Almanac Wine: Tasting the new Penfolds releases

Sometimes you just get lucky! On a recent visit to that popular temple of public consumption, Dan Murphys, I saw a notice advertising two upcoming tasting evenings for the release of the latest Penfolds vintages – $30 per person.  The Road Runner would have been left in my dust as I sprinted to the service desk! I jagged the last available place but, alas, no second opening for my good wife. (She was promised first dibs if a cancellation came up.) Being the said ‘good wife’, she insisted that I have the honour of attending and she would drive me to and from the occasion. What a woman! No wonder I married her.

 

On rocking up to the Villa Noosa Hotel where the tasting was held and after getting past two sign-in desks, this was the centrepiece on the table at the front of the room.

 

 

 

 

Five tables, each set for two appropriately distanced persons, were set up with the tasting wines already poured. Check out the small spittoon. Needless to say, it was superfluous to requirements! So, eight wines – a riesling, a chardonnay and six reds – confronted us.

 

 

 

 

And, just to make sure that we didn’t get peckish as we swished and swilled our way through the wines on offer, each person was served this platter – at least four different cheeses, quince paste, macadamia and pistachio nuts, hummus and a basil-based dip and, under there somewhere, slices of pickled red capsicum. Humungous!

 

 

 

 

Disclaimer: I’m no wine buff; I just know what I like. I seldom buy in the price range of these beauties but appreciated the opportunity to give them a try. I also use my own, very non wine culture language to describe what I taste, so take or leave my descriptions as you will.

 

We started with the 2020 Bin 51 riesling, a fresh, lush and full-flavoured drop that felt soft and round in the mouth. It had a slight citrus tang and lingered pleasantly. I love riesling, especially when it’s young and fresh – Jim Barry Watervale, Pewsey Vale, Tim Adams, Poonawatta, etc. This was about twice their price at $36.90, probably a bit out of proportion in ‘bang for your buck’ terms, but just great! At least as good as Hentschke’s Julius in the same price bracket.

 

Spoiler alert: I’m not a fan of Australian chardonnays, preferring the more subtle French style. Penfolds 2019 Reserve Bin A is very Australian in style. Other attendees who appreciate this style said that it was very good. It would want to be at $109.90 a bottle!

 

The 2018 Bin 128 shiraz is made from Coonawarra grapes. A bit young at this stage, it had a lot of fruit up front, that gritty flavour of its terra rossa soil and a very pleasing, even flavour throughout. Good for at least another ten years. Not bad value at $54.90 a bottle.

 

Kalimna Bin 28 shiraz is one of my favourites. My friend Dave who, believe me, knows what he’s on about when it comes to Penfolds, rates the Kalimna as the overall best value for money wine in the Penfolds stable. At $44.90, he’s not wrong. Dry, dusty and with a full-mouthed flavour that lingers, Bin 28 keeps up a fine standard, vintage after vintage. A very good example of gutsy Australian shiraz.

 

 

 

 

Then it was on to the big four. The 2017 St Henri shiraz comes in at $114.90 a bottle. I found its flavours subtle for an Australian shiraz, not big and bold in the least, but then St Henri usually isn’t. A lovely ‘feel’ in the mouth with flavours spread evenly across the palate.

 

The big, smack-you-between-the-eyes hit of the night came with the 2018 RWT Bin 798 shiraz. A rich nose and big fruit up front suggested a very young wine that will need a while to settle and develop for a decade or two. But if you like it big, bold and fruity right now at $179.90 a pop, this is your wine.

 

‘Baby’ Grange, the 2018 Bin 389 cabernet shiraz, was, even at this very early stage of its development, a beautiful wine! The flavours of the cabernet and shiraz grapes are already well integrated providing a smooth texture and mouth-filling experience that lingered long after. It’s $99.90 a bottle and in its infancy but, if you’re not as young as you used to be and can’t wait to let it sit for 10-15 years or more, you won’t be disappointed if you drink it now.

 

Finally, the 2016 Bin 95 Grange. I’ll leave it to the connoisseurs and wannabes to debate the pros and cons of the best Australian red. It seems to me to be splitting hairs when you get into this range (Grange, Hill of Grace et al) in both quality and price. The word that came to my mind when I tasted this was majestic! Complex, multi-layered flavours and sensations that came in wave after wave as I chewed it and swooshed it around my mouth. Breadth and depth. Every participant in the tasting was knocked over by it. Stunning, breath-taking, gorgeous, a sensual pleasure! All yours for just $849.90 a bottle. The whole evening was worth it just to taste this one wine. I gather that the real pros think that this vintage will become one of THE great Granges. You’ll just have to live long enough to find out.

 

 

 

 

Our host, Scott from the Fine Wines section of Dan’s, was an enthusiastic and knowledgeable MC. He knows his stuff! He was the only person to use the spittoon but even he made an exception for the Grange.

 

Here’s what the aftermath looked like. Alas, there was no doggy bag on offer to take the leftover cheeses home.

 

 

 

 

To complete the evening, each participant received a $30 Dan’s voucher. Let’s just say that in this bugger of a year, the chance to attend this tasting night was a standout reassurance that some of the best things in life still go on.

 

I’ve already made enquiries about next year’s occasion!

 

Footnote: Visiting the store a couple days later to purchase some rather more modest offerings, we heard that a customer had been in that morning and purchased the store’s whole stock of the 2016 Grange in a modest outlay of over $9000! Sigh.

 

 

To return to the Home Page click HERE.

 

 

Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.

 

 

 

About Ian Hauser

A relaxed, Noosa-based retiree with a (very) modest sporting CV. A Queenslander through and through, especially when it comes to cricket and rugby league. I enjoy travel, good coffee and cake, reading, and have been known to appreciate a glass or three of wine. As well as being one of Footy Almanac's online editors, I moonlight as an editor for hire - check me out at www.writerightediting.com.au

Comments

  1. Jealous. For a “non wine buff” you write a good game. Great wines but as you say not value for money. Buying a label at those prices. I drink mostly Larry Cherubino wines from WA (25% off if you buy 4 dozen a year) and Mike Press Wines from Lobethal in SA. Both terrific value for money.
    Food with wine is interesting – really affects the palate. We did a structured tasting when in Champagne a few years ago. I’m not a great sparkling fan – but hey once in a lifetime. Six different wines blind with different blends of chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meaner. Ranked them. Then had food with the same wines randomised. Completely different rankings.
    You owe your wife for her generosity and understanding.

  2. Great topic Ian. I was given a St Henri 2016 just the other day as a gift. Reckon I’ll probably visit it in earnest in about 10-12 years. But I generally don’t buy Penfolds.

    A few years ago I went to a Penfolds lunch. One of the great lunches in my lifetime. A whole lunch over 4 hours working our way through the Penfolds list. Finished the day drinking a 2010 St Henri whilst grazing over on a cheese platter. Outstanding.

  3. roger lowrey says

    Well covered Ian.

    I have a regular lunch friend in non COVID circumstances who has a theory that anything with the word Penfolds and a bin number on the label must be a good wine. More importantly, whenever I lob with such a bottle to our favourite BYO restaurant he pays for lunch.

    That being the case, it looks like the Kalimna Bin 28 shiraz you describe above will be my best bet for our next outing whenever that may be.Thanks for the tip!

    RDL

  4. Ian- Great post and excellent topic. Gee, I love a wine tasting. Not really so much the wine, but the entire context of location, expectation, like-minded folk, nibbles, learning and conversation. A bit like a Footy Almanac lunch.

    Even though my Dad worked for Penfolds for a couple decades I really enjoy them, especially a 128.

    I wrote on my Grange experience on here five years aog-

    https://www.footyalmanac.com.au/home-on-the-grange/

  5. Colin Ritchie says

    It’s enough to make a man take up drinking again after being nearly 8 years on the wagon! I once thoroughly enjoyed a red.

  6. Ian
    I hate to be a wet blanket but Penfolds wines have been horrendously over-priced since the American wine guru, Robert Parker, named Grange 1990 as his Wine of the Year. Grange prices skyrocketed from that moment and the rest of the range has followed. Recent growth in demand from China has only exacerbated this trend.
    This is not to say that Penfolds wines aren’t good. I am fortunate enough to have shared bottles of 1964 and 1965 Grange, courtesy of an uncle who is a wine buff and generously recognised my interest. We celebrated the birth of our second son with a 1978 Bin 707 (current vintage @$500 a bottle – 707 was not in your tasting I note). The memories of these wonderful wines will remain with me for ever. More prosaically, I used to buy a case of Bin 389 every year when they were great value at @$12-15 per bottle (and the in-store Penfolds tastings were free). But I wouldn’t go near them these days at the prices you’re quoting.

  7. Kevin Densley says

    Great piece, Ian! The Bin 28 Kalimna is one of my favourite year-in, year-out wines – a fine thing to see it given a good wrap. That said, Stainless is right to suggest that Penfolds wines have gotten pretty pricey over the years, even if they are generally of a high standard.

  8. I’d really like to be able to comment, Ian, but I don’t drink!

  9. A most enjoyable review, IJH.
    I reckon there would be many people who would wish to be only half as knowledgeable as your good self.
    Penfolds obviously produce great wine, but I agree with PB to some extent: there are many better value for money reds in Australia, you just have to seek them out.
    Two weeks ago, when I broke my self-imposed Dry July drought, I celebrated with a bottle of Bin 389. It was superb.
    Well played, Ian. I am green with envy.

  10. roger lowrey says

    Ian,

    Further to my previous comment, your review aroused my curiosity such that I stumped up $45 and headed to Dan’s yesterday to get my hands on a Kalimna Bin 28 shiraz.

    As I waited patiently in the unusually busy Monday afternoon queue – perhaps they too had all been reading Footy Almanac given the lack of most other available recreational options in Victoria at the moment – I reflected on your role in how I came to be waiting there.

    It then occurred to me that you could possibly be what the maladroitly named Sisters of Mercy at St Francis Xavier Primary School in Ballarat East in the 1960s used to refer to as an “occasion of sin”. But relax though mate. I had just the two glasses last night so no sinful behaviour. The child bride even elected not to sample it at all so I have a heap left for tonight even if she were to indulge in her usual “small glass”.

    As I think you suggested in your review, this vintage is a big robust number and will certainly be better in five or ten years’ time however it also drinks very well now.

    However as Malcolm Fraser was so fond of saying, “having said that let me say this”. I have some sympathy with the views of Stainless and Kevin Denzley above. As a general rule I think Penfolds are a bit overpriced. For example, in this current case I reckon you could get plenty of other equivalent Ozzie reds in the $25 to $35 bracket.

    Mind you of course, none of that makes the Kalimna Bin 28 a lesser wine. It’s just that, overall, I suppose I would probably buy more Penfolds wines more regularly if they were a bit cheaper. There again Ian, maybe such pricing would lead me into sin far quicker than you ever could!

    RDL

  11. Did you hear that China is “conducting an investigation” into the “dumping” of Australian wine onto the Chinese market? This would have wine exporters quaking in their boots, I reckon, as this did not end well for the barley producers. Australia exports $1.3billion of wine into China annually. Extraordinary figures are at stake here.

  12. Ian Hauser says

    Thanks to all for your comments. We seem to be of a mind that the Penfolds product is good but pricey. Stainless is on the Mark with his straight-talking comment. I rarely buy Penfolds myself and that’s why I took the opportunity to attend the tasting. RDL, I await your thoughts on the Bin 28. Smokie, I saw that headline about 30 minutes ago – ominous indeed. I remember that you greeted August with the 389. Jan and Col, I admire your strength of character. We’re very lucky with the standard, variety and price of wine in Australia. Cheers to all!

  13. Luke Reynolds says

    Living the dream Ian!

    Been sampling a few Reds in our Victorian lockdown, Penfolds a bit out of my budget though.

Leave a Comment

*