Penfolds 2016 Grange And G4: Superlative Wines, Well Deserving Of 100 Points. Each!
by Ken Gargett
A couple of months ago, I had a call from my sister. She’d been in the depths of our mother’s linen closet (no idea why) and had come across a box with a few bottles of wine under old towels.
She assumed, apparently correctly, that they must be mine. As almost no one else in the family has any interest in wine, or even drinks alcohol, it was a reasonable guess. The box had a couple of bottles of Penfolds Bin 90A 1990, a wine that deserved far better treatment than I had bestowed on it. It is a blend of Coonawarra Cabernet and Barossa Shiraz.
As best as I can recall, I had grabbed a couple of bottles when it was first released with every intention of transferring them to proper storage. I suspect that this was a time I was moving houses, and it must have slipped through to the keeper (as we say down under). At least the cockroaches enjoyed the labels. But the levels were still excellent, which was promising.
As the lockdowns are lifting, at least in our region, a regular wine lunch group has reconvened with the theme of a worthy bottle. I figured that something hopefully back from the dead might be worth a shot and so included a bottle of the Bin 90A (I had another contribution as I thought there was a good chance that this bottle would have long given up the ghost).
Normally, (not) cellaring like that is to be condemned, but somehow the bottle had lasted brilliantly. Still bright and supple, with bold flavors. Looks like it has years to go. I scored it very highly.
Bin 90A is one of the Special Bin releases that litter the history of Penfolds. Although this winery’s fame has been closely linked to the mighty Grange, these Special Bin wines are some of the finest ever released in Australia. But they have a mixed history.
Some were one-offs (although sometimes another appears in later years – the great Bin 60A 1962, for many Australia’s greatest ever wine was replicated in 2004). Others foreshadow a future regular release.
The first Bin 707 from 1964 later became an annual wine, although it sort of branched out as Block 42 Kalimna Cabernet in years such as 1996 and 2004 and was released as the 1953 Grange Cabernet. There have also been extremely rare wines like the celebrated Ampoule, also based on fruit from the Block 42 in 2004.
Penfolds Special Bin G4
The 2020 collection sees another Special Bin, one that is part of a trilogy. G4 is a rare non-vintage red, a blend of 2002, 2004, 2008, and 2016 Grange. It follows G3, with the trio’s final offering – G5 – likely to be released sometime next year.
G3 was a blend of 2008, 2012, and 2014 Granges; 1,200 bottles were made, and it was released a few years ago with a price tag of AUD$3,000.
The production of G4 is around 2,500 bottles with a price tag of AUD$3,500. A heavy bottle with a large punt, it is superbly packaged in its own wooden box. Under cork, which is covered in wax. Personally, while that always looks terrific, I find such closures messy and inconvenient, though I suspect that I am not the target audience.
We do not know what G5 will consist of, but if allowed to speculate, 2018 is a truly brilliant vintage for Penfolds, as evidenced by so many great 2018 reds released as part of the 2020 collection, that one can be forgiven for guessing it will form the basis. Chief winemaker Peter Gago is well known for his admiration for the wonderful 2010 Grange, and it has not yet appeared so it must be a chance. We shall see in time.
As with G3, the percentages of each component are a closely guarded secret, though Gago concedes that there are significant contributions made by each of the vintages, “at least double figures.” So at the very least, ten percent of each. The contribution of the 2016 was from barrel, the others from well-cellared bottles.
Non-vintage reds are not common but not unknown. Think of wines like Vega Sicilia’s Único Reserva Especial. In the past, Chapoutier’s Le Pavillon was also non-vintage.
As mentioned, the G4 is a blend of 2002, 2004, 2008, and 2016 – four of the greatest vintages of Grange from this century. For me, while I loved G3, this wine is a significant step up in quality. It is wonderfully complex, which no doubt comes from some components of the blend already having significant age.
Chocolate, tobacco leaves, coffee grinds, roast meat notes, dry herbs, and cigar box characters. Gorgeously silky tannins. Fabulous drinking now, though surely has time ahead of it. 100 points. The following day, the wine was perhaps even better with an extra level of finesse now apparent. A truly superb wine.
Penfolds Grange 2016
As exciting as such a wine is, the annual release of the Penfolds relies very much on the universal view taken of Grange, and 2020 sees the wine’s 66th consecutive release. With the 2016 (AUD$950), Penfolds will surely feel on solid ground. This is as good a young Grange as I can recall. It will comfortably sit with wines like the 2002, 2004, 2008, 2010, and 2012. And in time may surpass the lot, though it will be years before we can make a final determination on that.
The 2016 spent 18 months in new American oak hogsheads. It is a blend of 97 percent Shiraz and just 3 percent Cabernet with the fruit sourced from the Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, the Clare Valley, and Magill Estate. Gago has described it as “an old-fashioned Grange made modernly.”
At the moment, it is obviously young. The color is effectively opaque. Edges of deep purple. Notes of nutty oak do emerge early, but integration is proceeding as one would wish. Extremely complex, even at this early stage. Balanced, coiled with endless power to be released over the decades.
New leather, coffee beans, chocolate, spices, black fruits, aniseed, and a touch of garden compost adding to the complexity. The wine has the length one might find with a great fortified, and the intensity remained throughout. The 2016 Grange surely has a good 50 years ahead of it, for anyone planning their grandkids’ cellar.
Giving this wine 100 points is one of the easiest things I have had to do in ages. Every day of the week. And yet, the day after, the wine seemed even better. Outstanding.
Other 2020 Penfolds releases worth mentioning
Although this piece was to look at the latest Grange and the G4, it is worth mentioning a few other favorites from what was a spectacular release.
The best Bin 311 Chardonnay I have seen, from the 2019 vintage.
The 2018 Yattarna will rank with the very best from this line as well.
The 2018 Bin 138 Barossa Valley Shiraz Grenache Mataro is just a joy to drink, and the 2018 Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz, a wine that never fails, is its usual stellar self, although perhaps does not rank with the very best 389s.
A wonderful 2018 Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon, an equally impressive RWT Bin 798 Barossa Valley Shiraz 2018, while the 2018 Magill Estate Shiraz is as good a wine as I can recall from this line.
These wines will be available from August 6, 2020.
For more information, please visit www.penfolds.com.