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Murray Almond's "From the Left Island"

The 1999 Penfolds Releases - Oh Dear!
© Murray Almond
5 November 2001

Yesterday I had two opportunities to taste the new 1999 releases from Penfolds. Penfolds, or rather Southcorp, seem to be moving the release dates all over the place. The 1998 reds were released in Australia just last Feb/March, at the height of the Australian Summer. As such quite a few of the early shipments were at risk of heat damage, from sitting on the back of trucks. The weather is far milder at this time of the year, but we are tasting the wines with four months less bottle aging.

The range has had a label redesign, with the text that used to be on the bottom third of the Penfolds label design in the past now consigned to a back label. The photos on the Penfolds website are yet to reflect to redesign.

The 1999 vintage is said to have been a difficult one in South Australia, but good wines have been produced. Parts of Coonawarra, in particular, have bucked the trend.

And so to the wines. As I said above these were tasted twice at different locations, and the notes are a review across both tastings.

1999 Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz South Australia
Red purple colour. Closed on the nose with a slight floral character, strawberry and just a hint of Volatile Acidity (VA). Hints of dark chocolate in a medium-full mouthfeel and medium length if somewhat hot on the finish. A decent enough red, but questionable value at $18 and well below the standard of the 1998 or others of the marque.

1999 Penfolds Bin 128 Shiraz Coonawarra
The use of the French Oak rather than American is obvious here. Nice berry and spice nose but not displaying any of the Coonawarra capsicum, although the 128 doesn't usually show this all that much. The mouthfeel is nicely balanced with more spice with medium-fine tannin backbone before a good long finish. This is the pick of the 1999 Penfolds for me, and for others who were also tasting.

1999 Penfolds Bin 138 "Old Vines" Shiraz Mouvedre Grenache Barossa Valley, South Australia
Red purple colour, Some decent berry on the nose but nothing much on the palate. The coarse American oak is not balanced to the wine. The wine may open up with time but on these tastings the fruit backbone just isn't there. This is a great pity as I've been a fan of this style from Penfolds in the past.

1999 Penfolds Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon
The label gives no indication of where the wine is sourced from, however the website lists "Coonawarra and Padthaway, with small contributions from Margaret River, Kalimna, Bordertown and McLaren Vale." Bordertown is further north from Padthaway. The nose is ripish Cabernet of dark berry with a touch of soapiness. The palate is bland and falls away quite appreciably towards the back. Medium length finish with medium course tannins. I had consistent notes across both tastings. This is way below the usual standard for the Bin 407 and there was some discussion on whether the wine should not have been released under this label. Not recommended.

1999 Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz
Again no mention of grape sources on the label, but from the website "Padthaway, Barossa Valley and Coonawarra, with small contributions from McLaren Vale and other regions." The wine is red-purple of medium-full depth. The nose is dark berry and plum but not overly fruity on the nose. Mouthfeel is medium-full with decent quality berry and medium tannins that make a strong drying finish. May gain weight with time but I'll have to reserve judgement. It's a leaner style of Bin 389 and also not consistent with the style that has typified Bin 389 in other vintages. It would appear that Grange's "Poor Man" is a victim of rough economic times.

I look forward to the Penfolds New Releases each year (twice this year) as Penfolds normally delivers a few gems in their range. Of this group across the two tastings only the 1999 Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz showed any spark. I'm not sure how much of a factor it is that these wines are being tasted at least 4 months earlier than usual due to bringing the release dates. This may help Rosemount / Southcorp with their inventory management, but if it results in affecting the prestige of the wine it's a questionable benefit.

On this tasting, with the exception of the Bin 128, I can't recommend these wines, however given Penfolds long history of producing good wine and John Duval's undoubted skill. I'll aim to retaste all of them in about 6 months and see if some additional time in bottle has brought forward more flavours.

© Murray Almond
5 November 2001

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