The World of Fine Wine
Penfolds Bins history and philosophy
The Penfolds Bin range began with the first experimental bottling of 1951 Bin 1 Grange Hermitage, a landmark wine that not only started a dynasty of Penfolds table wines but would also profoundly influenced fine wine making in Australia. The research and experimental work at Penfolds during the 1950s mirrored the secrecy and innovation surrounding the Space Race. The scientific discoveries of Dr Ray Beckwith and new winemaking techniques of Max Schubert were kept under strict wraps. As the Australian wine industry adjusted to a post war society and widespread consumer demand for table wines, Penfolds enjoyed a significant commercial edge. In addition to its remarkable properties around Adelaide, including the Grange and Auldana Vineyards at Magill, it had purchased the historic Kalimna Vineyard in 1943 on the western edge of the Barossa Valley, vineyards in the Hunter Valley and Coonawarra. It also owned several distribution channels including wine bars and wine stores. During the 1950s and 1960s Penfolds was a dominant force. With a ready-made market, the development of the Bin range was a natural progression after the experimental work and release of one-off bin releases, and commercial table wines during the 1950s. By the early 1960s Max Schubert saw the creation of a “dynasty of wines" which bore "an unmistakable resemblance and relationship to each other”. Bin 389, Bin 707, Bin 28 and Bin 128, first released during the 1960s, shared a common winemaking approach. Although sourced from different vineyards, the wines were all vinified in headed-down open fermenters and completed fermentation in oak. They also shared a similar approach to maturation where the wine was intermittently "racked and returned" to optimise exposure to air. The theory was that that it would "toughen up" the wine, improve its stability and longevity. The success of these wines would not have happened without the development of Grange, a recognisable Penfolds house style and a timely reputation for great drinking! The expanded bin range, built up over the last five decades, continues to lie at the forefront of Australia's fine wine narrative. Although there is a strong Penfolds stamp, the character of the season and the inherent quality of the vineyards shine through.
Penfolds Bin 51 Eden Valley Riesling, South Australia
Bin 51 Eden Valley Reserve Riesling, with its pristine fruit quality, natural energy and fine acid backbone, is a classic Eden Valley Riesling style with the structure and concentration to age for the medium to long term. The fruit is primarily sourced from the mature Woodbury and High Eden vineyards which were originally planted between 1960s and 1970s. These highly prized vineyards, 450 metres above sea level, are located in the Eden Valley, a sub-region of the Barossa. The relatively high altitude results in a cooler and longer growing season; the ideal conditions for preserving the natural perfume, delicacy of flavour and acid balance of aromatic grape varieties including riesling.
Eden Valley soils are derived from schistic and sedimentary rock. They are mostly red clay soils and sandy, silty loams interspersed with gravels. The vineyards are located on particularly lean soil structures. Winemakers have long valued the intense floral/ lime aromas and minerally complexity of Eden Valley Riesling. The wine is vinified in steel tanks and bottled early under screw cap to preserve the pristine fruit characters, freshness and natural mineral quality of the wine. Since 2002 Penfolds has bottled the wine under screw cap to preserve the pure fruit aromas, overall intensity and freshness on the palate. This form of closure is ideal for Riesling; "the wine matures in bottle more gracefully and offers compelling nuances of toast and lime while maintaining vibrancy and minerality.”
Bin 51 Eden Valley Riesling, previously bottled as Eden Valley Reserve Riesling, was added to the Bin Range in 2006. The white winemaking team, looking to optimise fruit quality, paid greater attention to micro-site specific nuances in the vineyards. At harvest the vineyards are triaged according to fruit profile resulting in wines which are "very floral with beautiful rose petal/ camomile aromas, impressive concentration and mouth watering natural acidity". There are nuances of lime – a regional characteristic. However this is a wine that has both power and delicacy reflecting the pure unadulterated perfume of Riesling and mineral smell and flavours of vineyard site. The wines are delicious to drink young or can be cellared for several years.
Penfolds Bin 311 Chardonnay, New South Wales
Penfolds Bin 311 Chardonnay is based on the best cool-climate fruit in New South Wales. The vineyards are located in some of the most elevated subregions of the State including Orange, in the central tablelands and Tumbarumba, on the southern slopes of the Snowy Mountains. These relatively new viticultural regions are showing extraordinary promise. In Tumbarumba, the first vineyards were developed for sparkling wine production. During the early 2000s, winemakers began to notice, during the ongoing development of icon wine Yattarna Chardonnay, that these maturing vineyards, planted on granitic soils, could yield consistently exquisite fruit, with superb aromatics, creamy flavours and natural acid balance. Some parcels from Tumbarumba were used in the blend to bring extra fruit complexity and minerality. Penfolds Bin 311 Chardonnay is an offshoot of Yattarna. Through the identification of new vineyards, improved vineyard management, experimental vinification, maturation and trial blending, the white winemaking team has developed a distinctive hallmark Penfolds style that evokes Max Schubert's “dynasty of wines (which) may differ in character from year to year, but all bear an unmistakable resemblance and relationship to each other." Although vineyard site is an important aspect of winemaking philosophy, winemakers will always "go where the fruit grows best and where it best suits style." Excited by the increasing sophistication and excellence of Yattarna, the development of Bin 311 was an obvious progression. In many respects it mirrors the release of Bin 389 after the longstanding research and experimentation of Grange. Winemaker Kym Schroeter says "Bin 311 Chardonnay has many similar characteristics to Yattarna. A cool-climate fruit profile, freshness, minerality and vinosity are a common thread."
Bin 311 Chardonnay is barrel fermented and then matured for around 11 months in seasoned French oak barriques, previously used for the maturation of Yattarna. Battonage, or lees stirring, is regularly carried out to build up overall palate richness and flavour complexity. Typically the wine has fragrant pearskin/ white peach/ nectarine aromas, underlying flinty notes, beautiful concentration, creamy textures and long fresh mineral acidity. Sealed under screw cap, to preserve freshness, this wine is delicious to drink now, or it can be cellared for a while.
Penfolds Bin 23 Adelaide Hills Pinot Noir, South Australia
Penfolds Bin 23 Adelaide Hills Pinot Noir is sourced from around twenty vineyards scattered around the elevated slopes of the Adelaide Hills. The Bin number is derived from maturation Cellar 23 at the historic Penfolds Magill Estate, where the wine is vinified. Peter Gago says "Bin 23 was developed after the success our cellar door only Cellar Reserve Pinot Noir. This second release wine epitomises the superb fruit definition of cool-climate Adelaide Hills Pinot Noir and the Penfolds style. After light crushing, the must is cold-soaked and batch-vinified in small open fermenters. The free-run wine is then racked into a combination of new (around 35%) and seasoned French oak barriques for around 10 months before bottling. No pressings are added to the wine to maintain a softer tannin structure. Some components finish fermentation in barrel to optimise blending options. The wine is a distinctive Penfolds style made for Penfolds drinkers who enjoy rich mouth filling wines with plenty of fruit generosity and flavour length. Typically it is saturated in colour, with dark cherry/ brambly/ cedar aromas, plenty of juicy fruit, richness, chocolaty tannins and underlying new oak.
Penfolds Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz, South Australia
The original release of 1962 Penfolds Bin 128 reflected the perceived view of the day that shiraz was a more reliable performer in Coonawarra. The wine has been made every year regardless of vintage conditions. While winemaking practice and philosophy is essentially no different to the first vintage releases. The fruit is sourced mostly from Penfolds extensive holdings of prime mature vineyards (over 100 hectares). The success of early vintages helped put Coonawarra on the map. During the 1960s and early 1970s the grapes were crushed with the aid of an old car engine in a tin shed; the wine pumps were operated with steam.
Over the last few decades Penfolds has invested heavily into reconfiguring its vineyards, initiating better canopy, block management and adopting new data gathering technologies. A gradual changeover from American to French oak between 1979 and 1983 has resulted in a compellingly consistent regional style wine. Vinification follows the traditional Penfolds winemaking philosophy. The wine is transferred into new and used French oak hogsheads to finish fermentation. The wine is matured in approximately 20% new, one and two years old tightly grained French oak for a period of about 12 months prior to bottling.
Maturation philosophy has evolved to optimise the pristine pastille-like fruit quality of Coonawarra Shiraz. Traditionally Penfolds ages its wine in barrel with bungs at the 12 O'Clock position. This allows air to slowly permeate through the bung hole and micro-oxygenate the wine. About 25% of Bin 128 is nowadays matured at the 3 O'Clock position to preserve the exuberance of adolescent Coonawarra Shiraz. When blended together the style is typically fresh with pure ripe red and black berry fruits/ spicy aromas, mature loose knit structure and underlying savoury French oak. In the old days this wine would have been called a "Claret-Style"; the gentle autumnal fruit aromas, cedary oak notes and fine-grained tannins are classic characteristics of this wine.
Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz, South Australia
2008 Bin 28 Shiraz, celebrating its 50th vintage release in 2011, is regarded as an Australian classic, valued for its integrity as a maturation-style fine wine and suitability as a fresh early drinking style for many different occasions.
Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz is one of the most enduring and popular of Penfolds Bin wines. It has universal appeal because of its intense fruit definition, ripe fleshy palate structure and generosity of flavour. The earliest releases were single-vineyard wines made from the renowned 19th Century Kalimna Vineyard acquired by Penfolds in 1945. A few years ago Penfolds unearthed bottles of the previously unrecorded 1959 vintage complete with Penfolds postage stamp type label. The existence of these bottles suggests that development of Penfolds bin wines started at around the same time when Max Schubert was asked to stop making Grange. It makes Bin 28 the earliest bin-range wine within Penfolds portfolio. The release of 2009 Bin 28 Shiraz celebrates the 50th anniversary of this important South Australian wine.
Senior winemaker John Bird, who joined Penfolds as a laboratory technical assistant in 1960, said "During the 1950s and early 1960s, Max Schubert was experimenting with all sorts of wines. He was like a painter mucking around with colours and compositions. Many of these early wines were drawn off primary ferments or out of barrel, lab-blended and aged in glass flagons. Sometimes he may have hand-bottled and labelled up only a few examples for friends or visiting dignitaries. The appearance of a bottle of 1959 Bin 28, shows that standardisation and control was still a long way off at Penfolds during that time. None of us knew that these early wines would have any historic relevance. Giving wines to friends, colleagues and visitors was a way of getting feedback or priming an emerging fine wine market. The people who kept the wines probably had no idea of how they would improve in value either!"
At the most recent "Rewards of Patience Tasting" in 2007, where Penfolds opens up it museum library of vintages to an international panel of wine writers, the 1959 was tasted for the very first time in decades. The note reads;
Brick red. Very evolved wine which fades quickly in the glass. It first showed delicate plum/ tangerine/ mocha/ mint aromas and flavours and lacy fine tannins but Amontillado characters developed in the glass. Thinning and tired but interesting curio all the same.
During the early 1960s Bin 28 quickly established a strong reputation as an “authentic Barossa type red” which would develop “additional character’ with further cellaring. At the same Rewards of Patience Tasting in 2007, the 1963, 1964 and 1967 vintages were still delicious to drink. Although it is now a multi-regional wine, a common thread still weaves through every vintage. Based on warm-climate fruit and a strict winemaking philosophy there is a family likeness that pervades across the five decades. It is regarded by collectors and wine drinkers alike as an Australian classic, valued for its integrity as a maturation-style fine wine and suitability as a fresh early drinking style for many different occasions.
The early Bin 28s were entirely single-vineyard Kalimna Shirazes. The Kalimna Vineyard is by European standards large. Within its boundaries lie several individual blocks – overlying various soil types - each carrying its own particular nuances of place. Many of the vinification techniques originated from the development of Grange including the use of open headed down fermenters and barrel fermentation. It is understood the very first vintages of Bin 28 were matured in a proportion of new oak. However the style has evolved where fruit complexity and natural tannin structure are essential elements. The wine is nowadays matured in one and two year old American and French oak barrels.
During the late 1970s Bin 28 Shiraz became a multi-district blend. The fruit is sourced from the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale (including independent growers), Clare Valley, Langhorne Creek and even as far as Padthaway. Penfolds adheres to a very strict level of fruit selection – and while Bin 28 has moved from a single vineyard wine to a multi-district blend, the overall winemaking philosophy remains the same. It is a show case for warm climate Shiraz and a lead-in to the Penfolds house style of winemaking.
During the 1980s the quality of pressing improved with the introduction of membrane presses. This has translated to better tannin structures, further improved by advances in tannin management during the 1990s. With so much good quality Shiraz grown in the Barossa and elsewhere, Penfolds has been able to increase the volume of production and improve the overall quality. This has been achieved through precision viticulture, thorough earmarking of grapes prior to vintage, analysis and tasting when the fruit comes into the winery and detailed classification of individual wine parcels after fermentation.
It is probably the most reliable and consistent of wines within its class. Hence Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz can be found in the swishiest restaurants in London, New York or Moscow to a dusty outback pub in the Northern Territory. The wine has received numerous awards at various international wine shows around the world including the International Wine Challenge in London. Peter Gago says “Bin 28 Shiraz provides momentum within the Penfolds portfolio. If we can keep making a wine at this quality and pricing, it means we must further add-value and something extra to our other bin wines”.
Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz has very clear ripe fruit definition, with plenty of fruit volume, ripe tannin structure and no new oak. It’s a richer style than Bin 128. The wine has a reputation for improving with medium term cellaring although it is an early drinking style. In exceptional vintages these wines can age for the long term. From the 2004 vintage, Bin 28 is sealed with a screw-cap in many markets. Penfolds believes this particular style, which relies so much on fruit complexity and freshness, will benefit greatly from this type of closure.
Penfolds Bin 138 Barossa Valley Grenache Mourvedre Shiraz, South Australia
Penfolds Bin 138 Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre is a traditional Barossa Valley blend based on old vine material going as far back as 1895. It was first released in response to an increasing international interest in regional wines and the resurgence in popularity of the Barossa. This generous and flavourful style has since become extremely popular for its heady perfume, seamless texture and gorgeous fruit definition. The musky fragrance, fruit generosity and seductive flavours of Grenache are central to the style. However these characters are tempered and balanced by the inky coloured, chocolaty smooth texture of Shiraz and the spicy top notes and savoury tannins of Mourvedre. Although Bin 138 is very much a fruit driven style, the ample tannin structures and overall richness will allow the wine to benefit from further aging. Many older vintages have softened in texture with earthy/ demi-glace/ paneforte nuances
Bin 138 fruit is sourced from low-yielding vineyards on the north western fringe of the Barossa Valley around Greenock, Kalimna, Moppa, Ebenezer, Marananga and Stonewell. The average age of vines is around 40 to 105 years old. This includes venerated dry grown low-yielding bush vine material. During the turn-of-the 20th century many of these older vineyards supplied fruit mainly for fortified wine production. At the time Australian society generally preferred these styles to dry red table wines. It was not until after World War Two that the mainstream market began switching to table wines. It is a combination of colonial vision and happenstance that Grenache, Shiraz and Mataro (as Mourvedre was then called) were planted in the Barossa. Some of the oldest genetic material, first sourced from the Rhone Valley by early settlers, is found in this region. It is Penfolds good fortune to have access to the Barossa's great inheritance. While Bin 138 is a modern wine, it is steeped in a unique and fascinating heritage.
Blended together Grenache Shiraz and Mourvedre can make a sublime wine with great personality and structure. Vinification takes place in open stainless steel fermenters followed by maturation for 15 months in seasoned American and French hogsheads. The various components are blended together just prior to bottling. This is because each variety ripens at different stages of vintage. Picking dates between the first batches of Shiraz and the last parcels of Mourvedre can be as much as two months. Vinification or blending cannot take place until all the components have individually completed fermentation and maturation!
Penfolds Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon South Australia
Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon, as its bin number suggests, is related in style to the rich and opulent Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine was developed in response to the increasing availability of high-quality cabernet sauvignon fruit and mounting pressure from the market for a versatile wine that could be enjoyed for immediate drinking or could develop well in the cellar. First produced in 1990, it is an important Penfolds house style wine based on rigorous selection of multi-regional fruit and the flexible use of French and American oak maturation. The fruit is primarily sourced from the Limestone Coast including Coonawarra, Robe and Bordertown. Selected parcels from the Clare Valley, Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale are sometimes used to achieve consistency. The overall wine making philosophy follows similar lines to Bin 389 down to the maturation of Bin 407 in second-use Bin 707 hogsheads. The wine is vinified in open stainless steel tanks with wax-lined wooden header boards; a traditional Penfolds technique. Some components are barrel fermented in new French and American oak to increase complexity and blending options. After fermentation the wine is matured for 12 months in a combination of new French (15%) and American (15%) oak; the remainder is aged in one and two year old French and American oak. Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon is a fresh elegant style with clear varietal blackcurrant/ cassis aromas, fine grained firm tannins and underlying cedary/ savoury oak. Further cellaring for around four to six years allows the wine to develop further richness, volume and bottle complexity. The best vintages have tremendous lasting power.
Penfolds Bin 150 Marananga Shiraz, Barossa Valley - South Australia
The inaugural release of 2008 Bin 150 Marananga Shiraz emphasises Penfolds longstanding link with the Barossa Valley. Since the 1940s the red winemaking team has drawn fruit from the region's north western fringe including Greenock, Kalimna and Marananga. Many of the Barossa Valley's oldest and famous vineyards are located in this area, including Penfolds historic Block 42 Vineyard at Kalimna. Bin 150 which takes its name from Barrel Stack 150 at Penfolds winery in Nuriootpa, derives principally from dry-grown and low yielding vines, planted on shallow sandy loams and red-brown soils. Winemaker Steve Leinert, says "the old timers really knew where to plant the best vineyards. The fruit quality from some of these blocks is about as a good as you can possibly get around here." Small berries, deep colour, intense aromas and juicy concentrated flavours are typical characteristics of Marananga Shiraz. In previous vintages this material was used to bolster up stablemates Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz, RWT Shiraz and sometimes Grange.
2008 Bin 150 Shiraz, is Penfolds first stand-alone Marananga Shiraz. The wine is made in the traditional Penfolds method. After vinification in headed down static stainless steel fermenters the wine completes fermentation in a combination of new (50%) and seasoned American and French oak hogsheads. The wine is then matured in the same barrels for around 18 months.
Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet-Shiraz, South Australia
Bin 389, named after its original “binning” compartment at Penfolds Magill cellars, was first produced in 1960. This classic, much-loved and beautifully consistent Australian style epitomises Penfolds winemaking philosophy and the benefits of cross varietal/ multi-regional blending. From the very start, Max Schubert favoured warm climate fruit as a source for Bin 389; reflecting his strong preference for richly concentrated “buoyant” fruit. The early vintages were made from vineyards around the Adelaide foothills including Magill, gradually and then almost entirely Barossa Valley fruit and over the last twenty years from distinguished vineyards around South Australia including the Barossa Valley, Coonawarra, Padthaway, McLaren Vale, Langhorne Creek, Clare Valley, Robe and Bordertown. While regional characters are intertwined, it is ultimately the personality and the structure of the fruit that really matters. Some components of the blend complete fermentation in barrel to enhance complexity, richness and integration of new oak. Bin 389 is matured in a combination of new (20-30%) and one and two year old (70-80%) American "ex Grange and Bin 707" hogsheads for 18 months. It has developed a strong identity for its consistency, reliability and value. With its generous ripe dark chocolate/ dark berry fruit profile, beautifully extracted flavours, fine grained tannins and underlying malt oak, Bin 389 is the quintessential Penfolds red wine with a great track record for cellaring. The wines can last and improve over 40 years. It is also affectionately known, in Australia, as "Poor Man's Grange". It is arguably the most popular wine on the Australian secondary wine market.
Andrew Caillard MW
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