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First taste: Penfolds’ 2014 Luxury and Icon Range

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Last week I posted a blog about the spookily parallel birth of two icons – Australia’s Penfolds Grange and Portugal’s Casa Ferreirinha Barca Velha. Small wonder that they are regarded as their countries’ “first growths” when the inspiration came from Bordeaux. Grange’s creator Max Schubert left France fixed on the idea of making a red wine which was “capable of staying alive for a minimum of 20 years.” And when I came to taste the 2014 releases from Penfolds’ Luxury and Icon Range (not just Grange) it struck me how Schubert’s successors have remained true to that goal and not just for Grange. Structure, poise and precision, sometimes at the expense of sensuality, very much define the Penfolds’ house style. Whether the wines are stylistically to your liking or not, it’s rare for them not to impress, especially in top flight years like 2010 and 2012. 2011 is another matter.

Below are my notes on Penfolds’ Luxury and Icon Range 2014 releases, in each case preceded by a summary of Penfolds’ vintage reports. Prices are indicative UK RRPs.

My tip top favourite

My tip top favourite

My picks of the bunch? Bin 12A Chardonnay 2012, Bin 138 Shiraz Grenache Mataro 2012, St Henri Shiraz 2010 & – my chart-topper –  Bin 169 Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2010.

Penfolds Bin 51 Eden Valley Riesling 2013 (Eden Valley)

Sourced from the High Eden and Woodbury Vineyards and a relatively dry, early and quick vintage. The growing season was defined by cooler than average days and warmer than average nights, combined with a lack of rain that began in mid-September. Total rainfall, from the start of May 2012 to the start of April 2013 was 35% down on the long term average. However Riesling harvested early retained both natural acidity and great depth of flavour.

A frisky, fresh grapefruity nose with chalky minerality which notes follow through on a pithily spicy palate which shimmers with minerality and heady floral notes. The finish is tight, persistent and lip-smacking. Very classic. Very good.11%, Acidity: 7.4 g/L, pH: 2.82. £22 at Spirited Wines

Penfolds Bin 311 Tumbarumba Chardonnay 2013 (Tumbarumba)

Bin 311 Chardonnay is sourced from a single cool-climate region and each year the fruit selection is made to reflect the Bin 311 style. In 2013, the fruit is from Tumbarumba which had a warm and very dry growing season – supplementary irrigation systems were used for the first time in years in an effort to maintain healthy vine canopies and protect fruit from direct sunlight. Yields were low; however the crop ripened easily and evenly in the prevailing conditions and was harvested earlier than in recent years.

Not as taut or tensile as I’d expect from Tumbarumba, no doubt reflecting the vintage. Although the oak is seasoned the palate is generously inflected with vanillin bean and nougat; fruit is a gentle presence. A textural palate reveals green (close to the stone) apricot and apple core notes. Lacks a bit of excitement and finesse at this price. 13% Acidity: 6.2 g/L, pH: 3.17 £30 at Spirited Wines

Penfolds Reserve Bin 12A Chardonnay 2012 (Adelaide Hills)

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The 2012 vintage produced average rainfalls throughout the growing season with a mild to warm summer. During the ripening period optimal temperatures prevailed right through to harvest…an exceptional white vintage.

Well, no lack of excitement here! Both nose and palate have great edge and energy with Bin A’s arresting struck match and gun flint coursing through this wine’s taut, reverberating palate. Judicious, delicious oaking (53% new) brings lemon butter puff and custard cream nuances to its steely grapefruit and crisp cut of green apple. A very long, limpid, saline finish reinforces the piquancy and minerality of this fine, ever so precise Chardonnay. Terrific – a tightrope walk of a wine which never puts a foot wrong. 12.5%, Acidity 6.7g/l, pH 3.21 £246/6 bottles in bond at Berry Bros & Rudd

Penfolds Yattarna Bin 144 2011

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Sourced predominantly from Tasmania which, unlike Adelaide Hills from which a small parcel is also sourced, had very little disease pressure in this unusually wet year for the south eastern states.

As you’d expect with most fruit coming from Australia’s coolest region in a cool year this is a taut Chardonnay – a really cool customer, with the apple isle’s juicy, very persistent golden delicious fruit together with sweet lemon and ripe grapefruit. With oatmeal, lees and cookie dough notes it seems not quite so intently focused on the fruit as the 2010 (at the same stage of evolution) whose purity I particularly loved. However, the finish is reassuringly dry, with a chalky textural, bony even, minerality – a powerful sense of dry extract. Very good. 13%, Acidity 6.7g/l, Ph 3.15; aged in French oak (64% new). £426/6 bottles in bond at Berry Bros & Rudd, £120 at Spirited Wines, Laithwaites.

Penfolds Bin 23 Pinot Noir 2013 (Adelaide Hills)

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Winter rainfall for the Adelaide Hills was close to the long-term average; however Spring was very dry with little rainfall recorded. Flowering began in November under near optimal conditions. The growing season was warmer than usual with occasional heat spikes. However, cool nights provided the vines with respite. The warm and dry conditions leading into harvest ensured it was a very easy year in terms of disease risk. Overall quality for Pinot Noir was excellent.

Pinot Noir is a good example of where, for me at least, Penfolds’ polish and poise at the expense of sensuality can detract from my enjoyment of the wine. For me Pinot Noir at its best is all about ethereal lift – spice and flowers. But I have to admit that, though this Bin 23 is v Penfolds in its firmness, I rather liked it. It’s bright pinkish ruby – at the paler end of the spectrum for such a youthful Pinot – which is indicative of what’s to come in the mouth. On entry it reveals very pretty cherry almond notes with a lick of sweet cinnamon. As it builds in the mouth, both in flavour dimension and structure, attractive bitter campari (10% whole bunch) and a textured ruffle of suede hint at a more savoury profile down the track. And with its firm tannins and crisp acid finish, I’d certainly hold onto it for a couple of years before broaching to allow it to unravel a little. Well done Nuits not Beaune! 14%, Acidity 6g/l, pH 3.65

Penfolds Bin 138 Shiraz Grenache Mataro 2012 (Barossa Valley)

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Penfolds first introduced this blend with the 1992 vintage of the Old Vine Barossa Valley Shiraz Grenache Mourvèdre. The wine was elevated to the Bin range with the 1998 Bin 138. Sourced from old, low-yielding Barossa Valley vines, this is one of the few wines that remains in component form during older, oak maturation and is blended just prior to bottling. A vintage of slightly cooler temperatures with only one significant heat event over the New Year period. Prior to budburst, winter rainfall was lower than the long-term average for most parts of the Barossa Valley. Variable conditions continued through the period from October to December, merging to a mild summer, with a few short periods of heat. The mild daytime temperatures and cool evenings across most of the ripening period allowed for impressive flavour development, without inflated baumes. Balanced canopies matched fruit load providing even, yet not too speedy, ripening. Smaller berry and bunch sizes were noticeable and this, coupled with favourable weather conditions, saw great results for some quality markers.

Matured for 12 months in seasoned American oak hogsheads this SGM (66% Shiraz 23% Grenache 11% Mataro) has an attractive deep burgundy hue and, within a savoury frame, has a very direct, bright expression of fruit. Both nose and palate show vibrant spice – lots of liquorice and black pepper grunt, softer cola notes too. Taut acid gives equal vibrancy and lift as well as line to its swirl of black plum, red berry and wild black cherry fruit. Ripe tannins carry a long finish. Very good indeed. 14.5%, Acidity: 6.2 g/L, pH: 3.62 £24 at Spirited Wines, Laithwaites.

Penfolds Bin 128 Shiraz 2012 (Coonawarra)

Winter rainfall and maximum monthly temperatures were close to the long term average. Adequate winter rains enabled full soil moisture at budburst. A lack of frost and intermittent rain helped get the season off to a good start. Dry and warm climatic conditions prevailed throughout the growing season. Summer temperatures were slightly above average, with little rain recorded. Veraison began in January, two weeks earlier than usual. Warm dry conditions continued throughout harvest with fruit picked in optimal condition with great flavour, tannin and acid retention.

This is the 50th consecutive release of Bin 128. And it’s a good’un, with Coonawarra’s distinctive herbal/spicy ring to Shiraz and the freshness and definition you’d also expect this cool region to show in its red and black berry fruits. A warm, camphor glow brings warmth as does a spicy, peppery edge, lots of liquorice too. The tannins are ripe but present – an insinuating rub which anchors and intensifies the flavours. Very good – a lot of wine for the price. Bin 128 2012 was aged for 13 months in 26% new French oak, 37% 1-y.o. French oak, 37% 2-y.o. 14.5%, Acidity: 6.2 g/L, pH: 3.60 £22 at Spirited Wines, Majestic, Laithwaites.

Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz 2011 (Barossa Valley)

Bin 28 is a multi-region, multi-vineyard blend, with the Barossa Valley always well represented. This year, fruit was sourced from McLaren Vale, Barossa Valley and Adelaide. And it comes from the difficult, wet year. Here is Penfolds’ vintage report: With above-average winter rainfalls and cool conditions that followed during the spring period, South Australian regions generally experienced a later budburst and disease pressures impacted to varied degrees across the state. Meticulous vineyard management was critical. Spring soil moisture levels resulted in healthy shoot growth and early canopy development. Healthy vegetative growth continued during the cooler spring months and delayed veraison and berry development in the New Year. A few warm days at the end of January guaranteed the completion of veraison and commencement of the ripening season. Multiple rain events, often isolated, meant that attention to sub-regional detail was required and selective harvesting of pristine fruit. Low baumes at harvest coincided with flavour development.

Matured for 12 months in seasoned American oak hogsheads Bin 28 shows creamy oak on the savoury entry. It’s surprisingly forward and lacks the definition and concentration to pull though. It’s a little short with grippy, peppery tannins which outpace the fruit. Not enamoured. I’d suggest skipping this vintage. 14.5%, Acidity: 6.5 g/L, pH: 3.68 £22 at Spirited Wines, Majestic.

Penfolds Bin 150 Marananga Shiraz 2011 (Barossa Valley)

See the vintage report above for this sub-regional Barossa Valley Shiraz.

With its rich chocolate, black cherry and kirsch flavours, Barossa Shiraz has often drawn comparison with Black Forest Gateau. And this wine is certainly true to that with its svelte plum, black cherry fruit, chocolate and smooth powdery tannins, albeit it’s a lower calorie version than normal given the vintage. The upside is some attractive floral lift. A good effort if without the conviction or bounty of a typical vintage. Aged for 12 months in 20% new French oak, 30% 1-y.o. French oak, 20% new American oak, 30% 1-y.o. American oak (all hogsheads). 14.5%, Acidity: 6.2 g/L, pH: 3.60. £50 at Spirited Wines, Laithwaites.

Penfolds Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 (South Australia)

This wine is a blend of McLaren Vale, Barossa Valley, Robe and Coonawarra fruit. See the vintage report above.

With its small berries and thick skins, Cabernet fared a little better than Shiraz in 2011 and it shows in this wine which has benefited from de-regulated Bin 169 and Bin 707, neither of which were produced in 2011. Deep opaque burgundy with a pink rim. It sports oodles of sweet, heady perfume on a rich, enticing and distinctly Aussie nose with its violets/parma violets-edged blueberry and cassis fruit. The palate reveals more savoury nuances, especially black olive/tapendade with dusty green peppercorn perhaps a sign of the year. Not as much heft as usual (though the tannins are a little grippy) but, on the other hand, this is a 2011 where relative drinkability is a bonus and not just a euphemism. Still, given the price I’d stash the cash for 2012 or nab the 2010. £50 at Spirited Wines. 14.3%, Acidity: 6.6 g/L, pH: 3.62. Aged for 12 months in 30% French Oak (100% new) and 70% American Oak (20% new)

Penfolds Bin 389 2011 (South Australia)

This wine is a blend of McLaren Vale and Barossa Valley fruit (51% Cabernet Sauvignon, 49% Shiraz). See the vintage report above.

Penfolds Bin 389 2010 is an extremely hard act to follow – it was among my top 12 wines of last year  and bagged Decanter World Wine Awards’ International Red Blend over £15 Trophy. And, of course, the 2011 vintage posed great challenges which are reflected in the predominantly savoury flavour profile of this wine and grippier than usual tannins. There’s Penfold’s signature malty oak (this wine spends 12 months in 30% new, 70% 1 year old American oak) but it is the liquorice, peppery spice and (richer) black olive notes, not the fruit (blueberry, black berry and currant), that very much come to the fore. In good years, especially great years, 389 also impresses with its sheer heft and concentration, a quality which is always brilliantly underpinned and balanced by the wine’s structural components. Not so in 2011. 14.5%, Acidity 6.3g/l, Ph 3.63 £50 at Spirited Wines

Penfolds St Henri Shiraz 2010 (South Australia)

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In 2010, St Henri comprised 100% Shiraz (no splash of Cabernet) and was sourced from Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, Coonawarra, Adelaide Hills, Wrattonbully, Clare Valley. A consistent theme across South Australia was the healthy and above-average winter rainfall. This not only fuelled strong canopy framework but resulted in welcomed soil water reserves, safeguarding vines across the months that followed. Unswerving from the trend of the 2000s was an earlier budburst, flowering and harvest across Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale and the south east. Whilst not without challenges from September hail and strong spring winds, Shiraz experienced relatively even set. A November hot spell and replenishing rain pushed the vines ahead in maturity. December temperatures were cooler than November, offering vines ideal growing conditions through to veraison in early January. Mild and dry ripening conditions were complimented by cool nights, with healthy vines yielding fruit that exhibited optimum flavour, and colour development, varietal typicity and vibrancy.

After a hiccup (under cork, the first bottle was a touch developed), back to the reassuringly sumptuous yet balanced embrace of 2010. Aged in old, 1460 litre vats St Henri tends towards greater sensuality and this splendid Shiraz is lithe – full stretch – its juicy black and blood plum fruit bringing expansive energy and great persistence to the palate. A fluidity reinforced by fine, mineral iron filing tannins. The seasoned big format oak lends a subtle savoury nuttiness/smokiness. Just lovely, with great line and layer. 14.5%, Acidity: 6.7 g/L, pH: 3.57. £246/6 bottles in bond at Berry Bros & Rudd, £65 at Spirited Wines, Laithwaites

Penfolds RWT 2011 (Barossa Valley)

See vintage report above.

This single-region Barossa Valley Shiraz matured only in French oak (12 months in French oak hogsheads, 51% new, 49% 1-y.o) has the distinct savoury profile of the vintage with herbal cola, chocolate and game notes to its dark fruit. The tannins are firm and chalky. A little sulky; not the opulence or gloss I associate with this wine. 14.5%, Acidity: 6.7 g/L, pH: 3.70.  £112 at Spirited Wines, Laithwaites

Penfolds Magill Estate Shiraz 2011

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Vintage report above but note that, from Penfolds’ original HQ on the outskirts of Adelaide this single vineyard Shiraz benefited from careful canopy management on the Magill vineyard ensuring good light penetration into the fruit zone. This resulted in moderate size berries with a loose bunch architecture suited to the Magill Estate style. A few warm days at the end of January guaranteed the completion of veraison and commencement of the ripening season. As was the case elsewhere, attention to detail was required with selective harvesting of pristine fruit. The Magill Estate Vineyard was handpicked on March 9th and 10th 2011.

My pick of the bunch of 2011s. A core of well-defined red berry, currant and cherry fruits combined with silky tannins makes for a lively, long medium bodied Shiraz with a very seamless savoury ironstone/bloody salty mineral tang. Elegance without the attenuation I found in other ‘11s.  13.5%, Acidity: 7.5 g/L, pH: 3.46.   £92 at Spirited Wines, Laithwaites.

Penfolds Bin 169 Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 (Coonawarra)

My tip top favourite

Coonawarra experienced an exceptional start to the season with replenishing winter rains boosting underlying aquifiers. Favourable conditions continued during spring, allowing for excellent vine canopy development and fruit set. A burst of hot weather across November accelerated the ripening season, before the weather patterns settled in the new year. With wines achieving exceptional fruit definition and optimum tannin maturity, the 2010 vintage will long be remembered as a benchmark for Cabernet Sauvignon.

This Coonawarra beauty was my wine of the tasting. Made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon and matured for 14 months in new French oak it’s a wonderfully nuanced wine of terrific balance, perfume and finesse. Very sensual in fact. Melt-in-the-mouth mellifluous tannins and a subtle infusion of dried herbs, bay leaf, cedar and mint bring great layer and line to its crushed glass/palate-staining cassis and mulberry fruit. A scented, reverberating finish is on the longest of leashes. Fabulous. 14.5%, Acidity: 6.6g/L, pH: 3.58. £250 at Spirited Wines, £900/6 bottles in bond at Berry Bros & Rudd

Penfolds Grange 2009 (South Australia)

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In 2009, Grange was a blend of 98% Shiraz, 2% Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, Clare Valley, Magill Estate which was aged for 18 months in 100% new American oak hogsheads. Near-optimum rainfall over winter, followed by dry, mild conditions over spring provided a good environment for budburst and an ideal start to the growing season with canopies developing well. Climatic conditions favoured flowering and set with mild and calm weather, however there was some shatter in Shiraz across parts of the state resulting in small crops for many regions. Some early to mid-December summer rainfall was followed by conditions drying up very quickly and continuing until the end of February. Summer was hot with some extreme heat but cool conditions returned in February and March, allowing the fruit to ripen across a long harvest with balanced acidities and excellent tannin ripeness.

This generous, expressive vintage of Grange – relatively forward (relative emphasised here!) – exudes the dryness and earthy warmth of the vintage. Lashings of kid glove oak is easily mopped up and outpaced by waves of dark, brooding chocolate-orange-edged plum, berry and currant fruit. Richer, riper panforte and spicy liquorice bring mellow resonance and kick (respectively) to a long, satisfying finish which is, as you’d expect, well supported by muscular, powerful ripe tannins. Enjoyable already but will effortlessly go some distance. Deliciously decadent. 14.5%, Acidity: 6.6 g/L, pH: 3.53. £1,950/6 bottles in bond at Berry Bros & Rudd, £495/bottle at Spirited Wines, Laithwaites

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