When Penfolds launches its 2022 collection tomorrow, Thursday 4 August, it will include two French, or French-ish, still wines for the first time. Not Penfolds’ first French wines, because it launched three vintage Champagnes in partnership with Thiénot in 2019, and not its first northern hemisphere still wines, because it launched a Napa-Australian red blend last year, but the first wines from Bordeaux. Or more or less Bordeaux. Clarification in a moment.
The two wines are Penfolds II Cabernet Shiraz Merlot 2019 and Penfolds FWT 585 Cabernet Merlot Petit Verdot 2019 made in partnership with Dourthe Bordeaux. Chief winemaker Peter Gago (who, surely, doesn't need even that introduction), was in London to launch them at a lunch at Trivet at the end of June.
He kicked off by saying: "It’s not a lecture, it’s not a masterclass, it’s just enjoyment.”. And he was right, especially about the enjoyment.
On top of the two new wines, there was one of the Thiénot x Penfolds Champagnes, a mature Yattarna Chardonnay, the legendary 1962 Bin 60A – the wine dubbed Australia’s greatest ever red wine – a Cabernet Shiraz called Superblend 802.B (think Supertuscan with a typically enigmatic Penfolds bin number) and two vintages of Grange, the much anticipated 2018 and the acclaimed 1996.
The lunch, designed by Trivet founders chef Jonny Lake and sommelier Isa Bal to complement the wines, was excellent and included a specially created fish dish for the Bin 60A: Roast monkfish with girolles and red wine sauce.
No lecture, no masterclass, but there was a bit more information and explanation from head honcho Peter Gago along the way, including the protestation-cum-reassurance that Magill, the Barossa, etcetera, “will always be our spiritual home, our epicentre. These other wines and regions are our satellites.” It’s about taking Penfolds’ house style to other premium viticultural regions.
For the record, the next of these satellite projects, already in the pipeline, is the Rhône Valley, which makes absolute sense when you think of the grape varieties.
"We're not saying we're doing it better than Bordeaux, we're saying we're doing it in an Australian way."
The other message Peter Gago was keen to get across was: “We’re not saying we’re doing it better than Bordeaux. We’re saying we’re doing Bordeaux in an Australian way.” To back it up, he quoted the CIVC in Champagne saying: “We like what Penfolds and Thiénot have done. They’ve done it right and they’ve done it right from the start.”
What does doing Bordeaux in a time-honoured Australian way mean in practice? Two key things are barrel fermentation and wooden header boards to keep the grape-skin cap submerged. One of the differences is that in Australia the same fermenters are used, “so it’s in out, in out with the wines,” whereas in Bordeaux each lot is in separate fermenters. One of the main focuses for Penfolds in (with Dourthe) in Bordeaux is “the tannins, the texture”.
For the record, Penfolds has owned four estates in the Médoc since 2019, Châteaux Cambon la Pelouse, Belle-Vue, de Gironville and Bolaire, but the fruit is sourced more widely by Dourthe.
Liunch at Trivet, clockwise from top left: Cured sea bass and red gurnard; Roast monkfish, girolles and red wine sauce; Poached and roasted Aylesbury duck with honeymoon melon; Grilled Angus ribeye, fine herb purée, blackberry and pepper sauce
And so to the wines…
The French duo first, then the new Superblend 802.B, released last year, then 2018 Grange being released on 4 August, followed by 1996 Grange then back to where lunch started with the 2012 Thiénot x Penfolds Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru, 2011 Yattarna Chardonnay and finally – klaxon! – 1962 Bin 60A (including links to my previous notes on this rare wine).
Penfolds II Cabernet/Shiraz/Merlot 2019, Wine of the World
Hold tight for a lot of percentages. Bordeaux 71%, Barossa Valley 29%. Cabernet Sauvignon 59% and Merlot 12% (the best parcels from from two Dourthe-owned Haut-Médoc châteaux), Shiraz 29% (Barossa). 18 months in oak barriques and hogsheads, French (70% new) and American (30% new). 14% abv. Blended at Dourthe’s Château Bellegrave and bottled in Australia because bottling in France isn’t allowed. The wine was shipped in one-metre square stainless steel containers. “Logistically, a nightmare,” said Peter. What about the carbon footprint? “We won’t go there.”
Deep, vibrant purple. Perfumed black fruit dominating red fruit and spice on the nose. Plush, rich, deep palate with milk chocolate and cappuccino creaminess nicely freshened by black pepper spice; fine, transparent tannins and a reassuring freshness to the finish. Very polished. More Australian than French at present, but we’ll see how it develops. I expect it to be long-lived. 93
Penfolds FWT 585 Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Petit Verdot 2019, Vin de France
FWT is short for French Winemaking Trial. 14 months French (44% new) and American (14% new) oak barriques. 14% abv. Bottled in Bordeaux.
Deep, but less purple colour than Penfolds 11, the Bordeaux–Barossa blend. Lovely graphite pencil note on the nose floating over cassis and aromatic herbs – rosemary then some sage. The graphite turns to cedar on the palate, accompanied by silky tannins and alluring pure fruit. Modulated, elegant intensity. Much more obviously French in style than the Bordeaux–Barossa hybrid. Given the choice, this is the wine I would drink. Penfolds gives a drinking window of 2022–2037, I think I’d start to monitor it closely 10 years from now. 93
Superblend 802.B Cabernet Shiraz 2018, South Australia
55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Shiraz from parcels of fruit destined for Penfolds’ flagship wines (e.g. Bin 707 Cabernet level) in an excellent vintage. Fermented and aged for 19 months in French oak hogsheads (54% new, 46% one-year-old). The name Superblend is aimed at markets who aren’t familiar with Cabernet Shiraz blend but who might recognise Supertuscan or super-food and there is an 802.A, which was fermented and aged in American oak but which hasn’t been released yet.
Classic Penfolds! Very deep purple, almost black. Ample, succulent, supple and spicy. Intense and concentrated with deep, warm fruit, dark soy umami richness, a hint of fresh menthol, smooth nutty oak and glossy tannins. 96
Penfolds Grange Bin 95 2018, South Australia
97% Shiraz, 3% Cabernet Sauvignon. A highly anticipated Grange and it’s immediately obvious why – and it’s not because it’s the biggest, most monumental Grange. It has power and richness, but there’s a radiance and intensity to the dark, rich black fruit, the layered suppleness and burnished tannins. It’s perfectly drinkable now, but it’s very primary and really deserves at least a few more years and will live for decades. 14.5%. 97
Penfolds Grange Bin 95 1996, South Australia
94% Shiraz, 6% Cabernet Sauvignon. An absolute classic! Very dense, powerful, ripe and spicy, with dark cherry, blackcurrant and damson fruit, woodsmoke, toast and mocha oak, and meaty, salty, soy sauce savoury base notes. 14.5%. Well cellared it’ll go another three decades. 96
Penfolds x Thiénot Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru 2012
Chardonnay from a single vineyard in Avize. Dosage: 2g/l. At the launch of the three Grands Crus in London three years earlier, this was my favourite, so I was happy to find I was still enamoured with it’s biscuity, peachy elegance fine-boned, dry, creamy elegance and minerality. 95
Penfolds Yattarna Chardonnay 2011
95% Derwent Valley, Tasmania, 5% Adelaide Hills. Fermented and aged in 64% new French oak barriques and 36% one-year-old (60–70% is average, although it was 100% in 1997 and zero in 2004). Pale straw. Still beautifully fresh on the nose. Confit lemon, peach, lightly toasted wheat sourdough and cashew nut, delicate woodsmoke, almost Chablis-esque oyster shell minerality. Precise, layered and long. 96
Penfolds Bin 60A 1962 Coonawarra Cabernet Kalimna Shiraz
One of Penfolds’ special bins, only produced in one other vintage (2004) and the most successful show wine in its history. Only 425 cases were made and they were never commercially released. Two thirds Cabernet Sauvignon, one third Kalmina, Barossa Shiraz. After 4 days in open fermenters with wooden header boards it went, still bubbling, into oak for 22 months.
Solid garnet almost to the rim. Fragrant and sweet-scented with cedar, touches of chocolate and pine, incense and polished leather. Black fruit – both fresh and confit – and dried cherry. Polished leather. Sleek, supple and filigree. Magnificent. 98+
1962 Bin 60A in The Rewards of Patience tasting
Photographs by Joanna Simon