Matthew Jukes - Wine Notes

The Penfolds Collection 2020 – notes and scores

The Penfolds Collection 2020

‘A polished performance’

To be released on 6th August 2020

With notes and scores embargoed until 23rd July 2020 00.01 AEST

 

Some or all of the wines will be available from the following merchants (they are the regular ports of call for Penfolds releases) and the prices noted below are Australian Dollar RRPs quoted from Penfolds official notes, so these will be translated into GBP by the various merchants –  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 – Due to the Coronavirus pandemic winemaker Peter Gago was unable to come over to the UK to show these wines to me personally, so I tasted at home and then held a phone meeting with him to delve into the details.  In all, I tasted every wine four times over two days noting how each changed with aeration.  This is the first time that I have been able to conduct this valuable exercise.

White

2020 Penfolds, Bin 51, Eden Valley Riesling 12% AUD40

Maturation was 2 months spent in stainless steel tanks.

Like the brittle, crystalline 2019 vintage, this 2020 is another lean, mean, feisty Eden Valley Riesling and it is pithy, raspingly dry and in need of time, perhaps a year or two, to sufficiently mellow and soften.  The talc-y, chalky texture is mouth-watering and the acidity is abrupt and confrontational, too.  The piercingly fresh lime juice theme is invigorating and its ultra-clean outlook manages to fleetingly banish memories of the awful, raging bush fires which devastated hundreds of vineyards in South Australia.  This is a wine which cleanses the palate and the mind and it is a fine beacon of hope that we can look forward to drinking some superb wines from this exceptionally challenging vintage.  18+/20 (Drink 2022-2030)

2019 Penfolds, Bin 311 Chardonnay, Tasmania / Adelaide Hills / Tumbarumba 13% AUD50

50% Tasmania / 34% Adelaide Hills / 14% Tumbarumba

Oak regime – 8 months in French barriques (35% new)

Peter Gago mused that this wine was gradually heading towards being talked about as a kind of ‘Baby-Yattarna’.  It is a nice sound bite, and it certainly looks to the same three wine regions for its source material, but the shape and size of Bin 311 is nothing like Yattarna and so it will be interesting to watch this wine’s style evolve, or perhaps not, over coming years.  With fewer months spent in a slightly higher percentage of new oak than last year’s wine, this is a tighter and more linear Bin 311 than I could have imagined.  There is a chalky, savoury note on the finish of this wine which makes it rather challenging and this needs to dissolve before opening a bottle in anger.  I have a feeling that Bin 311 could do with relaxing a little and not harking back to its 100% Tumbarumba heritage because this is a square peg in a round hole and I feel its edges need to be routed smooth.  While Penfolds doesn’t want any discernible opulence in this wine, because Bin A and Yattarna have more than enough to go around, there is still an intentional angularity here which look natural in the wines of yore, but which look raw and unfinished in this vintage.  There is no doubt that this anomaly might soften with time, but I wouldn’t bet on it.  Having said this, I am always in search of perfection, hence my comments, and this wine has masses of epic fruit and a dreamy perfume, so don’t let me put you off if you can accommodate the unfinished seams in this creation.  18/20 (Drink 2021 – 2030)

2019 Penfolds, Reserve Bin 19A Chardonnay, Adelaide Hills 13% AUD125

Oak regime – 8 months in French barriques (80% new)

A square-jawed Bin A with undoubted opulence on the nose and also on the initial hit of flavour on the palate, but the gate comes down early doors and it leaves you with the notion that you have just been locked out of a very promising party.  Unlike Bin 311, I think that this wine will segue smoothly into a ravishing beauty, given a few years, after all, it has an epic track record on its side.  The fruit has flashes of white peach and Comice pear but the overriding theme is ‘white’, with blanche neige purity and a more than a little gusto under the bonnet.  This is one of the most impressive and consistently excellent Chardonnays in the country and 2019 continues this impeccable track record.  19+/20 (Drink 2023 – 2032)

2018 Penfolds, Bin 144 Yattarna Chardonnay 13% AUD175

Tasmania / Tumbarumba / Adelaide Hills

Oak regime – 8 months in French barriques (60% new)

I love it when a wine shocks me, and while ‘18 Yattarna hasn’t the absolute tension or grandeur of the near-perfect 2017, this is a devastatingly alluring wine and it is already performing at a heightened pheromonal level.  There is dreamy musk scattered liberally among the lusty fruit notes and at this stage of its life, it is already loving life at the same time as making Bin A look a little occluded.  No doubt it will firm up and the gravitas gene will emerge, but for now, this is a hippy chick Yattarna, so grab it for a one-off whirl and then put it back in the cellar to gather its thoughts.  There is a lovely cool edge to this wine which will keep it on the straight and not-so-narrow and I imagine that its best years will be at least six years down the track so please be patient.  19+/20 (Drink 2021 – 2035)

Red

2019 Penfolds, Bin 23 Pinot Noir 13.5% AUD50

76% Tasmania / 14% Adelaide Hills / 10% Henty

Oak regime – 8 months in French barriques (31% new)

While I adored the 2018 Bin 23 with its open-armed, fragrant, pliable fruit, the 2019 vintage is a more considered wine.  This does not mean, however, that I prefer it.  The oak is certainly more strident and, right now, it looks a touch varnishy.  The fruit underneath is quite powerful and pure and it reminds me of a youthful, sanguine Morey-Saint-Denis with its minerality and coolness.   Tassie leads the way here and I feel that this fruit, while attractive, is wearing a rather powerful oak overcoat, and for a wine which is (only) fifty Aussie dollars its carpentry carapace is a little too ostentatious.  With more flesh around the midriff, this wine would have no problem, but I feel it is a little too slender to cope.  Still, thank you Penfolds for giving us a perfect wine to drop into Aussie (and world) Pinot line-ups and let’s see how it fares blind.  I have a feeling that some will fall for its oaky perfume given there are many wines on the planet with this style of maquillage. 17.5/20 (Drink 2022 – 2026)

2018 Penfolds, Bin 138 Shiraz / Grenache / Mataro, Barossa Valley 14.5% AUD60

68% Shiraz, 22% Grenache, 9% Mataro

Oak regime – seasoned French and American hogsheads

The Penfolds literature says that Bin 138 wine draws its inspiration from the wines of the Southern Rhône.  I would love this wine to be a genuine Southern Rhône lookalike with a Grenache-dominant backbone from which it hangs its other red grapes, but with more than 2/3 Shiraz on board it lacks accuracy and while it is a perfectly serviceable red blend, it could have so much more going for it, given the dearth of awesome Grenache in South Australia.  The other problem is that this wine is 60 Aussies and this is a lot of cash and there is the world of competition for this wine.  Taken at face value, it is a plush, oaky, bold red and it ticks several boxes and many will like its immediacy, but I find it a little obvious and rather forgettable.  17/20 (Drink 2021 – 2028)

2018 Penfolds, Bin 128 Shiraz, Coonawarra 14.5% AUD60

Oak regime – 12 months in French oak hogsheads (26% new)

This is the finest value of the six double-digit dollar wines.  It is also the finest Bin 128 I have seen in a long while.  It is hard to understate just how rewarding and delicious this wine is.  A thrilling, spicy, hedgerow fruit nose is followed by lip-smacking fruit and a spicy finish with traction and grip which only seriously posh wines bring to the fore.  This is a Shiraz which could sit on a dining room table next to Cuilleron, Clape and Allemande and get lost in the crowd as opposed to trying to suffocate its companions.  It is the essence of Coonawarra Shiraz while at the same time revelling in its Penfolds tailoring.   The tobacco, herb and leaf aromatics puncture the blackberry chassis and the directness of juiciness of the Shiraz berries is evident in every sip.  The brittle tannins, born of the cool climate, bring a sourness which offset the generosity of the fruit perfectly.  Expressive and with great finesse and directness this is a true winner in the portfolio.  Buy all you can.  18.5+/20 (Drink 2023 – 2035)

2018 Penfolds, Kalimna Bin 28 Shiraz 14.5% AUD50

Barossa Valley / McLaren Vale / Padthaway, Wrattonbully, Fleurieu, Robe, Mt Lofty Ranges, Adelaide Hills, Langhorne Creek

Oak regime – 12 months in seasoned American hogsheads.

I am a long term fan of this wine.  While it had a ‘quiet period’ for a few years it bounced back several years ago when finer quality fruit was sent its way to restore its reputation and reward its fans.  It always seems such a hard-working wine, making effort on the nose and palate to entertain, but it doesn’t need to summon up extra effort in 2018 because this is a fabulous success.  In addition to the lush, open, generous fruit there is another factor which I greatly admire.  On the finish, there is a savoury, adroit, mineral-soaked element which adds gravitas to the whole experience.  Bin 28 acolytes will miss this, as they will be gulping down the expressive fruit at speed, but if they slow down, there is a finish, seemingly stolen from a more serious wine, which is bolted onto the end of this well-meaning creation.  There is precision here – I have never written this about Bin 28 – and it is not borne of muscle or intensity but it is crafted to give just that bit more élan to proceedings, and it works.  18/20 (Drink now – 2035)

2018 Penfolds, Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon 14.5% AUD110

Coonawarra / Padthaway / Wrattonbully / McLaren Vale /Barossa Valley / Robe

Oak regime – 12 months in French oak (21% new) and American oak (9% new) hogsheads.

This is the second vintage in a row that I have come down hard on Bin 407.  Last year, the 2017 was simply not ripe enough.  But in 2018, it is not a problem of ripeness because this is a deep, dark wine, but it is a problem of astringency and coarseness and there is an untamed character to this wine which doesn’t suit the elegant Cabernet Sauvignon grape.  Somewhat dishevelled by comparison to the two other ultra-smooth Cabs in this release, it looks like Bin 407 was left with the rather raw leftovers and without another variety to soften this beast, I am afraid that this wine is a rare number which is out of true balance.  17/20 (Drink 2022 – 2030)

2018 Penfolds, Bin 150 Marananga Shiraz, Barossa Valley 14.5% AUD100

Oak regime – 12 months in American oak (25% new and 25% one-year-old) and French oak (25% new and 25% one-year-old) hogsheads and puncheons.

Marananga sits at the centre (not quite geographically, but almost) of the Penfolds machine and Grange is certainly first in the queue when it comes to picking the most robust and noble fruit from this hamlet.  But after Grange’s cavalcade has mooched back to the winery the Knights of Marananga gather the fruit for this superb thoroughbred.  This is not a wine with the power or the bravado of 2010 or 2016 but it is a wine with sensational fluidity and velvetiness which is offset by minty freshness.  This is a genial, elegant wine with terrific balance and singularity and there is enough fondant fruit in its core to, reasonably, drink now if you are desperate!  But please hold, because while this is a Marananga anomaly, with less grunt and swagger than normal, it still needs time to open up and reveal its entire panoply of dark fruit tones.  Bin 150 oscillates, encouragingly, year after year and because it is a non-blended wine, and so this honest reflection of its unique terroir makes it an outlier in this portfolio.  In 2018, however, it is the beating heart of the collection.  18.5+/20 (Drink 2025 – 2035)

2018 Penfolds, Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz 14.5% AUD100

McLaren Vale / Barossa Valley / Padthaway / Coonawarra / Robe / Wrattonbully

57% Cabernet Sauvignon / 43% Shiraz

Oak regime – American oak hogsheads (38% new)

Sooty, rich, brooding and powerful, this is an epic Bin 389 and the partnership between the two varieties is sensational.  Both grapes are on top form in this vintage and yet this blend somehow seems to make them soar.  Peter Gago explained that it has the most marvellous combination of warmer and cooler sites in this wine and it is this variety, coupled with the sheer quality of the fruit, which makes this vintage such a success.  Also, in this vintage Bin 389, acts as an ambassador from wines like Bin 28 and Bin 128 to the big boys, never missing a beat and ensuring a silky-smooth introduction from glossy and rewarding wines to impactful and profound creations.  This is a massive score for Bin 389, but it is worth every point thanks to its seamless palate and heroically long finish.  19+/20 (Drink 2023 – 2045)

2018 Penfolds, Magill Estate Shiraz 14.5% AUD150

Oak regime – 17 months in French (24% new) and American (18% new) oak hogsheads

Last year, I made a Sangiovese note about the 2017 vintage and this year I am going to ‘change countries’ and make a Tempranillo note about this 2018!  The first thing I sensed when I tasted 2018 Magill was Rioja/Ribera del Duero spiciness and fruit character.  I suppose that these flavours have arisen because it was a very hot vintage, reaching 43.7C on the 19th January.  The harvest was very early and there is a baked fruit note here which I find very unusual, but not altogether unpleasant.  I am not sure, though, that I would spend this amount of money if I wanted to drink this flavour.  In addition to the sour berry notes, there is a dusty oak note, too, which again brings an Iberian tang to proceedings.  Caveat emptor.  17.5+/20 (Drink 2025 – 2035)

 2017 Penfolds, St Henri Shiraz 14.5% AUD135

Barossa Valley / McLaren Vale / Eden Valley / Port Lincoln

97% Shiraz / 3% Cabernet Sauvignon

Oak regime – 12 months in 50-year-old vats.

There is a rather wonderful image floating around my brain as I type this note. In 2017, I see St Henri as a rather louche gentleman sauntering in a smoking jacket. – a sort of Benedict Cumberbatch-type, chuntering away, rather enjoying himself.  It’s funny how different vintages change the character of a wine.  Last years 2016 was so profound and well-built that it took my breath away.  2017, by contrast, makes me want to giggle.  It is open, plummy, smooth and old-school, with a gentle side and the merest smattering of char and meatiness to retain some of its guile and reputation.   Certainly forward-drinking, but with a surprising ability to hold, less robust vintages of St Henri often amaze with their propensity to develop and I would bet that this is one such wine.  While my score might seem a little deflated, given that I like this silky wine enormously, this is just because I prefer the more macho St Henri vintages.  I bet that this goes down a storm with classicists though and this makes this wine such a genuine product of both its winery and also its year.  18+/20 (Drink 2022 – 2045)

2018 Penfolds, RWT Bin 798, Barossa Valley Shiraz 14.5% AUD200

Oak regime – 16 months in French oak hogsheads (64% new and 36% one-year-old)

This is a spectacular RWT and this vintage is so well suited to fully ripe, densely packed Barossa Shiraz it is insane. This is a grand wine and I noted Cabernet balance and sheen here, by which I mean that this is not a forceful, muscle-bound wine but a very elegantly proportioned creation.  There are ostentatious flourishes which come from the highly polished fruit in conjunction with the gloriously perfumed oak, and these exotic touches excite the senses greatly.  It never steps over the line into flamboyance, managing to keep its eagerness and poise in place and for that reason, I think it is one of the standout wines of the collection.  19+/20 (Drink 2025 – 2050)

2018 Penfolds, Bin 169 Cabernet Sauvignon Coonawarra 14.5% AUD360

Oak regime – 18 months in French oak (50% new)

I realise that this wine is three hundred Aussie dollars less expensive than the Bin 707 and also that it comes from a single region (which only accounts for one quarter of Bin 707’s make-up) but I love it every bit as much as its more famous stablemate and I think that it is one of the standout wines in this line-up.  Coonawarra has played a blinder in this hot vintage, given it is tempered somewhat by the ocean, and this has meant that it is a source of sensational wines.  What I do not often find in young, but potentially great, Coonawarra Cabernet is sexiness, which this wine has in spades.  It has lush tannins, heroic density, classically built shoulders from which all of its exuberance hangs and I adore this shape of wine.  There is so much precision and accuracy here, from a varietal, regional and Bin number point of view that I could quite happily have missed out on Bin 707 this year because my Cabernet taste buds were fully satiated.  I cannot recommend this wine enough and I have rewarded it with a score that is directly comparable to its lofty sibling.  19.5+/20 (Drink 2025 – 2050)

2018 Penfolds, Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon 14.5% AUD650

25.6% McLaren Vale / 25.3% Coonawarra / 18.8% Barossa Valley / 13.7% Wrattonbully / 16.6% Robe & Adelaide Hills

Oak regime – 18 months in American oak hogsheads (100% new)

There were no issues for Cabernet in 2018 with evenness across both the warm and cool regions.  Harvest was a doddle and it tastes like blending was a piece of cake, too.  I say this because there are no wrinkles in this wine whatsoever.  It is velvety, thrillingly balanced, typically broad-brush and loaded with awesome power.  There is welcome, pliable juiciness at its core and this means that it will drink before the mighty 2016.  But with everything in its perfect place, like the entire cast, lined up to take a bow on the stage after performing a heart-wrenching opera, what is the overriding theme of this wine?  I used a word from my tasting note of Bin 707 to highlight the character of this entire collection and it is ‘polish’.  This is a tremendously polished wine and it sums up everything remarkable about Bin 707.  19.5+/20 (Drink 2025 – 2050)

2016 Penfolds, Grange Bin 95 14.5% AUD950

Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, Clare Valley, Magill Estate

97% Shiraz and 3% Cabernet Sauvignon.

Oak regime – 18 months in American hogsheads (100% new)

After the blunderbuss which was the 2015 vintage, we have finally arrived at another (there are a good few) slice of sheer perfection.  This is such a controlled wine by comparison to its 2015 pal and over a few days and multiple tastes I made recurring flavour notes regarding the remarkable Special Bin 111A while writing about this wine. I hadn’t considered, of course, that this wine might share very similar parts, but it does!   What I love about how 2016 Grange deploys its flavours is that it does it with so much grace and control for such a commanding wine.  The tannins are dry and masterful, but not astringent in any way and this allows this wine to stand to attention on the palate.  2016 is an awesome vintage for Penfolds and I believe that this label is its greatest wine made in this year – as it should be.   This vintage shows more intent and dynamism than I saw in the 2010 vintage, which is another of my favourites and also another of my 20/20 wines, and so there is no doubt in my mind that this vintage deserves a perfect score, too.   20+/20 (Drink 2030 – 2060)

Penfolds g4 AUD3500

Blended from four vintages of Grange – 2002, 2004, 2008 & 2016

Only 2500 bottles were made

Each vintage in this bonkers wine plays an important part in its whole.  Simple maths tells you that the average of the four years involved is, in fact, 2008 (or rather 2007.5) and this is certainly, and rather bizarrely, the most dominant vintage flavour that I pick up in this blended wine.  It is very rich, bold and yet already rather harmonious and this makes is a wraith-like experience on the palate.  The cool edge to 2002 is there, freshening the nose, and the muscle and intellect of 2004 are felt, too.  The round, fleshy 2008 body does much of the work with the celestial 2016 vintage attempting to calm everything down and bring some semblance of order while also adding some youthful vigour to the mix.  It is all rather hectic and also rather fascinating.  There will be a g5 released in 2021 and you can look up my notes on g3 (on this website dated 18th October 2017).    19+/20 (Drink now – 2040)

 

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 with 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 will be 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 the context of tasting notes, are largely meaningless.  I try to describe my 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.  Most 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 how I judge wines, too.  For those of you who are not familiar with the 20-point scoring system 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