Penfolds Grange 2012 release
Penfolds recently released its latest Grange, along with several other jaw-droppingly good drops from their Icon and Luxury Collection, to a duly impressed crowd at Sydney’s Berowra Waters Inn. Nick Stock was there to catch all the action.
It’s the wine that stops a nation. Collectors, from the avid followers to the once-a-year buyers, mainstream media to specialist wine scribes, news readers morning and night, supermarket buyers, small independent retailers, auction house managers, consumers young and old, onlookers, you name it – the annual release of Penfolds Grange, the flagship of the Penfolds Icon & Luxury Collection, is one very highly anticipated event.
But among this 2012 suite of high-end releases, presented to an entourage of local and international guests at one of Australia’s most spectacular dining rooms, the Murcutt-designed Berowra Waters Inn on the Hawkesbury River, there was much more to the event than merely rolling out the new locomotive. For while Grange undoubtedly drives this train along its annual journey and creates the momentum, there are many other lustrous wines to consider, wines with historic and contemporary pedigree.
Penfolds is a successful dichotomy these days, playing both old and new cards with equal conviction. The white wines are traditionally led by riesling from Eden Valley’s naturally gifted and historically important terroir, as thrilling in their youth as they are marvellous in years to come.
New ground has been broken in recent years by scintillating, leading-edge chardonnay from cool-climate sources, such as the Adelaide Hills, Tasmania and Tumbarumba. In a case of meticulously judged winemaking playing on the inherently great potential of the right terroir, the excellent 2010 Penfolds Reserve Bin A Chardonnay (A$95) and 2009 Penfolds Yattarna Chardonnay (A$130) are both unequivocally brilliant wines.
Reds defer more in the direction of history and these carefully guarded assets are an exercise in preservation as much as enhancement and evolution. The style agendas are sovereign and the role of vintage is left to drive the headline from year to year. New wines are added with care and consideration to what is already in place.
One of the biggest triumphs of the 2012 release is just the inaugural 2008 Penfolds Bin 169 Cabernet Sauvignon (A$250), it’s an exciting addition. Named after a one-off 1973 Bin 169 wine that was intended for but ultimately not blended with a Bin 170 Shiraz from the same year (which would have produced a Barossa/Coonawarra Special Bin) – this is a wine placed very precisely on the Penfolds map.
Matured for 18 months in 100 per cent new French oak hogsheads, it is a counter-point to Bin 707. There’s fine mint and sweet, ripe, dark herbs on the nose, plenty of pure cassis and a wealth of fine-grained French timber. The palate has poise and grace, abundant vanillin, some licorice and smooth fine tannins that cut an authoritative shape. It’s very even, very long and highly polished – the cabernet partner to the RWT Shiraz.
And speaking of which, the 2009 Penfolds RWT Shiraz (A$175) is one of the best to date. With strikingly dense colour, the nose has a high-class French oak sheen across meaty elements and rich dark berries, violets and blue fruits. The palate is smoothly comp-osed and has a soft, finely woven texture with tar-tinged Barossa blackberry flavour, impressive length and composure.
How great is the wine of the moment, the 2007 Penfolds Grange (A$625)? Well, presented alongside 1977, ’87 and ’97 vint-ages, the message from winemaker Peter Gago is wait and see. A 98-per-cent shiraz, two-per-cent cabernet sauvignon blend matured in new American oak hogsheads for 21 months, there’s deep-seated richness and ripeness, with vanillin-scented American oak, licorice and strongly concentrated fruit.
The palate is dense and mellow, yet buried in brooding mode for now. The wine’s certainly in style, it has density and concentration and a wealth of black fruits, dark spices, plums, dark cherry and red fruits. It’s unlikely to be remembered as one of the greatest editions of Grange, yet it’s certainly one of the best top-flight reds to emerge from the difficult, drought-affected South Australian harvest. Elephant acknowledged.
The 2012 Penfolds Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon (A$250) is a strong wine. A blend of Barossa Valley, Padthaway, Coonawarra and Wrattonbully cabernet, this sits right in the established style of 707 with a sweep of American oak vanilla and pencil shavings, sweet dried leaves, mint and herbs, cassis and black cherry – it’s unmistakable.
The palate’s impressively assembled structure and shape owes as much to the inherent prowess of cabernet as it does to the Penfolds engineering, it’s wedged full of oak, packs very dense tannins and tastes of sarsaparilla, purple cherry and cassis, finishing with a tangy, precise cut. Global demand for 707 is growing and with quality like this, there’s no wonder they can’t make enough.
A couple of important anniversaries were toasted at Berowra Waters this year, the first being the 100th birthday of the legendary Penfolds chemist and lab man, Dr Ray Beckwith OAM. Without his important work, many of today’s older bottles wouldn’t be the great wines they are. Beckwith is an erudite, witty, dignified and intelligent man who deserves much celebration.
The other is the 50th consecutive release of Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz. First made in the 1960 vintage, the new release 2009 (A$75) is a brash young blend of cabernet (51 per cent) and shiraz (49 per cent). It has a hallmark sheen of resiny American oak, plenty of brambly plum and blackberry fruits, a little eucalypt, some anise, liquorice and woody spice notes too. The forthright palate drives tangy acidity through ripe summer berry fruits before being swamped by rich tannins, the ballast for many years, even decades, to come.
Gago presented this new vintage alongside a decade-by-decade vertical via the 1966, ’76, ’86, ’96 and 2006 vintages. Dinner revealed further highlights, for the locomotive had a museum car in tow. Later in the night, guests at Berowra savoured once in a lifetime tastes of the 1953 Grange Cabernet Sauvignon and the impossibly great 1962 Bin 60A Coonawarra Cabernet Kalimna Shiraz.
And that’s a special thing that Penfolds can do with unparalleled depth and breadth in the Australian context, it has the weight of history on its side. Each year Penfolds not only assemble a treasure-trove of new releases but there is always a museum carriage hitched to the train and it’s every bit as important to the success of the journey as the locomotive that drives it.
PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY OF PENFOLDS
This article is from the June/July 2012 issue of Gourmet Traveller WINE.