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Penfolds: a one in a million brand

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Vintage stuff: Penfolds winemaker Peter Gago. The firm has been named the most admired wine brand by Drinks International

It is estimated that there are about one million wine producers and, for 2019, Penfolds has been awarded the most admired wine brand by Drinks International.

This is no fly-by-night decision as the publication and their group of retailers, importers, wholesalers, bar managers, masters of wine, wine writers and wine educators teamed up with a worldwide wine market intelligence group to select the top 50 producers.

In May, Ewen Proctor, of Penfolds, paid us a visit to meet our staff, have a public wine tasting and a wine dinner.

During our staff training, it was not my intention to open the top wine that we carry from them, but after hearing that their 1971 vintage was awarded first place in an international wine tasting in Paris and also that it was the first Australian wine to be awarded 100/100, I could not resist pulling the cork on our Penfolds Bin 95 2014 Grange. Add to that a bottle of their very first Grange, the 1951, having recently shattered all records for an Australian wine by fetching $78,000.

It is rather lengthy, but let me share the winemaker’s description of the 2014 that our team tasted in wonderment. Please do take note of all the taste, aroma and bouquet that he identified, as the range is awesome.

“The original and most powerful expression of Penfolds multi-vineyard, multi-district blending philosophy, Grange is arguably Australia’s most celebrated wine and is officially listed as a ‘heritage icon’ of South Australia. Crafted utilising fully ripe, intensely flavoured and structured Shiraz grapes, the result is a unique Australian style that is now recognised as one of the most consistent of the world’s great wines. With an unbroken line of vintages from the experimental 1951, Grange clearly demonstrates the synergy between Shiraz and the soils and climates of South Australia.

“Deep, plush garnet colour throughout — from core to rim. Umami expressed primarily via wafts of shiitake mushroom stock, hoisin and XO sauce … enhancing scents of dry-aged beef and game meats. Olive leaf, cardamom, sage and thyme … ‘a stroll through a South Australian olive grove’ … saltbush, acacia, dried and dusty bracken. Fresh and familial lifted formic and barrel-ferment nuances. Quite simply, an unmistakable youthful ‘Grange’ nose.

“Awakened primary fruits and stylish oak interlocked and indistinguishable. As expected. On the palate, the wine is savoury, not fruity. Tastes/flavours remind of slow-cooked beef ragout, chicken liver, game terrine. Red liquorice also apparent. Integrated oak — spicy, almost ‘non-American’ oak … but it is. As it always is. A core of 100 per cent new Quercus alba. Poised yet powerful. A balanced, tightly knit and woven structural ‘tapestry’. Not to be constrained by dimension or frame. Tannins with attitude! Nonetheless respectful. Type? Slatey tannins … alluvial, silty (certainly not muddy!). Long and lingering — tactile impressions indistinguishably and slowly fuse/merge into an aftertaste memory. Until the next sip! A Grange to create new friends — this 2014 offering a subtly different structural mosaic; different tone and timbre. Blend: 98 per cent shiraz and 2 per cent cabernet sauvignon.”

I ask how does he identify formic, a compound secreted by ants for defence? Heavy stuff here and proof that wine represents so much of what “is” on our world.

Just in case you conclude that the winemaker may be over-flattering his own creation, I will give you one other opinion from Wine Spectator magazine: “At first glance, this is a purely indulgent wine with gobs of creamy, milk chocolate — laden maraschino cherry, raspberry framboise and Earl Grey tea aromas. Then wave after wave of elements start filling in, with toasted cumin, peppermint oil, Kalamata olive and white pepper notes combining into an almost overwhelming amount of details. Becomes indulgent again on the long, lush finish. 98/100. Drink now through 2035.”

For this type of wine I suggest that “mere mortals” certainly should experience it, but you may want to share a bottle among five friends that could contribute $182.08 each — a bottle that serves five proper glass pours costs $910.40.

Better still, if you bought a case that consists of three bottles (up to 15 friends) you will save $91.04 a bottle! Go for it and dare to be dumbfounded.

Here is Parker on our Penfolds Bin 798 RWT 2016 Shiraz: “The 2016 RWT Shiraz is Penfolds’s embodiment of Barossa Valley Shiraz. Aged in French oak (72 per cent new), it offers hints of vanilla and cedar but, more than anything, it showcases the region’s bold berry and plum fruit. Full-bodied and rich, verging on decadent, yet firmly structured and long on the finish, it’s a powerful yet elegant wine that is capable of being consumed young or ageing up to two decades. Having embarked on a career in the wine business right around the time the first RWT was released, it’s a treat to see how the latest version is showing. It’s a relative bargain among the Penfolds upper echelon. 97 points.” $198.90.

Altogether we list 14 red wines from Penfolds and they start with the very pleasant Koonunga Hill range, of which we have three as well as a chardonnay. These are all priced at $21.30. May I suggest that this chardonnay is certainly for those of you that “do not like chardonnay”.

I will finish with one more high-flyer that garners 94/100 from Wine & Spirits magazine and that we sell for $83.50.

As it is Penfolds St Henri 2008 Shiraz, it has reached a fully developed age. Here is their winemaker: “St Henri is rich and plush when young, gaining soft, earthy, mocha-like characters as it ages. It is matured in old, 1,460-litre vats that allow the wine to develop imparting minimal, if any, oak character. Although a small proportion of cabernet is sometimes used to improve structure, the focal point for St Henri remains shiraz.”

I was so impressed when I first tasted through the complete Penfolds range and I feel that I can best sum up by saying that they are truly international in their quality and charm.

This column is an advertorial for Burrows Lightbourn Ltd. E-mail mrobinson@bll.bm or 295-0176. Burrows Lightbourn has stores in Hamilton (Front Street East, 295-1554), Paget (Harbour Road, 236-0355) and St George (York Street, 297-0409). Visit wineonline.bm

Penfolds, one of Australia’s oldest wineries, has been awarded the most admired wine brand by Drinks International