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First taste: The Penfolds Collection 2018, including Penfolds Grange 2014

The Penfolds Collection 2018

The Penfolds Collection 2018

Lower key and more intimate than usual, The Penfolds Collection 2018 UK press preview with Peter Gago took the form of a free pour tasting, followed by dinner at Hide.  A serendipitous choice of venue which, like each release of Australian icon Penfolds Grange, hits the news this week as Ollie Dabbous and Hide won their first Michelin star, within six months of opening.

You’ll find my tasting notes from The Penfolds Collection 2018 preview below, together with information provided by Penfolds about vintage and drinking windows.

I’m informed that all wines in The Penfolds Collection 2018 will be available from the following retailers – Berry Bros & Rudd, Cru Worldwide, Bordeaux Index, IG Wines, Lay & Wheeler, Fine & Rare, Justerini & Brooks, Corney & Barrow, Harrods, Hedonism, Majestic, The Wine Society, Philgass & Swiggot, Laithwaites, Fraziers, Cadman Fine Wines, Vinorium.  Quite the enviable distribution network.

Penfolds Bin 51 Eden Valley Riesling 2018 (Eden Valley)

Vintage: above average winter rainfall in Eden Valley provided good soil moisture profiles leading into spring. Drier conditions then prevailed from September through to April which was 22% down on the long-term average. Spring provided ideal conditions for flowering and fruit set while the growing season experienced temperatures above the long-term average, with twelve summer days recorded above 35°C. Healthy canopies shielded the grapes from adversity and with careful use of supplementary irrigation the grapes were able to ripen evenly across blocks. The 2018 vintage quality was exceptional, with lovely varietal flavour and natural acidity.

Tasting note: classically bone dry and classically made, (it spent three months in stainless steel prior to bottling), Penfolds Bin 51 Eden Valley Riesling 2018 confirmed my impression that this vintage has produced exuberant, expressive Rieslings. Shows lashings of lime on the nose which follows through on a lip smacking palate together with juicier, succulent lychee and lifted talc notes.  Fine, long and chalky, a touch slatey too, on a long, mouthwatering finish.  Very good, seemingly more incisive and concentrated than the 2017. 12%, TA 6.0 g/l, pH 3.00.  RRP £31   Now to 2028

Penfolds Bin 311 Chardonnay 2017  (Adelaide Hills, Tasmania, Tumbarumba)

Vintage: each of the three source regions enjoyed plentiful winter rainfall, with several records broken. In Tasmania, good winter rainfall continued well into spring. Tumbarumba in New South Wales was above the long-term average while the Adelaide Hills recorded the highest annual rainfall since 1992. Across all regions, the 2017 season was a return to more average conditions, following the warm, dry and early 2016 vintage. Maximum spring temperatures were low but minimum temperatures were higher than average and there was no frost. In contrast to the high rainfall in winter and spring, the season ended dry and clear. February conditions were unusually cool and dry, and as a result the grapes showed fine acidity and elegance. Harvest was pushed back by the generally cooler conditions, which allowed grapes to slowly develop flavour intensity. A warm and dry March provided a perfect end to the season with strong quality markers across all regions.

Tasting note: for Penfolds, Bin 311 Chardonnay reflects the winemakers’ mantra ‘we always go where the fruit grows best and where it best suits style’. In 2017, the fruit sourcing has moved from sourcing to style from a single, cool-climate region (typically Tumbarumba’s distinctly cool climes) to three multi-regional cool climate regions – Adelaide Hills, Tasmania, Tumbarumba.  Unsurprising perhaps, given the wetter, cooler year and – testament to the blender – it is a very complete, rounded wine. Aged for eight months in French oak (25% new), it has a toasty, flinty nose and palate with nougat and cashew nuances; a hint of bay leaf and slate too.  I found it juicier (less steely) than usual, with ripe lime and tighter grapefruity acidity which, together with its ever so deftly judged phenolic chew, extends (and textures) the finish.  Very nicely crafted. 12.5%, TA 6.4 g/l, pH: 3.17, RRP £32 Now to 2025

Penfolds Reserve Bin A Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2017 (Adelaide Hills)

Vintage: above average winter and spring rainfall offered the vines in the Adelaide Hills healthy soil moisture profiles for the growing season. September rainfall was significantly above the long-term average. Cool days and cold nights slowed vine growth in early spring with temperatures eventually warming in October. A mild and mostly dry start to summer was followed by two significant rain events after Christmas. January was mild with few hot days and unseasonal rain. The lower than average temperatures and abundant rainfall during the growing season and veraison produced a vintage that challenged both winemakers and viticulturists alike. Moving into March, mild days slowed ripening with cool nights and warm days persisting until harvest. Mild conditions allowed for a long hang time resulting in terrific flavour development and welcomed acid retention.

Tasting note: this super pale Adelaide Hills Chardonnay was aged for eight months in French oak (40% new).  Like last year, the reduction is worn more gracefully than in the past – elegance, not sensation – offering a chalky puff ball of cleverly intertwined flavour and gossamer phenolics.  With super-silky white peach, ripe grapefruity acidity, fresh struck flint (a really subtle hint of curry powder) and an ephemeral, melt in the mouth, lifted finish, Penfolds Reserve Bin A Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2017 has a sublime, ballerina-like fleet of foot quality. You chase the flavours, rather than them coming at you.  Lovely lightness of touch.  Excited to see how this develops.  12.5%, TA: 7.0 g/l, pH: 3.2 RRP £79  Now to 2028

Penfolds Yattarna Chardonnay 2016 (Tasmania, Henty, Adelaide Hills, Tumbarumba)

Vintage: Tasmania’s Derwent Valley experienced a dry winter followed by significant spring rain. Above average temperatures persisted through the growing season to harvest, encouraging vines to set a balanced crop with healthy canopies. An excellent vintage for both yield and quality in Tasmania. Henty in Victoria enjoyed good winter rainfall, with regular showers in spring. Conditions for the harvest were benign, favouring good yields and optimal ripeness. The Adelaide Hills growing season was mild and dry. Conditions for fruit-set and flowering were favourable and contributed towards above average yields. Cool February conditions ensured ripening was steady and the slightly early start to vintage was a result of a mild and dry growing season. 2016 was a warm, relatively dry and early vintage for Tumbarumba, with harvest commencing 2 to 3 weeks early. Growing conditions were close to ideal, with good winter rains, a warm and clear spring and a rain free harvest.

Tasting note: Sourced from Tasmania, Henty, Adelaide Hills and Tumbarumba, the fruit spent 8 months in French oak barriques (35% new).  A coolly concentrated, pure nose (you smell the freshness and definition) firmly reinforces Penfolds Yattarna 2016 ‘s cool climate credentials.  A burnish of spicy, nutty (praline) oak in no way detracts from (rather it adds polish to) Penfolds Yattarna 2016’s crystalline palate, with its fresh applely bite and piercing, pick up your skirts and run with it racy grapefruit – an accelerant.  Mercilessly mouthwatering, with plenty of back palate resonance and terrific length, it showcases this wine’s trademark power, purity and precision beautifully. 13.5%, TA: 7.1 g/l, pH: 3.14 RRP £149.00, 2020 to 2035.

Penfolds Bin 138 Barossa Valley GSM 2016 (Barossa Valley)

Vintage: the 2016 vintage will be long remembered as exceptional in the Barossa Valley. Winter rainfall was only 72% of the long-term average. A warm, dry spring was ideal for flowering and fruit-set. Warm conditions prevailed in the early part of the summer allowing vines to grow well with good bunch set. Milder conditions in January allowed for optimal flavour development, with late rain refreshing the vines. The early ripening shiraz picked in February showed great intensity. A spot of March rain delaying the harvest of the later ripening grenache and mataro allowing for great flavour development. Despite the challenges of a relatively dry season, ripening was even with smaller than average berries. Older vines, such as those preferred for Bin 138, performed especially well in the prevailing conditions.

Tasting note: this Barossa Valley blend comprised 72% Shiraz, 16% Grenache, 12% Mataro.  It spent 12 months in seasoned French and American oak, which allows the fruit to shine.  It reveals bouncy, aromatic plum, creamier black cherry, black pepper and mocha nuances.  In line with current trends, whilst 100% Barossan in its generosity of expression, said generosity does not extend to girth.  The fruit is bright, making for a motile wine with fine, softly mouthcoating lees – a subtly savoury, textural underlay going through.  Meatier, spicy Mataro tannins gently firm up the finish.  Very approachable now with mid-term ageing potential. 14.5%, TA: 6.5 g/l, pH: 3.63 RRP £35  Now to 2030.

Penfolds Coonawarra Bin 128 Shiraz 2016 (Coonawarra)

Vintage: rainfall in Coonawarra was significantly below the long-term average for the entire growing season, while above average temperatures prevailed. Budburst, flowering, veraison and harvest were all earlier than is usually expected of this relatively cool region. December was especially warm with 9 days recorded over 35°C, accelerating vine growth with record times between budburst and veraison. Cool south-easterly breezes originating off the nearby Southern Ocean moderated temperatures from January onwards. February and March temperatures were mild, and the cold nights and warm days delivered an extended ripening period. Overall, tremendous colours, flavour and fine textured tannins.

Tasting note: this Coonawarra Shiraz spent 12 months in French oak (30% new).  A deep hue, quite opaque.  Elegant of delivery – like a fine golf swing – Penfolds Coonawarra Bin 128 Shiraz 2016 has an impressive arc of flavour, with sweet, juicy blood plum and berry fruit (nice concentration/intensity), liquorice and a murmur of black pepper, which gets louder on a spicy finish with ripe yet chewy, textural tannins.  Intense not dense, it has Penfolds’ customary polish, but shows off its cooler (than for Bin 28) climate credentials well. 14.5%, TA: 6.6 g/l, pH: 3.64 RRP £35 2019-2035.

Penfolds Kalimna Bin 28 Shiraz 2016 (South Australia)

Vintage: all the major growing regions in South Australia experienced ideal conditions leading into the harvest of 2016. Overall, the season started off cool and dry, with low rainfall. Spring and early summer warmed up considerably resulting in an average growing season with little rainfall. A warm, dry spring was ideal for flowering and fruit-set. Warm conditions prevailed in the early part of the summer allowing vines to grow well with good bunch set. Milder conditions in January allowed for optimal flavour development, with late rain refreshing the vines. Despite the challenges of a relatively dry season, ripening was even with smaller than average berries. Harvest commenced quickly with shiraz showing great colour and complex flavours.

Tasting note: this Shiraz was sourced from Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, Padthaway, Upper Adelaide and Wrattonbully and matured for 12 months in seasoned American oak hogshead.  It has a very classic Penfolds’ savoury cola/sarsaparilla-laced nose and palate, with concentrated but juicy blackberry fruit, spicy tannin grip – good chew and flow going through.  With its backdrop of mocha and praline oak, the fruit quality shines.  Full-bodied, with an unreconstructed – hey, I was born in the fifties – edge.   14.5%, TA: 6.8 g/l, pH: 3.64.   RRP £32.  2022-2034.

Penfolds Bin 150 Marananga Shiraz 2016 (Marananga, Barossa Valley)

Vintage: Marananga, in the centre of the Barossa Valley, was a highlight in a very good 2016 vintage. Winter rainfall was only 72% of the long-term average. A warm, dry spring was ideal for flowering and fruit-set. Warm conditions prevailed in the early part of the summer allowing vines to grow well, with healthy canopies and good bunch set. Milder conditions in January allowed for optimal flavour development, with late rain refreshing the vines. Despite the challenges of a relatively dry season, ripening was even with smaller than average berries. Harvest in Marananga Barossa Valley commenced quickly with shiraz showing great colour, ripe tannins and complex flavours.

Tasting note: this Shiraz was sourced from Marananga, Barossa Valley and aged for 12 months in American (25% new) and French (7% new) hogsheads and puncheons.  It is a deep hue with Marananga’s expressive, mineral, savoury, earthy inflection to nose and palate.  Enmeshed by a fine shower of mineral, iron filing/iodine tannins, though perfumed, its brooding black currant/berry and mulberry fruit is tightly coiled.   Lots to give.  Very consistent.  2020-32. 14.5%, TA: 7.2 g/l, pH: 3.66 RRP £61.00 2020-2032

Penfolds Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 (South Australia)

Vintage: Autumn and winter rainfall across South Australia’s main growing districts were below average, conditions that prevailed through spring. Temperatures in spring and early summer were above the long-term average, allowing vines to get away to a quick start. Some late rain in January and early February was a welcome relief, refreshing stressed vines and improving yields. Cooler conditions followed from mid-February which suited the later ripening cabernet sauvignon. Warmer districts had a break with some early March rain delaying the harvest and allowing great flavour development. The cooler districts in the south-east were picked two weeks earlier than usual. Grapes across all the main growing regions were able to ripen evenly and develop desirable flavours, outstanding colours and fine tannins.

Tasting note: the Cabernet Sauvignon was sourced from Coonawarra, McLaren Vale, Barossa Valley, Wrattonbully and Padthaway and spent 12 months in French oak (25% new) and American oak hogshead (9% new). Within the Penfolds’ portfolio, I always find this Cabernet to be at the pretty end of the spectrum, with lovely detail and lift.  It shows enticing dried herbs, lovely aromatics, with lavender, fresh slashed herbs and a piquant horseradish note (an association with rare roast beef?!?), which I like in a Cabernet and often find in this one.  It has blackcurrant and cassis, though I reckon it’s more weighted to the berry fruit – perfumed blueberry and mulberry.  Though aromatic, in the mouth, it is super polished and precise, the fruit still restrained, even a little sulky on the finish – very much meshed with the fine, ripe but present tannins.  Promising.  14.5%, TA: 6.6 g/l, pH: 3.63.  RRP £61.00 2020 to 2032

Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz 2016 (South Australia)

Vintage: Autumn and winter were dry and cool across South Australia’s growing regions. Record low rainfall prevailed through September to March. These conditions delayed the start of the growing season in the Barossa Valley and other warmer regions. However, in cooler Coonawarra, budburst, flowering, veraison and harvest were all earlier than is usually expected. Warm conditions prevailed across all regions in the early part of the summer allowing vines to develop healthy canopies and good bunch set. Late rain in January and early February was a welcome relief across South Australia. Temperatures in spring and early summer were above the long-term average, resulting in an early harvest for shiraz. Cooler conditions followed from mid-February which suited the later ripening cabernet sauvignon. Grapes across all the main growing regions were able to ripen evenly and develop desirable flavours.

Tasting note: a blend of 51% Cabernet Sauvignon, 49% Shiraz sourced from Barossa Valley, Coonawarra, McLaren Vale, Padthaway and Wrattonbully and aged for 12 months in American oak hogsheads (37% new). Riven with tannins, Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz 2016 practically smells of tannin.  Mineral and plentiful, edgy and palpable, they coat the mouth and, rising, relentlessly rising, lend assertive grip to the finish.  Lots of grunt here, with a tarry dynamic – bitumen – and sappy black currant and berry to oil the wheels.  Despite the tannic heft (ripe, powerful tannins), the fruit seems to become purer of expression as this surly wine opens up.  Rest assured, Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz 2016 has a deep, balancing seam of fruit at its core.  Frame, frame, frame, it’s a powerhouse, with tremendous fruit in prospect. 14.5%, TA: 6.9 g/l, pH: 3.64. RRP £61.00 2020-2046

Penfolds St Henri Shiraz 2015 (South Australia)

Vintage: rainfall in autumn and early winter were close to the long-term average in most of South Australia’s main growing regions. However, the rain stopped abruptly in early August with only a few light spring showers recorded. September through to March saw record low rainfall, stretching water supplies. Warm and dry conditions during flowering and fruit-set resulted in rapid grapevine growth and early flowering. During early summer temperatures dropped below average with no major heat waves recorded. The harvest progressed rapidly, with most blocks of shiraz picked earlier than usual. Although the conditions resulted in lower than anticipated yields, the quality of fruit across the board was exceptional.

Tasting note: sourced from McLaren Vale, Robe, The Peninsulas, Barossa Valley, Wrattonbully, Adelaide Hills, Mt Benson, in 2015, St Henri features 7% Cabernet Sauvignon and spent 12 months in 50+ year old large oak vats.  At this youthful stage of its life, the Cabernet leads.  Penfolds St Henri Shiraz 2015 is a very deep hue, with tight-knit fresh blackcurrant, fleshier mulberry, perfumed cassis and a spicy web of fine tannin which contains the fruit.  With a tapering, measured finish, it is some way from hitting its stride.  Give it time.  This distinctive, understated Shiraz wears it power lightly.  14.5%, TA: 7 g/l, pH: 3.66 . RRP £95. 2020-2045

Penfolds Magill Estate Shiraz 2016 (South Australia)

Vintage: the Magill Estate vineyard recorded maximum and minimum temperatures well below average during winter and early spring while winter rainfall was below the long-term average. The record low rainfall prevailed through the growing season while warmer than average weather in late spring and early summer ensured the vines were moving along nicely after a slow start. Some relief was provided by the onset of cooler weather in January and February. The relatively mild conditions during harvest ensured the fruit was able to ripen evenly across all blocks. The grapes were harvested by hand on February 11th and 12th

Tasting note: this 100% Shiraz is exclusively sourced from the Magill Estate and was matured for 13 months in new French and American oak.  As if to remind you it is from Penfolds’ spiritual home, indeed its birthplace, Penfolds Magill Estate Shiraz 2016 is a little raw and formic on nose and palate, with, as it opens up, a touch of oily rag and coal tar soap (dry glycerol) to its earthy raspberry and brighter juniper fruit – quite the (barrel ferment) mouthfeel.   This deeply coloured, opaque wine casts a big net of tannins, polished and powdery, with vanilla bean and toast.  A bit of a beast, yet not without balance.  Time is on its side.  14.5%, TA: 6.8 g/l, pH: 3.68 RRP £139, 2020-2035

Penfolds RWT Barossa Valley Shiraz 2016 (Barossa Valley)

Vintage: the 2016 Barossa Valley harvest was outstanding, for both yield and quality. Autumn and winter were dry and cool with the Barossa Valley 100mm down on the long-term average winter rainfall. Record low rainfall and much warmer weather prevailed through September to December. The vines were given some relief in January and February when cooler conditions were recorded. The relatively mild ‘Indian summer’, characterised by an absence of extreme heat, ensured the fruit was able to ripen evenly, developing desirable flavours and firm tannins

Tasting note: this 100% Shiraz is sourced from the Barossa Valley and was matured for 12 months in French oak hogsheads (72% new).  Deep purple, with a tarry edge to its rich, velvety, perfumed creme de mur and juicier boysenberry fruit and creamy/ Creme Pat (texture and vanilla taste) oak. A svelte number with real swoop and saturation to the fruit – upward trajectory and underlying freshness.  Finishes long, poised and sumptuous, if that is not a contradiction in terms. 14.5%, TA: 6.8 g/l, pH: 3.72. RRP £139, 2020-2040

Penfolds Bin 169 Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 (Coonawarra)

Vintage: rainfall was significantly below the long-term average for the entire growing season, while above average temperatures prevailed. Budburst, flowering, veraison and harvest were all earlier than expected of Coonawarra. The time between budburst and flowering was the fastest on record at 58 days. December was especially warm with nine days recorded over 35°C. By contrast January and February were much milder, delivering an extended ripening period that was ideal for high quality cabernet sauvignon

Tasting note: this Coonawarra Cabernet is not a regular player in the pack.  I’m an admirer of this elegant contemporary Cabernet Sauvignon, which spent 13 months in new French oak hogsheads.  It It is beautifully crafted – like a Roller or a Bentley, svelte and seductive, polished to a fine sheen, with lovely purity and saturation of inky, perfumed cassis and blueberry and juicier black currant and berry fruit.   With freshness and precision, cashmere tannins and a kiss or cedar and cinnamon oak, it has the wow factor.  Consummate balance.  Gorgeous. 14.5%, TA: 6.7 g/l, pH: 3.61.  RRP £199, 2022-2042

Penfolds Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 (South Australia)

Vintage: Autumn and winter were relatively dry and cool across South Australia. Temperatures during the growing season were significantly above the long-term average in all regions, with Coonawarra recording nine days above 35ºC in December alone. Record low rainfall prevailed through September to March with the annual rainfall in Coonawarra 38% down on the average. The McLaren Vale region also experienced record low rainfall and warm weather in late spring/early summer. Cooler conditions in late February favoured the late ripening cabernet sauvignon. The Barossa Valley had 100mm less than the long-term average winter rainfall. Spring and summer were both relatively dry and warm. December was particularly hot, with access to water vital to support the vines. Some relief arrived in January and February when temperature dipped significantly. Cooler weather and rain in March slowed ripening. After a hot beginning, the welcome milder ‘Indian summer’ conditions leading into harvest across South Australia ensured even ripeness and optimal flavour.

Tasting note: oh what a different kettle of fish.  This regular, hyper-traditional, big boned player in the pack is more about seams than seamless, with unapologetically sturdy tannins and, going all onomatopoeic on you, plenty of oomph.  Boom!  It holds no prisoners.  Made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, Penfolds Bin 707 Cabernet-Sauvignon 2016 was sourced from Coonawarra, McLaren Vale, Barossa Valley and Adelaide Hills.  It was matured for 20 months in new American oak hogsheads. Inky of hue with cassis and formic notes to the nose, which follow through on a tightly layered mille feuille palate with prominent cassis and tapenade.  Complexing layers include praline, nutty, spicy (cinnamon) oak and Peking duck/plum sauce (never had that in a note before – umami with smoky, but succulent meatiness, juiciness and sweetness).  I detected a whiff of iodine to the finish, but there’s so much to this brawny, visceral  wine its almost rear view mirror.  A vivid, action-packed journey in a glass.  Raw potential.  14.5%, TA 6.8g/l. pH 3.69.  RRP £365, 2022-205

Penfolds Grange 2014 (South Australia)

Vintage: Above average winter rainfall equipped the vines across South Australia with healthy soil moisture profiles. Spring in the Barossa Valley was the windiest in 47 years with significant heat records set. Warm conditions prevailed during summer and throughout veraison. However, just as vintage was about to commence an extreme rainfall event occurred in the Barossa Valley and Clare Valley slowing harvest. This extra time allowed grapes to ripen evenly with good flavour and tannin development. By contrast, McLaren Vale had 21% less rain than the long-term average from September to March. September was the wettest of the spring months with a hailstorm and windy conditions prevailing from October through to November, while harvest in McLaren Vale was delayed due to a rain event in mid-February. Wrattonbully and Coonawarra both enjoyed good winter and spring rainfall, with cold and wet conditions carrying well into December. There were heat spikes through summer, with temperatures reaching 43ºC on February 2nd. By mid-autumn the weather had settled down to generally cooler conditions, optimal for slow ripening. Across South Australia, shiraz benefited from the long spell between veraison and harvest, with grapes exhibiting brightness, crisp acid retention and impressive fruit quality overall.

Tasting note: a blend of 98% Shiraz and 2% Cabernet Sauvignon from Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, Wrattonbully, Coonawarra, Clare Valley and Magill Estate.  It was aged for 20 months in 100% new American oak hogsheads. A deep, deep hue, Penfolds Grange 2014 exudes savouriness.  A prescient nose reveals soy, richer, sweeter hoisin sauce and a touch of volatile acidity, which notes follow through on a tarry palate. Wears its American oak and barrel ferment proudly, with rich, almost unctuous, savoury tapenade, coconutty oak and ripe, powerful, leesily broad, mouthcoating tannins.  Currently, the savouriness trumps the blood plum and blackberry fruit.  It is profoundly umami in character, from start to finish which, combined with its tannin profile, rounds out the wine, making it relatively approachable and expressive despite the undeniable palate weight.  I must admit, I tend to prefer those vintages which are more emphatically fruited at this stage, like the 2010 (my first taste review here) which, shown over dinner, was utterly sumptuous with great beauty, purity and lift to its lithe fruit.  14.5%, TA: 6.7 g/l, pH: 3.6  RRP £589 2020-2045

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