17 November 2011
PENFOLDS 620 RAISES COONAWARRA BAR
Penfolds Bin 620 Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz 2008
$1000 750ml.; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap or cork; 96+++ points
Grangemaster Peter Gago launched the first Bin 620 since the 1966 at the Waldorf Astoria in Shanghai this week; the lucky Chinese were suitably impressed. But DRINKSTER was fortunate to get a pre-release schlück backstage at the Kings Of Leon concert last Friday: those thirsty sons of the deep south, preacher’s kids like me, and their bonny crew, seemed to love it too. The tiniest sniff momentarily slowed those who surrendered their sensories, which is something you don’t see too much of in those intense, bristling moments preceding an arena performance.
Before the fifteen day heatwave put a sudden end to the top fruit in 2008, consultant John Bird, who worked with Max Schubert on the 66, recognized a wave of very special flavours in certain rows of Penfolds’ Coonawarra blocks 5, 10 and 20. “It transported me back to 1966 and the experimental Bin 620,” he said in a Penfolds statement. “The fruit profile is classic Penfolds. Having tasted many parcels of Coonawarra fruit it became apparent that we simply had to make this wine.”
JOHN BIRD'S RETIREMENT WATCH RESTING BESIDE ONE OF THE MOUTH-BLOWN SPITTOONS DOC SACHS MADE FOR THE PRIVATE TASTING ROOM AT PENFOLDS MAGILL ... IMAGINE WHAT HAS GONE DOWN THAT LITTLE RED LANE!
So they followed the old recipe, picking the early-ripening Shiraz (49%) and more austere Cabernet (51%) in ideal condition before the heat hit. The wines spent a year in new oak hogsheads - 57% French; 43% American - before blending and bottling in July 2009. There are 1,000 cases available, and a few magnums and imperials for the very seriously rich. Or terribly thirsty.
The wine is the sort of rare thing that made Coonawarra famous, and while it seems obviously Australian to me, it’s probably as close as Penfolds – or Coonawarra - has got to top Bordeaux in style, the Shiraz neatly filling the role Merlot plays for the French, adding some sensual flesh to the bones and sinews of the Cabernet. (In the 1800s, before the Merlot boom, the French used Shiraz from the Rhone in their Bordeaux blends, anyway.) Then, it’s one of those impossible fleeting intensities that seems so smooth, with its components so harmonious and perfectly assimilated, that it leaves the palate puzzled as much as transfixed and transported: what was that, that just went through? An impossibly beautiful ghost? A zephyr? Something too profound for human understanding? Has it moved into me? Will I be able to drink anything else? Should I stop forever? Musk and blackcurrant, blueberries and marello cherries, perfectly fitting cedar-and-spice oak (think mace), strapping acidity … all the best things about the best red wines are here in seamless abundance. The wine is utterly beautiful to drink now, but will live for decades, just as the 66 has done.
Buy the screwcaps.
In one deft blow, this wine will do more - than any other product could possibly do - to resurrect the respect Coonawarra had before it turned itself into a sort of Riverland South with its own little Saint. The rest of the district, and the rest of the Treasury vineyards there, will have to perform miracles to justify the resurgence of oenological interest which will follow, especially in China. The scrutiny will be inscrutable.
Oh yes. The Kings? They rocked. Nothing slow about that show. Those good ol boys should ALWAYS drink 620 before they hit the stage. Two bottles. Praise the Lord!