How The Penfolds Collection 2018 continues to blend tradition with innovation.
With the Chao Phraya River for company, wine aficionados gathered at Anantara Riverside Bangkok Resort on 25 October. The occasion: to celebrate the Southeast Asian launch of The Penfolds Collection 2018. Behind velvety red curtains the hue of Penfolds’ predominantly red wines, a house of mirrors time tunnel told Penfolds’ story.
Building on early beginnings in fortified wine, Dr Christopher and Mary Penfold started the Penfolds winery at Magill Estate in Adelaide Hills in 1844. Penfolds’ first chief winemaker Max Schubert created the iconic Grange in the 1950s, designed to be kept and savoured over the years. It was ahead of its time and under-valued at first. Over time, to wide acclaim, Grange became the epitome of the multi-varietal, multi-regional branch of wine styles under Penfolds’ stable.
Guardians of style
The custodian of that legacy is chief winemaker Peter Gago AC, who has been in the role since 2002. Says Gago, “When I took over from John (Duval), people asked what I was going to do with Grange. How was I going to change it? I said ‘absolutely nothing’. I’m not trying to change the style but just make a better Grange than the legendary 55′, 53′ or 71′ by getting better fruit and making a better blend of that style.”
But it’s not just the trademark Grange he and his team are preserving. Each Penfolds wine adheres to a house style which prevails despite tweaks and innovations. “Everyone has a new idea,” he says. “For instance, that Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon will work well in French oak. No, but that’s not the house style of Bin 707. Years later we did Bin 169 Coonawara Cabernet Sauvignon in French oak without compromising 707.” ‘Bin’ by the way, refers to the storage area of the cellars where the wines are aged, and has been a naming convention for Penfolds since the late 1950s.
The Penfolds Collection 2018 spanning across five vintages continues to illustrate the brand’s blend of tradition and innovation. For instance, it sees the 64th consecutive release of Grange via the 2014 Grange, which features Shiraz (98 per cent) and Cabernet Sauvignon (2 per cent) grapes from six regions. This includes for the first time, Wrattonbully in South Australia’s South East.
Alongside, Bin 311 2017 Chardonnay progresses from its fruit being sourced from a single region, Tumbarumba, to three regions, Adelaide, Tasmania, and Tumbarumba. Says Gago, “The 311 is probably the biggest change we have in this year’s collection. It’s a different animal now, going from a single region to three regions. It’s still the same style, but a very different proposition.”
Bin 169 Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 also stands out, he adds, as Bin 169 has not been released for the last couple of years, and the Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, for the first time in many years, is giving Grange a run for its money. “When 707 really shines, and it does in 2016, you can’t ignore it. Just the tightness, complexity, length, the grip. It has a real presence.”
With that introduction, we were more than ready to taste some of these wines.
Made with 98 per cent Shiraz and two per cent Cabernet grapes, and matured for 20 months in 100 per cent new American Oak, this is definitely one for keeps, as the wine’s peak drinking time period is from 2020-2045. But it tastes great if you drink it now too. Just as well that it was the penultimate drink of the night as limited glasses of 2014 Grange went around in a final toast to The Penfolds Collection 2018. We loved how this smooth and velvety full-bodied wine was complex yet well-balanced. There was a certain creaminess or umaminess that lingers on your palate akin to tucking into Sydney rock oysters and ends on a slightly spicy note that leaves you wanting to take another sip.
2017 Bin 311 Tumbarumba Chardonnay
A result of cool-climate multi-regional fruit sourcing from Adelaide Hills, Tasmania and Tumbarumba, this Chardonnay has benefited from record rainfall in the three regions during the winter months, and a later harvest which allowed the grapes to develop in flavour and intensity. The wine is matured for eight months in French oak (25 per cent new). We liked its fruity aroma and how intense the citrus flavours were on the palate. We can imagine this summery wine being a popular pour for many a house party.
2016 Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz
Bin 389 was first made in 1960. This vintage is made with 51 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon and 49 per cent Shiraz grapes, and matured for 12 months in American oak (37 per cent new). Like Grange, its peak drinking time spans over 20 years, from 2020 to 2046. It is often called Baby Grange because components of the wine are made in barrels that held the previous vintage of Grange. Also, the parcel of Shiraz that is deemed by a blind tasting panel to be not quite good enough for Grange is moved to Bin 389. One of Gago’s personal favourites, he says this is officially the most cellared red wine in Australia and is “where quality meets price.” We liked its aroma of damp woods, medium-body feel and earthy flavours.
Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz 2016
A single varietal Shiraz from a single location—the cool-climate region of Coonawarra—this wine is matured for 12 months in French oak (30 per cent new). With hints of paprika and pink peppercorn on the nose, this easy-drinking wine has some dusty notes from chalky tannins, and is subtle and layered.
Penfolds wines are available in Singapore via RedMart and various stockists.