My Top Five: Penfolds’ Latest Releases

The annual Penfolds release is always a much-anticipated event. Aside from the opportunity to share in the spoils of their marvellous cellar it is the first chance to see the new Grange and all their other new wines, of course.

Words by Drinks Writer, Ken Gargett

Occasionally, there is even a special wine, such as the G3 this time (although with only 1,200 bottles worldwide, at $3k a pop, it’s not really worth including here).

Sometimes, even a little fun. So convinced were the assembled multitudes that the 2013 Grange would not come close to the majestic 2012 that Chief Winemaker Peter Gago showed them next to each other – a decision Sir Humphrey may have labelled as ‘courageous’. It is hardly a spoiler to say that the ’13, a much more elegant style than the powerful 2012, more than held its own and was many people’s pick of the day. As a vinous ‘up yours for all your preconceptions’, it worked wonderfully well.

The event is appealing as the wines will come from at least five different vintages, so a bad year somewhere is more than compensated for by the selection of alternate years. We all have our favourites and it is fun to see if they meet, even exceed, expectations.

The whites, mostly chardonnays including the very different siblings of Yattarna and Reserve Bin A, are inevitably relegated to warm-up duties, even though they are almost always of stellar quality. It is the reds that take centre stage. Some sell out quite quickly, though there are usually sufficient quantities to be found for much of the remaining year. Offshore interest continues to grow but Penfolds is all too aware that they cannot neglect their home market. Prices have had seriously hefty rises over recent years but one could argue, as I suspect Penfolds does, that this simply brings them into line with overseas competitors and that they are still relative bargains (they may not actually suggest Grange is a bargain). Value is, of course, a most subjective affair.

Here are five of my favourite reds from their most recent release.

PENFOLDS BIN 23 ADELAIDE HILLS PINOT NOIR 2016

A wine that opens with expressive pinot aromas of strawberries, spices and violets. A lovely supple texture and some freshness. A touch of whole bunch (the notes say 18%), which really adds to the overall impression of a complete and delicious pinot. Good acidity, lingers well, balanced and with a silky grip. A hint of blueberries emerges on the finish. I think that this is perhaps the best Bin 23 they’ve made. Love it. 94 points.

PENFOLDS BIN 138 BAROSSA SGM 2015

Every year, a couple of the wines always stand out for me – this one and 389 being the prime examples – while some always leave me less than impressed – Bin 407, but we will leave that for another time. For 138, this vintage is no exception. A blend of 64/20/16 – shiraz/grenache/mataro, with flavours of plums, violets, blueberries, black fruits and chocolate cake. Good intensity, the wine is both ripe and rich, with power on the palate. Firm tannins, a supple texture, a long finish and good grip. Everything suggests that this is a ten year plus proposition. A real go-to option for flavour and value. 93 points.

PENFOLDS BIN 389 CABERNET SHIRAZ 2015

It is as inevitable as death and taxes that every 389 will be a cracker. Violets, spices, cassis, Valrhona Chocolates and coffee beans. Richly flavoured, good intensity and ripe flavours. Oak is very well integrated; the palate is seamless and the finish so silky. A great future ahead. 95 points.

PENFOLDS ST HENRI SHIRAZ 2014

For me, the 2010 St Henri was the pick of the entire catalogue and this is the best St Henri since the ‘10. A stunning wine. Cassis, vanillin, chocolate notes and black cherries. So alluring, so aromatic. Supple and complex. Fine, satiny tannins. Immaculately balanced. Everything is so well handled. Terrific length. What a really good wine! 97 points.

PENFOLDS GRANGE 2013

Young and very powerful with glass-staining intensity. Plenty of oak still apparent. Dense fruit, coffee beans, chocolate, dry herbs and an ever-expanding array of other flavours coming wave after wave. The slipperiest of tannins and great length. Knife-edge balance. Has many years ahead of it. More refined than the 2012. In fact, it is hard to recall a Grange so exquisitely balanced on release. Take a bow! 99 points.