruit. My notes mention “blackberry clafoutis and spice.” Guess that sums up the mix of emotions associated with this wine. It’s quite a wealth of tastes. It could have easily been too much, over the top, but those tannins – so classy – preserve the integrity of the wine. All class.
Bottle Price: $90.00
Bin 23 Pinot Noir 2021
It’s been a long, slow road for Penfolds pinot noir. When it first appeared in the annual Collection years back, there were sceptics. The grape didn’t fit the Penfolds’ style and, to be frank, the early releases were a little too forward and developed. How times change. Sourcing is now from Tasmania and the style is far more, well, stylish. There’s a scent of spring flowers and briar – aromatics that are quite enticing – together with a rush of raspberry, cherry and background roasted chestnuts and dried herbs. Things get serious on the palate, the intensity heightens as forest berries and red fruits meet with dried herbs, a touch of undergrowth and beautifully crafted, textural oak tannins. French oak is on display (eight months in total with 40% new) but discreet. Finishes with an agreeable savoury earthiness.
Bottle Price: $50.00
Bin 138 Barossa Valley Shiraz Grenache Mataro 2020
You have to enjoy the progress of this style – originally labelled Old Vine and minus Bin status – which appears to be slowly changing from a mix of French and American oak to the exclusive use of French oak which contributes a degree of elegance. The confection grenache sweetness of previous releases is also changing, becoming more of a background note to my mind which, frankly, I enjoy more. The result is a more balanced whole. Upfront and honest, it lifts out of the glass led by punchy shiraz black and red fruits, sweet baking spices, briar and tilled earth aromas. Bin 138 is a big hearted, Barossa red that is firing on all cylinders and ready to go right now. It’s chock full of fruit, black strap licorice, clove, cinnamon and a raspberry confection note that helps finish the wine. The overall impression is more savoury than lolly-like, and that’s a good thing.
Bottle Price: $60.00
Bin 28 Shiraz 2020
Not to be confused with Bin 128 which hails from Coonawarra, Bin 28 is the new name for what was once labelled Kalimna shiraz. The changed name goes with the decision to no longer concentrate on the Kalimna sub-region of the Barossa as a grape source but to make a multi-regional shiraz. The 2020 is sourced from McLaren Vale, Barossa Valley, Padthaway and Clare Valley. The idea is to explore a warm-hearted Aussie shiraz. Heatwave conditions in the lead-up to vintage and a generous ripeness (14.5% alcohol) achieve that objective easily. Good intensity, drive and rich in all the warmer characters we expect from South Australian shiraz with delicious blackberry, stewed plums, briar, cocoa, dark chocolate, anise and a smoky savoury thread that adds a touch of complexity. There’s a quiet opulence here, but then the mood switches for a finish that is unusually tight with an American oak tannin dryness/astringency that leaves the mouth wondering what that was all about.
Bottle Price: $50.00
Bin 150 Marananga Shiraz 2020
Back to the heart of the Barossa with a terrific Marananga shiraz. Does this sub-region, rich in ancient ironstone, ever produce anything other than stunning, idiosyncratic shiraz fruit? Doubt it. Real eye candy here, as usual, in vibrant inky purple hues. Has the scent of the land and the soil, of Aussie bush aromas – sweet florals, herbal woody notes and a splash of eucalyptus, spearmint – running across bright blue fruits and red berries. Shows a little less opulence on the palate than usual. Is it the role of both American and French oak, where usually it’s American oak celebrated? The 2020 seems firmer, more precise. That’s a good thing, especially for ageing. Tannin structure is in tune with the oak, aiding and abetting the depth of flavour on the middle palate, not to mention texture. And the role of chocolate, almost choc-mint, and lively spice is a great upbeat note to finish on.
Bottle Price: $100.00
Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz 2020
Bin 128 often seems to live in the shadow of its more obvious Barossan shiraz cousins that are viewed as quintessentially Penfolds. It offers a quieter presence in the glass, dare I suggest one that doesn’t mind correcting the variety’s reputation as Coonawarra’s second tier red grape (after cabernet.) In the Penfolds’ wine kingdom you have to search Bin 128 out. The 2020 is worth the quest. It’s a stunner. So Coonawarra in its celebration of black fruit intensity and dried herbs with well-knitted fine tannins. It slurps up the French oak (hogsheads the oak of choice, 20% new) and then some, bringing the smoothness and subtle taste of warm toast. It manages its generous 14.5% alcohol well, the lasting impression is of a medium-bodied, well-tuned wine with time on its side.
Bottle Price: $60.00
Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon 2020
Five South Australian regions, including Coonawarra, a noted cabernet sauvignon specialist, combine in Bin 407. Multi-regional blending is viewed as a form of insurance policy; if one region is affected by bad weather that is hopefully not the case in all. In 2020, South Australia saw its second winter drought which led to wide-spread spring frosts and reduced yields. It’s a double-edged sword, the latter bringing increased concentration to Bin 407, so all was not lost. The result is a tight-as-a-drum cabernet, a slowly evolving young beauty. It will be a pleasure to watch this wine’s journey over the next 10, 20 years or more. The five regions mesh seamlessly across the board with black fruits, spice, thyme, sage, spearmint aroma interplay. There’s a controlling winemaking hand behind all of this, gossamer fine tannins that reach every corner of the wine. They are a noted feature, stamping an authority and contributing to the coiled, taut nature of Bin 407. This isn’t always apparent in 407, but you have to love the elegance it brings. Not to mention the future promise that awaits.
Bottle Price: $120.00
Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz 2020
Five regions contributed to 389 last year. This year’s release returns to a trio of performers: McLaren Vale, Barossa and Padthaway. As usual, there’s a feature role for American oak. Bin 389 is always ready to go on release, arriving fully formed. The 2020 release is no different. A wine of quiet power that builds, gaining momentum, as it works its way across the palate. Earth, root vegetables, anise, blueberry, black fruits, vanilla, a lightly smoky oak are the staples. In other words, there is a strong foundation for a complex wine, a long-lived one at that. Keeps a trim presence throughout thanks to beautifully meshed tannins while exploring ripe, rich veins of fruit, texture and oak. Bin 389 never disappoints.
Bottle Price: $100.00
Drink: 2022- 2045
St. Henri Shiraz 2019
St. Henri is a snug, firm fit. Another quiet starter, too but warms to its task the longer the wine is open. Once it gets going, it fills out the middle palate and runs long with plenty of sweet fruit, dark chocolate, tapenade, a touch of leathery savouriness and St. Henri’s distinctive old school, mulled wine spice. St. Henri’s role is to offer an alternative expression of shiraz, what Penfolds refers to as a “counterpoint” to Grange. In other words, no new oak. The 2020 saw 12 months in large, seasoned oak vats. This method always brings a mix of savouriness and spice to the shiraz fruit, often too much. The result can sometimes produce a lack of freshness and energy. That’s where those sapid fine tannins come into play. They work a treat.
Bottle Price: $135.00
Drink: 2022- 2040
Magill Estate Shiraz 2020
So many questions on my tasting notes for this wine. Questions such as: “Is it a little more sophisticated and generous than usual? The answer remains unclear. Is the higher acidity level in 2020 playing a role – 7g/l compared to 6.7g/l last year? Is it to counter the run of hot weather experienced at Magill Estate in 2020? So many questions, as I said. Whatever the reasoning behind it, the 2020 stands up as one of the most attractive, balanced Magill Estates I’ve tasted in recent years. Where I often see a sinewy, raspy firmness, there is a plushness running smooth across the palate. The 2020 is sweet and juicy in ripe blueberries, black and red fruits with an aside of earth, thyme and sage – typical Aussie wild bush notes that feel so at home in Aussie shiraz. That herbal interplay is a most attractive feature. Tannins are ripe, no raspy notes here. Hard to fault really, although my last note manages a query on the length. But, hey, I’m still excited.
Bottle Price: $150.00
Bin 169 Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2019
Another new bin number to remember. Good luck with that. The idea with Bin 169, to quote Penfolds, is “reflect a contemporary winemaking approach, emphasising both regionality and maturation of cabernet sauvignon in fine grained French oak.” It’s a different Coonawarra cabernet compared to Bin 128 in that it sees a longer stretch of time in French hogsheads (17 months) with a higher percentage of new oak (56% new). Chief winemaker, Peter Gago, also gives Bin 169 an astonishingly impressive peak drinking window stretching out to 2050. Yes, he’s that confident. We shall see. At this early stage, it’s definitely got cred. Typical cabernet notes with a strong emphasis on the grape’s down to earth, bramble, plum, black berries, dried leaf with dried herbs aplenty, not to mention baking spices of cinnamon and nutmeg. It’s soft and plummy but never overbearing, rather it displays a fine sophistication. Everything is in its place and that applies to the unusually high percentage of new oak which is slurped right up, and the attractive velvety tannins it brings to the wine. Can’t wait to see how it ages.
Bottle Price: $300.00
RWT Bin 798 Barossa Valley Shiraz 2020
New oak always plays a noteworthy role in the RWT shiraz. Always. It can sometimes be a sticking point in its youth, but then I am sure the Penfolds’ winemaking team members see generous new oak as part of the “opulent and fleshy” style they seek. The 2020 certainly fits a lot in to start, balancing lovely aromatics with some, at times, heavy-handed vanilla, spiced French oak (49% new). It plays out along similar lines on the palate. No surprises there. Still, the fruit has a lot going for it – flavourful plum, black cherry, mulberry, black berries – joined by a world of spice together with some earthy tones that add up to a good depth of flavour. Dusty, dry tannins probably need time to settle. A touch undeveloped yes, but RWT tends to benefit from extended ageing. If this is what you are after, this is your kind of wine.
Bottle Price: $200.00
Grange 2018 offers the ‘other’ side of Grange, the less monumental side. Personally, I prefer the less monumental. The 2018 also shows a reflection of the year – ’18 is often described as ‘outstanding’ – something which has to be admired in a multi-regional wine. Three different wine regions in 2018 joining as one to produce a reflection of a particular vintage. How can that be? Taste the 2003 or 2011 Grange, or a host of what might be termed lesser vintages, and compare them to the sublime 1990, 1991 or 2012 (among others). It does work. There’s a youthful, irresistible energy to the 2018. It’s immediate on the bouquet which springs from the glass in lifted aromas of vanilla, roasted nuts, ripe blackberry, blackcurrant, cinnamon, clove, roasting juices and a hint of leaf and undergrowth. Boasts the complexity, fruit power and overall balance – and that includes an astonishing 18 months in 100% new American oak which sits easily on this wine – to go the full distance both lengthwise and cellar wise. The list of adjectives runs long but, altogether, the 2018 Grange presents seamlessly. And there’s that very Grange mix of volatility, savouriness and sweet, generous fruit that abides. And did I mention that seemingly impossible gentle elegance in such a large frame?
Bottle Price: $1000
Yattarna Chardonnay 2020
A joint production between Tasmania and the Adelaide Hills, Yattarna continues its march towards an expressive cool climate chardonnay. Starts subtle and then builds. An assortment of classic cool chardonnay aromas and flavours embrace citrus, grapefruit pulp, red apple, nectarine together with a distinctive flint, slate-like mineral acidity. Briny and delicious, it’s enhanced by an overlay of brioche, macaroon pastry. Oak-influences, notably an injection of roasted nuts, seal what is a quality, complex chardonnay. Lots of detail here to enjoy.
Bottle Price: $175.00
Bin 311 Chardonnay 2021
The so-called ‘baby Yattarna” offers not only the usual blend of Tasmanian and Adelaide Hills in this 2021 chardonnay, but also good value for the price. Plenty of zip here in the youngster with its burst of citrus freshness – lime cordial, lemon and grapefruit pulp – and touches of smart, smoky, nutty oak. It’s a stylish combo that works well. Throw in some herbal interplay, a touch of aromatic florals and a developing nougat-like texture, and it’s clear this vintage of Bin 311 is built for distance and speed.
Bottle Price: $50.00
Reserve Bin A Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2021
An enticing amalgam of all that is good about Adelaide Hills chardonnay with its lemony brightness, lemon curd smoothness, mandarin skin savoury cut and lovely summer stone fruits. The fruit – whole bunch pressed, with an all-natural malolactic fermentation on solids – makes a powerful statement, enhanced further by nine months in French barriques (50% new) which lends a budding complexity and length. There is a zesty, brisk acid drive to this wine which really needs a little more time in bottle to resolve. In other words, Reserve Bin A wouldn’t mind a rest before being opened and enjoyed.
Bottle Price: $125.00