Penfolds Collection 2021 And New Superblends With Tasting Notes
by Ken Gargett
A few months ago, 2021 was all doom and gloom. China had just imposed its iniquitous and petty tariffs of more than 200 percent on Australian wine – as with all bullies, they are not interested in taking on anything or anyone their own size.
The Australian wine industry was in turmoil, but the biggest fears were undoubtedly for Penfolds. One of Australia’s oldest and largest producers, and known throughout the world for its spectacular reds such as Grange, Penfolds had worked tirelessly to develop a strong following in China at all levels. The country was seen as crucial to Penfolds’ future prospects.
Suddenly, malicious politicians had pulled the rug out from under them. There were mutterings about impending collapse, and rumblings on the financial markets about Penfolds’ owner, Treasury Wine Estates, hiving it off and floating Penfolds as a separate entity came to a crashing halt.
In truth, Penfolds has too much wonderful wine in its cellars, too many great vineyards and contacts with the best growers, too much goodwill around the world for this to be anything more than a speedbump, although, granted, a fairly solid one.
In the midst of all this, Penfolds released its Californian Collection, which quickly sold out. More champagnes from the joint venture with Thienot are expected soon (and an NV Rosé has already arrived). The Bordeaux project should soon bear fruit (and, yes, the pun was deliberate, even if awful).
It is very rare for a serious local wine list, and many international lists, not to offer at least a couple of Penfolds’ finest. To paraphrase Samuel Clemens, reports of their demise were a touch premature.
Now we have seen the annual release of the maker’s wines, which Penfolds terms “the Collection,” and a couple of stellar new wines have joined the fold: the Superblends. More on those below.
The launch – we were fortunate that there was a break in COVID-19 restrictions allowing many of us to attend in the Barossa Valley in South Australia – was held at Kingsford Homestead, a working cattle farm/luxury resort, which I am told is better known as Drover’s Run, the site for a famous Australian television series called McLeod’s Daughters, though I must confess to never having seen a minute of it.
After the tasting, we returned to Magill Estate in Adelaide for a dinner to celebrate the seventieth anniversary of the very first Grange, the 1951.
This Grange was merely experimental (the story of Grange has been told so often, I won’t rehash it again here), but it has become the most sought-after bottle of Australian wine in history. A very recent auction saw a bottle (and there were only ever a couple hundred) go for over AUD$140,000. No doubt, it will never be opened.
As Peter Gago, Penfolds’ chief winemaker and the man behind the Collection, says, it was never much of a wine and would be undrinkable now. But then, the buyer was hardly shelling out that sort of money because he or she needed something for the weekend’s barbecue.
It did not take long for the 1951’s creator, Max Schubert, to hit his straps. The 1953 is one of the most sublime wines I’ve ever tasted. On this night, we looked at some of the great Granges, including 1965, 1976, 1986, 1990, 2004, 2010, and the G4. The evening commenced with the 1996 Salon, not a Penfolds wine but an amazing one. If the Good Ship Penfolds is taking on water, I’m not sure anyone could tell.
Penfolds Collection: tasting notes
The Collection consists of an array of styles, varieties, regions, and vintages. There are always some superstars stepping up, some that might not excite as much as hoped, and everything in between. There are more than enough websites around the world chock-full of detailed notes on all the wines, so I thought I would look at a couple of the stars here.
First up, the cheapest and the youngest wine in the Collection, the Bin 51 Eden Valley Riesling 2021 (AUD$40). This is the finest Bin 51 I can remember, and it sits comfortably with such luminous vintages as 2002 and 2005. A brilliant Riesling, and early evidence of what an exciting vintage 2021 might be. 96.
Of the three Chardonnays in the Collection, the Yattarna Chardonnay 2019 (AUD$175) runs away with the honors. A blend of fruit from Tasmania, Tumbarumba, and the Adelaide Hills, this is a Yattarna for the ages. Stunning.
Inevitably, such a wine gets compared to the great French white Burgundies. Different, of course, but for me it is better than many lesser Grand Crus and surely at least the equal of the very finest Premier Crus. This, in turn, makes it amazing value. 97.
Every year, there are a few wines that always stand up for me and the Bin 138 Barossa Valley Shiraz Grenache Mataro 2019 (AUD$60) is one (for the record, Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 (AUD$110) is almost always not, but I will concede many others love it). Bin 138 Barossa Valley Shiraz Grenache Mataro overdelivers in flavor and character. A gorgeous Barossa red. 94.
Bin 150 Marananga Shiraz 2019 (AUD$100) is drinking beautifully and has a great future. 95.
Bin 389 Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz 2019 (AUD$100) is another perennial superstar for me. Never fails, and this is a very good 389. 96.
It is, however, the Grange that everyone wants to try. Grange 2017 (AUD$950) is a fine Grange and more approachable than most. I didn’t have it up with the greatest Granges but it is a wonderful effort. It is only the seventh Grange ever to be 100 percent Shiraz in 70 years. 97.
This leaves one wine, and for me it is the best of the Collection. The St Henri Shiraz 2018 (AUD$135) is a stunning St Henri. One of the very best – it will rank with 2010 and 2012. Don’t miss it. This is a wine that will age for decades. And what extraordinary value. Two thousand eighteen has been a wonderful vintage for Penfolds. Can’t wait to see the 2018 Grange next year. 99.
The Penfolds Superblends
As well as the usual suspects, there are two new wines. Because we need more wines! The Superblends.
These are not the usual Special Bins that Penfolds releases every so often but are two new wines that will be regular production, although not every vintage. After this pair of ’18s, the next release will be from the 2021 vintage.
The two wines are the 802.A Cabernet Shiraz 2018 (AUD$900; AUD$2,250 for magnum) and the 802.B Cabernet Shiraz 2018 (price TBC; to be released August 2022).
Both are the traditional Aussie red – Cabernet Shiraz – and Penfolds kindly unveiled the wines at the release for a world first tasting. They are in very heavy bottles with huge punts, both sealed under cork. “A” is 1,400 cases while “B” is a little more generous with 5,000 cases.
The Penfolds 802.A Cabernet Shiraz 2018 is a very fine wine but there was too much oak for me. 93.
The Penfolds 802.B Cabernet Shiraz 2018 is a different kettle of fish. Loved it. A wonderful new addition to the range. Seamless and balanced. 97.
And it serves a certain country right that it won’t be tasting it!
For more information, please visit www.penfolds.com.