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Wine Reviews - Penfolds

One of the most eagerly waited events on the wine taster's calendar year, is the annual release of the Penfold's range of wines. Penfolds, in my opinion, is the Royal Family of Red Wines; a family headed by a mighty King called "Grange".

Grange is a wine of power and strength. This year's release from the 1993 vintage is a blend of 86% Shiraz and 14% cabernet sauvignon. The deep black liquid has an aroma of violets, a taste of ripe blackberries, a hint of licorice and a smattering of spice. It has the finest tannins, a velvety texture and radiates the best sensations of warmth and comfort.

Tasting notes from 13th May, 1998

1993 Grange.
2 samples tasted.

Sample 1 had been double decanted and strained to remove the sediment about 90 minutes before tasting. Dense, blackberry colour with a red garnet rim. Floral aroma of violets. Flavours of ripe blackberries, hints of licorice and spice, and a taste I only describe as crushed vaanilla wine biscuits. Velvety texture. Fine tannins. Rich and powerful, with berryish flavours and licorice hints persisting in the palate. An extremely elegant wine.

Sample 2 was opened and tasted immediately, accompanied with food. No biscuit taste, but all the other characters of the previous sample. Somehow more richer, more powerful and more chunkier with many layers of flavour of ripe blackberry and licorice.

Although this wine had been aged in new American oak for 18 months, the oak flavours were not discernible. The power of the fruit in this wine had masked them. Fantastic wine. Very approachable now, if you have to drink it.

Other Wines Tasted - in the order tasted

Penfolds Koonunga Hill Chardonnay 1997
This wine has 95%malolactic fermentation (MLF), 30% barrel fermentation and 4 months on lees. The fruit is 89% chardonnay, 9% semillon anf 2% verdehlo. Melon, banana and boiled lolly aroma. Quite fruity in the palate with only a hint of oak. Reasonable aciditity. Rich tones on the finish.

Penfolds "The Valleys" Chardonnay 1996
This wine was previously known as the Penfolds Barrel Fermented Chardonnay. The wine has 100% MLF, 100% barrel fermentation and 5 months on yeast lees. Quite an oak dominant wine, with honeyish hints and again some boiled lolly. Lifted lemony, buttery flavours in the palate, softer than the previous wine, with some prickly acid and lots of oak lingering on the finish with a hint of melon and mango. Quite elegant.

Penfolds Old Vines Barossa Valley Shiraz, Grenache and Mouvedre 1993.
Deep colour, 'brown garnet' colour fading on the rim. Intense berry aromas with hints of licorice. Matured in old oak casks to drive varietal flavours. Flavours change as they develop in the palate. Firstly tannins and oak, then "pongy" richness, then soft berries on finish. Some lifted - acid - tones emerge and it finishes up with a nice persistent length of berry flavour licorice. Much improved than when first tasted 3 years ago.

Penfolds St Henri Shiraz Cabernet 1994.
Closed aroma. Berry flavours, velvety, silky tones but assertive, rounded chunky tannins hit the front palate then soften out. Same dairy milk chocolate-like tones on the finish. This wine gave me a soft, warm comfortable feeling. I could snuggle up to the fire and sip on this all winter. Terrific wine.

Penfolds Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz 1995
100% Coonawarra fruit. All French oak - 80% old and 20% new. This was a difficult vintage in Coonawarra. Floral aroma. Quite furry tannins. Peppery, plummy, hints of licorice or mild tar. Smoky oak. Licorice tones linger on the finish and peppery spice. I found this wine too tight in the structure. Another sample confirmed this opinion, but much better when tasted the next day.

Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz 1995.
A blend of 93% Shiraz and 7% Cabernet Sauvignon. Lifted aroma, floral, smoky and berryish. Mouth-filling at once. Tight structure in mid-palate. Red currants and blackberries with licorice tones dominating at the end. Richer, more mouth filling than the 128 but perhaps not quite as approachable.

Penfolds Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon 1995.
A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Shiraz.
Cabernet tones dominate, with a greenness, or mintiness and lifted berry flavours. Licorice tones and soft berry flavours. Furry tannins. Nice flavours on the finish but a wine that is not so approachable at this stage.

Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz 1995.
This wine is everyone's favourite. It is affordable, and ages well.
Black colour, right to the rim. Lovely berry flavours and licorice tones, but such oomph and power. Much richer than all the previous wines tasted. The American oak adds lovely sweetness to the finish, which just goes on and on. There is no Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon from the 1995 vintage, and most of the Cabernet fruit normally destined for 707 ended up in this wine.

Penfolds Magill Estate Shiraz, 1994.
A dreamy aroma, rich, hints of spice and pepper and some violet, floral characters. In the palate, peppery, cool, mouth filling, minty. Black fruit and "elegance". Minty and violet tones linger in the palate which persists and persists and persists. A fantastic wine.

Penfolds Koonunga Hill Shiraz Cabernet 1996
Koonunga Hill is usually presented near the beginning of the line-up, however this wine was tasted at the end, just prior to the "Grange". The quality of the fruit from the 1996 vintage is just so good, that I think it might not have done justice to the other wines to have tried the Koonunga Hill first. Lovely ripe fruit and all the hallmarks of a great Penfolds wine, but lacking the power and persistence. Excellent value for money. Buy a case, or perhaps two!

Penfolds "Grange" 1993 - see notes at the beginning of this page.

Penfolds "Yattarna" Chardonnay 1996
Impressive gold paper packaging that befits a queen - as Penfolds have imitidated with their flagship white wine. "Yattarna" is aboriginal for "little by little". This wine has been so lauded prior to release that the little that has been made (1180 dozen) was very quickly allocated. None, or very little, will be seen in New Zealand.

Link to the review of the 1999 Penfolds releases
Link to the review of the 2000 Penfolds releases
Link to Penfolds web site


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