I’m quite certain the ‘Old World’ doesn’t have a monopoly on making “serious” wine.” It is inevitable that wine critics and enthusiasts will take wine aging reputation or potential more seriously. The beaten track of Grand Cru type Bordeaux, Burgundy and Rhone wines is so worn that it has become a long rut jammed with traffic and spiralling prices. The sensational auction prices in Hong Kong for Chateau Lafite Rothschild and Domaine de la Romanee Conti etcetera regularly capture media headlines. A growing "South Sea Bubble" has emerged where buyers believe that younger Grand Cru type wines will generate untold investment opportunity. I don't think any winemaker would ever wish his wines to be enjoyed solely as a financial trophy. The idea of cellaring is to enjoy wine's intrinsic aging potential. Financial gain surely should be incidental?
Australia has a wealth of proven “collectible” wines including Cullen’s, Henschke, Moss Wood, Mount Mary, Rockford, Seppelt, Wynn’s and of course Penfolds. There are many others. Australian wine collectors and enlightened wine enthusiasts have enjoyed an extraordinary array of great aged Australian wines for decades. I am not the only one convinced that Australia is able to make wine of equal stature to some of the great growths and fabled vintages of Europe. Further, if you choose wisely there are many wines that offer a great amount of pleasure and cellaring potential for a modest outlay.
Every five years we publish Penfolds Rewards of Patience, a cellaring guide to Penfolds Wines. We invite a group of eminent wine critics from around the world to taste and review our museum collection of back vintages spanning over 60 years. The presence of fresh old vintages of Grange, St Henri, RWT, Bin 707, Bin 389, Bin 28 and Koonunga Hill Shiraz Cabernet going back decades illustrates a compelling and undeniable track record of cellaring performance.
Dr Neil Beckett’s description of the rare 1956 St Henri perhaps illustrates the satisfaction of a mature Penfolds red; “1956 had a lovely old nose with vibrant cedar composure. The palate was refined and supple with saturated flavours and cashmere softness to the tannins; beautiful integrating flavours; no bitterness; no toughness and a gentle crescendo at the finish”.
The lasting power of our red wines has never been a surprise to those people in the know! Penfolds red winemaking philosophy has always been about making wine that can mature gracefully in the cellar. The very title of the Rewards of Patience book, now approaching its seventh edition, clearly suggests this intent!
The overall consensus among wine critics is that Penfolds Grange evolves unhurriedly to maturity. When 1990 Grange was still a teenager it was described by wine writer James Halliday as "unexpectedly powerful and youthful with deep, rich blackberry, plum fruit, a touch of sous-bois and firm tannins. The components are completely balanced. The wine is undoubtedly in the process of changing from young to mature; a process that will take years.” Although the wines can be greatly enjoyed in their youth, Grange reaches its prime between 25 and 50 years, depending on the vintage.
Penfolds St Henri also has great aging potential. This multi-regional Shiraz cuvee, first developed by John Davoren during the 1950s, is matured in very large 50+ year old vats. This wine was first released at the same price as Max Schubert’s opulent Grange. The elegantly proportioned and sophisticated St Henri has a remarkable reputation for longevity. The track record is there; mature bottlings from the 1960s and 1970s are highly sought after by collectors. Our most recent St Henri vintages will cellar for decades.
Australia has great vineyard sites, and a vast array of ancient soils and microclimates. The experimental 1953 Penfolds Grange Cabernet Sauvignon, sourced from our legendary 19th Century Kalimna Block 42 Vineyard still delivers varietal notes and evocation of place after more than half a century in bottle. There’s simply no reason to suggest why it cannot continue to cellar for decades to come! Another wine, a personal favourite, the 1962 Penfolds Bin 60A Coonawarra Cabernet Kalimna Shiraz continues to command attention as one of the greatest Australian wines ever produced The 1976 Koonunga Hill Shiraz Cabernet, however, amply shows that cellaring wine is not necessarily the pursuit of the wealthy. Released at $2 a bottle it has developed into a magnificent mature wine.
Since 1991 Penfolds has recorked over 100,000 bottles of red wine (15 years or older) around the world. Our winemakers frequently and successfully assess 20, 30, 40 & 50-year old reds. Many of these wines are serenely plateauing and aging gracefully. Surely this is a testament to the cellaring potential of the red wines of Terra Australis and Penfolds in particular?
Chief Winemaker Peter Gago