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A dazzling Penfolds Grange and much more: tasting the 2018 Collection

The launch of Penfolds’ 2014 Grange last month marked the release of the 64th consecutive vintage. I haven't tasted the first, the experimental 1951, but I have tasted its successor, 1952, which likewise wasn't released commercially, and I have twice tasted the first commercial release, the extremely rare 1953 Grange Hermitage (as Grange was called at the time): first in 2003, along with the next 49 vintages of Grange, at the fifth Rewards of Patience tasting in Adelaide; and then in 2011 at a dinner hosted by the Australian Ambassador to France at his residence in Paris. So I’ve tasted 63 of the 64 vintages of Grange, considerably more than of any other individual wine from anywhere in the world. At both the Adelaide and Paris tastings, I also tasted the even rarer 1953 Grange Cabernet. No wonder I feel an almost umbilical-chord attachment to Grange and the other Penfolds special Bin wines. (You can read more about these extraordinary tastings here The Rewards of Patience and Grange and Penfolds Special Bin wines. Both were originally published in Decanter magazine).

I've tasted the extremely rare 1953 Grange twice. And on the same two occasions I also tasted the even rarer 1953 Grange Cabernet

Sixteen other wines were released with Grange 2014 in London last month, 12 reds and four whites, all but one of which (2017 Bin 23 Adelaide Hills Pinot Noir) were shown at a tasting and dinner with chief winemaker Peter Gago at Hide restaurant three weeks earlier. (If you haven’t been to Hide, go if you can: it lives up to its reputation – there are some photographs to tempt you below.) With dinner, we drank 2010 reds from single regions and single vineyards to show that Penfolds isn’t just about blending, but I’ll leave those for another blog and focus here on the 2018 Collection wines.

The top wines for me among the reds were: Grange 2014, Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Bin 169 Coonawarra Cabernet 2016, RWT Bin 798 Barossa Valley Shiraz 2016, St Henri Shiraz 2015 and Bin 150 Marananga Shiraz 2016 (the latter with an rrp of £61 – cheap in this context). Among the whites, both the Yattarna Bin 144 Chardonnay 2016 and Reserve Bin A Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2017 stood out. Tasting notes below are given in the order of the eight wines above, followed by notes on other wines in the order they were tasted.

Penfolds Collection 2018

Penfolds Grange 2014

98% Shiraz, 2% Cabernet Sauvignon, from Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, Wrattonbully (for the first time), Coonawarra, Clare Valley and Magill Estate. 20 months in new American oak hogsheads. 14.5% abv.

You can pretty well drink this now! Monumental and concentrated, but somehow less forbidding than many previous vintages on release. That’s not to doubt its staying power: there’s plenty of substance, plenty of oak and plenty of tannin, but the tannins aren’t at all gruff and grainy. In terms of aroma/flavour, there’s soy sauce smokiness, a lifted brightness to the fruit (black cherries and dark berries), exotic spice and herbs (rosemary, thyme…) and cappuccino smoothness. Very long. Peter Gago sees a resemblance with 2004, a vintage that he’s apparently buying back for himself after drinking most of his own stock. He puts peak drinking for the 2014 as 2020–2045. I don’t think you need worry if you’ve still got some at the half century. rrp £589


Penfolds Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

Fruit from Coonawarra, McLaren Vale, Barossa Valley and Adelaide Hills. 20 months in new American oak hogsheads. 14.5%

There’s so much going on here – floral notes, blackcurrant, bramble jelly, garrigue herbs, sweet spices, pepper, cloves and liquorice. Great opulence but beautiful clarity, definition and length, sustained by powerful but ultra-polished tannins. Peak drinking 2022– 2050. rrp £365


Penfolds Bin 169 Coonawarra Cabernet 2016

13 months in new French oak hogshead. 14.5%. First vintage: 2008. Only made in exceptional vintages. Quintessential Coonawarra. Glorious nose of violets. Blackcurrant intensity and purity with lightly peppery spice, cedar and graphite and striking mineral freshness. Very concentrated, with luxurious, youthfully coating tannins. Needs time. Peak drinking 2022–2042. rrp £199


Penfolds RWT Bin 798 Barossa Valley Shiraz 2016

12 months in French oak hogsheads (72% new). 14.5%.

Seductive, harmonious nose – perfumy, nutty, floral – with lush, sweet fruit (black cherries, cassis, plums). Velvety and opulent, with an expansive milk chocolate richness, but the richness then reined in by dark-chocolate austerity and fine, ripe tannins. I’d be tempted to start drinking this now. Peter Gago suggests just a modicum of patience, putting peak drinking as 2020–2040. rrp £132


Penfolds St Henri Shiraz 2015

93% Shiraz, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, from McLaren Vale, Robe, The Peninsulas, Barossa Valley, Wrattonbully, Adelaide Hills and Mt Benson. 12 months in large, very old oak vats (50+ years) for negligible oak character. 14.5%.

In effect unoaked, St Henri has defied the vagaries of fashion across six decades. Chocolate and coffee on the nose, but not of course the choc and mocha of oak. Intense, glossy palate with sweet raspberry fruit and silky tannins. You can drink this now, but really you should wait for it to develop savoury breadth and complexity. Peak drinking 2020–2045. rrp £95


Penfolds Bin 150 Marananga Shiraz 2016

Shiraz from the Marananga sub-region, slightly northwest of centre in the Barossa Valley. First vintage, as for Bin 169 Coonawarra Cab: 2008. 12 months in American (25% new) and French oak (7%new) hogsheads and puncheons. 14.5%.

Peter Gago calls this a contemporary style Barossa Shiraz. Sage brush and garrigue on the nose, with rich and vibrant raspberry and red cherry fruit, and white and black pepper spiciness on the finish. Flowing, fine tannins and silky texture. Drink from Christmas onwards. Peter Gago puts the peak drinking window as 2020–2032. rrp £61


Penfolds Yattarna Bin 144 Chardonnay 2016

Aka ‘white Grange’. Chardonnay from (cool climate) regions: Tasmania, Henty, Adelaide Hills and Tumbarumba. Barrel fermentation (but not wild ferment) and 8 months in French oak barriques (35% new). 13.5%.

Gorgeous wine. Intense, pure, satin-textured and complex in a Burgundian way. Lemony fruit – zesty but deep – woven with gossamer-fine nutty oak and carried by crystalline acidity. Lots to develop but you could drink it any time over the next 15–20 years. rrp £149


Penfolds Reserve Bin A Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2017

Barrel fermented, 8 months in French oak barriques (40% new). Part wild ferment (it used to be all wild ferment, but the style has been “toned down") and 100% malolactic (all natural). Regular lees stirring. 12.5%.

Still youthfully taut and pithy but with cashew-nut breadth and depth, citrusy fruit and impressive length. Drink over the next 10–12 years. rrp £79



Penfolds Bin 51 Eden Valley Riesling 2018

Stainless steel. 12%.

An “exceptional vintage”. Bracing, vivid, green apple, lime and stony mineral intensity. Piercing fresh acidity. Essence of dry Riesling. You can drink it now, but it will age. rrp £31


Penfolds Bin 311 Chardonnay 2017

Cool climate but, as of this vintage, multi-regional rather than Tumbarumba only: Adelaide Hills, Tasmania and Tumbarumba. Barrel fermentation and 8 months in French oak (25%). 12.5%.

Delicate toasted wheat and cashew-nut notes starting to fill out steely, lime-curd fruit. You can drink it now, but it would benefit from another year. rrp £32


Penfolds Bin 138 Barossa Valley Shiraz Grenache Mataro 2016

72% Shiraz, 16% Grenache, 12% Mataro. 12 months in seasoned French and American oak. 14.5%.

Lots of perfumy spice on the nose from both fruit and oak. Juicy, ripe blackcurrant and redcurrant fruit; spicy, nutty, cedary oak; fine, grainy tannins; mocha, pepper and mineral freshness on the finish. rrp £35


Penfolds Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz 2016

12 months in French oak (30% new). 14.5%

Perfumed blackcurrant and gravelly, bricky aromas. Taut, pure, blackcurrant fruit with crunch and bite, a touch of blackcurrant leaf, chocolate and black tapenade. Fine tannins, subtle oak. Very Coonawarra. Drink from now until 2030 and probably beyond. rrp £35


Penfolds Kalimna Bin 28 Shiraz 2016

Shiraz from Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, Padthaway, Upper Adelaide and Wrattonbully. 12 months in seasoned American oak hogsheads. 14.5%.

Spicy, ripe, sweet black fruit, including black cherry and bramble jelly. Structural, fine tannins and distinct acidity on the finish. Drink 2020–2030. rrp £32


Penfolds Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

Cabernet Sauvignon from Coonawarra, McLaren Vale, Barossa Valley, Wrattonbully and Padthaway. 12 months in French oak (25% new) and American oak hogsheads (9% new). 14.5%.

Deep, rich, floral (violet) perfumed nose. Intense and flowing flavours – cassis tobacco, mocha, clove, cedar – driving through to the finish. Approachable, fine tannins. Peak drinking 2020–2032. rrp £61


Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz 2016

Aka ‘Baby Grange’. 51% Cabernet Sauvignon, 49% Shiraz, from Barossa Valley, Coonawarra, McLaren Vale, Padthaway, Wrattonbully. 12 months in American oak hogsheads (37% new).

Penetrating, deep cassis and dark chocolate aromas joined on the palate by coffee bean, nutmeg, clove and dried herbs. Rich, solid, long, but needs more time. Drink 2022–2040 and probably beyond. rrp £61


Penfolds Magill Estate 2016

Shiraz from the Magill Estate on the edge of Adelaide’s eastern suburbs (8km from the city’s central business district). 13 months in new French and American oak. 14.5%.

Exuberant floral, perfumy nose. Sweet plum, white pepper and bitter chocolate on the palate. Oaky, savoury, full and long with dry, sandy tannins. Needs time to bring it all together. Drink 2022–2035. rrp £139


The first three dishes at the Penfolds dinner at Hide, Piccadilly, London: Cured wild salmon, crème cru & Royal Baeri caviar; Nest egg (egg, smoked butter, toasted mushroom); Barbecued Suffolk lamb, violet mustard & spiny artichoke. Below left: some of the wines served.

All photographs by Joanna Simon

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