Penfolds announces their Inaugural Collection of Californian Wines

Penfolds announces their Inaugural Collection of Californian Wines

Press embargo 17th February 2021 13.00 GMT

Physical Launch 4th & 5th March 2021

I tasted these wines with Penfolds Chief Winemaker Peter Gago (on Zoom) on Tuesday 9th February.  Here is a copy of the official Penfolds press release which I have edited and also cut to focus on the most pertinent information.

Over twenty years ago, Penfolds started exploring the bountiful soils of California, with an ambition to create a range of wines unrestricted by vine, border or continent.  Today, Penfolds winemakers pick up where previous generations left off, to unveil four new Californian wines that extol an otherworldliness and also something special.

The inaugural California Collection comprises four wines:

2018 Quantum Bin 98 Cabernet Sauvignon

2018 Bin 149 Cabernet Sauvignon

2018 Bin 704 Cabernet Sauvignon

2018 Bin 600 Cabernet Shiraz

The two flagship wines that lead this collection, 2018 Quantum Bin 98 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2018 Bin 149 Cabernet Sauvignon, are labelled as ‘Wine of the World’, a Penfolds term used to describe the wines’ taste profiles, because of the way they have been blended. Made from predominantly Napa Valley Cabernet parcels, each wine contains a significant addition of flagship-worthy Shiraz (Quantum) and Cabernet (Bin 149) of the highest quality from South Australia.  Wine of the World wines are blended across continents and hemispheres – possessing an ‘otherness’ that can best be described as ‘worldly’.

Penfolds Chief Winemaker Peter Gago said, “A quality-first approach underpins this inaugural release, led by 2018 Quantum.  This blend assembles parcels of prized Cabernet Sauvignon from some of the Napa Valley’s best vineyards and pedigreed Shiraz from South Australia.  This is a first for Penfolds.”

Penfolds’ California journey started decades ago in the Camatta Hills vineyard, Paso Robles.  In the 1980s, Penfolds initiated an ambitious viticultural program in Australia called ‘Heritage Selections’.  From its most prized vineyards, winemakers sought to identify single vineyards, blocks and vines that produced the best quality fruit. Cuttings from these exceptional Heritage Selections were then propagated and eventually sent across the world to California.

During 1998 – 1999, a selection of Magill Estate and Kalimna Heritage Selection vines were planted in Californian soil, at Block 30 of the newly purchased Camatta Hills Estate, Paso Robles, which was formerly known as Creston 600 Ranch.  The 11.5-acre Block 30 (the original and most prized block on the estate) was fully propagated and planted by 2001. While planting the vineyards, viticulturists discovered another bonus: prized limestone or, in geological terms, ‘Camatta’ soils – hence, the name ‘Camatta Hills’.

While experimental Camatta Hills vintages occurred in 2006 and 2007, the bottles were never commercially released by Penfolds.  More recently, in 2018, Chief Winemaker Peter Gago, Senior Winemaker Stephanie Dutton and Winemaker Andrew Baldwin re-established Penfolds footprint within the northern hemisphere and embarked on the 2018 California harvest.

Over the past three years, Penfolds has sourced grapes from some of the best Californian vineyards to complement Penfolds own House Style and deliver exceptional and distinctive quality wine.  Winemakers spent time selecting fruit from Californian vineyards including Napa Valley AVAs: Oakville, Diamond Mountain District, Howell Mountain and Rutherford. Grapes were also sourced from Camatta Hills, Paso Robles, from the original vine cuttings planted in 1998 and 1999.

“The wines made in California pay respect to California terroir, yet one thing remains overtly consistent…the red Penfolds stamp.  AP John barrels, open fermenters and time-honoured Penfolds winemaking techniques have been applied.  Being global isn’t just about selling wine around the world, it is about working with both feet on the soil.  We will have the Californian sun above and soil beneath, but everything in between will be Penfolds”, said Gago.

Penfolds has a multi-regional winemaking style unrestricted by region or vineyard, one that is now able to select grapes from one of the world’s most premium winemaking regions.  Curiosity and creative desire are not limited by border or continent.  The right soils, climate and fruit quality drive sourcing.  Penfolds House Style allows and embraces the freedom to explore premium viticultural regions across Australia and the world, including California. Penfolds is also investigating winemaking opportunities in Bordeaux and Penfolds already works in Champagne.

2018 Penfolds, Bin 600 Cabernet Shiraz, California £45.00 bottle; £100.00 magnum 14.5% alc

The Bin number – named after the Creston 600 Ranch, now renamed the Camatta Hills Estate.  Grapes – 78% Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and 22% Camatta Hills Estate Shiraz

Regions – Napa Valley, Sonoma, Paso Robles

Oak – 16 months American (40% new & 60% one-year-old)

Deeply spicy, savoury and meaty, this is a fabulous wine with flair and richness and it does a jolly good job of bringing The Great Australian Red blend to California but with a touch more red fruit and a slightly juicier frame.  Forward-drinking and with a fresher feel than the classic Penfolds Bin 389, this is a successful Californian interpretation of this legendary model of Aussie red wine.  With a production of 20000 dozen, it will be one which will be sure to introduce this unique blend to the United States and make a large noise in doing so!  18+/20 Drink now – 2030

2018 Penfolds, Bin 704 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California £60.00, bottle; £125.00 magnum 14.5% alc

The Bin number – a simple mirror image of the Australian classic Penfolds Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon.

Grapes – 100% Cabernet Sauvignon

Region – Napa Valley

Oak – 16 months in French oak (40% new & 60% one-year-old)

Controlled and surprisingly calm with almost European acidity and tannin sensations throughout, this is a fully ripe wine balanced with a dry and savoury palate.  This is very much a Penfolds style with long, fine fruit and enough tension to warrant cellaring it for a good few years.  This is another wine with impressive production volumes (20000 dozen), further underlining Penfolds intentions in this country.  17.5+/20 Drink now – 2030

2018 Penfolds, Bin 149 Cabernet Sauvignon, Wine of the World £125.00 bottle; £275.00 magnum 14.5% alc

The Bin number – derived from the 14.9% addition of Australian Cabernet in the blend.

Grapes – 100% Cabernet Sauvignon

Region – 85.1% Napa Valley, 14.9% South Australia

Oak – 16 months in French oak (80% new) & American oak (20% new)

This is certainly my favourite wine in the collection right now and I think that Peter is rather partial, too!  He told me that, in terms of volumes of production, this wine and also Quantum are both smaller releases that that of Penfolds Grange.  And, interestingly, in 2018 there was slightly more Quantum made than Bin 149.  I tasted all four of these wines over five days, with no preservation system used, to look closely at them while they gradually opened and oxidised.  While Bins 600 and 407 stayed the course admirably, both Bin 149 and Quantum evolved immeasurably over this period.  With considerable depth and richness and stunning length, too, this is a massively impressive wine with lovely control and also detail, too.  While there is an indelible Penfolds signature here, you cannot hide the super-plush Napa exuberance and this combination is very moreish indeed!  18.5+/20 (Drink 2025 – 2035)

2018 Penfolds, Quantum Bin 98 Cabernet Sauvignon, Wine of the World £545.00 bottle; £1190.00 magnum (a few pounds less expensive than Penfolds Grange) 14.5% alc

The Bin number – derived from the first year that Penfolds planted vines in California.

Grapes – 87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Shiraz (described as ‘pedigreed’ in the Penfolds blurb)

Region – 87% Napa Valley, 13% South Australia

Oak – 16 months in American oak (80% new) & French oak (20% new)

The big gun in the range is a typically bombastic and structured creation and I am sure that it has aspirations of being regarded among the very most respected names in the Californian (and World) wine scene in due course.  This inaugural release (they made a 2017 but chose not to release it because of the awful tragedies surrounding the wildfires of that year) is a very good stab at a pioneering style of wine which could very well be regarded as the norm in years to come.  Why on earth shouldn’t wine businesses be encouraged to blend cross-border, as Australia has done for years, crossing state boundaries including to Tasmania and back (Penfolds Yattarna is a great case in point) if the results are worthwhile, unique and delicious.  Quantum Bin 98 is both with amazing density and length coupled with a long, smooth and surprisingly calm demeanour.  While it was remarkably firm and closed while I was Zooming with Peter, by day five it was fleshy, deep and succulent and this bodes well for the future.  I have no doubt that this wine, with a number of years of practice under the belt, will be a superstar.  And I would imagine that collectors and investors will gobble up this 2018 vintage in order to be able to line up verticals of this wine in the future.  18.5++/20 (Drink 2028 – 2040)

The prices noted are Penfolds’ own recommended retail prices.  Penfolds wines are usually sold by the following wine merchants, among others, so I imagine that one or all of these will be stocking these wines in due course – Berry Bros & Rudd, Harrods & Hedonism.