Not all vintages are created even – Penfolds release

Penfolds Group

The Penfolds Luxury, Icon and Bin Releases 2010

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There’s something very odd about the Penfolds new releases this year.

A strange thing is going on with South Australian vintages. What are the best red wine seasons of the past decades? Line ‘em up: ‘86, ‘88, ‘90, ‘91, ‘94, ‘96, ‘98, ‘99, ‘02, ‘04, ‘05, ‘06 and ‘08. This year, Penfolds Chief Winemaker Peter Gago and others reported Barossa Shiraz as good as they’d ever seen, so it probably won’t be long before we add 2010, too. With just three exceptions in a quarter of a century, it’s an odd pattern indeed.

Not all vintages are created even. When the 1999 vintage landed, there was no fanfare. It was never going to be the blockbuster of ‘94, ‘96 or ‘98 but this should never have been held against it. It was an impressive year but it missed the pattern.

And we like patterns, don’t we? The world is easier to understand if we can squash it into boxes. When I reported some of the highlights and lowlights of the 2008 season in a feature for a US magazine, the edited draft came back minus all the highlights. But nature doesn’t fit into boxes. Especially in these wildly changing times when every season sets new records.

The Penfolds Luxury and Icon release is the only wine launch you’ll see on the television news every year. But don’t expect quite the fanfare that there was last year, because this time it’s an odd release: 2005 Grange, 2007 Yattarna, 2007 707, 2007 RWT, 2007 Magill, 2006 St Henri and 2008 Bin A. The Penfolds Bin releases centre on the 2007 and 2009 vintages. They fall out of our neat little even box.

I’m here to tell you, the time has come to toss the box. Vintages certainly have their own unique styles and themes but for as long as we cling to our boxes we will miss the exceptions. And, oh my goodness, are there some exceptions among this year’s Penfolds releases.

There’s no large company in South Australia better poised to create exceptions than Penfolds. There are highlights even in the 2007 vintage, a season that the characteristically upbeat Penfolds PR machine describes as “a dry challenging vintage, testing everyone’s patience and skill.” The secret? Vast vineyard resources at Penfolds’ disposal and a preparedness to decimate production at the top end when the best fruit is scarce. Not surprisingly, multi-region wines fare best in these challenging seasons, a pertinent consideration in these times of single-vineyard-is-best.

“2007 was a challenging vintage for us, as were 2005, 2003 and 2001,” Gago told me as he poured Bin 707 in his tasting room at Magill Estate last month. “People say this and that about 2007 but there’s nothing wrong with it for us. The fruit’s there but we just didn’t make so much of it. There was no 2000 or 2003 707, but here is 2007. Symbolically, that’s very important to us.”

Which are the odd vintage Penfolds Bins to buy this year? Bin 51 2009, Bin 311 2009, Bin 23 2009, Bin 407 2007, Bin 389 2007 and Bin 707 2007. Avoid Bin 28 2007. I’m not superstitious but that list is just plain odd!

And 2005 Grange? Click on for my notes. For Gago, “I bought 2004 Grange myself when it came up for $475 at Dan Murphy’s and I’ll do the same with the 2006 and 2008 and leave them in the cellar for the whole of my life.”

Some will stop at nothing to get even. But I’d bet that 2005 Grange will one day rank among the greats.  The odds certainly look favourable.

Tyson Stelzer.


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2009 Penfolds Koonunga Hill Autumn Riesling, $17
2005 Penfolds Reserve Bin Aged Release Eden Valley Riesling, $40
2009 Penfolds Koonunga Hill Chardonnay, $16
2009 Penfolds Thomas Hyland Chardonnay, $22
2009 Penfolds Bin 311 Tumbarumba Chardonnay, $32
2007 Penfolds Cellar Reserve Chardonnay, $34
2008 Penfolds Reserve Bin 08A Chardonnay, $90
2007 Penfolds Yattarna Chardonnay, $130
2008 Penfolds Koonunga Hill Seventy Six Shiraz Cabernet, $17
2009 Penfolds Bin 23 Adelaide Hills Pinot Noir, $40
2008 Penfolds Cellar Reserve Adelaide Hills Pinot Noir, $50 – Not recommended
2007 Penfolds Cellar Reserve Barossa Valley Sangiovese, $50 – Not recommended
2008 Penfolds Cellar Reserve McLaren Vale Tempranillo, $50
2006 Penfolds Cellar Reserve Barossa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, $199
2008 Penfolds Bin 138 Barossa Valley Shiraz Mourvèdre Grenache, $30
2008 Penfolds Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz, $34 – Not recommended
2007 Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz, $34 – Not recommended
2007 Penfolds Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon, $55
2007 Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz, $65
NV Penfolds Grandfather Rare Tawny, $100
2006 Penfolds St Henri Shiraz, $90
2007 Penfolds Magill Estate Shiraz, $115 – Not recommended
2007 Penfolds RWT Barossa Valley Shiraz, $175 – Not recommended
2007 Penfolds Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon, $190
2005 Penfolds Grange, $550

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