by Neil Beckett
Every five years, Australia’s most famous wine company holds an extraordinary series of tastings at which a few fortunate guests, sitting alongside most of the past and present winemakers, sample almost every wine it has ever produced: most recently, some 600 bottles spanning six decades. James Halliday is surely right to have written that “no other wine producer in the world could stage an event such as this.”
The findings form the basis of a book, Penfolds: The Rewards of Patience, “the ultimate guide to collecting, cellaring, and enjoying Penfolds wines.” The first edition appeared in 1986, and the sixth, edited, researched, and written by Andrew Caillard MW of Langton’s Fine Wine Auctions, has recently been published (Allen & Unwin, 2008; 358pp).
I had the privilege of attending the tastings in September 2007, which had as their spectacular finale what Peter Gago, Penfolds chief winemaker since 2002, described as “the largest tasting of Grange ever held.” Deeply thrilling as this was, all four days of tastings were equally memorable in other ways. Especially given what Gago calls the “no guts, no glory” approach to winemaking, the overall quality was remarkably high. More impressive still was the sheer stylistic variety, which suggested to me that Gago’s dream of “the world’s largest boutique winery” was already becoming a reality. Sitting in Adelaide, with Penfolds winemakers present, it felt like the wine equivalent of seeing all Shakespeare’s plays performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon on consecutive nights, with the playwright in the front row.
The following were among the highlights for me, though a range of other views – from Andrew Caillard, James Halliday, Huon Hooke, Campbell Mattinson, Joshua Greene, and Ch’ng Poh Tiong – may be found in the book.
This arrangement follows the broad classification used by Penfolds.
Bin 95 Grange Shiraz
(54 vintages tasted, 1952-2005) Australia’s most famous wine is the enduring legacy of Max Schubert, the Penfolds chief winemaker (1948-75) who realized his radical vision for dry red wine in the face of initial opposition from both his own company and the rest of his industry. Grange has been made every year since the “experimental” 1951, and in the admirably open spirit that pervaded these tastings, every vintage from the 1952 onward was on show — the ruined palaces as well as the many more cloud-capped towers. A South Australian, multidistrict blend of Shiraz and (normally) a little Cabernet Sauvignon (there have been only five pure Shiraz wines: the 1951, ’52, ’63, ’99, and 2000). Fermented in stainless steel then barrel; matured in new American oak hogsheads (300 liters) for 18-20 months. Released now at five years old. Labeled as Grange Hermitage until the 1989 vintage, and as Grange from the 1990 vintage.
1952 Remarkable depth of color: deepest matt ruby, holding well to a strong oxblood rim. Still very composed and settled on the nose, with impressive clarity and integrity of aroma and little decay; remarkable richness of fruit, lightly stewed, but also intensely meaty, slightly singed. Refined, densely layered, silken smooth texture, with great integrity of flavor and structure: mature, mellow, and magnificent. Still surprisingly fresh, with gentle length. Drink now. 17.5
1953 Only a shade less deep than the 1952; strong tawny, with a warm orange rim. Even fresher, more focused, and vibrant on the nose; complex, gently exotic, dried oranges stuck with cloves… but so harmonious, sophisticated, and subtle a tapestry that it would be impossible as well as irreverent to start unpicking it thread by thread. Elegant and supple on entry, like old lace, backed by dry, slightly leathery tannins. The fruit is fading gently away now, and it lacks the nuances that are still there to smell. Drink now. 17
1954 Much paler in color; bright, mid-ruby, tawny toward the rim. Much more lifted, ethereal nose, like very old Tawny Port; faint but pursuing… and pursued. Much lighter on the palate as well, and now something of a shell, but shells can be beautiful, too. Poignant rather than pleasurable, with a faint flourish on the finish. Drink now. 16
1955 Deeper in color again, now a rich brown/tawny. Considerable finesse on the nose: stewed plums, fragrant leather, soft spice, sandalwood. A very flowing texture, with impressive limpidity of flavor, and dry, grippy tannins underneath; less flavor than texture now, though. Fascinating to taste; less so to drink, I imagine. Drink now. 16.5
1959 Bright, clear, dark ruby, with a rich, warm, tawny rim. Beautiful, harmonious nose: aristocratic, elegant, roseate. Ample, layered, cashmere-soft texture, still very lovely to taste; good top to bottom and holding together very well through a long finish. The best of the three “hidden” Granges (1957-59) that had to be made in secret without any new wood. Drink now. 17
1960 Very deep, rich ruby/tawny, almost opaque. Still completely intact on the nose, focused and fragrant, with plum (remarkably) rather than prune. Composed but elegant, and very spry for its age: a Ray Beckwith of a wine (with reference to the Penfolds scientist who helped Max Schubert make his dream a reality, and who is still going strong in his 90s). Richly layered, silken texture, ample, expansive, and mouth-filling, still fresh and succulent through the mid-palate, with excellent length and weight; dry, slightly clinging tannins on the finish. Drink now. 17.5
1961 A shade deeper, if anything, than the 1960. Attractively fresh, harmonious, even vigorous nose, with dark, glossy fruit. Even more densely woven than the 1960, cashmere rather than silk, but with a narrower flavor spectrum and more structural tannin. Dry, leathery finish. Drink now. 16.5
1962 Slightly lighter in color than the 1961, but still a very clear, very deep ruby/tawny. Enormously exciting, exotic, risqué, liaisons dangereuses nose, with a seductive Asiatic spiciness. Elegant, very refined, and supple, still with astonishing clarity and intensity on the mid-palate. Finely integrated acidity keeps it fresh and invigorating, and there is greater delicacy and finesse than in any of the previous ten vintages. Completely captivating wine. Drink now to 2015+. 19
1963 An even deeper shade of ruby than the 1962, remarkably clear and intense, holding its color to the very rim. Beautifully composed, elegant, and focused, still purely fruited and utterly beguiling. Again, an extraordinary textural quality, but richer, more velvety, still with superb complexity, harmony, and tenacity of flavor. Effortless, glides on and on and on. Clean, fresh finish of great, gentle length. Drink now to 2015+. 19
1964 Lighter in color than the 1963, a middeep ruby, but still with great clarity and luminosity. Wondrously fragrant, with dried damask rose and musk, but also very intense, plummy fruit. Harmonious on the palate, not as complex as the preceding two wines, but still with a seductive, silken suavity of texture and very good length across the mid-palate. As with others of these very old vintages, the medium is the message (or rather the massage). Graceful finish. Drink now. 17.5
1966 Deep, glowing ruby. Expressive, exotically spiced, fabulously seductive scent. Gloriously rich, smooth, velvety texture. Great depth and intensity of flavor, still very dynamic and fresh on the mid-palate, but completely seamless, with a gently spicy finish of extraordinary length. Drink to 2015. 18.5
1971 Very deep ruby/mahogany, matt, opaque, holding its color to the very rim. Famously, but (at least for me) fabulously lifted nose – the kind of nose to make you believe in levitation. It ought to have been the kind of palate to make you believe in transportation, too, but sadly, both bottles were substandard. (I have had magnificant bottles on other occasions, but Gago confirmed that while the best bottles are still worthy of the wine’s stellar reputation, they are increasingly variable.) NS
1976 Deep, rich, warm ruby/tawny. Focused nose, lightly singed, still with good integrity of pruney fruit and sandalwood top notes. Elegant, flowing, exquisitely refined texture of well-worn velvet (as I imagine Elizabeth I’s dressing gown in her later years). A little dry on the mid-palate, but still plenty of stuffing and succulence. Drier, more clinging tannins on the end finish. Drink to 2016+. 17.5
1981 Very deep ruby, with a vibrant rim. Dry earth and sandalwood nose initially, but it grew considerably in the glass, and a second bottle was better still, fresher and more intense, with black fruit, spice, and vanilla. A very fine-spun texture, effortlessly expansive, saturated, and sustained, with a dusting of chocolaty, powdery tannins on the end finish. Terrific length. Drink to 2020+. 18
1982 Deep, intense ruby, softening only at the rim. Very fragrant, even flamboyant, nose, a harmonious weave of chocolate, kirsch, prune, and tea, but still very fresh and not as stewed as that suggests. It blossomed further in the glass, becoming fruitier and more floral (rosate). Great harmony and integrity on the palate, with a freshness and firmness to match the smoothness. Impressive length and scale. Drink to 2015+. 18
1983 A shade deeper than the 1982, almost opaque, and duller on the rim. Very composed on the nose, with bitter dark chocolate but also floral and mineral complexity. Very close-knit and satin-smooth, with great layered richness of both flavor and texture. Heavily saturated but not in the least sluggish, with exceptional freshness and length. Exciting wine. Drink to 2025+. 18.5
1986 Deep, strong ruby. Exciting, invigorating nose, complex but with an almost prickly intensity – right up both nostrils, as Hugh Johnson would say. Very Porty rich on the palate, with great depth. But it lacks light and shade and is slightly ponderous if stately, with chalky, dry tannins. Drink to 2030+. 17.5
1992 Very deep, black/ruby; opaque. Intense, spicy, tangy nose, but black-fruited and cool; altogether more reminiscent of great young Hermitage. Great harmony on the palate, richly silky, with drippingly succulent, strikingly vivid fruit and suave tannins. Excellent length. Although the 1990 and ’91 are generally more highly regarded vintages, I find the former wine difficult to understand, a bit like much modern art, and find the 1992 better balanced and more elegant, less hard and strident. The others may settle and soften, but certainly at this stage, and for several years yet, I would find the 1992 more tempting. Drink to 2020. 17.5
1996 Black/purple. An intense, finely focused nose, fresher if less rich than the great 1998. Elegant entry, instantly recognizable as a beautifully detailed, carefully extracted, classically styled wine. Still very youthful, but exquisitely made, with the precision and tension of a top Bordeaux or Northern Rhône (Latour or Chave) in a great vintage. A real thoroughbred. Drink to 2040. 18.5
1998 Black/purple. Balanced, composed, and concentrated, with brambly fruit and great mocha richness to smell. Effortless across the palate, elegant, refined, racy, smooth, and supple. The superb quality is already apparent, but this will clearly grow and grow. Drink 2010-50. 18.5
2001 Black/purple. Blueberry hill nose (the authentic signature, according to Gago, of Barossa Shiraz, and this is 100% Barossa Shiraz, half from the Kalimna vineyard), but much more complex than fruit alone, with an all-enveloping spice and well-integrated wood. Deceptive scale, so effortlessly is it conveyed. Dry but fresh, with a long and harmonious finish that should fill out very well over many years. Hugely promising. Drink 2010-40. 18
2004 Black/purple. Exciting, extremely expressive but not extrovert on the nose, an intense amalgam of rich black and red fruit. Completely saturated, but a supremely refined tannic structure, reminiscent of the 1996 and 1998. Correctly dry underneath, but rich, succulent fruit on top, all wonderfully woven. Still dry on the end finish, but a classic in the making. Drink 2015-50. 18.5
St Henri Shiraz
(45 vintages tasted, 1956-2005) By comparison with Grange, St Henri has long been greatly undervalued, but it also had its origins in the early 1950s and initially commanded as high a price. The creation of talented Penfolds winemaker John Davoren, a contemporary colleague and friendly rival of Max Schubert, it recalled a name and style developed by Auldana Cellars’ famous French winemaker Leon Edmund Mazure as early as the 1890s. It has always been deliberately very different from Grange but can be equally fine. It is a style of wine that I love, and after Grange this was, for me, the most exciting and fascinating of all the large flights. A South Australian, multidistrict blend of Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. Fermented in stainless steel and open concrete vats; matured in large, old oak vats (minimum 1,460 liters) for 18 months. Released now at four years old. Labeled as St Henri Claret until the 1989 vintage.
1956 Medium ruby red, with impressive brightness and clarity for its age and an even gradation toward the tawny rim. Lovely, old winey bouquet, with cedar composure, elegant and refined but still very vital. Lightly syrupy, supple on entry, still with very good integrity and intensity of flavor. No bitterness, no roughness, but a cashmere softness to the tannins and gentle decrescendo on the finish. Drink now. 17
1958 Deep ruby of remarkable clarity. Potent and lightly stemmy on the nose, with a vegetal edge. Cool and elegant entry, with great energy and vibrancy still at the heart of the wine. Lovely balance and poise, with an elegant, fresh finish, but not at all frail or shrill. Cold beauty. Drink now. 16.5
1959 Ruby red. Meatier and richer to smell than the 1958, but no deviation or volatility. Astonishing richness and sweetness of fruit, but with a fine seam of acidity and gentle, rubbery grip from the rising, still substantial tannins. Great beauty and harmony of flavor and superb length. Drink now. 17.5
1962 Rich ruby. Lightly chestnutty nose, but better on the palate: balanced, elegant, and fresh, with a silk upper and rubber sole. Succulent and supple, with fine-grain tannin and a clean, refreshing finish. Lovely wine. Drink now. 18
1966 Very deep ruby, almost opaque. Dense, lightly stewed fruit on the nose. Rich, syrupy texture, layered, supple, and smooth, with great freshness and sweetness. Harmonious, gloriously saturated, suffused with flavor, through a long, dry finish. Still at the height of its powers. Fabulous. Drink now. 18.5
1967 Rich ruby. Dried cranberry, meaty, savory nose. Elegant, effortlessly flowing, silken texture, and a delicious, fresh, lingering finish. Not a great vintage, but a refined, racy, thoroughbred. Lovely to drink now. 17.5
1976 Medium ruby. Attractive, fresh, tangerine-dream nose, if potent and stemmy underneath. Richly silken, powerfully structured, massively but roundly tannic. Beautifully balanced for its size, with appetizing acidity and great length of flavor, but finally a slightly raw, rude vigor. Still not fully tamed. Drink to 2016. 17
1983 Very deep ruby. Exciting, enticing nose, lightly stewed fruit, but still fresh. Very refined, silky, syrupy texture, with great calrity and transparency of flavor, well sustained through the mid-palate and finish. Appetizing, refreshing, richly satisfying. Wellnigh irresistible now but will last and may even improve. Drink to 2013. 18
1985 Brooding, subtly intoxicating to smell. Dense and rich, with highly polished tannins but considerable finesse for its size. Still appetizing, elegant, and fresh, and although there is no great drama or excitement, this is still a very stylish wine with some way to go. Drink to 2020. 17
1986 Very deep ruby, almost opaque. A potent, smoky nose. Smoothly textured, with plenty of grip and vigor, but chewy and dry on the end, and a slighty uncontrolled, spiraling finish. Although this is generally more highly rated as a vintage, I prefer the previous wine. Drink to 2015. 16.5
1991 Medium-deep ruby. Elegant, harmonious, richly smoky nose, still with brilliant clarity of fruit. Silken, supple, very finely spun, with greater energy, freshness, and intensity than the 1990 (which I found slightly disappointing and sluggish for such a famous vintage). Fine, fruity finish, dry but not dried out. Still to reach its peak. Drink to 2025. 17.5
1996 Deep ruby. Exotically scented, blueberry and tar. Very rich but supple, saturated, and seamless, but not quite the complexity or vivacity of the very best. Harmonious, rich, soft finish. Drink to 2025. 17.5
1998 Very deep ruby. Still closed on the nose, but a brooding, dried blueberry intensity. Brilliant, very vivid fruit, with brisk, wellintegrated acidity, making this very racy for its size and weight. Beautifully balanced, elegant, impeccably managed tannins. Correctly dry on the end finish, and although the flavors have still to fan out fully, this will clearly be superb. Drink to 2030. 18.5
1999 Very deep ruby, almost opaque. Excitingly closed, but the incense hints at the holy of holies behind the heavy curtain. Elegant, silken refinement, but very well defined and taut, with a keener edge to the tannins, but not too sharp. Clean, fresh finish, if dry on the end. Good, but not flattered by the preceding 1998. Drink to 2025. 17
2001 Very deep ruby, almost opaque. Blackberry and blueberry on the nose. Elegant, slippery tannins, still with enough depth to the fruit, which is bright, fresh, and very well presented. Not the greatest concentration or length, but a racy thoroughbred. Drink to 2030. 17.5
2005 Black/purple, opaque, still with a crimson rim. Very focused on the nose. Cool and elegant on entry, with fabulous intensity and purity of fruit. Although this and the drier, grippier 2004 are both clearly very embryonic, and both will be fascinating to follow, I find this even more exciting, thanks to its exhilarating purity. Drink to 2035. 18.5
RWT Barossa Valley Shiraz
(10 vintages tasted, 1997-2006) The red-winemaking trials that gave this wine its name were started in 1995 by chief winemaker John Duval (1986-2002) and represented a broadening of the range from multiregional and multidistrict blends to single-region and single-vineyard wines. On the winemaking side, there was the adoption of French rather than American oak, though the proportion of new wood has been reduced (with beneficial results) from 100% to 50-70%. A Barossan, multidistrict Shiraz. Fermented in stainless steel then barrel; matured in French-oak hogsheads (300 liters, 50-70% new) for 12-15 months.
2002 Black/purple, opaque. Intense, blackstrap nose, with floral and mineral complexity as well as slightly charry notes; harmonious, impressive, serious. Elegant, refined, initially supple, fine-grained tannins, seamlessly woven. Still a little dry on the end finish, but far greater balance and succulence than previous vintages. For me this is where the necessary trials are successfully over and the wines begin. Drink to 2025. 17
2004 Black/purple. Impressive intensity and purity of ripe, black fruit: very vivid. Ample, very cushioned feel, at once dense and expansive. Still very succulent through the mid-palate and into a long, harmonious, very moreish finish. Drink to 2025. 17.5
2005 Black/purple. Arresting, very penetrating nose, with abundant black cherry and blueberry: harmonious, seductive, slinky. Very well padded, soft, and thick. Still to unfurl on the palate, but apparently all in place and hugely promising. This remains succulent and finishes strongly. Drink to 2025. 17.5
Magill Estate Shiraz
(7 vintages tasted, 1995-2005) Penfolds’ only regularly released singleestate wine comes from one of the world’s few great urban vineyards, where Dr Christopher and Mary Penfold settled, and planted, as early as 1844. Although none of the original vines survives, and the vineyard has shrunk to 5.2ha (13 acres), the three blocks of remaining vines are now mature, having been replanted in 1951 (2.85ha [7 acres]), 1967 (1.87ha [4.7 acres]), and 1985 (0.52ha [1.3 acres]). Most of the vines are drygrown, and all are planted on their own roots. The wine was first made in 1983 by chief winemaker Don Ditter (1975-86), partly to resist further encroachment on the vineyard, though the vintages up until 1989 are now regarded as “experimental.” Single-vineyard Shiraz. Fermented in open concrete vats then, basket-pressed, in barrel; matured in new French (65%) and American (35%) oak hogsheads (300 liters) for 12-15 months.
1996 Mid-deep ruby. Deep, earthy, savory nose. Brightly fruited mid-palate, densely structured, grippy underneath, silken on top, with an elegant finish. Drink to 2025. 16.5 1998 Deeper ruby. Deep, rich, tobacco nose. Great syrupy richness, dry underneath, but supple, sweet fruit on top. Well sustained through the mid-palate and finish. Authentic, characterful wine. Drink to 2025. 17
2001 Deep ruby, a shade brighter than the 1998. Superb nose: elegant, fresh, rich, and savory; great harmony, integrity, and penetration. Silken, slippery tannins, bright, clear, intense fruit on the mid-palate, red as well as black fruit, good mid-palate length, and a dry, elegant finish. Drink to 2025. 17.5
2002 Deep ruby. Characterful, peppery, savory nose. Elegant, lithe, and supple, clearly from a cooler year, but still an impressive smoothness to the tannin, with good mid-palate length and a seductive finish. Very well made. Drink to 2025. 17
2004 Deep ruby. Another fabulous ’04 nose: balanced and elegant, but with blueberry ripeness and peppery spice. Refined and supple on entry, still quite grippy, nippy, and tight, but with a very fine-grain tannin and good length. Drink to 2030. 17
Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon
(31 vintages tasted, 1964-2005) Max Schubert was inspired by the great red Bordeaux he tasted on his seminal tour of Europe in 1949, and he experimented with Cabernet Sauvignon from the early 1950s onward. The first Bin 707s (named by an ex-Qantas marketing executive) were the 1964-69 vintages, but the inconsistent quality of supply from the Kalimna Vineyard meant that the line was suspended until the 1976 vintage, when blending with Coonawarra fruit made it more viable. Even since then, the particular style requirements set for this wine (intense, rich, ripe) have meant that it was not produced in the 1981, 1995, 2000, or 2003 vintage. A South Australian, multidistrict Cabernet Sauvignon (Coonawarra, Padthaway, Barossa). Fermented in stainless steel then barrel; matured in new American oak hogsheads (300 liters) for 18 months.
1966 Rich ruby/tawny, impressive for its age. Elegant, restrained, gently plummy, and sedate to smell. Close-knit, supple but still supportive structure, ample and mouth-filling. Gratifying harmony, lacking only a degree of freshness and nuance. Drink now. 16.5
1967 Lovely clarity and intensity of color Beguiling nose: faintly medicinal, gently warm, with a dried orange-peel exoticism. Intricate, richly textured (Richard Strauss, Metamorphosen). Ample, full, and rich on the palate, still harmonious but a little leaden, without the complexity that is so captivating on the nose. A generous finish of impressive integrity and length. Drink now. 16.5
1982 Deep ruby, a little murky. Rich, savory, tomato-plant nose. Some softness at the heart of the wine, gentler and more magnanimous than the preceding few vintages, with abundant but well-extracted, ripe tannin. It has seen better days but still offers interest and pleasure. Drink now. 16
1986 Intense, savory, tomato-plant bouquet. Very compact, dense, fine-grain tannin, the Australian counterpoint of good Bordeaux from the same vintage. A certain austere elegance, slightly severe, to fit certain moods. Drink to 2015. 16
1994 Black/purple, opaque. Very deep to smell, with an alluring coal-tar coolness restraining the cassis richness; impressive integrity and intensity of fruit. Richly silken on the palate, elegant, fresh, firm, and taut, with abundant tannins; on the edge of ripeness, but balanced, well extracted, and supportive. Very good wine, still on the up. Drink to 2015+. 17
1996 Black/purple, opaque. Classic, very classy Cabernet nose, the blackcurrant – fruit and leaves – tightly wound, and even more intense than on the 1994. So vivid it’s almost dripping. Gloriously harmonious palate, despite the distance from top to bottom, remaining succulent throughout. Splendid stuff. Drink to 2025+. 18
2001 Black/purple, still with a crimson rim. Very captivating nose of great harmony and ripe refinement; black cherry, gentle spice. Beautifully extracted, with a caressing refinement to the tannins. Not great weight of fruit, but elegant and stylish. Clean, appetizingly dry finsh. 17
2002 Black/purple. An amalgam of glossy black fruits and light char on the nose: exciting. Chocolaty density, rich and thick, with more rub and resistance to the tanins than the 2001. A long-term wine, but terrific length. Drink to 2030. 17
Special Bin wines
Block 42 Kalimna Cabernet Sauvignon
(5 vintages tasted, 1953-2004) Originally planted around 1888, Block 42 in Barossa’s Kalimna Vineyard has the oldest plantings of continually produced Cabernet Sauvignon in the world. Now more than 120 years old, the 10 acres (4ha) of vines, all on their own roots, yield small quantities of beautifully balanced, exceptionally intense fruit. This was the source of the 1952 and 1953 Grange Cabernets, and of the 1964 Bin 707; indeed, it continued to be used for both wines, which is one of the reasons singlevineyard releases have been so rare, though they may be a little more frequent from now on. Single-vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. Fermented in stainless steel then barrel; matured in new American oak hogsheads (300 liters), for 15-18 months.
1953 (Bin 9 Grange) An astonishing color for its age: very dark ruby, with a glowing, warm, ruby/tawny rim. Dense but refined, restrained, and subtle on the nose: dried blackcurrant, still very Cabernet, with great integrity of fruit and no wayward volatility. Ravishingly silken and supple on the palate, seamlessly woven, still gently supportive, with a gloriously rich, sweet flavor, and lingering finish. Magnificent, munificent wine. Drink now. 18.5
1964 (Bin 707) Deep ruby, still with a reddish rather than tawny hue. More potent to smell than the 1953, but with the same seductively silken smoothness of texture. At once fresh and sweetly fruited, mellow but far from fading, with great finesse within the firmness, and plenty of supporting structure. Clean, fresh, unswerving. 18
1996 Deep ruby. Fabulous nose: composed, but with great complexity within the purity. Characteristically fine-spun texture, gently grippy but almost powdery tannins. Perfect poise and succulence, with clean, crisp, elegant length. Supremely stylish wine. Drink to 2030+. 18.5
2004 Black/purple, opaque, glass-staining. Magnificent, exotic, opulent nose: intense blackcurrant, blueberry, incense. Again, the hallmark, old-vine suavity of tannin: exquisitely refined. Gravity-defying grace and lightness on the palate, despite being completely saturated, with a bitter chocolate intensity on the finish. Will be fascinating to follow, for those lucky enough to do so, and is simply stunning now. (One of Penfolds’ first two en primeur releases.) Drink to 2040+. 19
Bin 60A Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz
(2 vintages tasted, 1962 and 2004) The original Bin 60A is a deservedly famous and hugely influential wine, widely regarded as one of the greatest ever made in Australia. Attempting to make an “ethereal” crossregional, cross-varietal wine, Max Schubert blended two thirds warm-climate Kalimna Shiraz with one third cool-climate Coonawarra Cabernet. The wine is believed to have been foot-trodden before being fermented in an open cement vat and matured in American oak hogsheads. It went on to be Penfolds’ most successful show wine, winning 19 trophies and 33 gold medals. The 2004 Bin 60A is Gago’s homage to the original, but 56% Coonawarra Cabernet and 44% Barossa Valley Shiraz (from Kalimna Vineyard and Koonunga Hill). Fermented in stainless steel at Nuriootpa and in concrete vats at Magill, before finishing fermentation and maturing in American oak hogsheads (300 liters) for 12-15 months.
1962 Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon Kalimna Shiraz The better of two bottles at the tasting was still a deep, intense ruby. There was a stemmy richness and some volatility on the nose, but it was still in good heart, with an old Burgundian feel; nice in its way. Refined and supple, softly chewy, lacking some definition and distinction, if still vibrant on the finish. But a third bottle — much better, indeed well-nigh perfect – at the closing dinner, made it clear what all the fuss has always been about: exquisite balance and harmony, with cashmere tannins. Even after 1970 and 1982 Latour, and 1982 Mouton Rothschild, this suffered not at all by comparison, since none was more sublime than this. The added dimension of greatness. Drink now. 19.5
2004 Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon Barossa Valley Shiraz Black/purple, still crimson rim. Composed, harmonious, almost luridly vivid: dark, glossy fruit, exotic and incense-like. Dense, plush, richly fruited, though still to settle down on the long finish and rather too young to judge at this stage. (The other of Penfolds’ first two en primeur releases.) Drink 2015-50. 18?
(11 vintages tasted, 1956-90) From the days of Max Schubert and John Davoren onward, Penfolds winemakers have been highly innovative, resulting in a large number of experimental, limited-production, limited-release wines. Most of these date from the 1950s and ’60s. Some were sketches for later regular releases, such as Grange, St Henri, and Bin 707. Others were curious or glorious “one-offs,” intended to reflect winemaking advances or recognize specially successful vintages. The Block 42 Kalimna Cabernet and Bin 60A Cabernet Shiraz may be the most outstanding, but others have also had successful show careers and are much sought after by collectors.
Bin 136 Magill Burgundy (Shiraz) 1956 Brilliant, mid-deep ruby/tawny. Fascinating nose: rich, stemmy, spicy, mocha, and mint toffee. Elegantly rich and silken, round and rolling, still with good freshness, harmony, and integrity on the mid-palate, very well sustained. Full, rich, old Tawny-like finish of great length. Drink now. 17.5
Bin 14 Minchenburg Dry Red 1957 Clean, deep, ruby/tawny. Rich, ripe, crème de fraise nose, still harmonious but a little heavy. Supple on entry, but the tannins quite rubbery and tight. The arc is broken, but half a rainbow is better than none. Drink now. 16 Bin 620 1966 Very deep ruby, still clear. Elegant and ethereal bouquet: mocha and sandalwood. Refined, silken entry, a little syrupy on the mid-palate. Lacks elegance and finesse by comparison with the best, but still good length of flavor. Drink now. 16.5
Bin 90A Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon Kalimna Shiraz 1990 Very dense, intense ruby, almost no give, even at the rim. Arresting cassis intensity, deep, incense-like. Amply cushioned, padded feel, but lacking a degree of elegance and transparency of flavor. Rich, thick, but rather muffled, with slightly hot/sour acidity on the end finish. Drink to 2030. 15.5
Cellar Reserve wines
Established by Peter Gago, this everexpanding line harks back to the original Special Bins of the 1950s and ’60s, as well as reflecting the personal philosophy of the most brilliant and original chief winemaker since Max Schubert. These boutique, handcrafted wines highlight special sites, new techniques, or new varieties. Most may still be works in progress, but the progress has already been substantial, and Gago seems to share the Schubertian notion of excellence being “a constant and endless journey” rather than “a destination.” Initially intended for release through cellar door or restaurants, they are also now sold to a growing number of collectors and enthusiasts.
Cellar Reserve Coonawarra Cabernet
(1 vintage tasted) 2005 Deep purple, almost opaque, crimson rim. Fantastic nose, of great immediacy and personality, with bitter-chocolate focus and intensity. Beautifully harmonious, succulent, and vibrant on the palate, with a glorious refinement to the tannin: floats, despite the weight. Drink to 2025+. 18
Cellar Reserve Pinot Noir
(10 vintages tasted, 1997-2006)
1997 Medium-deep ruby, oxblood toward the rim. Authentic, faintly rustic, Pinot scent, lightly exotic spice, maturing fruit sweetness, sandalwood, and tangerine. Intensely fruited on the mid-palate, well balanced by brisk, well-integrated acidity and fully resolved, supportive tannins. Dry but not drying on the end finish, of good length. Drink to 2012. 15.5
2006 Very rich, chocolate-and-mint nose: After Eights. Harmonious on the palate, with great plushness to the tannins and smooth length. Drink to 2020+. 16
Cellar Reserve Sangiovese
(9 vintages tasted, 1998-2006)
1998 Medium-deep ruby, fading a little toward the rim. Lovely immediacy to the nose: crushed raspberries, harmonious, refined, and subtle, with savory intrigue. Rich, supple, brisk acidity, fine-grain tannins. Anything it lacks in complexity it makes up for in integrity and purity of fruit. As Gago revealed, this is “the most natural wine in the whole group” (no added yeast, no new oak, no acid correction, unfined, unfiltered) – and it shows. Drink to 2015. 15.5
1999 Deep ruby. Charcuterie, inky, savory, smoky nose, with good depth of fruit. Smooth entry, almost plush – remarkable for pure Sangiovese – with good energy and race for the richness. Saturated and sustained, with a fresh, tangy finish. Drink to 2020. 16
2004 Deep ruby. Lovely nose: crushed raspberry, graphite, again with great integrity and purity of fruit. Ample but well defined, with great transparency of flavor. There is Sangiovese edge, but again enough fruit richness to match and round it off. Fresh, harmonious finish. Would put many from Tuscany to shame. Drink to 2025. 16.5
Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz
(37 vintages tasted, 1961-2005) Known affectionately as Baby Grange or poor man’s Grange (it benefits from barrels previously used for the top wine), this is well described by Andrew Caillard as “a beautifully consistent and utterly Australian style that shows all the hallmarks and benefits of cross-varietal/multiregional blending and continuity of winemaking philosophy.” A South Australian, multidistrict blend of Cabernet (which provides the elegant architecture) and Shiraz (the soft furnishings). Fermented in stainless steel then (for some components) in barrel; matured in American oak hogsheads (300 liters, 20-30% new, 70- 80% 1 or 2 years old) for 18 months.
1990 Deep ruby. Very attractively perfumed, with chocolate and roses, well defined, focused, and stylish. Elegant on entry, lithe and supple, still with good backbone and freshness, and beautifully integrated, ripe tannin. Very fine in the style. Drink to 2020. 16.5
1991 Deep ruby. Here again the blend works very well on the nose, with a firm, savory base and richer, spicier top notes. Concentrated and dense, less fine and more granular than the 1990, but still good freshness, harmony, and length. Drink to 2015. 16
2005 Black/purple. Impressive to smell: coconutty, but also very vivid in its fruit. Dry, still very embryonic, but well extracted, fleshy, harmonious, pure, and sweet on the mid-palate, with a long, straight finish. Needs a long time to open, but should be terrific. I marginally prefer this to the generally more highly rated 2004. Drink to 2025. 16.5
Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon
(16 vintages tasted, 1990-2005) As Bin 389 is a more affordable cousin to Grange, so this is the less grand relation of Bin 407 and also benefits from cast-off barrels from the more famous wine. South Australian and West Australian multidistrict Cabernet Sauvignon. Fermented in stainless steel then (for some components) in barrel; matured in French and American oak (30% new, 70-80% 1 or 2 years old) for 12 months.
1990 Deep ruby. Appetizing, very Cabernet nose, balanced, elegant, and harmonious, with cedar complexity. Gloriously sweet fruit on entry, and nice limpidity of flavor; flowing, refined, supple, and seamless, but still with plenty of supportive tannin. Lovely, naturally expressive wine. Drink to 2015. 16
2004 Black/purple, glass-staining. Very aromatic, exotic, crème de cassis, glossy rich of scent; deep but fresh. Very luxuriant, slinky, and suave, but with firm, underpinning tannins. Spectacular. Drink to 2020. 16.5
Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz
(37 vintages tasted, 1959-2006) Originally a single-vineyard Kalimna Shiraz, but a South Australian multidistrict blend from the late 1970s. Fermented in stainless steel; matured in older American oak hogsheads (300 liters) for 15 months.
1963 Beautiful ruby still, with a warm, tawny rim. Black fruit, coal tar, roseate lift. Elegant, remarkably fresh and vibrant, with matching fruit richness. Appetizing, flourishing finish, still very exciting to drink now. 16.5 2001 Deep ruby. Almost luridly vivid to smell, harmonious, ripe, thoroughly inviting. Dense, focused, and impressively taut, with great harmony and integrity of both flavor and structure, and a sharply defined finish. 15.5
Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz
(30 vintages tasted, 1963-2006) A single-region Shiraz, mostly from Penfolds vineyards, where the Coonwarra restraint offers a deliberate and interesting contrast to Bin 28. Between 1979 and 1983, there was a gradual change from American to French oak. Fermented in stainless steel; matured in French hogsheads (20% new) for 12 months.
1966 Deep ruby. Attractive, Bordeaux-like nose, cedar and sandalwood, still with good integrity of fruit and a light vegetal whiff. Ravishing, sumptuous texture, very rich and seamless flavor, with appetizing acidity, supportive tannin, and a crisp, fresh finish. Still richly satisfying. Drink to 2012. 16.5
2006 Very deep ruby. Blackstrap and very intense on the nose, with brilliantly defined primary fruit. Dense, rich, saturated, and sustained on the palate, but still lovely, supple, textural refinement. Along with the 2005, this marks a clear step up in quality, making it fully worthy of its most distinguished predecessors from the 1960s. Drink to 2030. 16.5