New Release Penfolds

This year Penfolds commemorates its 170th anniversary, and there’s little doubt the company now regards itself as equal to any in the world. The number of breathtakingly priced wines it has issued in recent years are testament to that.

There was an almost complete roll-call of Australian wine media at the 2014 “Bin Series, Icon and Luxury Collection” release tasting in Adelaide in February. They were subjected to a fair bit of razzamatazz. Loud music, fine food, Krug (tastings) and Yquem (tastings) (last time I looked these weren’t owned by Treasury). After all, wine is showbiz these days. All it lacked was Tina Turner singing a rousing Penfolds anthem.

Perhaps the company felt the vintage most under the spotlight this year, 2011, needed a bit of help. But at least the 2011 vintage put a brake on most of the prices, which have been rising fairly steeply in recent years.

Tellingly, Grange did not increase this year, nor did RWT Barossa shiraz, St Henri, or Magill Estate (tasting). The base-level Bin reds, Bin 28 Kalimna (tasting), Bin 128 Coonawarra, Bin 138 Barossa shiraz grenache mataro and Bin 23 Adelaide Hills pinot noir (tasting), rose a token $2 from $38 to $40.

It would be a bold proprietor who’d raise prices of the 2011s. It’s not that the wines are poor: Penfolds never release poor wines these days, but they are not in the same class as ‘good’ years such as 2010. (There’s no Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon at all from 2011.)

But, to focus on the successes of this year’s release, Bin 138 (tasting), which is regularly one of my favourites despite being an unfashionable GSM blend (this year an SGM) and Bin 128 Coonawarra shiraz (tasting) are stand-outs. But then, they are both 2012s – another excellent harvest. The wet 2011 harvest really didn’t need this: to be book-ended by two such terrific vintages is potentially embarrassing.

The best success from 2011 is Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz (tasting). Along with Bin 138, this old faithful is perhaps the most reliable of all Penfolds wines, although at today’s ask of $80 who could afford to take a punt? The 2011 RWT (tasting) was merely a good wine and well below the level of the 2010. And the 2009 Grange (tasting)?

It’s certainly not a top-level Grange. It’s several notches below the terrific ’08 and will almost certainly be thoroughly shaded by the 2010 (which I have yet to taste) next year. Yattarna is up from $130 for last year’s 2010 (tasting) to $150 for the 2011 (tasting), but I would not begrudge it. Premier cru Burgundy is often far less inspiring. That said, I scored the 2012 Reserve Bin chardonnay (tasting) equal to the Yattarna, which makes it good value at 50% less money. But then, I would always prefer to drink the Yattarna – it’s such a miracle of purity and finesse.

What else? The 2010 St Henri (tasting) is a very, very good St Henri. And the piece de resistance is 2010 Bin 170 Kalimna Limited Edition Shiraz (tasting), one of two special releases to commemorate Penfolds’ 170th anniversary. This is a sublime wine – sourced from Block 3C of Kalimna which is normally a Grange component – and it damn well should be sublime, at $1,800 a bottle. Precisely the same can be said of the 50 Year Old Tawny (tasting), which comes in a very fancy hand-made package. Its oldest component dates from 1915, Max Schubert’s birth year. The price is $3,550, which suggests not only is age worth money, nostalgia is too. If you’ve got history, flaunt it. 

*The regular bin wines were released on March 6; the ‘icon and luxury’ wines and Bin 170 will be released on May 1. 

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