One of my wine-tasting highlights each year is the review of Penfolds’ top offerings. In the past, these tastings have been held in Australia, where they are followed by a slap-up dinner featuring treasures from the company’s cellar – the 1953 Grange and Penfolds 1962 Bin 60A Coonawarra Cabernet Kalimna Shiraz are two memorable examples. 

Lockdown forced a change of plan this year. Penfolds generously sent me and four other local wine scribes a box containing 11 bottles, a tasting mat and some water cracker biscuits. We connected with Penfolds' chief winemaker Peter Gago via video link and slowly worked our way through the wines, starting with Penfolds 2021 Bin 51 Eden Valley Riesling and ending with Penfolds 2017 Bin 95 Grange. Here are the tasting notes I made:

Penfolds 2021 Bin 51 Eden Valley Riesling, $42.99

From two Penfolds-owned vineyards. Concentrated riesling with strong lime/citrus and oyster shell/saline flavours. Lovely mouth-watering acidity that drives a lingering finish. Drinking beautifully now but with obvious ageing potential.

Penfolds 2019 Yattarna Bin 144 Chardonnay, $169.99

From Tasmania (57%), Tumbarumba and Adelaide Hills. A heroic chardonnay with an obvious cool-climate connection. Struck flint/reductive characters add complexity to citrus/grapefruit, lemon curd, baguette crust and restrained spicy oak. Great power and purity with lovely acid drive.

Penfolds 2019 Bin 28 Shiraz, $41.99

From McLaren Vale, Barossa Valley, Padthaway and Wrattonbully. Aged in seasoned American hogsheads with an emphasis on fruit rather than oak character. Lush, sumptuous dark berry and ripe plum flavours with a suggestion of Christmas cake character and roasted chestnut. Very approachable now.

Penfolds 2019 Bin 138 Shiraz Grenache Mataro, $49.99

Barossa Valley. Dense, sweet, berry fruit, spice and chocolate/mocha flavours with a strong emphasis on fruit. It has an “old vine” character to it. Luscious but surprisingly drinkable without any suggestion of cloying. Serious red at an affordable price.

Penfolds 2019 Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz, $99.99

Bright, vibrant, high-energy cabernet sauvignon with impressive power and concentrated cassis, blackcurrant bud, cedar and mint flavours providing good varietal definition. It clearly shows great cellaring potential despite being approachable now.

Penfolds 2019 Bin 150 Marananga Shiraz, $99.99

Inky, concentrated shiraz with cassis, blackcurrant, ferruginous, metallic, and mixed spice flavours. Big and very complex red with a firm structure of ripe tannins providing a guarantee of cellaring potential. A great wine that needs time.

Penfolds 2019 Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon, $99.99

Padthaway, Coonawarra, Wrattonbully, McLaren Vale and Barossa. Elegant and obviously youthful cabernet sauvignon with classic varietal flavours of cassis, blackcurrant, dried herb and cedar. A wine with energy and restrained power that will become more obvious with bottle age.

Penfolds 2019 Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz, $139.99

Padthaway, McLaren Vale, Coonawarra, Wrattonbully & Barossa Valley. I’m a card-carrying member of the Bin 389 lovers club. Known affectionately as “baby Grange”, Bin 389 has just celebrated its 60th birthday. This youthful example is one of the better vintages I have tried but if you think it is good now, wait and see what it tastes like in another decade or two.

Penfolds 2018 St Henri Shiraz, $139.99

This is a wonderful example of St Henri and a powerful endorsement for ageing rich, powerful shiraz in large, neutral casks to swing the spotlight firmly onto the wine’s wonderful array of fruit, chocolate/mocha and savoury flavours without the distraction of oak. It envelopes the senses and promises to develop wonderfully with bottle age.

Penfolds 2019 RWT Bin 798 Shiraz, $249.99

Barossa Valley. Touted as being a “lieutenant to Grange” when the inaugural 1997 vintage was first released, this wine lives up to its lofty reputation. Inky shiraz with cassis, charcuterie, black berry, dark chocolate, liquorice and Christmas cake characters are just the beginning. Restrained by assertive tannins that are a tactile guarantee of ageing potential. This wine defines “complex”.

Penfolds 2017 Grange Bin 95 Shiraz, $979.99

Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale. Only the seventh Grange to be made from 100% shiraz (on its 70th anniversary). The other 100% vintages were 1951, 1952, 1963, 1999, 2000 and 2011. Intense, youthful shiraz with layers of dark berry, smoky oak, savoury/baked earth, exotic spices, cedar, tobacco and cacao powder plus much more. It has an impeccable balance of alcohol sweetness with assertive tannins and fruit-versus-savoury characters. This wine has the X-factor. It promises to age magnificently.

What to buy:

For investment

When the inaugural 1997 vintage Penfolds RWT Shiraz was released in 2000, it was billed as a lieutenant to Grange. The 1997 RWT retailed for around $78 while Grange at that time was selling for $500 to $600. I bought a case purely as an investment. Today, the 1997 RWT sells at auction for around $300 to $400, which is not a bad return. Sadly, I drank it all. It’s a great wine. 

Grange is the obvious investment wine. It is a household name. Everyone knows about Grange, even border control officers at Sydney Airport where the X-ray machine detected two bottles in my suitcase. The Customs guy said, “It’s not Grange, is it?” and laughed loudly. I laughed along with him as he pointed me towards the green lane. My two bottles were magnums of 1982 Château Margaux worth about $5000 each. 

Penfolds 2017 Grange is available at $849 from the Good Wine Co and Fine Wine Delivery Co. It takes the sting out of the purchase when you tell your partner, “I saved $130 on a bottle of wine today.” 

For love

I have had a long-term relationship with Penfolds St Henri. It is a truly wonderful wine that ages magnificently. I buy a couple of magnums every year. Magnums reduce the risk of impulsive consumption. They also extend the life of the wine. For a long-distance runner, St Henri is surprisingly accessible in its youth. The 2018 vintage is a cracker. 

I have also had a lengthy love affair with Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz, although I find it hard to pay $139.99 for a wine that I once bought for less than $20 a bottle. A consoling factor is that Bin 389 is dramatically better today than it was 40 years ago. 

For value

Penfolds Bin 138 Shiraz Grenache Mataro is a great buy at $49.99. It is a big but perfectly formed wine and deliciously drinkable now. 

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