Penfolds Collection Tasting Notes – October 2019

Penfolds Collection Tasting Notes – October 2019

 Some of all of the wines are available from the following merchants and the prices noted below are the RRPs direct from Penfolds –  www.bbr.com, www.biwine.com, www.igwines.com, www.laywheeler.com, www.frw.co.uk, www.justerinis.com, www.corneyandbarrow.com, www.harrods.com, www.hedonism.co.uk, www.majestic.co.uk, www.thewinesociety.com, www.laithwaites.co.uk, www.frazierswine.co.uk, www.cadmanfinewines.co.uk

Author’s note – These tasting notes were written in haste on my iPad in about an hour due to a very packed tasting schedule on the day of my Penfolds Collection Tasting with Peter Gago, so please forgive any typos or incomplete sentences. 

FRANCE

2012 Champagne Thiénot x Penfolds Chardonnay Pinot Noir Cuvée 12.5% £150

Initially, rather good and luxurious but I have a question mark over its forward demeanour.  While lovely and smooth this is a wine with a slightly superficial feel and an overtly glossy sheen and if you crack on with it now you will, no doubt, love it, but it doesn’t have the acid line that I would like it to given the price or the ambition. 17.5?/20 (Drink now – 2025)

2012 Champagne Thiénot x Penfolds Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Avize 12.5% £150

This is more like it with tight, reined-in, chalky fruit and a lot more obvious class on display.  Another wine which seems a little too forward for its years, this initial exuberance is neatly cut by the onrush of acid which, thankfully, zooms into place on the finish.  This is what people are looking for from a vintage GC BdeB single vineyard proposition and, for a debut wine, it already looks like an established player such is the balance on display. 18/20 (Drink 2020 – 2030)

2012 Champagne Thiénot x Penfolds Blanc de Noirs Grand Cru Aÿ 12.5% £150

On the nose and also the initial burst of flavour on the palate this seems like a less precise, stockier and more dense wine with too much weight and heft on show.  This exuberance quickly subsides into a more backward wine with fine Pinot perfume and a gruff, almost astringent finish.  I like the way that even though this is a rich and heady creation it is all in perfect balance.  It is raw and unpolished, but at the same time, there is power and obvious build-quality here, too.  The calibre of the raw materials is plain to see and this bodes well.  Don’t be tempted to get into this wine too early as it will bite, but I venture that it will mellow rather swiftly and then hold well. 18.5+/20 (Drink 2022 – 2035)

AUSTRALIA

White

2019 Penfolds, Bin 51, Eden Valley Riesling 12.5% £31

This is a very bitter and firm Bin 51 and it is the polar opposite to the forward-drinking, easy, Eden styles which proliferate the shelves.  Structured and dense (it was a dry vintage) with a pithy, mineral-soaked, hard edge, which shows no sign of abating, this is a fascinating wine.  With lower yields than normal, this is a severe, bone dry, exceptionally racy wine and I like it.  It will flatter in its youth but prefer to drunk in the medium term when the component parts all relax into place.  18+/20 (Drink 2021-2027)

2018 Penfolds, Bin 311 Chardonnay, Adelaide Hills / Tumbarumba / Tasmania 13% £32

Oak regime – 10 months in French barriques – 30% new, 20% 1-year old, 50% seasoned

Smooth and rather juicy, this is a clean, focussed and bright wine with white-fruited flavours and lovely, linear appeal.  Pure, calm and with mountain spring freshness there is none of the hopsack or cereal notes which sometimes appear in this wine and it is definitely a forward-drinker in spite of the lip-smacking, keen acid. 18/20 (Drink now – 2026)

2018 Penfolds, Reserve Bin 18A Chardonnay, Adelaide Hills 13% £77

Oak regime – 8 months in French barriques – 40% new, 35% 1-year old, 25% seasoned

Tidy and clean, this is a more focussed and more straight-jacketed wine than ever before.  Rather smart and closed and with a much firmer and leaner outlook than I have previously seen, this is a noble and introverted Bin 18A and there are virtually none of the trademark sulphide-y notes of yore.  Hard to assess at this young age, but this is certainly a wine which proves to be interesting and introspective, a change is happening here and this signals a subtle move for Reserve Bin A for the future.  There will be a toning back of the reductive characters but the body of the will still oscillate with each vintage. It just so happens that this is a slimmer year overall!  18.5+/20 (Drink 2022 – 2030)

2017 Penfolds, Bin 144 Yattarna Chardonnay Tasmania / Tumbarumba / Adelaide Hills 13.5% £147

Oak regime – 8 months in French barriques – 50% new, 32% 1-year old, 18% seasoned

This is an epic Yattarna with a true Grand Cru feel about it.  It is the finest Yattarna I can remember, hence my lofty score.  A mighty wine with amazing density and power, there is lovely definition here but there is also no obvious muscle as in years gone by.  This lack of unnecessary bulk does not mean that this is a frail wine!  It is, by contrast, a powerful, sinewy creation with immense concentration and equally beguiling beauty.  Strangely, it is very attractive already and very expressive but I expect that it will close down for a few years in a few months’ time when it is not expected to perform for the world’s wine media and emerge refreshed and ready to properly greet drinkers in three or four years’ time.   19.5+20 (Drink 2023 – 2035)

Red

2018 Penfolds, Bin 23 Pinot Noir, Henty / Tasmania / Adelaide Hills 14.5% £38

Gosh, this is a nice wine and it also offers stunning value for money, too (something I cannot say about many of the wines from this superb company)!  Pretty, tender and floral Bin 23 is a very nice addition to this tasting.  Gone are the days of dark, butch, tannic Pinot (thank goodness) as we welcome in a new era of cool, mineral-soaked, juicy wines which allow the fruit to operate unhindered in order to romance our taste buds not punch them into submission. Ravishing and rather forward, too, you can crack on with this beauty right now. 18/20 (Drink now – 2024)

2017 Penfolds, Bin 138 Shiraz / Grenache / Mataro, Barossa Valley 14.5% £35

68% Shiraz, 23% Grenache, 9% Mataro

Fairly sleek and purple-hued with a touch of vegetal notes on board, this is a rather muted Côtes-du-Rhône-shaped wine with discreet spice and mulberry fruit.  Quiet and decent, there is a slightly dusty, dry finish which rather slows this wine down, but it is a decent effort overall.  Having said this, I think that £38 is a steep price to pay for this style of wine. 17+/20 (Drink 2020 – 2025)

2017 Penfolds, Bin 128 Shiraz, Coonawarra 14.5% £35

This is a direct and very intensely fruited Bin 128 which dodged the rains, unlike the Cabernet in 2017, so there is no Bin 169 or Bin 707 in 2017, but this Shiraz and select other cuvées performed out of their skins (literally).  There is a dark, core of liquorice fruit here and also very impressive depth, making this a real surprise and also a wine which is worth every penny of its asking price.  Hold off drinking for a few years, in spite of its seeming exuberance, because there is a lot more to come. 18+/20 (Drink 2022 – 2030)

2017 Penfolds, Kalimna Bin 28 Shiraz, Barossa / McLaren Vale / Padthaway 14.5% £32

The McLaren Vale element in this wine seems particularly juicy and the Padthaway saltiness comes in and pegs it back neatly.  This is a decent effort for Bin 28, and there is plushness balanced with 2017 freshness, too.  It is obviously a Penfolds wine and obviously Bin 28, too, but I cannot say it is a classic given that it is forward and competent but rather predictable. You do not have to concentrate too hard, which will please its fans, because you can drink it now with your brain disengaged and have a perfectly good time.  17.5/20 (Drink now – 2027)

2017 Penfolds, Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon, Padthaway / McLaren Vale /Barossa Valley / Coonawarra / Wrattonbully 14.5% £61

Oh dear, this is a victim of the vintage and I am, as always, going to lay it on the line and say that I am not keen on this wine at all.  It is a touch too oaky and a tiny bit too vegetal and occluded on the nose for my liking.  I sense more than a little impact from the inclement weather in 2017 and it lacks the bright, clean edge which usually makes this a compelling wine.  The palate rebounds with juicy cranberry and plum notes, trying hard to resurrect some interest, but the nose still bothers me as it hangs around disrupting proceedings.  The finish is dry, too, and the dull, grey notes come back at the end. 17?/20 (Drink now – 2027)

2017 Penfolds, Bin 150 Marananga Shiraz, Barossa Valley 14.5% £61

Light, fresh and sweetly fruited, this is a strangely forward and relatively light wine, given its provenance, with unnerving purity and an Italianate acid line which conjures up the Veneto rather than the Barossa.  There is an overriding red, not black, theme and while many wines suffered in this vintage, Bin 150 has simply nipped off for a costume change and a makeover and this switch in personality works impressively well.   I wouldn’t want this to happen very often, but I am happy to applaud wines that work well, even if they look a little odd, in challenging vintages.  18/20 (Drink 2020 – 2030)

2017 Penfolds, Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz, McLaren Vale / Barossa Valley / Padthaway / Wrattonbully 14.5% £61

Rather well made and superbly well balanced this is stunningly suave wine with brilliant balance and it is already into its stride.  The main reason why Bin 389 is such a success in 2017 is that it has benefited from Bin 169 Cabernet not being made.   The addition of this top-flight, but not elite fruit (Peter Gago said that they nearly made it, but it just dipped under the calibre they were hoping for) has meant that Bin 389 is a beauty.  I am, of course, thrilled that this TGAR stalwart looks so attractive in this vintage and it is also forward, too.  Seriously amazing, tender and balanced, this is a cracker and people who drink it will be impressed with its elegance and polished. 18.5+/20 (Drink now – 2030)

2017 Penfolds, Magill Estate Shiraz 14% £136

Rather tight, firm, slim and edgy, this is a dryly tannic Shiraz with some perfume and slim hips over a Tuscan-shaped cool chassis. Picked very late in order to encourage more ripeness it has a slender, refreshingly sleek silhouette and a rather enticing red cherry appeal which will make it a must-have for fans of all things Sangiovese!  Of course, this is not the aim at Magill, but hey ho, this is what the 2017 vintage has given us all and we have to accept that this is a strangely beguiling vintage.  One more note – you must have crazily deep pockets, too, because this is a fearfully expensive wine (even by comparison to those bandits in Montalcino). 18+/20 (Drink 2022 – 2032)

2017 Penfolds, RWT Bin 798, Barossa Valley Shiraz 14.5% £132

Lush and pure, but nowhere near the power and depth of previous vintages, this is an oddly slender wine with a touch of saltiness which doesn’t seem to fit the form.  There is nice balance throughout, but the core flavour is not what I am after in this wine.  My score reflects the fact that I do not understand how this wine will evolve, so perhaps it is best to buy a bottle, down the track, and see for yourself because that is what I am going to do. 17.5+?/20 (Drink – not sure)

2016 Penfolds, St Henri Shiraz, Barossa Valley / Adelaide Hills / McLaren Vale / Clare Valley / Coonawarra / Magill Estate 14.5% £95

Very complete and smooth, this is a powerful and focussed St Henri and it is certainly the finest release since the stellar 2010 vintage.  With a little more upholstery and depth than I would have expected, this is a stunning wine with layers and layers of plush fruit coupled with a seriously long finish. It is nothing short of brilliant.  With this calibre of fruit in St Henri in 2016, I anticipate that Grange will be a knockout, too, but we will have to wait a year to find out.  This is a wine which I would not hesitate to recommend, even at this lofty price (I write while wiping a tear away while I remember the old days and the prices of these dearly beloved labels).  19+/20 (Drink 2024 – 2050)

2015 Penfolds, Grange Bin 95, Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, Clare Valley, Magill Estate 14.5% £591

98% Shiraz and 2% Cabernet Sauvignon.

With epic weight and epic density, this is a very exciting wine and the wonderful and thoroughly engaging nose will, no doubt, appeal to all-comers, even if I find it a little too heady, too soon in its life.   Unbelievably sweet-fruited and forward, 2015 Bin 95 it looks like it is a ‘New World’ Grange as opposed to a ‘Classic’ Grange and I find this unusual but far from unpleasant! Fascinating, very flattering and incredibly easy to understand, unlike the classic vintages which take an age to unravel, this is a pure and sensual wine and I have no doubt that many will fall at its feet.  I like it a lot, but for perfection, I need more grunt under the bonnet and a little grumpiness, too, at this young age.  19+/20 (Drink 2030 – 2050)

2016 Penfolds, Special Bin 111A Shiraz, Clare Valley / Barossa Valley £850

18 months in 100% new French hogsheads.

Made from two, remarkable single vineyard parcels this is an extraordinarily angular and rigid wine.  These are qualities I greatly admire in very young reds as long as there is epic fruit draped over these structural battlements.   2020 marks the 100th year of the Gersch family (based in Moppa) selling their Barossa Valley grapes to Penfolds and four of the last ten vintages have gone into Grange.  The Clare component comes from the Botanic Vineyard (also known as Wattle Farm), situated between Auburn and Leasingham in the Clare Valley, where five of last six Grange wines have benefitted from its fruit.  The last Special Bin was released eleven years ago (2008 Bin 620) and so it has been a nail-biting wait for the next super-Penfolds wine.  As I have already mentioned in the St Henri note, there is a lot of seriously good fruit around in 2016 and so this wine does not compromise Grange in any way, according to Gago.  It is also a completely different shape to Grange, too, with densely packed, crisply brittle lines and a firm, upright, ramrod straight backbone.  While Grange is often a friendly giant, Bin 111A is a military man, standing to attention, gleamingly turned out and every bit a commanding presence.  Only around 1000 cases were made and I imagine that there will be a queue for this wine forming immediately around the planet because it is very good indeed.  While I only had about 15 minutes to assess it, the nose expanded glamorously in the glass and I don’t doubt that over a few hours it would continue to evolve with determination and vigour.  This is not a bigger wine than Grange but it is a more focussed and firm wine and I find the overall character mesmerising.  I would like to see this oddity made again, because I am keen to see what might happen in subsequent vintages, but I fear that this will be a one-off.  If you have the money, you should dabble.  I don’t, so I won’t but there is a lot of wine here, so I cannot imagine that anyone will regret their purchase when they eventually come to drink this fascinating creation.  19.5++/20 (Drink 2025 – 2055)

Notes on my scores –

The absence of a ‘+’ indicates a wine which is in balance and can be drunk
relatively young thanks to its precocity and charm.  One ‘+’ indicates a wine that will benefit from medium-term ageing (in accordance to the style of the wine), while two ‘++’ indicates a wine that should manage to make the long haul, softening and evolving as it goes.  A ‘?’ means that there is an issue with the wine (something is not quite right or confusing) which is explained in the notes.  I would not advise buying a wine with a ‘?’ unless you have checked the wine personally or I have tasted it again and either the issue has been resolved or has been compounded in which case it is a dud anyway.

MATTHEW JUKES SCORE CONVERSION CHART

As a wine taster and writer, I prefer you to read my words rather than focus on my scores.  This is why I rarely score wines unless I am writing a preview report like this one or similar style of article.  I believe that scores, taken out of context of tasting notes, are largely meaningless.  I try to describe my featured wines fully such that you can imagine the aroma, shape and flavour of each one.  Scores don’t help with this.  You will be aware that there are a few different scoring methods used in the global wine trade.  Some of my wine writing colleagues have been tempted over to the dark side and they use the 100-point rating system.  There are a few, usually older types, who cling onto the venerable five-star rating – admittedly, I use this for the Great New Zealand Pinot Noir Classification.  As you know, I favour the 20-point score.  It’s how I was taught and it dovetails nicely with the way in which I judge wines, too.  For those of you who are not familiar with the 20-point scoring system then here is a table which translates it into the various other formats.

 

20-point score100-point scoremedal5 star
20100perfect gold5
19.598gold5
1996gold5
18.595gold4
1893high silver4
17.591silver4
1789silver3
16.588high bronze3
1686bronze2
15.585bronze2
1583no medal1
14.581no medal1
1480no medal1