Wednesday Wines – Episode 169 – The Penfolds Collection 2023

Embargoed until 20th July 00:01 AEST

The Penfolds Collection tasting is always a show-stopper, and this year a room full of wine brains was assembled, and the great Peter Gago said, in so many (or so few) words, “Get on with it”.  And we did.  Here are my thoughts on this fascinating array of wines.  Ever efficient, Penfolds has provided a price list, so here is a cut and paste of the pricing, for the UK, for the wines that follow in GBP. I am sure that this will help you greatly to focus on those wines that I feel offer epic flavour and also attractive value for money.

  UK GUIDE PRICING PER BOTTLE

Australia

2019 Grange £670

2021 Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon £475

2021 Yattarna Chardonnay £147

2021 Bin 798 RWT Barossa Valley Shiraz £141

2021 Bin 169 Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon* £175 *to be released globally via La Place de Bordeaux in March 2024

2021 Magill Estate Shiraz £137

2020 St Henri Shiraz £96

2022 Reserve Bin A Adelaide Hills Chardonnay £80

2021 Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz £71

2021 Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon £75

2021 Bin 150 Marananga Shiraz £69

2022 Bin 23 Pinot Noir £38

2021 Bin 128 Shiraz £42

2021 Bin 138 Shiraz £38

2022 Bin 21 Grenache £38

2021 Bin 28 Shiraz £34

2023 Bin 51 Riesling £31

2022 Bin 311 Chardonnay £32

2021 Bin 2 Shiraz Mataro* £28

2021 Bin 8 Shiraz Cabernet* £28

*rolling vintages

California

2019 Quantum £652

2020 Bin 149 Cabernet Sauvignon £167

2020 Bin 704 Cabernet Sauvignon £64

2020 Bin 600 Cabernet Shiraz £48

2020 Oakville Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon $450 AUD (not available in UK / Europe initially)

France

Penfolds II Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot MV £270

2020 FWT 585 Cabernet Merlot Petit Verdot £75

THE WINES

Whites

2023 Penfolds Bin 51 Eden Valley Riesling (bottled three days prior to this tasting)

11% alc. All stainless steel

’23 Bin 51 has stunning purity and directness with a tenderness I haven’t seen before at this early stage of this wine’s life.  Pretty, clean, lemony and chalky, there is more flesh than pith in this wine. Mesmerising and ridiculously yummy already, this is as teasing a start to a Collection tasting as I have ever experienced. Having said this, I doubt it will make 20 years, preferring to pluck this particular flower this side of a decade.  18/20 (Drink now – 2032)

2022 Penfolds Bin 311 Chardonnay

Tasmania, Tumbarumba, Adelaide Hills

12.5% alc. Eight months in French oak barriques (34% new)

Clean, bright, and primary with lovely purity and oodles of fleshy peachiness on the front of the palate, Bin 311 tightens up eventually, but not as firmly as it has done in the past.  The result is a layered, open, buoyant and forward-drinking wine with more precocity than of late.  The oak adds a degree of succulence, giving the impression of a fuller-framed wine, but the fruit maintains a relatively slender framework.  18/20 (Drink now – 2030)

2022 Penfolds Reserve Bin A Adelaide Hills Chardonnay

12.5% alc.  Eight months in French oak barriques (75% new)

This is a much more serious wine than Bin 311, with a lot more volume of fruit and oak and a much larger flavour imprint on the palate.  While it is bigger and louder, it isn’t any less graceful, and despite its dimensions, this is a stunningly weighted wine.  The perfume is sensational, grand and resonant, setting the scene for the fruit notes that roll on for minutes.  This lovely wine has not yet started to show its layers of flavour and will require a couple of years for the chrysalis to fracture and reveal the inevitable complexity of fruit within.  19/20 (Drink 2025 – 2035)

2021 Penfolds Yattarna Bin 144 Chardonnay

Tasmania, Tumbarumba, Adelaide Hills

13% alc. Nine months in French oak barriques (70% new) 

What a difference a year makes!  This is a far less exuberant wine than the two 2022s that precede it in this tasting.  It is a more severe, hard-edged, mineral-soaked creation with a brittle side to the fruit that spreads bitterness on the palate along with saline hints, making the mouth water agreeably.  I always prefer Yattarna to be opinionated and somewhat argumentative in its youth because it shows the flair and character it needs to last long enough to open and amaze all-comers.  This is a stellar Yattarna, with oceans of seashells and lime pith, and I adore its bitterness, energy and take-no-prisoners character.  19.5+/20  (Drink 2028 – 2040)

Reds

France

2020 Penfolds FWT 585 Vin de France Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot / Petit Verdot

13.5% alc. 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 41% Merlot, 7% Petit Verdot

12 months in barriques, 20% new French, 19% new American with the balance in one-year-old barrels

Fairly pretty, juicy and summer pudding-scented this is not an overly complex wine, nor is it particularly grand in its framework.  It shows Penfolds attention to detail with a smoky feel and a sooty texture.  However, it somewhat lacks the depth of field and generosity of tannin to give it the engine needed to evolve over the medium-long term.  While I like the overall feel of this wine, it needs more stuffing and complexity to stand out.  17.5/20  (Drink now – 2035)

MV Penfolds II Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot

Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot

14% alc. New and seasoned French oak barriques and hogsheads

This is made from 2020 vintage Merlot from Bordeaux and 2021 vintage Cabernet Sauvignon from South Australia and it tastes very unusual indeed.  While this is not unpleasant in any way, I do not understand the structure of this wine, and this is, perhaps, what Penfolds wants.  They have set out to make this a challenging experience, questioning, and unique, but to my mind, it comes across as rather one-dimensional and a little tired at the finish.  There are tannins here to offset the fruit, and the oak holds back enough for us to see the calibre of the raw materials used, but the final wine seems a touch wooden, hollow and lacking in life.  I look forward to tasting it again because the philosophy ought to work.  Perhaps it just needs more time.  17.5/20  (Drink 2024 – 2035)

California

2020 Penfolds Oakville Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

100% Cabernet Sauvignon

14.5% alc. 16 months in French oak barriques (100% new)

On the nose and palate, this is a more interesting and successful wine than the French wine and the ‘Fraussie’.  It is a classically dimensioned Napa Cabernet coasting along in a cabriolet, with its foot off the pedal and without the engine’s roar interfering with its sleek lines.  Having tasted a load of Napa Cabernets of late, this wine shows more control and fruit clarity than many, and it is uncomplicated, spicy and rewarding.  The oak is hidden nicely, and the fruit is pristine.  Good stuff.  18.5+/20  (Drink 2026 – 2040)

2020 Penfolds Bin 600 Cabernet Shiraz California

68% Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley, 32% Shiraz from Paso Robles

14.5% alc. 16 months in American oak barrels (40% new)

Bin 600 is powerful and assertive from the off, with a punchy, spicy, nutmeg and cinnamon-loaded nose and a ripe, sweet (coconutty) palate, and it seems like one hell of a lot of American oak to take on board in just one sip.  I would prefer this wine to major on French oak to calm everything down.  This oak regime has heightened the cola, and sour cherry notes almost to the point of explosion, making it a caricature of The Great Australian Red blend instead of an American version.  Perhaps this is the intention, but I cannot see this wine softening over time.  Undoubtedly, there is a lot of fun on this roller coaster ride, but I wouldn’t necessarily want to take one home.  17.5+/20  (Drink now – 2035)

2020 Penfolds Bin 704 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley

14.5% alc. 16 months in French oak barriques (40% new)

This is a terrific wine.  Theoretically, it is an American version of Bin 407, keeping all its Penfolds DNA intact and layering it over Napa Valley Cabernet fruit.  It works for me incredibly well.  This is a hypnotising wine with all of the wildness and ripeness of the Napa, overlaid with Penfolds extraction, tannin, oak and timbre.  You can anticipate every flavour along its path moments before it appears and falls into line.  I love this style – and its perfect clash of cultures in the glass.  19/20  (Drink 2025 – 2040)

2020 Penfolds Bin 149 Cabernet Sauvignon

Napa Valley / South Australia

14.5% alc. 16 months in French oak (80% new) and American (20% new) barriques

Hugely powerful and brooding, this immense wine shows a muscular and untamed side to the great Cabernet Sauvignon grape.  If you imagine a potent, fully-ripe Shiraz that possesses Cabernet flavours, then this is it.  If anything, it is too much – too much sweetness, too much oak and too much-misplaced brawn, but it certainly turns heads, and there will be people queueing up for it because it is the same shape and size as many of the fully-loaded Californian reds that I find too much in every respect.  The big question is will it calm down enough to find some equilibrium?  I honestly don’t know, but tasting it on a warm day, I can see a bucketful of raw oak and fruit tannin here, and there appears to be slightly too much to assimilate over a twenty-year lifespan fully.  Only time will tell.  18+/20  (Drink 2030-2045)

2019 Penfolds Quantum, Bin 98 Cabernet Sauvignon Wine of the World

100% Cabernet Sauvignon

Napa Valley, South Australia

14.5% alc. 16 months in American oak (80% new) and French oak (20% new) barriques

Quantum has so much more balance and refinement than I find in Bin 149.  With harmony, succulence, genuine fruit ripeness (without over-ripeness) and gorgeous, subtle oak control, this is a superbly stylish wine with a very long finish that stays perfectly balanced and civilised throughout.  While the concept is still a little baffling, this is a marvellously convincing wine.  19+/20  (Drink 2025 – 2050)

Australia

2022 Penfolds Bin 23 Pinot Noir

Tasmania

13.5% alc. Matured in French oak barriques (35% new)

Bin 23 looks rather stemmy and straightforward and it dips into soft rhubarb and cherry notes, augmented by a slightly raw and edgy acid line that detracts from the flow of said fruit.  I would prefer to see a slightly darker core of dark Pinot in this wine to give it more mid-palate heft.  17.5/20  (Drink now – 2027)

2022 Penfolds Bin 21 Grenache

Barossa Valley

14.5% alc. Matured in French oak (6% new, 5% one-year-old)

Rather loose-knit and a little lolly-water-like, this is a decent wine, but it hasn’t decided whether it is a meatier Grenache style or a Pinot style, so it sits on the fence and tries to appeal to the masses, which it does, but it will likely miss out on wowing individualists.  17.5/20  (Drink now – 2030)

2021 Penfolds Bin 138 Grenache Shiraz Mataro

Barossa Valley

14.5% alc. 12 months French (10% new) and American (2% new) oak barrels

Ah, Bin 138, is so often a wine that is the nearly-man in the line-up and this year it works like a dream.  With wild notes, hints of forest and game and then a glossy, properly focussed core that shouts, and this keeps it all on the straight and narrow, the Mataro plays a crucial role in bringing it all to a dramatic and earthy close without drying the finish too much.  This is clever stuff and it wears a fair price tag, too.  18+/20  (Drink 2025 – 2035)

2021 Penfolds Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz

14.5% alc. 12 months in French oak hogsheads (21% new, 22 one-year-old)

With an excellent nose, that is unmistakably Coonawarra – that is why you might choose to drink this wine and so you might as well embrace these famous traits and make them sing.  Bright, open, dark, plummy, spicy, and with hints of white pepper and mint, this is a fascinating wine that manages to combine old traits and modernism in one glass.  18.5+/20  (Drink 2028 – 2038)

2021 Penfolds Bin 28 Shiraz

McLaren Vale, Barossa Valley, Padthaway, Wrattonbully, Clare Valley

14.5% alc. 12 months in American oak hogsheads (7% new)

A stylish and faithful wine from anywhere and somewhere – this is recipe winemaking at its most alluring, and it manages to capture a brand, vintage, variety and State in perfect suspension in the glass.  It is perhaps a little easier on the front end than the back, you don’t need to dive in too quickly, as its abrupt finish will require a couple of years to temper its cautionary tannins.  18+/20  (Drink 2026 – 2045)

2021 Penfolds Bin 150 Marananga Shiraz

Marananga, Barossa Valley

14.5% alc. 18 months in French oak (29% new) and American oak (29% new) hogsheads and large puncheons

This is the spiciest and most actively belligerent Bin 150 in years.  It shows a fistful of angles and pent-up frustration in the glass as it fidgets, trying to appease the onlooker, yet it need not worry.  Just because it is not catwalk ready from day one, this is not a problem.  This ugly duckling will turn the corner if you are patient and the clue to its future success can be found on the finish.  It is controlled, spicy, red (not black), fruited and herbal.  This will be an enchanting wine in time and it plays a 2021 tune.  Don’t expect it to taste the same year in and year out and all will be well!  18.5+/20  (Drink 2028 – 2048)

2021 Penfolds Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon

Coonawarra, Wrattonbully, McLaren Vale, Padthaway, Barossa Valley, Adelaide Hills

14.5% alc. 12 months in French (25% new) and American (12% new) oak hogsheads, with the balance in one-year-old French and American oak

This is a harder, more structured and spicier Cabernet than expected, with green hints and some raw edges, to fur the teeth and make you work.  It will annoy the velvet underground but please the non-conformists because it shows detail, edge, herb, stem and crunch rarely found in these wines.  It will need an age to assimilate the tannins and the skin notes and, like a powerful red Graves, it must find time to line up its friend and its foe molecules for inspection in order for it to pass muster.  I love wines with this level of perfume and traction and those fans who manage to secure stock will be handsomely rewarded in due course.  18.5+/20  (Drink 2030 – 2050)

2021 Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz

McLaren Vale, Coonawarra, Barossa Valley, Wrattonbully, Padthaway

14.5% alc. 12 months in American oak hogsheads (37% new)

When you bring Shiraz into the picture in 2021, it tends to mask some of Cabernet’s greener traits while bringing a certain spiciness of its own, and so while I was expecting a smoother wine than Bin 407, this is even more backward and unresolved.  Spice, blueberry notes, blackcurrants and pepper, five spice, mint, the list goes on – this is a fascinating wine, and the tannins are feisty and firm and so while it is not a lavish big black limo of a Bin 389 it is going to travel just as far!  Once again, I really like the imperfections because they keep your palate ticking over, actively engaging with this wine.  19+/20  (Drink 2030 – 2050)

2020 Penfolds St Henri Shiraz

100% Shiraz

McLaren Vale, Barossa Valley, Clare Valley

14.5% alc. 12 months in large seasoned oak casks

This is an awesome and statuesque St Henri with commanding tannins and a glossy, succulent indulgent and luxurious feel throughout.  It has incredible weight and stunning balance and ripeness.  I worry that people will drink it the moment it arrives on their doorstep because the fruit is so darned luxurious, but I can imagine that it will run for decades such is the class on display here.  19+/20  (Drink 2025 – 2050)

2021 Penfolds Magill Estate Shiraz

100% Shiraz

14.5% alc.  19 months in French oak (90% new) and American oak (10% new) hogsheads

With tremendous weight, trademark Italianate shape and curious Mencía-like aura on account of its minerality and metallic acid tinge, this vintage suits Magill with its heightened perfume and raw, bloody edges.  While it will need patience, it will come good and show a willowy, whippy, sinewy style when the tannins eat more of the fruit and it will end up medium-weight, toned and, dare I say it, magical when it finally emerges from its shell.  18.5+ (Drink 2026 – 2040)

2021 Penfolds Bin 169 Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon

100% Cabernet Sauvignon

14.5% alc. 16 months in French oak hogsheads (51% new, 49% one-year-old)

Big, structured, tannic and relatively fleshy in its core, while the eye is taken by the savoury tannins and dry coating, the real action happens in the hyper-juicy mid-palate, where the fruit is incredibly genial and composed.  It will take five or six years for the dustiness to fall away, and one will be left with a true medium-weight claret style with a fine-boned, even palate.  A classic, if you like that sort of thing – I certainly do.  19+/20  (Drink 2030 – 2055)

2021 Penfolds RWT Bin 798 Barossa Valley Shiraz

100% Shiraz

14.5% alc. 14 months in French oak hogsheads (80% new, 20% one-year-old)

In 2021 RWT has some spice to break up the familiar avalanche of black fruit, giving it some levity and even a little bounce on the palate.  Delicious, lip-smacking, and surprisingly convivial, this Titan has been tamed, and the result is a genuinely enjoyable and somewhat forward wine (within an RWT frame of reference) with uncommon freshness and lift.  These traits will serve it well.  19/20  (Drink 2025 – 2045)

2021 Penfolds Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon

100% Cabernet Sauvignon

Coonawarra, Barossa Valley, Wrattonbully

14.5% alc. 16 months in American oak hogsheads (100% new)

This wine is heroic and daring in equal measure, with stunning balance, layered fruit and awesome presence coupled with staggering freshness.  Utterly incredible and more than a little Old World-shaped, it cleverly utilises the bright Aussie sunshine to bring ravishing gloss and allure to the picture.  There is so much class and breeding here it is incredible.  The tannin structure alone seems inlaid with exquisite oak marquetry detail, which is so often missing from large-framed, statuesque Cabernets.  19.5+/20 (Drink 2035 – 2055)

 

2019 Penfolds Grange Bin 95

97% Shiraz, 3% Cabernet Sauvignon

Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, Coonawarra, Clare Valley

14.5% alc. 19 months in American oak hosgsheads (100% new)

With high-tone oak and a more than generous dollop of eucalyptus, this is a long, ripe wine that feels slightly swamped by oak right now.  Savoury, peppercorn perfumed, and more red-fruit-soaked than any recent vintage of Grange I can remember, there are gum tree bark and exotic spice themes throughout, which give it the impression of wanting from a black fruit complexity point of view.  Of course, this is an impressive wine.  It always is.  But, for me, there is a lot more fun to be had in other corners of this year’s Collection!  19+/20  (Drink 2030 – 2055)

MY SCORES

I have attached my scores out of 20 for every wine. In addition, I have included my score conversion chart for those of you who are into medals, stars or 100-point scores. If a score has no ‘+’, this indicates a wine that 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 (following the style of the wine), while two ‘++’ suggests a wine that should manage to make the long haul, softening and evolving as it goes. Very occasionally, I use three ‘+++’ that signal a wine that needs an eternity to soften or will last forever, such is its incredible power. A ‘?’ means that I am unsure about an element within the wine – this will be explained in my note.