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Wine Reviews - Penfolds 1999 Release
Tasted on 4 May 2000

[Overview] [The White Wines ] [ The Red Wines ] [Others] [The 1998 Releases ] [The 2000 Releases ]

If I was invited to only one wine tasting a year then I would cross my fingers and toes and shut my eyes tight and wish very hard that it would be Penfolds that invited me as their entire range of wines is superb.

Fortunately I am not limited to one wine tasting a year and fortunately I was able to accept the invitation to the wine writers lunch for the Penfolds 1999 release tasting last week hosted by the knowledgable and entertaining Peter Gago.

We were in for a treat as the line-up included most of the acclaimed 1996 red wines and the 1994 Grange.

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

First up was the chardonnay. Penfolds make five chardonnay wines, from bottom to top in price level they are the Koonunga Hill Chardonnay, the Valleys Chardonnay, the Adelaide Hills Chardonnay, the Bin 95A Chardonnay and the Yattarna. Fruit is sourced from all over South Australia, with different areas giving different prominent fruit characteristics.

The main flavour profiles in young chardonnay are peach, fig, gooseberry and melon, explained Peter. While all areas show these characters to some degree, the Nuriootpa area (that's in the Barossa Valley) has more prominent peach and fig, the Piccadilly Hills (east of Adelaide) has prominent melon and gooseberry, the Mt Pleasant area melon and the Lenswood area has melon and gooseberry.

We were shown three of the wines.

Penfolds 'The Valleys' Chardonnay 1996
This is named 'The Valleys' as its fruit is sourced from the Clare and Eden Valleys in South Australia. Followers of Penfolds' chardonnays will remember this wine a couple of years ago as the 'barrique ferment' chardonnay.

Honeyed butterscotch aromas and peach, melon flavours. Very approachable and elegant. The wine was on yeast lees for 4 months and matured in a combination of new and old oak of various ages. Price range about $18 to $20. Available now.

Penfolds Bin 95A Chardonnay 1996
This wine was the original contender to the Yattarna label and Peter Gago said this is the wine he would have chosen - but Peter, remember, is the red wine person.

The fruit is sourced mostly from the Adelaide Hills and 1,000 cases were made with only 16 cases coming to New Zealand.

The colour is golden and the aromas are leesy with smoky nuances. In the palate I found some prickly components, 'cactus' I wrote - that's not a flavour, just a sensation. Very leesy and nutty flavours developing to a richness in the palate. A soft, sweetish finish with lingering peachy, mouthfilling persistence. A complex and interesting wine. It will be priced around the mid $40 range and be available about September.

Penfolds Yattarna 1996
This wine is "out of control" said Peter. People camp outside the Magill Estate winery in Adelaide just to get one bottle and the Magill restaurant sets up a sausage sizzle in order to feed breakfast to the hordes.

The wine has a wonderful aroma - nuts and alcohol scents waft around. In the mouth it is delicious - just the right body weight. There are nutty, leesy flavours with melon and figs and a pleasing glycerol mouth feel. It has seen 94% new French oak but it is just so wonderfully integrated and balanced that all you know about this is the toastiness on the finish. There's a pleasing persistence with a splash of honeyed sweetness. The wine has been handled with kid gloves - lees batonage treatment and cold room storage for the barrels.

Personally I prefer this wine over the 95A but with just 1000 cases made and the overwhelming interest I doubt if I will ever try it again. It will be available in New Zealand in June.

The Red Wines
[Overview] [The White Wines ] [ The Red Wines ] [Others]

Peter explained that as Penfold's red wine oenologist (that's the tehnical term for winemaker) it is his job to ensure that each red wine in the Penfolds line-up tastes distinctly different and he certainly has achieved this. It is a good thing that he does not have to ensure they all look different as so many of them are big, black, inky numbers. These notes are written in the order tasted.

Penfolds 'Old Vines' Grenache - Mouvedre - Shiraz 1996
This wine is all Barossa and all from the old bush vines - there's no trellising found in these vineyards. It is an attractive crimson red colour. The wine has only seen very old oak and emits vinous, perfumed, berry, floral scents. It's fruity in the palate with a creamy texture. There's spicy hints and flowers too, violets maybe. There's a lovely balance of sweetness and spice giving an interesting complexity of flavours. While fairly savoury there's a hint of chocolate appearing on the finish. It's warm, round, soft and very very approachable. It's the kind of wine to drink with a person who is not used to red wine, while seasoned red wine drinkers will enjoy this style as well. This wine is widely available and should not cost more than $25.00.

Penfolds Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz 1996
This wine is made from 100% Coonawarra shiraz and 1996 was a warm vintage for this cool climate area. Black and densely coloured. I found the aroma to be quite peppery with some underlying berry fruit. The first mouthful distinctly reminded me of ants and while this does not seem very complimentary I remembered that this term has been used to describe Penfolds wines before. So I checked up later and found examples of this term in descriptions of the 1955 Grange and the 1971 Grange.

There's peppery, berry flavours but the wine is very tight in structure right now. The dry tannins open up to some quite juicy fruit. A very elegant style with pepper spice dominant on the finish and quite gorgeous lingering berry flavours - redcurrant more than blackberry - and an emerging ripe fruit sweetness.

Peter Gago says this is the "most stylish Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz since 1991 and is the most approachable wine for the International Market". This can be attributed to the use of 100% French oak, of which 22% was new French oak. It's widely available now and retails between $18 and $22.

Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz 1996
While many favoured the 128, this is more my style. The colour is similar - dense and rich. Upfront American oak aromas make it a more obvious Australian red. In the palate there's medium weight and sweet, rounded, vanillin, blackberry fruit. It is voluptuous, lush and approachable. I love this wine - its soft tannins, ripe fruit, sweet vanillin oak, excellent concentration and lovely mouthfeel make it so complete for me The wine is made from 100% American oak - there's no new oak in this wine at all. Although Kalimna is on the label, the fruit comes from a selection of vineyards from around South Australia. It's widely available now and retails between $18 and $22.

Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz 1996
Having just recovered from the Bin 28 Kalimna, I was totally bowled over by this wine. Looking at the colour it is even more black and more dense, if that is possible. Tasting it I am lost for words. All I wrote is "This is just so stunning. Smooth and dollops of blackberry fruit but leaving a very elegant finish". I don't do scores and have not scored any of the other wines but this I wrote 99/100 it is just so outstanding. Believe me - try it. My wine of the week - the month - and maybe the year. Available but going fast. One shop I phoned had sold their 100 cases within 24 hours. Get it quick. Retailing anywhere from about $22 to $30.

Penfolds Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon 1996
The wine has a 5% shiraz component. There's sweet American oak, vanillin with an unusual minty, freshly baked biscuits aroma - characters from the barrel fermentation.

It is so different in the palate after the Shiraz wines. Very fine in texture. Juicy tannins and redcurrant fruit. Lovely mouth flavours with a licorice feel on the finish. This wine is very good, equivalent to the 1994 in stature and a pleasure after the disappointing 1995. Widely available and retailing for between $22 and $30, depending where you shop.

Penfolds St Henri Shiraz Cabernet 1996
The ratio of Shiraz to Cabernet Sauvignon is 86% to 14%. The aroma is quite closed after the previous few wines - vinous, if anything. The wine is creamy chocolate in the palate at first. There are quite dry (elegant) tannins, some peppery spice and nice jammy - or perhaps cooked or stewed - plummy/berry fruit. Subtle character and a lovely elegance on the finish. This wine is aged in huge oak vats that are 45 years old. I did not detect any oak influence in the wine at all. This wine is available now in good quantities. The price is anything from $40 to $50 depending on the retailer.

Peter Gago says there has been an incredible reaction to this wine, which usually starts to blossom at 10, 15 or 20 years of age. He has a collection of St Henri going back to the fifties - wines he bought when an impoverished student. The wine is good but the corks can be a problem. He says to buy the following if you see them - the 1962 half bottles, and the 1966, 1971 and 1976. Avoid the 1982. But not the 1974, which is stunning. If you have any of the 1971 or 1972 and it is "smelly" on opening, give it a good shake to "blow off" the vegetal, pongy aromas. If only ......

Penfolds Block 42 Kalimna Cabernet Sauvignon 1996
This is from a 'block' within the Kalimna vineyard which is on the north eastern side of the Barossa Valley. The Kalimna Vineyard was planted in about 1887 and this wine is from the original vines. Normally this fruit would go in the 707, but in exceptional years a single wine is made. This is one of those years.

The wine has oaky, vanillin aromas with blackberry and cassis fruit. Then in the palate, wow, it is so intensely flavoured - it is juicy, berry and plummy, balanced, complex, rich - everything you want in a Australian cabernet sauvignon is here - and more. I think this wine is just fan-tastic. Now there's a violet floral character appearing on the finish and it just lingers there with the vanillin oakiness re-appearing. What more can I say. There were 950 cases of this wine made and NZ gets 38 cases. Look for it around November.

Penfolds Barossa Shiraz 1997
This is new wine made from only Barossa Valley fruit. Although it is not due for release here until May 2000, we were given a sneak preview of this new shiraz - quite unlike any other shiraz that Penfolds produce. The aroma is fairly closed but there's faint pepper and barrel ferment biscuit-like aromas. The flavours slowly evolve in the palate (whereas all the other wines are fairly upfront). It is quite Rhone-like in its floral way and there's a tarry component there too, (I did not find any tar in any of the 1996 wines), as well as a lifted acidity.

Penfolds Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon 1996
Perfumed aroma. In the palate the wine is very closed and so tightly structured with dominant vanillin oak on the finish that you need a second mouthful before the intensity of the wine 'hits you'. The fruit is partially hidden at this early stage as it is dominated by the oak, but think 'cassis' and it appears quite rightfully now on the lingering finish. By the third mouthful I found lifted, vinous, floral and leesy characters with a flourish of tannins on the finish. This wine needs heaps of time and will probably last forever. Peter Gago says this wine is like the 1964, which is just "ethereal" 35 years into its life.

The 1996 Bin 707 will be released in June and should be widely available. The expected price, we are told, should be in the $85-$95 range in NZ, although it sells for $100 (Aus) at the cellar door in Nuriootpa.

Penfolds Bin 95 Grange 1994
Here we are -back to classic Grange. There's nothing shy or unapproachable about this wine. With incredibly ripe fruit the alcohol has been kept to 13.5% to ensure the balance, finesse and the qualities that Grange is known for. The wine has an 11% cabernet sauvignon component which is quite high for Grange, although not as high as in 1993.

At first the aroma is closed, later it is biscuity, then later still it's oaky and sawdusty with floral components and hints of violets. Later again it has closed up. The aromas seem to waft back and forth in waves.

It is very hard to describe this wine - it really is incomparable to anything we know - it has its own distinct flavour and character. It is so complex. Then the vanillin oak comes out on the finish. I discussed this incomparability with Peter Gago and he says we shouldn't have to dissect the wines to try and find comparisons. Hear, hear!

Last year's Grange (the 1993) was quite rich and blackberry and licorice. This Grange is so so elegant and refined, yet so soft, so rounded and so easy to drink. That is one of the hallmarks of a truly great wine. You should be able to enjoy it while a baby and recognise that it will still be just as enjoyable in 5, 10, 15 or 20 years time.

Savour it, Sue - you might not get the opportunity again. Although we have an allocation of 220 cases in NZ (including the 4 that were damaged in transit), most of the retailers I talked to are pre-booking this wine to sell to their 'loyal' customers. One retailer I know will be taking the names of all interested parties from his many loyal customers and the lucky new Grange owners will be those who get their names drawn out of the hat. That seems very fair.

The wine will be released in June and the price - anywhere between $225 and $300. It depends on the retailer.

Other wines being released into NZ, which I did not get the opportunity to try at this tasting, are the Rawson's Retreat 1997 - retailing for about $10.00, the ever reliable Koonunga Hill Shiraz Cabernet 1997 for under $15.00 and the Magill Estate single vineyard Shiraz 1996. The Rawson's and Koonunga are in commercial quantities and are widely available now

The Magill Estate, being released in June, will be very limited in quantity and will be available at only a few independent retail outlets, such as Scenic Cellars and Newmarket Wines and Spirits. If you know of any others, please let me know

[Overview] [The White Wines ] [ The Red Wines ] [Others] [The 1998 Releases ] [The 2000 Releases ]

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