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January 15, 2016

From Best of 2015, Stalward Producer of the Year: Penfolds

Sadly, Australian wine continues to struggle under the cloud of Yellow Tail, which has undermined the quality reputation of the whole country’s wine industry (at least among the impressionable and inexperienced…which constitutes the majority of America’s wine consuming public).  Thankfully, hope springs eternal on account of producers like Penfolds.  Under the winemaking leadership of Peter Gago, this country makes terrific wines at ever price level every single year, ranging from affordable lines like Koonunga Hill ($12 or less) to Grange, which is undoubtedly the single best wine of the entire southern hemisphere. 

Fine wine drinkers should target the "Penfolds Collection" (a.k.a the “Bin Series” wines) and higher-end bottlings, which aren’t all expensive, but are all superb examples of their type.  On the more affordable end of the spectrum, Shiraz “Bin 28” South Australia 2012 checks in at 92 points and is a steal for $30.  Riesling “Bin 51” Eden Valley costs a little more at $40 but scored 93 for now--with at least a decade of improvement ahead of it.  Both Cabernet Sauvignon “Bin 407” 2012 (93) and Cabernet / Shiraz “Bin 389” (93) are more expensive than in decades past at $69 suggested retail pricing, but both now show even more concentration and age-worthiness than in earlier years.  At the higher end, Shiraz “St. Henri” South Australia 2011 (94) is the most approachable of Penfolds’ big-ticket red wines, and yet it never seems to dry out or tire with time in bottle, and can improve for three decades.  Which makes a retail price of $99 seem pretty reasonable.  Shiraz Magill Estate 2012 earned the same score of 94, and though it rings up for $130, it may well surpass the St. Henri if given a couple of decades to unwind all of its nascent complexities.  In this price range, Shiraz “RWT” Barossa Valley 2012 may be the best value of all at $150, earning 96 points thanks to almost unfathomable depth of flavor.  This ultra-concentrated wine has already soaked up most of its oak, and though it is phenomenally powerful, there’s nothing chunky or obvious about the wine.

Penfolds’ flagship white is Chardonnay “Yattarna” South Eastern Australia 2012, assembled from top sites (including cool climate ones) and showing a combination of penetrating fruit flavors, refreshing acidity, and a multiplicity of complex accents from ultra-fine oak.  It is already thrilling to taste (96) but will unquestionably improve for another two decades.  Priced at $130, it is worth every penny, and I’d trade almost any Burgundy producer’s Grand Cru Batard-Montrachet straight up to acquire this bottle.

Cabernet Sauvignon “Bin 707” South Australia 2012 (97, $350) won’t hit its apogee for at least 25 years, and though this is also true of a top wine from Pauillac in an excellent vintage, the 707 will be truly enjoyable in 5 years, whereas the Bordeaux will require 15.  At the very top end, Shiraz “Grange” South Australia 2010 ($850 suggested retail) was tied at 99 points (with Delas Hermitage “Les Bessards” 2012 as my choice for Best Red of 2015.  Grange 2010 is so dense, deep, penetrating and persistent that it almost defies comparison with any other wine.  Indeed, if it were not also so beautifully balanced and proportional, it almost wouldn’t seem like wine at all, but rather like something else entirely.  In light of the foregoing verbiage, it might seem silly to score the wine at 99, and my only defense is that this is just a nick shy of 1982 Cheval Blanc when I tasted that wine at 5 years of age in terms of sheer gorgeousness.  However, of those two wines, the Grange has more latent capacity to improve over a very long span, so we shall see.  Let’s talk again in 30 years.
Posted by Michael Franz at 8:56 AM