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Penfolds dominates in Australia

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Fine finish: the Penfolds Magill Estate grange tour is an occasion to savour the results of generations of fine winemaking (Photograph supplied)

When we think of Australia, the fifth largest wine producing nation, there is one winery that dominates.

Penfolds has a stellar reputation; their top red must be among the ten most respected wines in the world.

The 2013 received 100/100 and the 2014, that we will shortly have, has been awarded 98/100.

A bottle of their very first vintage, the Penfolds 1951 Grange Hermitage, recently sold for A$78,000 (about $55,000).

It all started in 1844 when Dr Christopher Penfold and his wife, Mary, arrived in Australia with some vine clippings. His medical practice kept him very busy and so it was his wife that assumed most of the responsibility of running the winery; upon his death in 1870 she assumed total responsibility.

When she retired in 1884, her daughter took over the production of a third of all South Australia’s wines.

Let us skip forward to 1931 and Max Schubert’s determination to make his mark on Australia’s wine industry. He did whatever he could to get his foot in the door at Penfolds, joining the company as a messenger boy in 1931. By 1948, at the age of 33, he became Penfolds’ first chief winemaker.

In 1959 Max created a selection of “bin” wines that have become the distinguishing feature of Penfolds. We have only recently been appointed exclusive importers for the Penfolds range and have started with Bins 2, 28, 128, 389 and 407.

The bin number represents the batch identification and bears no relation to quality or price, as it refers to the area in the cellars where the wines were historically stored. As an example, Bin 128 is a single region Coonawarra shiraz and the 2015 can be yours for $39.70.

The WineFront, Australia’s online wine review site, rates it 93/100 and comments that “it exemplifies the perfume, transparency and seductive nature of cool-climate red table wines”.

Bin 389 is the second most cellared wine in Australia (behind Bin 95 Grange).

Our Bin 389 Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz 2015 received 98 points from Master of Wine Andrew Caillard who has this to say about the wine often referred to as “Baby Grange”: “Components of this bottling are matured in the same barrels that held the previous vintage of grange.

First made in 1960 by the legendary Max Schubert this was the wine that helped to forge Penfolds’ solid reputation with red wine drinkers, combining the structure of cabernet sauvignon with the richness of shiraz. Bin 389 also exemplifies the judicious balance of fruit and oak.” $81.90.

The 2015 vintages of Penfolds Max’s Shiraz and Penfolds Max’s Shiraz-Cabernet Sauvignon are new releases to honour the year when the late winemaker would have turned 100. They both sell for $32.

There will not be room to describe all their wine and so I will end with the 2016 vintage of Penfolds Koonunga Hill chardonnay, shiraz, shiraz-cabernet sauvignon and finally their cabernet sauvignon. They are all line-priced at $19.70.

The nose of the Koonunga Chardonnay beckons with honeydew melon and limy citrus with hints of white stone fruit. The palate is zingy and zesty with citrus fruit and almonds. It offers attractively clean fruitiness, a light creamy texture and some crisp acidity, enhanced by subtle spicy notes from partial oak ageing with some parcels remaining unoaked to maintain a fresh fruit feel.

The winery describes their Koonunga Cabernet Sauvignon as: “An immediate aromatic lift of equal parts fruit and spice. Sumac, blackberry, black bean sauce and plum. Blue-fruited generosity and a violet allure which is only just detectable.

“Playing within Penfolds boundaries, yet still abiding by Koonunga Hill rules ... approachable, vibrant and energetic. Graphite core, beetroot juice and macadamia complexity. Grainy tannins, Nori savoury character and brine. Quintessential 2016 plushness. A vintage that didn’t discriminate when offering generosity.”

Penfolds’ winemaker has this to say about their Koonunga Hill Shiraz: “Ruby red core colour with a crimson rim. The nose gives off inviting aromas of blackberry compote, dark chocolate and mocha. Mince tart complexity and sweet shortcrust pastry add spice/brioche notes to the aromatic spectrum.

“The shiraz vibrancy is overlaid with supportive oak and roasted meats. Penfolds character and ‘house style’ is immediately evident; characterised by mouth-filling dark fruits and fine tannins. Currants, chocolate custard and vanilla sponge adorn the palate, combining with notes of quince, praline and ground coffee.”

Critic James Suckling awards it 90/100 and says that its classic bold style and soft, mouth-filling fruits are a good value.

Finally, their Koonunga Hill Shiraz-Cabernet Sauvignon rates an excellent 92/100 from Suckling, who comments: “This delivers a convincing array of ripe red plums and some darker berries. There is a suave tannin frame, delivering plenty of flavour and depth. A very drinkable blend.”

This wine is 65 per cent shiraz.

There will be more at another time about other Penfolds wines and I leave you with the very honest comment that I am tremendously impressed with the whole portfolio.

Australia is most fortunate to have such a dedicated-to-quality winery with such wonderfully diverse offerings from a landmass much bigger than all of Europe.

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 dominates in Australia, the world's fifth largest wine producing nation