Penfolds Special Bottlings: Spirited Wines, Distilled Single Batch Brandy, And A Fortified
by Ken Gargett
The invitation to a “secret tasting” with James Godfrey is something that one should never decline. Godfrey, well known in Australia as Mr. Fortified, has run various programs at places like Penfolds and Treasury Wine Estates for many years.
He also had the rudder for the sensational century-old ports we featured in 100-Year-Old Seppeltsfield Para Vintage Tawny 1918 Port: Truly Extraordinary, though those have now fallen out of the Treasury empire.
What Godfrey doesn’t know about fortifieds is not worth knowing, and those he has not tasted are probably not worth tasting. And by “secret,” I mean that what James had to show was to be kept very much on the quiet.
Threats of bamboo under the fingernails.
Not a word to anyone – until now when all can be revealed.
Two new products (well, three, actually, but the third was a bit different), a new range. And no chance I would have ever guessed.
In days gone by, Penfolds was probably more famous for its brandies and fortifieds than its table wines. This might seem unthinkable to today’s wine lovers, but until the early 1970s, Australia bought and drank more fortified wine than it did table wine.
Today it’s the inverse and there is a huge imbalance in favor of table wine.
Penfolds is reviving some of these in small specialist operations that are very much at the quality end of the spectrum. Godfrey runs the new Special Bottlings group within Penfolds, which will be coming up with products “outside traditional table wines.”
The first new release (well, the second as the other will be available from July and this will not be released until August) is something truly from left field: called Lot 518 Spirited Wine with Baijiu (AUD$150) and, yes, although it will trickle into selected markets, this is a product made very much for the Chinese. Does not mean the rest of us can’t enjoy it.
Baijiu is the largest selling spirit in the world. Based on sorghum, hence a grain spirit, Godfrey worked on the idea of including it as the fortifying spirit, similar to how spirit is used in making port, stopping the fermentation and retaining sweetness.
The spirit is essential to the texture in these wines. Baijiu varies in style and Godfrey’s first venture down this road was not promising, but he persisted and eventually sourced a style that worked.
Intense styles dominate but he preferred the more fragrant “rice wine” style, which is likely to be the future of this product if Penfolds persists with it, which seems likely. It is “vintage” in style but may not always be so. The base wine is Shiraz.
The result is a “wine” that is a mile away from the traditional sweet red style that has dominated Aussie fortifieds for so long – the Aussie style of vintage “port.” There is a lovely soft, textured palate with red fruits, florals, and spices. Plenty of length.
With food, the aniseed characters emerge and the flavors morph toward more black fruits. With 21.5 percent alcohol, it is hardly a shrinking violet.
Penfolds Lot 1990 Pot Distilled Single Batch Brandy
The second product from the program is slightly more traditional: Lot 1990 Pot Distilled Single Batch Brandy (AUD$425). I always feel a bit sorry for anything labeled “brandy.” It seems to condemn it as the red-headed stepchild of this style of spirit, when one looks at the respect given to cognac and Armagnac.
Taste this and any such suggestion goes out the door: this is a brilliant brandy.
A drop of Grandfather Tawny has been added to this 28-year-old spirit. Placed in oak in May 1990, part was then removed and placed in used Chardonnay oak and part in oak barrels used for the Grandfather Port.
At 42 percent, this is nutty and rich with orange blossom notes, spices, and caramel. A lovely sweet/fiery contrast. Very complex. There is almost a smoky whisky note to it. Alluring texture, one that comes from that splash of Grandfather for the liqueuring.
What was fascinating was how much it changed when a single ice cube was added – almost a different spirit! It was immediately more sedate, more refined.
This is just the start of this new program, so we can be assured of plenty of surprises in the coming years and plenty of exciting drinking.
Penfolds Vintage Fortified 2015
I mentioned that there were three new products. The third is not strictly part of this new program but it is something close to Godfrey’s heart: Penfolds’ first vintage fortified in over thirty years – the Penfold’s Vintage Fortified 2015 (AUD$80).
Made from traditional Portuguese varieties and avoiding that “big sweet red” style that so bedeviled Aussie vintage ports (now called vintage fortifieds, of course). Black cherries, leather, aniseed, lovely supple palate but a clean dry finish after gentle sweetness.
Terrific length. A wine to age for many years – and it’s bottled under screwcap. That’s likely to make a few people sit up and take notice.
For more information, please visit www.penfolds.com/en-au/wines/penfolds-special-bottlings, www.penfolds.com/en-au/wines/penfolds-special-bottlings/lot-1990/non-vintage and www.penfolds.com/en-au/wines/fortified/vintage-fortified/2015,
You might also enjoy:
100-Year-Old Seppeltsfield Para Vintage Tawny 1918 Port: Truly Extraordinary
5 Things You Should Know About Port Wine But Probably Don’t, Including Why You Don’t Want To Know The Bishop Of Norwich
Penfolds G3: Making Grange, Already One Of The World’s Greatest Wines, Even Better
Also published on Medium.