Penfolds Grange 2015 And Special Bin 111A Clare Valley Barossa Valley Shiraz 2016: Celebrating 175 Years Of Winemaking
by Ken Gargett
At this time of year, I’d normally be taking a close look at the latest Grange and other top wines to be found in the Penfolds collection. However, this latest collection has a bonus – one of the rare Special Bin wines.
These are one-off releases, occasionally repeated though sometimes not for several decades. The most famous is one of the earliest: the legendary Bin 60A Coonawarra Cabernet Kalimna Shiraz 1962, which won an astonishing 19 trophies and 33 gold medals before Penfolds stopped showing it (I think they got bored, and after all it was beating other Penfolds wines, so they had to retire it). Though, if memory serves, it was never commercially released.
Even just a couple of years ago, a bottle opened in Helsinki blew away an international judging panel. It was still in magnificent condition, wonderfully complex, seamless, still fully alive and drinking as well as I had ever tasted it. More than a few European and American judges suggested that they did not know Australia could make wines of that quality. I’m not sure many Australians are aware. It is that good.
Bin 60A was repeated in 2004, another superb wine. Over the last few decades, we have seen some wonderful Special Bin wines such as Block 42, Bin 90A, Bin 7, and Bin 620. But these releases are few and far between.
This year there is a new wine: Bin 111A, a Clare Valley Barossa Shiraz from 2016 (AUD$1,500). It is the first time a Bin 111A has ever been seen and, to my knowledge, the first time that any material from the Clare Valley has been used in a Special Bin wine (at least in combination with grapes from the Barossa), though Clare Valley is no stranger to Grange.
Technically, it is a 51/49 blend of the Clare Valley and the Barossa. It spent 18 months in 100 percent new French oak hogsheads.
Penfolds Grange 2015
This year’s Grange, the 2015 (AUD$900), adds yet another chapter to the story of Australia’s most famous wine. It may not be quite as thrilling as a few recent vintages – 2008, 2010, 2012, 2013, just to name a few – but the difference between these wines is wafer-thin and often simply personal preference.
Penfolds has never missed a vintage of Grange since the first experimental one back in 1951, though a few from the late 1950s had to be made in secret when the powers-that-be at Penfolds decided that the entire project was a disaster – see the history of this in Penfolds Grange 2014: Meeting High Expectations, Plus The Fascinating History Of Australia’s Best Wine (It Began As A Failure).
Fortunately, the creator, Max Schubert, believed so much in what he was doing that he ignored the orders from his bosses and continued to make Grange in secret. In those days, the bosses were in high-rise buildings in Sydney and had little clue what was happening over at the Magill winery in South Australia, and Schubert could get away with it.
The 2015 is a blend of 98 percent Shiraz and 2 percent Cabernet Sauvignon from vineyards in the Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, Clare Valley, and Magill Estate. It spent 20 months in new American oak hogsheads.
So, how does the 2015 Grange measure up?
The Grange 2015 was, as indicated, superb. Notes of vanilla pods, fine dark chocolate, blackberry/blueberry pie, some splintery oak, which is well integrated though this is an on-going process that might take some time. It moved to touches of red apples, a hint of axle grease (in the best possible way), and a chocolate/cherry character.
This is a wine that screams at you, demands that you take notice of it. It is no shrinking violet. With time in the glass, more flavors emerged – coffee bean, cherries, fresh blueberries, a hint of bergamot. It is complex and powerful – a great future awaits. Silky tannins, fine balance. Loved it. For me, this is the least ready of all recent Grange releases. 98.
Special Bin 111A Clare Valley Barossa Valley Shiraz 2016
And the Bin 111A 2016? The surprise for me was just what a monster this wine was.
I think I had been expecting more elegance rather than such whopping power. There is an immediate impression of black olives and cloves, aniseed, black fruits, and spices.
For me, the Clare Valley component is dominant at this stage. There is coiled power here, dark chocolate, saturated blackberries. Powerful tannins and plenty of them. An iodine/seaweed note. Enormously long. 96.
If the lottery gods looked fondly upon me (I might have to buy a ticket first), this latest Special Bin would be put in the deepest, darkest corner of the cellar and forgotten for at least a decade.
And then expect it to make a very powerful statement.
For more information, please visit penfolds.com/wines/limited-editions/bin-111a-clare-valley-barossa-valley-shiraz/2016 and/or www.penfolds.com/wines/the-penfolds-collection/grange/2015.