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Wine Reviews - Penfolds 2000 Release
May 2000

[Overview] [The White Wines ] [ The Red Wines ] [1999 Releases ] [1998 Releases ]

As the new vintage Penfolds wines arrive in the country, large advertisements fill the newspapers announcing 'best prices' as retailers attempt to get some of the market share of what is possibly the greatest range of red wines in the world.

Every wine, from the under $10-priced Rawson's Retreat to the over $220-priced Grange, is made to a defined style which shows consistent quality year in, year out. And the premium range wines are highly sought after, each year's release selling in a new record time.

Most wines in the 2000 release are from the leaner vintage of 1997 however Grange, which is always released five years after vintage, is from 1995, the St Henri is from 1996, and the Koonunga Hill and Rawson's Retreat are from the riper 1998.

I was fortunate to be invited to a tasting of the premium wines from the new releases with Penfolds red wine oenologist and wine educator, Peter Gago. Plus we were in for a couple of treats with a sneak preview of a new Chardonnay and a taste of a beauty from the past.

The White Wines
[Overview] [The White Wines ] [ The Red Wines] [The 1999 Releases ] [The 1998 Releases ]

We started with the whites, the 1998 Adelaide Hills Chardonnay, the 1995 Bin 95A Chardonnay (my favourite white last year), the 1998 98A Chardonnay and the 1997 Yattarna.

1998 Adelaide Hills Chardonnay
Pale straw colour. Honeyed, toasty, peachy, warm, mealy flavours with fig fruit and ginger spice and some tropical pineapple emerging. There's quite a decent dollop of spicy French oak, which lingers on the finish. A vibrant wine, lovely drinking now but with lots to offer for the future.

1995 Bin 95A Chardonnay
Developed golden colour with a tinge of lime green. Attractive nutty and mealy aroma. Rich, mealy, nutty and fig-like flavours in the palate. Elegant and rich with honeyed complexities developing and a toasty, rich, butterscotch finish. Peter Gago likened this to Creme Brulée. Quite a yummy wine with lots of finesse, showing what these wines will do with a little age.

1998 Bin 98A Chardonnay
Straw gold colour with a tinge of lime. Soft, fruity aroma of tropical fruits and limes with hints of butterscotch. Some tropical fruit at first in the palate immediately covered by toasty, creamy, peachy, butterscotch and oak. Then there's a flavour reminiscent of peaches and pears poached in wine and some honey toastiness lingering on the finish. Lots of lovely flavours in the wine but they are still a little disintegrated so it is just as well this is a sneak preview only as the wine is not due for release just yet. I am sure this wine will come together to be one of the vintage's best.

1997 Yattarna Chardonnay
Pale straw colour. Subdued aroma with a touch of honey. In the palate - toasty, buttery, rich and full but quite (very) dry on the finish. Very interesting flavours. Figs again. Hazelnuts. A faint note of citrus. Quite a tight wine at this stage with a warm, mealy finish. Lovely integration of classy oak. Citrus lingers on the finish. Classy wine with a touch of acidity will see it lasting for a long, long, time.

The Red Wines
[Overview] [The White Wines ] [ The Red Wines] [The 1999 Releases ] [The 1998 Releases ]

The red wines had been double decanted (poured into a container, then poured back into the bottle), 2 hours before the tasting. This, to give the wines some aeration.

1997 Barossa Old Vines Shiraz Grenache Mouvedre.
First released in this livery in 1992. Prior to that, the wine had the handle of 'Dry Red'. Always made from the grape varieties shiraz, grenache and mouvedre, the ratio changes every year depending on which variety of the three has performed the best. The 1997 wine is a blend of 37% shiraz, 34% grenache and 29% mouvedre and was aged in 8-year-old oak. Deeply coloured, it has a fruity aroma with a touch of licorice, these flavours continuing in the palate. Quire chewy tannins and lifted spice, I can imagine this wine becoming quite leathery as it evolves. No savoury as one would imagine. Tannins linger along with licorice and plum-like fruit. Quite yummy.

1997 Penfolds Coonawarra Bin 128 Shiraz.
Densely coloured. Attractive aromas, almost floral. Good statement of pepper and spice and dried roses, red berries and plums. Lovely fruit. A quite elegant style with a dry finish. An excellent example of cool-climate shiraz from a lean year. Peter Gago recommends drinking early to enjoy the spicy vibrant characters.

1997 Penfolds Kalimna Bin 28 Shiraz
Rich and dense in colour. Delicious, vanillin, coconut and spicy scents overlain with cream. Lovely flavours in the palate with lots of creamy American oak, spicy tannins and rich and ripe lush flavours. Huge tannins which are a little drying on the finish. This is a big wine and I do like this style and the delicious lingering flavours. This is a wine for cellaring and I can imagine it developing some chocolate and savoury notes with a little time.

1997 Penfolds Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon
Vibrant colour. Delicious, ripe aromas with vanillin oak and licorice. Dusty tannins at first in the palate with redcurrant and cassis fruit flavours emerging. Lifted, with integrated oak and some licorice complexities developing. This wine is very drinkable right now but will cellar.

1997 Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz
Rich, dense colour. Soft, dusty, vanillin aromas with some plum and blackberry fruit and a hint of floorless. Very very dry in the palate, in fact quite hard and a little difficult at this stage. For my taste I find it a little hard to get past the tannins and the dryness, although there is some very nice berry fruit underneath with a touch of sweetness pushing its way through. I found this wine very disappointing after last year's 389, which was one of my Wines of the Year.

1996 Penfolds St Henri
A blend of 96% shiraz and 5% cabernet sauvignon, this has to be the buy of the current release. Deeply coloured. Dusty, slightly savoury - gosh - an unusual olive and plums aroma. Then in the mouth the wine is so lifted it is almost not there. All up front, I do not detect anything past the mid-tongue - it is all in the front of the mouth around the teeth and the tip of the tongue. Satin-like texture and very stylish showing rich, ripe fruit with good definition and structure. Smooth and soft and a little dusty in the tannins with violets emerging on the finish, it is perhaps, the best St Henri since the 1990 vintage. If you can detect oak in this wine, it is a derived, secondary oak character, as the youngest oak this wine has seen is 45 year old, 2000 litre oak casks. Retailing between $40 and $50.

1997 Penfolds RWT Shiraz.
I had a preview of this last year, then it was simply called Barossa Shiraz. Unlike the other super-premium wines, this has been made in a new style and matured in new French oak, so not to compromise the St Henri and Grange. And pricewise it falls between the two, retailing around the $100. Immediately appealing aromas of licorice and cedar and a touch of spice. In the palate, even more appealing. Flavours of plum, guava jelly and sweet, ripe berry fruit. Soft, smooth, integrated - the total package. Smoky and savoury too and after the wine has gone the guava jelly flavour lingers then some creamy vanillin develops. Later, vibrant spice and peppery characters quite to the fore. Lovely quality and elegance plus.

1997 Penfolds Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon
The aroma is quite fine and pleasing. In the palate, fine grained tannins, fine cedar and blackcurrant and plum fruits. Licorice complexities have a sweet vanillin accompaniment. The oak seems so subtle and on asking Peter Gago why he thought this was, he says that the fermentation is completed in the finest American Oak barrels so there is none of the over American oak char found in other wines. Very warm in the palate but still a little hard for current drinking and the tannins leave a little bit of fur in the mouth. A delicious wine, however, with plenty of scope for evolution.

1995 Penfolds Grange
The flagship wine, the opulent Grange, is from a year when many other great Australian wines, such as the Wynns John Riddoch, the Michael Shiraz and the 707, were not made. Yet 1995 Grange, a blend of 94% Shiraz and 6% Cabernet Sauvignon, aged in 100% new American oak for 17 months, is great as only Grange can be. Dense and deeply coloured. A cedary aroma, not obviously American oak (which I associate with leap out of the glass vanillin and coconut) and definitely not an oak bomb. This is a refined woody aroma with ripe plummy fruit and spice. In the palate there is immediately mouth-filling sweet fruit, then a wave of cedar with a touch of peppery spice and vanilla supported by fine, biscuity tannins and violets. I savour the concentration of the sweet shiraz fruit in the mouth with its waves of different flavours and the merest hint of chocolate. Then on the finish, lifted spice, plums tending to prunes and the oak, although integrated, is now more dominant. A second tasting from a new, non decanted, bottle exhibited more obvious pepper in the palate. An awesome wine, as only Grange can be and a truly incredible wine for what is widely regarded as a poor vintage - there is nothing poor about this wine. Perhaps lacks some of the lushness and voluptuousness seen in big wines from hot ripe vintages, but the 1995 will be delicious drinking while waiting for these riper wines to mature.

The wine is available if you look and has even been spotted on some supermarket shelves, Food town, for example, was selling the wine for $250.00.

To finish the tasting we were given a special treat - a taste of the 1986 Grange, brought over to New Zealand in Peter Gago's hand luggage. And what a treat to taste this wine, to see how a carefully cellared Grange from an excellent year can develop nine years after release. Hugely intense with rich, voluptuous, lush flavours and lovely with licorice, cedar and violets. Plummy, pruney fruit has integrated nicely. Perfect balance of components and concentrated flavours that linger for ages. The only disappointment was to see that the cork was slowly disintegrating. It was quite an effort for Peter Gago to extract it from the bottle and it came out in crumbs. The wine was gently decanted into a crystal decanting for serving.

Along with this new release of Penfolds wines, is the new edition of The Rewards of Patience a Featured Publication on this web site.

Next year, the Penfolds releases will be in April

[Overview] [The White Wines ] [ The Red Wines ] [The 1999 Releases ] [The 1998 Releases ]

Link to Penfolds web site

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