Penfolds Fine


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Australia’s top winery—and its Shiraz—take center stage.

Penfolds is australia’s most famous winery. And for good reason— Penfolds has been producing wine since 1844. Founded by Dr. Christopher and Mary Penfold, Penfolds has been a pioneer and leading light in the Australian wine industry for more than 170 years. Today their extensive portfolio of wines extends from Riesling to Cabernet and Chardonnay to Shiraz. And it is for Shiraz that Penfolds is adored across the globe by collectors and cognoscenti alike. Shiraz is Australia’s most significant grape, and I dare say that Penfolds is one of, if not the top Shiraz producer on the planet.

During this past November, I had the great honor and pleasure to share a panel with Penfolds Wine Ambassador for the Americas and renown sommelier DLynn Proctor at The Kahala Resort and Hotel as we did a Master’s Class featuring six of Penfolds finest Shiraz. We began with the 2014 Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz. Bin 28 has always been one of the best Shiraz for the money in the business, even when I was selling the wine almost 20 years ago. It’s been made since 1959, and began as a Barossa Valley-specific Shiraz. But today, it is now a warm climate regional selection that includes fruit from across South Australia aged for 12 months in American oak barrels. It has a succulent and juicy nose of perfectly ripe red and blue fruit laced with a sweet spicy and savory note coming from the wood. It is rich and robust but does not have that candied fruit note that can make Shiraz taste like cough syrup. I looked at Proctor and said, "This is a great way to start the morning!"

We immediately took a quantum leap up in character with the 2007 Penfolds St. Henri Shiraz. As Proctor recounted the story of this estate, St. Henri, being the Penfold’s estate neighboring vineyard. When the Penfolds purchased the estate, they kept the name St. Henri. In fact, when you look at the label the name of St. Henri is much more prominent on the label than Penfolds. The wine itself was designed to answer the question of ‘what would Grange taste like without new wood?’ And so, this wine with some top-notch fruit is aged in 1460-liter, 50-plus years old wooden vats. Being already 10 years old, this wine was showing some gorgeous development. The fruit was still wonderfully apparent boasting sweet acai berries, plum and cassis. There is an added floral dimension here that sets it apart from the rest and lifts the aromatics to another level. On the palate, it was velvet with the pure fruit tannin softened with an exceedingly long aftertaste of violets, licorice and plums. By vote, this was the second most popular wine of the entire tasting.

The next wine is near and dear to my heart. If you have ever visited Penfolds Winery just outside if Adelaide, you have visited the Magill Estate. This was the original Penfolds Estate. I have always had a soft spot for this wine because it is a wine with a sense of place-not a regional blend but a single estate or ‘monopole’ if you will. I have sold and drank this wine for many years and it not only reminds me of my visit to Penfolds but also my early days as a beginning sommelier.

The 2013 Penfolds Magill Estate is a sleek, yet powerful expression of Shiraz. It is not the powerlifter type of strength that this wine exudes but more like that of an agile gymnast performing acrobatics. The fruit is pure purple in the glass—being aged in mostly French oak with some American. Th ere is a note of vanilla as well. Th e texture is impressive with depths of flavor to dive into. Out of all the wines we tasted that day, this wine also has an unmistakable earthy character, more like a spicy, dusty element rather than fresh-tilled earth. It finishes on a delightful cocoa nib, almost mocha-like flavor.

The next wine is the youngest in terms of its first vintage, which was in 1997. RWT stands for Red Wine Trial as it started as an experiment. Th is is pure Barossa Valley fruit and aged in only French oak. Th e 2007 Penfolds RWT Shiraz had a character akin to great Bordeaux. Not so much in the character of the fruit, which is ripe and round red and black. Still, it manages to maintain the richness of its fruit as well as the intensity of flavor without being burdensome and overly alcoholic. It is seamless in the palate and strikes a perfect balance of flavor, texture and power.

No discussion of the best wine of the New World should go without mentioning Penfolds Grange. Since 1951, Penfolds Grange (originally called Grange Hermitage) has been a blend of the best of the best Shiraz fruit in the cellars at Penfolds all matured for 20 months in 100-percent American oak. As much as the solo or Magill Estate is intoxicating, the full power and delight of the entire orchestra is displayed in Penfolds Grange. And today we had the added treat of having two vintages! First was the 2011 Penfolds Grange. Th is was a powerful wine in every sense. Glorious amounts of fruit, spices, leather, baked plum pie, unctuous levels of ripe raspberry and wild cherries explode from the glass. In the mouth this wine penetrates, it fills all your senses, texture, aroma and flavor. And yet, it is so youthful. Th is wine will reward patience for another two decades with ease. And we finally arrive at the wine of the tasting, the 2001 Penfolds Grange has this kaleidoscopic nose from figs to spices, chocolate to flowers, wild cherry to fall leaves it is difficult to describe. But it was oh-so-easy to drink. The tannin had softened and was like velvet. It luxuriates on your palate, firing bolts of energy to the pleasure center in your brain. It was the first glass of mine to be emptied and a glass I will not forget. As good as it was at that moment, I believe it is still on the rise over the next decade or more.

This was nothing less than a once-in-a-lifetime experience. To hear the history and intimate knowledge that DLynn had to share along with his charisma and passion was impressive.

But even more impressive was the mesmerizing quality of the Penfolds Shiraz that we tasted that day. Each wine was distinct, delicious and pedigreed. I don’t know how Shiraz could get any better.

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