Penfolds plunges into the future:
a powerful array of brilliance
amongst their newest luxuries
Having spent eighteen months pondering, remembering and writing A year in the life of Grange, a multi award-winning book about the 2012 vintage published and photographed by Milton Wordley, I feel I have a better grasp of the workings of this great outfit than many.
Which is not to decry old styles smartarses like me might consider de trop. Just as many of the Australian newcomers to Penfolds gradually moved up through its range, making possible wines like these, markets the size of China have just commenced that same gradual stroll up to Base Camp 1.
Getting all those wines made to style without compromise or error or silly marketing interference, no matter how well-intentioned, is another confounding knot to unravel.
Penfolds Bin 51 Eden Valley Riesling 2015
Penfolds Bin 311 Tumbarumba Chardonnay 2014
Penfolds Yattarna Bin 144 Chardonnay 2013
"Royal, polished, reserved, genteel," the notes go. "Waxy. Some pith, some burlap, sabayon, juniper ... " at which point the electricity failed in the brilliant new restaurant and tasting rooms at Penfolds Magill. I swear the stripes on the table moved. But a sudden blackout's always a good measure of a clientele, and I swear there were many more ooohs and aaahs than panicky shrieks from the restaurant full of mums of all ages breaking fast with Yattarna and/or Grange by the glass and some polite poussin on the other side of the partition.
"The power just went off," my scrawl continues, "and I lost my electric spittoons."
This collision of sensory overload with the unexpected deprivation and the thrill of the risk reminded me of dinner at the Bue Bellbird in Healesville in November 1982. We'd located a bottle of Darren Kelly's best vintage of his Kellybrook Yarra Valley methode champenoise Kingston black apple cider - was it '76? - and had just watched it poured and clinked coupes when the lights began to swing on their lines and the floor rocked like a four-tonne sommelier had just rumbled past and the power went off with the first anxious mouthful.
The Wonnongatta faultline over the range had slipped, sending 5.4 Richters of shock and panic through the Victorian Alps. That cider didn't last long in the dark.
Anyway it was by no means dark when the power went off on the Grange range, although the post-post modern jailhouse shadows swerved and twisted like serpents, I guarantee.
This grand Chardonnay makes me want to simply sit and ponder. I can't claim to have Richter-tested it, but it sure stayed smug and ungiving through a power failure and it was very cool to have an excuse to commit the act of swallowing when the rinsers went off in the electric spitters.
Typically Yattarna takes its time to exhale much of its royal miasma ... it was a good half hour before this one began edging its way out of the glass, and then it was with a "so whatter you lookin at, punk?" disdain. Answer: cool bottle and decant. Not to put too much in the way of gender specifics on the matter in hand, but you best defeat Her Majesty by releasing her.
This is not a white Grange. You can't make any sort of Grange from Chardonnay. But it sure is one king-hell Hell-queen mutha of a Chardonnay, layered with so many levels of indulgent gastronomic wickedness that it takes the form of a record-breaking trifle, composed say of brioche soaked in Krug as much as spongecake soused in Max Schubert's legendary soup sherry, with a compote of drunken peaches and passe-crassanne in kirsch with sabayon and crème caramel and crunchy almond biscotti crumbled over the top. Dammit, you might just as well set fire to it with Louis XIII Cognac to finish the presentation with the regal dignity and force due a wine of this stature.
Otherwise, wait five years and repeat.
But I'm gonna blame that music on the blackout. There must have been a mistake. Get Gago to choose all of it.
[reviewed August 15]
I need urgently to sit with Peter Gago, David Wynn and Max Schubert to drink this and watch 'em skite. A spoon of ripe Stilton would be the go. You got a special corner somewhere in there Pete?
new review after fresh tasting:
It's become a habit, me dreaming of drinking Peter Gago's wine with him and other hero mentors long gone. I hope it's not droll. This is never to overlook the amazing work that Peter does, leading the Penfolds team into the now by rethinking and perfecting the past, with deep respect and care.
He sometimes gets excited, but believe me, Gago has the deepest cool.
Steering Penfolds must often be like driving a supertanker. It ain't no Ducati.
This is a good example of Penfolds somehow getting something from Coonawarra that no other maker seems to get, except maybe occasionally Zema. This wine's more Penfolds than Coonawarra, but it sure is Penfolds Coonawarra.
After the gently acrid whiff of dry chalk and cigar box lies a smooth, dignified, elegant syrup, Bible-black and increasingly profound as its tannins build to the tight dry finish we used to expect of what we were still allowed to call claret before the Frogs went nuts and said it was their name. Which it may have been when it was still clairette, meaning pale rosey wine from Bordeaux. But once the cockney wharfies and the Brit trade bastardised that to claret, meaning good elegant intense dry red, I reckon you'd be hard-pressed to call it a French word.
Just sayin'. I get cheesed off by stuff like this. You can't control language.
This is a lovely wine to drink now. It absolutely kills the Bin 28, which comes from everywhere other than Kalimna. In which instance I reckon David Wynn would enjoy rejoining the crusty spooks' circle (93).
$80; 14.4% alcohol; screw cap; 93++ points
How? By continually honing very fine wines like this.
Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz 2013
Him and the crew all deserve to be very proud of this wine.
$350; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 95++ points
This is the Coonawarra French oak partner to the RWT Barossa Shiraz. Together, these two make the alternative American oak Bin 707 and to lesser extent Magill Estate, which has some overt new French as well, look really Spalvins in style.
For those who came in late, Janis Gunnars Spalvins ruled Penfolds through his Adelaide Steamship Company until the whole thing went arse-up in 1991 when the recievers moved in and he moved along.
Spalvins just loved American oak. I doubt that a wine of this royal distinction would have survived in his time. I was startled to hear him reappear in the public fora last week to tell everybody that Treasury is over-valued.
It is classical, regal, sublime Coonawarra Cabernet, ripe enough to have disposed of any of the angular leafy methoxypyrazine acridity which so easily mars unripe over-cropped high-foliage Cabernet in Coonawarra. This is smooth, sensual, slightly syrupy claret that in the recent Cabernet stakes is beaten only by The Max 2012.
Penfolds The Max Schubert Barossa Coonawarra Cabernet Shiraz 2012
It'd go straight into your genes.
More along the Bin 60A lines than Grange, it's a perfume. Barossa provides the well-dressed saddle, plush and soft; Coonawarra perfume rides the horse. Confectioner's sugar; musk; jellied mint; crystallised violets. Persian pashmak: the original floss candy.
All this insinuates itself onto your tongue where it does a totally disarming Medlar Gel sort of a seduction and you end up sitting there like a dumbstruck zombie, wondering what could possibly happen next.
I don't mean to sound ambiguous.
What happens next is the damn thing does its long dryout tease with those perfect tannins and still leaves a marshmallow waft of blackcurrant/blueberry/red currant/aniseed ring magic sitting in the middle of your head.
Not to mention the perfumed fields of Provence.
Bliss out, baby.
Watch everybody come over all quiet.
It will become a very famous and much more expensive wine than this.
Trust Unca Phil.
There, I did it again.