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Reviewed: The 2017 Penfolds Collection

Serried ranks at Horseguards Hotel

Military precision characterised Penfolds’ impressively choreographed annual launch of their top wines, this year at The Royal Horseguards Hotel, One Whitehall.  It’s hard to think of a better association for this iconic Australian brand.  Red and black livery, great tradition, near mythical spit and polish and, of course, Penfolds are responsible for Australia’s quintessential multi-regional blend, so teamwork is in the blood.

Chief Winemaker Peter Gago shared with us some interesting insights about the direction of the wines.  Take Reserve Bin A Chardonnay which has bagged more than its fair share of gold medals and trophies.  It was very much at the vanguard of Australia’s tightly wound reductive, struck match-accented styles of Chardonnay.  A “layer of artefact” which, in tune with times a-changing, Gago reported is being pared back. Not just for this wine, but in general across Australia.

Peter Gago introduces Penfolds 2017 Collection

Turning to Yattarna, when I asked Gago about the use of Central Highlands’ Chardonnay (which Penfolds’ white winemaker Kym Schroeter told me he was super-excited about a couple of years ago), the Chief Winemaker shared his concerns about climate change.  Referring to “a very scary encounter in Tasmania in January,”  he discovered that vineyards he had visited 27 years ago with a view to producing sparkling wine are now focused on dry white wine, not fizz.  Looking ahead, Gago speculated that Penfolds could go higher (and cooler) in one of the company’s Adelaide Hills’ vineyards, planting at 400m. “It’s good to have that flex,” he concluded.

For reds, Limestone Coast’s cooler climate Wrattonbully region is looming larger now that vines have attained greater maturity.  Indeed, for the first time, it is the primary source for Bin 389 (but not in 2016 or 2017, added Gago).  Penfolds are sourcing both Cabernet and Shiraz from there (with a bit more Shiraz in Bin 389 2015 which, he pointed out is also well suited to St Henri given its slightly larger berries and fleshier style).  Gago recounted there is “lots of bias and prejudice” about Wrattonbully fruit which, even with the Australian press, has “not yet resonated as a noble area given its history of not being used other than for mid-range wines.”  Still, he observed, “we have more terra rossa [in Wrattonbully] than we see in Coonawarra…one grower has already made it into Bin 707.” Click here for my report on a visit to Wrattonbully, which it will be interesting to review after the Limestone Coast Show where I judge later this month.

As for the latest release of Grange (which features no Wrattonbully fruit), Gago rates the 2013 a half point higher than the 2012.  It is, as he says, more ‘classic’  – muscular and bold with the formic (volatile acidity) notes so characteristic of Penfolds’ tradition of finishing the ferment in barrel.  I must admit, I’m a fan of the more polished and pure 2010, but horses for courses.  It’s an impressive wine and, very recognisably Grange which, incidentally, is officially listed as a Heritage Icon of South Australia.  Gago himself has been ‘officiated’ this year,  having been awarded a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours “[F]or eminent service to the Australian wine industry as an internationally acclaimed winemaker, to the global promotion of excellence in oenology, marketing and research, as a mentor, and to the community of South Australia.”

Asked about oak, Gago reported that there have been many changes in the sourcing and seasoning of American oak.  In the “early, early days it was not very good,” but changed when we brought the oak to Australia to season.  Coopers AP John made the barrels (and still) to Penfolds’ specification.  Commenting, “[W]e like to think we source some of best American oak around,” Gago believes that better sourcing has made a big difference to the tannin quality of Bin 707 and Grange (together with better tannin management).

On tannin management, the winemaker observed that, until 1994, Penfolds was using some (but not all) continuous presses, then membrane presses, while Magill always a basket press.  These days the big emphasis is on not over-extracting, using barrel ferment (a “big” part of the repetoire) and “getting off seeds early is key to avoid those harsher tannins – these wines are less about skin contact but seed contact.”

One last nugget of news.  Penfolds has re-packaged the wines, with Penfolds Wine ‘branded’ into the base of the bottle.  It looks classy – substantial.   Nicely done.

Here are my notes on the 2017 release wines, which were tasted on 14 September.  Of course, the reds in particular, would benefit from more time in glass.  Gago observed that they even double decant the Chardonnays at Penfolds’ Magill Restaurant, in the Adelaide suburbs.  Vintage reports and winemaking notes are taken from Penfolds’ booklet.

Follow these links for my reports on previous releases:

The Penfolds Collection 2016

The Penfolds Collection 2015

Penfolds Luxury & Icon Collection 2014

The Penfolds Collection 2013

The Penfolds Bin Release 2013

Penfolds Bin 51 Eden Valley Riesling 2017 (Eden Valley)

Vintage: Above-average winter and spring rainfall offered the vines in Eden Valley healthy soil moisture profiles for the growing season. Cool days and cooler nights slowed vine growth in early spring with temperatures warming in October. A mild and mostly dry start to summer was followed by two significant rain events which increased frost risk, however the vineyards escaped any damage. The lower than average temperatures and abundant rainfall during the growing season and veraison produced a vintage that challenged both winemakers and viticulturists alike. Rainfall slowed in early autumn with a high heat cycle quickly following. Moving into March, mild days slowed the ripening with cool nights and warm days persisting until harvest.

Winemaking: classic protective winemaking; this wine was fermented in and bottled after three months in stainless steel.  Alc/Vol: 12.5%, Acidity: 7.3 g/L, pH: 3.16

Tasting note: Bin 51 hails from a single vineyard –  The Woodbury Vineyard, abutting Mount Adam (there was no High Eden Vineyard material in the 2017).  In 2017, it has a pronounced talcy, perfumed (bath salts) nose and palate with tropical passionfruit and cool as a cucumber nuances in addition to classic lime, which provides the backbone.  Dry but fruity and fresh, with a chalky, textural finish.  Not as intense or focused as the previous vintage.  Sound, very approachable and somewhat over-priced when you look at the competition? RRP £28.99

Penfolds Bin 311 Tumbarumba Chardonnay 2016 (Tumbarumba)

Photo credit Penfolds – one of the 650-750m sources of Penfolds’ Bin 311 from Tumbarumba

Vintage: winter rainfall replenished the soil profiles and water reserves for the start of the growing season. 2016 was one of the warmest growing seasons on record. Temperatures were well above the long term average during spring which encouraged excellent canopy growth and fruit-set. A warm and dry summer led to a very early and compressed harvest. Tumbarumba 2016 vintage produced high yields of great quality.

Winemaking: Barrel-fermented and aged for nine months in seasoned French oak barriques.  Very little batonnage.  Alc/Vol: 12.5%, Acidity: 6.9 g/L, pH: 3.21

Tasting note: A smoky nose and palate with lemon creams, lime oil, grapefruit, lovely acid drive and chiselled minerals.  In earlier vintages (2014 and older), I found a bit too much lees-driven artefact (to use a Gago expression), which seemed to get in the way of this cool climate Chardonnay’s minerality and acid backbone.   Here the balance is just right, with an enjoyable tension between the citrus fruit, acid and minerals.  Ready to rock and roll with an attractive cheesy tang/bite on the finish.  Very good.  RRP £30.99

Penfolds Reserve Bin A Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2016 (Adelaide Hills)

Vintage: The Adelaide Hills 2016 growing season commenced under mild and dry conditions.  Rainfall was below average throughout winter and dry conditions persisted through spring resulting in early vine growth.  Conditions for fruit-set and flowering were favourable and contributed towards above average vintage yields.  Rain events during late summer were, for the most part, pre-veraison. Cool February conditions meant that ripening was steady and the slightly early start to vintage was a result of a mild and dry growing season.  February and March weather allowed for a steady harvest, favourable flavour development and acid retention.

Winemaking: All fruit is hand-picked into small bins and then whole-bunch pressed. A portion of the juice is incrementally filled to barrel directly from the press and allowed to undergo a natural fermentation, sans inoculation. Every new and seasoned French oak barrique is its own unique 225-litre ferment. Enhanced mouthfeel and complexity is achieved by fermenting and maturing on solids. 100% malolactic fermentation (all natural).   Nine months in French oak barriques (40% new).  Alc/Vol: 13.5%, Acidity: 6.8 g/L, pH: 3.14

Tasting note: A markedly more restrained nose than usual, if still flinty, a touch smoky.  In the mouth, the attack is more sabre than rapier – curved, not straight, the acid backbone subtly ‘fleshed/pillowed’ out.  Less impatient than usual, there is a certain longueur (if not exactly largesse) to the mid-palate, which sports ripe but bright fruit (grapefruit, lifted fresh grated lime zest, white peach) and lees.  Going back, nougat notes lend a sweetness and richness to the whole.  A step change but still very good.  RRP £75

Penfolds Yattarna 2015 (84% Tasmania/16% Adelaide Hills)

Vintage: Autumn and winter rainfall were above the long-term averages in the Adelaide Hills. Rain stopped abruptly in early August with nothing more than light and infrequent showers observed throughout spring. In Tasmania, moderate spring rainfall and settled conditions led to good average yields across the region, with only isolated incidences of frost. A significant rainfall event in the Adelaide Hills in early January revitalised vineyards and gave vines a much needed boost throughout veraison. Mild days coupled with cool nights in Tasmania and the Adelaide Hills provided consistent conditions, resulting in high acid retention with even and steady sugar accumulation over the ripening phase. Harvest across most vineyards in the Adelaide Hills was compressed with the majority of the vineyards picked by the end of March.

Winemaking: Eight months on yeast lees in French oak barriques (65% new).  Alc/Vol: 13.0%, Acidity: 8.1 g/L, pH: 3.17

Tasting note: This is a very complete Yattarna, with beautiful fleshy but vivid, juicy peach and nectarine.  Deft use of oak and lees produce cedar, nougat (going back) and oatmeal nuances. Ripe but still snappy (very Tassie) acidity makes for a persistent, mouth-watering finish.  The fruit lingers deliciously.  Long and perfectly lovely already.  But I bet it ages well.  Power, grace and, above all balance – a hallmark of this much admired vintage for Chardonnay.  RRP £140.00

Penfolds Bin 138 Barossa Valley GSM 2015

Vintage: Winter and spring rainfall were above average, creating an excellent start to the season. Relatively warm temperatures in August encouraged the vines out of dormancy early, with prevailing warmer than average conditions leading to early flowering. Spring was generally cooler and drier than average, with the low soil moisture slowing growth and leaving vines with nice open canopies. January temperatures were lower than usual, with the maximum temperatures being the coolest in 22 years. Without any extremes or stress the vines continued to ripen evenly leading into an early harvest. In February, hotter weather prevailed ensuring a fast and early grape intake.

Winemaking: A blend of 64% Shiraz, 20% Mataro, 16% Grenache sourced from old Barossa Valley vines (some more than 100 years old).  It (the blend, not the varietal component parts) was matured for 12 to 15 months in seasoned French (66%) & American oak hogsheads. (Originally released in 1992 under the ‘Old Vine Barossa Valley’ label, it was then elevated to Bin status for the 1998 vintage.  Alc/Vol 14.5%, T.A.  6.5g/l,  pH 3.65

Tasting note: The Mataro is a notch up on the previous vintage and it shows in the spicy, meaty, hint of squeaky saddle soap, nose and palate.  Qualities I like, which bringing seasoning and lift. The Grenache fleshes out the bouncy mid-palate, with generous red fruits, the Shiraz all plums and Barossa loamy mocha choca notes.  There’s a touch of cola too, although the overall impression is juicy and bright.  Fine mouth-coating, savoury tannins skirt around the fruit, bringing a modicum of measure to the whole.    Nicely done, in a very Penfolds’ polished style.     RRP £30.99

Penfolds Coonawarra Bin 128 Shiraz 2015 (Coonawarra)

Vintage: Above-average temperatures were recorded in winter and continued throughout spring. Rainfall was below average throughout winter, due to a drier August, and dry conditions persisted through spring resulting in early vine growth. The summer period saw rainfall over 10mm higher than the long-term average due to a high rainfall event occurring in January, pre-veraison. Moderate temperatures from early summer through to vintage meant that ripening was steady with the Coonawarra recording ten days over 35 degrees during the summer period.

Winemaking: Sourced from terra rossa soils and matured for 12 months in a mixture of new (30%) and seasoned (30% 1 Y.O. & 40% 2 Y.O) French oak hogsheads, a method that was refined during the 1980’s when the transition was made from American to French oak.  Alc/Vol  14.5 % v/v, T.A. 6.4g/l,  pH 3.64

Tasting note:  Together with Bin 389 (usually a sure-fire-bet) I was underwhelmed by this wine at the launch and requested a follow up sample.  At the launch I found the nose quietly spicy and under-stated  – hush, hush – with bitter trace elements.  Its blackberry fruit has nice freshness and sap, but it just seems a little circumspect.  I missed a bit of focus and intensity and concluded it was perhaps just a bit young and sulky.  I tasted the sample at home over three days, which rather confirmed the latter, though it remained a bit tight-lipped.    I did, however, discover a core of fleshier, quite pure black cherry and berry, with cassia bark, sage and mocha.  A touch one note, though not solid of impression – this is Coonawarra, so it has fresh acidity.  The tannins, a fine but firm fretwork, let up a bit on day three.  One to review, but more promising than initial impressions.  RRP £30.99

Penfolds Kalimna Bin 28 Shiraz 2015 (South Australia)

Vintage report: Autumn and early winter rainfall were above the long-term average. Rain stopped abruptly in early August with only light showers observed throughout spring. Low top soil moisture halted canopy growth early in the season giving vines an open canopy. Warm and dry conditions continued throughout the season which resulted in rapid grapevine growth and early flowering. February brought weekend heat spikes, pushing mean maximum temperatures well above the average resulting in early ripening and harvest.

Winemaking: In 2015, Bin 28 is a blend of Shiraz from McLaren Vale, Barossa Valley, Padthaway, Wrattonbully, Robe.  It was aged for 12 months in seasoned American oak hogsheads.  14.5% Alc/Vol, T.A. 6.8g/l,  pH 3.61

Tasting note: A deep, opaque hue with youthfully intense, liquorice-edged black berry and cherry fruit, the tannins fine but really mouthcoating, seemingly layered (Gago nails it with his ‘mille- feuille’ description).  The fruit glides, as if on rails, into a long, fine, dry finish with a lick of cinnamon spice.  Very refined and pure.  Could not be more different from the 2014, which I found to have a much more evolved-seeming, dense, oaky palate.

Penfolds Bin 150 Marananga Shiraz 2015 (Marananga, Barossa Valley)

Vintage report: Winter and spring rainfall were above average, creating an excellent start to the season. Relatively warm temperatures in August encouraged the vines out of dormancy early with prevailing warmer than average conditions leading to early flowering. Spring was generally cooler and drier than average with the low soil moisture slowing growth and leaving vines with nice open canopies. January temperatures were lower than usual with the recorded maximum temperatures being the coolest in 22 years. Without any extremes or stress, the vines continued to ripen evenly leading into an early harvest. In February, hotter weather prevailed ensuring a fast and early grape intake.

Winemaking: The sub-region of Marananga lies very close to the centre of the Barossa Valley floor – slightly to the north and west, where warm dry conditions and rich red soil, provide the backbone to some of the region’s best known wines. This release delivers a contemporary Shiraz alternative, framed by a mix of oaks; French and American, old and new – crafted in accordance with the traditional Penfolds method, although Gago told is that this wine did not see much barrel ferment.  It spent 16 months in 18% new, 18% 1 Y.O., French oak; 25% new, 39% 1 Y.O. American oak – hogsheads & puncheons.  Alc/Vol 14.5 %, T.A.   6.8  g/l,  pH 3.65

Tasting note:  This was a real stand out for me last year and again.  I’m enjoying its savoury, mineral singularity.  Lots of personality.  The nose is all powdery iodine and smoked meat, which nuances follow through on an inky palate with a core of dark but glossy (blacker than last year),  tightly coiled yet persistent black berry and cherry fruit.  Those fine, layered mille- feuille tannins strike again.  Lingering, very fine and implosive.  Great depth and potential yet to unfurl. Going back at the end, those beautifully fine tannins strike me once again; long and lovely, the fruit coming up a bit now, but still a restraint.  Excellent; an exciting Barossa Shiraz.  RRP £60.00

Penfolds Bin 407 2015 (South Australia)

Vintage report: Autumn and early winter rainfall were above the long-term average. Rain stopped abruptly in early August, pushing Coonawarra below the long term average due to the drier end to winter, with only light showers observed throughout spring. The dry and cool spring period affected canopy growth early in the season. Warm and dry conditions during flowering and fruit-set resulted in rapid grapevine growth and early flowering. A high rainfall event occurred in Coonawarra in January, mostly falling outside of veraison. February delivered weekend heat spikes, pushing mean maximum temperatures well above the average, resulting in early ripening and harvest.

Winemaking: The Cabernet Sauvignon is sourced from Wrattonbully, Coonawarra, Padthaway, McLaren Vale and the Barossa Valley.  It was aged for 12 months in 25% new French hogsheads;  10% new, 18% 1-Y.O. & 36% 2-Y.O ,11% 3-Y.O. American oak hogsheads.  Alc/Vol 14.5%, T.A. 7.0 g/l  pH 3.62

Tasting note: Last year, I described the 2014 vintage as “[A]n expressive Cabernet, generous of spirit without sacrificing line and lift.”  Praise be for multi-regional blends – the 2015 nails that exuberance wed to finer varietal nuances extremely well.   It has a perfumed exuberant but fresh and lively nose and palate of blueberry, cassis with nice lift and layer of liquorice, dried herbs and balsamic.  Some vinous, dried fruit nuances too. Very approachable with fine, papery tannins which cannot repress the buoyant fruit and aromatics.  Lovely, joyous Cab.  This variety well suits Penfolds’ polished style.  RRP £60.00

Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz 2015 (South Australia)

Vintage: Autumn and early winter rainfall were above the long-term average. Rain stopped abruptly in early August with only light showers observed throughout spring. The dry and cool spring period affected canopy growth early in the season. Warm and dry conditions during flowering and fruit-set resulted in rapid grapevine growth and early flowering. A high rainfall event occurred in Coonawarra in January, mostly falling outside of veraison, and February delivered weekend heat spikes. Wrattonbully had a warm and generally dry ripening end to the season which allowed for the development on strong varietal flavours.

Winemaking: In 2015, Bin 389 is a blend of 53% Cabernet Sauvignon,  47% Shiraz sourced from Wrattonbully, McLaren Vale, Barossa Valley, Coonawarra, Robe, Padthaway. It was aged for 12 months in 32% new, 37% 1 Y.O. & 31% 2-Y.O. American oak hogsheads.  14.5% Alc/Vol   T.A. 7.0  g/l,  pH 3.64

Tasting note: A deep hue, as I’d expect from Bin 389 – a personal favourite, which I tend to think of as a little un-reconstructed in the best possible way.  That is to say brawny, backward and elemental in its youth, like the 2014.  The style imposing, rather than expressive, focused on structure over flesh.  So I found this vintage – the 2015 – somewhat underwhelming at the launch.  Markedly minty to the nose, though it had the mouth-coating tannins of its siblings, it seemed fleshier, juicier, lighter, sappier even, then previous vintages, which have held their cards closer to the chest.  There was something of that formic character – sarsaparilla and blueberry lift and, going back,  black olive.  As for the sample I re-tasted at home over three days (together with Bin 128), I found it similarly expressive and, though very pleasurable and accessible for that, still lacking the gravitas which I find so compelling about Bin 389.  RRP £60.00

Penfolds St Henri 2014 (South Australia)

Vintage report:  Above average winter and early spring rainfall offered the vines in South Australia healthy soil moisture profiles for the growing season. Late spring and summer were dry and warm with significant heat records being set. Warm weather prevailed during summer and throughout veraison, allowing grapes to develop evenly and with good intensity. These warm conditions came to an abrupt halt in mid-February with significant rainfall allowing for a long and slow ripening of the fruit in very good conditions. This ensured balanced flavour development, fruit exhibiting a brightness endowed with crisp acid retention and impressive fruit quality.

Winemaking: A blend of 96% Shiraz,  4% Cabernet Sauvignon, sourced from Barossa Valley, Adelaide Hills, Southern Fleurieu, Wrattonbully and Mt Benson.  It was matured for 12 months in 50+-year-old old, 1,460 litre vats that allow the wine to develop, imparting minimal, if any oak character. Although a small proportion of Cabernet is sometimes used to improve structure, the focal point for St Henri remains Shiraz.  Alc/Vol 14.5%, T.A.  6.3 g/l,  pH 3.66

Tasting note:  Lots of black olive, blueberry and cocoa to nose and touch dusty (in a good way), gravelly palate, with pronounced dried sage nuances and surprisingly big tannins, which build in the mouth and are a touch dry on the finish.  With that throaty, gravelly character it has more of what I’d expect from Bin 389!   Going back, it is showing more red fruits, especially raspberry, some juniper too.  A lovely, pure core of fruit.  The sage remains striking (I like it), the tannins (savoury) seem to be unlocking, lengthening…How does that work?   It has a lick of milk chocolate to the finish.  Some tar too.  Really good.  A journey in a glass, with lots of interest along the way.  Incidentally, Gago remarked that the St Henri ’58, 62, 71 (which, he observed usually embarrasses 71 Grange) and the 1990 and 2010 are in great shape at the moment.  RRP £95.00

Penfolds Magill Estate 2015 (Magill)

Sourced from the original Magill vineyard, pictured, on the edge of Adelaide’s eastern suburbs (just eight kilometres from the city’s CBD)

Vintage report: Autumn and early winter rainfall and temperatures were above the long-term average. Rain stopped abruptly in early August with only light showers observed throughout spring. Warm and dry conditions continued throughout the season which resulted in rapid grapevine growth and early flowering. February brought weekend heat spikes, pushing mean maximum temperatures well above the average, resulting in early ripening and harvest. The Magill Estate vineyard was handpicked on February 9th and 10th 2015.

Winemaking:  The fruit for this single-vineyard Shiraz from Magill Estate was crushed, 100% de-stemmed, fermented and matured on-site at the original Penfolds Magill Estate Winery, established in 1844. It was hand picked and vinified in open fermenters, then basket pressed to complete fermentation in barrel; matured for 18 months in 70% new French,  30% new American oak hogsheads.  14.5% alc v/v,   T.A.  7.2 g/l,  pH 3.52

Tasting note: Well above average temperatures are reflected in the savoury, sweet, slightly raisiny, fruit cake nose and palate of this dense wine.  With its velvety (a bit riper and it might have been syrupy) texture and feast of big in everything, bring a knife and fork flavours, it feels like a throw back in time.  Not my preferred style, but there is no denying its rich, deep layers of flavour – hints of kid glove leather, bay leaf, high-toned nutty, oily,  oak, mocha and chocolate violet creams weigh in on the fruit – perfumed blueberry, fleshy plum and meaty black olive.  Even the tannins feel ‘fleshy,’ giving body and weight to the wine as if the grains had swelled.  Smooth, dense with persistence going back (or is it impetus/gravity!) Yet with a sense of lurking, firmer tannins. RRP £130.00

Penfolds RWT Barossa Valley Shiraz 2015 (Barossa Valley)

Vintage: Winter and spring rainfall were above average, creating an excellent start to the season. Relatively warm temperatures in August encouraged the vines out of dormancy early, with prevailing warmer than average conditions leading to early flowering. Spring was generally cooler and drier than average, with the low soil moisture slowing growth and leaving vines with nice open canopies. January temperatures were lower than usual, with the maximum temperatures being the coolest in 22 years. Without any extremes or stress the vines continued to ripen evenly leading into an early harvest. In February, hotter weather prevailed ensuring a fast and early grape intake.

Winemaking: This departure from a multi-regional/American-oaked style earned this Shiraz its moniker, RWT, short for Red Winemaking Trial.  It does have a bin name too – 798 – which, Gago, shared was inspired by technology – check your mobile phone keypad….Matured only in French oak, this single region Barossa Valley Shiraz is  made from fruit primarily selected for its aromatic qualities and lush texture.   It was aged for 16  months in 83% new &  17% 1 Y.O. French oak hogsheads.  14.5 % Alc/Vol, T.A.  6.8 g/l,  pH 3.62

Tasting note: Initially, RWT delivers a powerful hit of cassis and blueberry on nose and attack, before the tannins (fine, but surprisingly plentiful, a touch mineral) kick the fruit into the long grass, as if to say come back later.  It makes for a tapering finish after the surge of  youthful, raw even, fruit with its glimpses of black olive, sage, balsamic and chocolate.  With a sense of containment and polished core of cassis, it is quite the contrast to Magill! Gnomic.  RRP £130.00

Penfolds Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 (South Australia)

Vintage report: Autumn and early winter rainfall were above the long-term average. Rain stopped abruptly in early August with only light showers observed throughout spring. The dry and cool spring period effected canopy growth early in the season. Warm and dry conditions during flowering and fruit-set resulted in rapid grapevine growth and early flowering. A high rainfall event occurred in Coonawarra in January, mostly falling outside of veraison. February brought weekend heat spikes, pushing mean maximum temperatures well above the average resulting in early ripening and harvest.

Winemaking: Sourced from Coonawarra, Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, Padthaway.  It was interesting to learn from the booklet that no Bin 707 (first made in 1964) was made from 1970 to 1975 (when fruit was directed to other wines) nor in 1981, 1995, 2000, 2003 or 2011 (when fruit of the required style and quality was not available).  Ditto in 2017, when gago told us there will be no 707 in 2017 there was lots of rain.  The booklet also sums up the style well – “Bin 707 is a Cabernet Sauvignon reflection of Grange: intensely-flavoured fruit; completion of fermentation and maturation in new oak; expressing a Penfolds understanding of multi-vineyard, multi-region fruit sourcing.”    It was part fermented and aged for 20 months in 100% new American oak hogsheads.  14.5 Alc/Vol %, T.A. 6.8 g/l,  pH 3.65

After over half a century Bin 707 remains a non-conforming South Australian expression of Cabernet Sauvignon.  Why change now?!   Yes, just that touch ‘different’ in Vintage 2015; more finessed.  Still 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Still 100% new oak.  Different vintage; different weather, different (707) wine.Demands air.  No other requests. Deep, brooding red                     “• Exotic. Aromatically more perfumed than normal – old-garden fresh dark-red rose, lavender, and ylang-ylang.  It transitions upon sitting to conform to a more recognisable Bin 707 varietal demeanour. But not quickly … work required in glass to awaken!• 100% new oak; 0% recognition. 20 months?  Absorbed, ingested.     “• Uniform across palate. Balanced, expressive. Many flavours register – the ‘pure’ (blueberry fruits), and the ‘derived’ (rum n’raisin chocolate / freshly-baked panettone / trifle without custard).Tannins – focussed, fine-grained, not angular or blocky. Oak – collaborative & courteous!  Approachable, imminently drinkable – now or in a decade or two.2018-2040

Tasting note:  A powerful, tight-packed nose reveals some oilskin oak, with a contrasting cut of citrus.   In the mouth, 707 is deep and swanky – plenty of girth here, but cantilevered thanks to those mille-feuille tannins, each layer of which seems to grab itself some fruit, which makes for a certain architecture, sucking you in to each nook and cranny of flavour.  And there are plenty. Despite this wine’s sheer heft and power, this layering makes for a contemplative, currently inward-focused wine.  The oilskin protection to gravelly, throaty finish throws you off the fruit – another come back later/do not disturb sign.  This surely has a long life ahead.  Going back, its showing a little more high toned cassis and blueberry perfume, with gravelly undertones.  Terrific – distinctive and distinguished.  £345

Penfolds Grange 2013 (South Australia)

Vintage report: The majority of South Australia had a dry winter reminiscent of 2006, vines were in water deficit at the beginning of spring and became accustomed to dry conditions quite early. The exception was McLaren Vale, where revitalising winter rainfall exceeded the long term average. Early budburst was noticeable across many regions. Dry and warm spring conditions explained canopy growth and yields, becoming typical of the 2013 growing season. Warm days were dispersed throughout October, November and in early January, contributing to an early start to the 2013 harvest and a condensed vintage. Dry and warm conditions, coupled with lower than average yields resulted in fruit showing strong, structural tannins and wines of great intensity and encouraging flavour. The Magill Estate fruit was harvested in pristine condition, hand-picked on February 14th and 15th 2013.

Winemaking: This blend of 96% Shiraz 4% Cabernet hails from the Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, Coonawarra and Magill. It was part barrel-fermented and aged for 20 months in 100% new American oak hogsheads.  Alc/Vol 14.5%, T.A. 6.8 g/l,  pH 3.65

Tasting note: Gago reported that the 2013 is being compared with the 2010 (my pick of the three) and 2012 in terms of points (which, interestingly, he described as “obscene anyway… without description or context they mean nothing.”)  On which note, stylistically, the Penfolds’ team are comparing it to the 2008.    Anyway, forget about the controversy around points. There was some debate in the room about the 2013’s volatile acidity.  Asked about it Gago, who reported that it was .88g/l at bottling, returned this numbers’ game to context. For him, “v.a. energises the wine; it’s just a matter of not going beyond 1.1. and what’s beneath it  – you need lots beneath, lots of foundation, to handle it.” So what did I think?  Though, as I mentioned, the vibrant, fruit pure 2010 Grange is my preferred style, the v.a. on 2013 didn’t distract me.  Yes there’s a lick of boot polish and soy – a high toned quality.  More than in 2012 Grange, which Gago aptly described as “an older style with modern day poise.” But to me, it’s very Grange, very Penfolds and there is plenty of oomph and the customary gravitas to balance it.  Grange 2013 is a very deep hue, with said lick of boot polish, kirsch and [coco]nutty oak/oil to the nose and palate.  In the mouth, its has great generosity and concentration of fruit and layer, with juicy, fleshy blood plum and black berry, blueberry and black olive as it opens up.  Dark chocolate, liquorice, soy and coconut nuances weave in and around the fruit and its filigree cloak of tannins.  Tannins with a husk – themselves dimensional, a touch drying (but not in a bad way – built for the distance).  The flavours crash around the back palate, which is gravelly, throaty and perfumed.  Powerful, long and deep. Yep, classic Grange.  RRP £575.00

 

 

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