Penfolds “Luxury and Icon” history and philosophy
"Quite simply, there is no other Australian red wine maker which can come close to the contribution of Penfolds and its wines. Grange and the Special Bins have been recognised in all corners of the globe as wines of supreme quality, variously listed as wines you must drink before you die, or in the top 10 of the decade, the top 10 of the year and so on and so forth." James Halliday AM, doyen of Australian wine writers, Penfolds "The Rewards of Patience", Allen & Unwin, Sydney 2008
The Penfolds Luxury and Icon range articulates an authentic voice of fine Australian wine and celebrates the strength of Penfolds wine making culture and heritage. The drama surrounding the development of Grange Hermitage during the 1950s, not only lead to an emerging portfolio of famous wines, but also a way of thinking that would permeate the entire Australian wine industry. In the beginning, the ideas and innovations of chief winemaker Max Schubert and his team, were "kept under strict wraps". The evolution of Penfolds House Wine Style was the result of extraordinary imagination, intelligent use of limited post-war resources and exceptional teamwork. This included groundbreaking science that would irrevocably alter the course of modern winemaking practice. Penfolds signature vinification techniques established a definitive red wine style that was prized for both drinkability and longevity including; the use of headed-down open fermenters, previously used for fortified wine production; completion of fermentation in oak hogsheads (300 litres barrels), and regular "rack and returns" during maturation, to expose the wine to air. During the late 1980s, Penfolds winemaking team began its "White Grange" project resulting in the release of 1995 Penfolds Yattarna Chardonnay. Research and experimentation, trial and error, and longstanding experience underpin every wine released under the Penfolds label. Vineyard sourcing has always been "to go to where the fruit grows best". Winemaking philosophy works on the premise that "the wine always comes first." These two ideas form the basis of Penfolds reputation for consistency, reliability and longevity. Penfolds Bin 95 Grange Shiraz and Penfolds Yattarna Chardonnay epitomise a culture established by Max Schubert where winemakers are encouraged to use their own convictions, imagination and inquisitiveness to "gain something extra, different and unique in the world."
Bin 707, RWT, Magill Estate and St Henri are inextricably intertwined with the development of Grange, and Penfolds reputation as a collectable. Each wine is an instantly recognisable style yet steeped in an enduring and collaborative winemaking philosophy. The Reserve Bin A Chardonnay and Reserve Bin Riesling are also distinctive and seductive styles that offer the very best of regional origin.
Peter Gago says "Our icon and luxury wines offer the very best of the Penfolds experience. The overall detail in these wines is exceptional. Winemaking at this level involves relentless thought, refinement and selection. It is a privilege to be involved in such beautiful, powerfully evocative and expressive wines."
Penfolds Bin 95 Grange Shiraz, South Australia
Penfolds Grange is Australia's preeminent first growth. Rated "Exceptional" it heads up Langton's Classification of Australian Wine, the internationally recognised benchmark of Australia's leading fine wines. It has won a swag of international awards in recognition of its prestigious history, inimitable character and enduring excellence. The ideas and practices developed by Max Schubert and his team, would irrevocably change the landscape of Australian wine. Emerging from a fortified wine culture, the Penfolds House Style combined traditional winemaking practices with innovative methods of vinification and maturation. Over sixty years on, the "Penfolds method" has become a widespread Australian winemaking technique. For Australians, Penfolds Grange is more than just a wine. It represents an Australian aesthetic of “beauty, rich and rare”.
1951 Penfolds Grange Hermitage, the first vintage, was based on the 19th century “Grange Vineyard’ (established in 1844) and Morphett Vale fruit. Both of these vineyards have since succumbed to Adelaide’s urban development. What remains of the old Grange vineyard, a mere 5.24 hectares, is now known as Magill Estate. Occasionally a small proportion of Magill Shiraz is included in contemporary vintages; 1% is included in the 2006 Grange.
Nowadays Grange comprises a significant proportion of Barossa Shiraz, particularly from the Kalimna Vineyard, purchased by Penfolds in 1945. This vineyard has contributed fruit contiguously (except for 1957) since 1953. The wine, however, is invariably a multi-vineyard, multi-regional blend based on a warm climate shiraz fruit profile; dark chocolate/ dark berry aromas, buoyant fruit and ripe dense tannins. McLaren Vale and Magill Estate contribute the balance of Shiraz; a small proportion of Coonawarra, Padthaway, Robe and Bordertown Cabernet Sauvignon may also be included; the percentages and source material are dependent on vintage conditions.
Penfolds Grange is a very perfumed, concentrated wine which combines the intensely rich fruit and ripe tannins of Shiraz with the fragrance and complementary nuances of new, fine-grained American oak. Partial barrel fermentation takes place at the tail-end of primary fermentation. It weaves the two elements together producing a ‘meaty’ complexity and roundness of flavours on the palate. A portion of Cabernet Sauvignon is used in some years to enhance the aromatics and palate structure. After vinification the wine is matured in new American oak hogsheads for a period of around 20 months. The best vintages have a lasting quality of over fifty years.
Penfolds Bin 144 Yattarna Chardonnay, South Australia
The release of Penfolds Bin 144 Yattarna Chardonnay marked a new chapter in the Penfolds story. The inaugural 1995 vintage was the most talked-about and eagerly anticipated white wine in Australian history. At the presentation of the Tucker-Seabrook Perpetual Trophy at the 1997 Royal Sydney Wine Show, the Chairman of Judges the Late Len Evans described the wine as “a revelation” and “a step forward for Australian Chardonnay”.
Yattarna derives from an indigenous word meaning “little by little or gradually”. This utterly unmistakable Australian name – which evokes organic momentum and vintage-by-vintage effort - captures the essence and culture of Penfolds wine making philosophy. The aim was "to create a style which shows restraint and fineness of structure when released at three years of age, and will continue to develop richness and greater complexity as it ages in bottle..”
With an incredible portfolio of vineyard resources around Australia, Penfolds gradually – through trial and error - identified suitable places where the best fruit could be grown. The Adelaide Hills district was an obvious starting point. This historic wine growing region of the mid-to-late 1800s had slumped out of fashion by the early 1920s, but by the 1990s the Adelaide Hills had re-established its name as one of Australia's premier Chardonnay districts. The desire to make something singularly exquisite and lasting took winemakers along the underbelly of the South Eastern Australian mainland and across the Bass Strait into the island state of Tasmania. Tumbarumba, Henty, Adelaide Hills, Fleurieu and the Derwent River Valley have all played a role in the evolution of style. The wine is ultimately about respecting the character of individual sites where each component plays an essential part in the final blend. “Minerality, texture, layering and longevity” are the key characteristics of Yattarna Chardonnay.
Apple/white peach flavour profiles and natural mineral acidities are sought by the winemaking team. Whole bunch pressing, barrel fermentation including use of wild yeasts, malo-lactic fermentation and yeast stirring (battonage) are important elements. Although the first Yattarna vintages saw 100% new oak maturation, the style has since been fine-tuned by varying the proportion of new oak. The oak regime is entirely dependent on the character of each vintage. Nowadays it can comprise anything from 0% to 50% new oak.
Penfolds Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon, South Australia
Bin 707 is regarded as one of Australia’s most important cabernets; a distinct Penfolds house style and a foil to the great regional cabernets of Coonawarra and Margaret River. The winemaking approach and maturation philosophy are identical to Penfolds Bin 95 Grange. When Max Schubert returned to Australia from his extensive tour of Europe in 1949, his thoughts were never far from Cabernet Sauvignon, the indigenous and widely-planted variety of the Medoc. He had visited many of the great Chateaux of Bordeaux and had been very impressed by the wines. On returning to Australia, he initially experimented with cabernet sauvignon from the Kalimna Vineyard, acquired by Penfolds in 1945, and comprising some of the world’s oldest surviving genetic cabernet sauvignon; Block 42 was planted around 1888. These original direct producing cabernet sauvignon vines, which are still going strong, have been isolated from the ravages of the vine pest phylloxera which destroyed many great European vineyards during the 1890s.
1964 Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon was Penfolds first commercial release of a single cabernet-based wine. However the problem with inconsistent supply forced Schubert to stop making the wine after the 1969 vintage. These difficulties were largely overcome following the acquisition of new vineyards and access to independently grown fruit. The release of the 1976 Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon marked a new lease of life.
Contemporary vintages of Bin 707 represent the Penfolds house red wine style at its most rich and powerful. The cabernet fruit is largely drawn from South Australian vineyards in Coonawarra, Padthaway, Barossa Valley (including the famed Block 42 vineyard) and increasingly from Bordertown. Everything about Bin 707 is large scale. Winemakers seek fully ripe fruit with strong flavours derived from partial barrel fermentation and maturation in new American oak hogsheads for a period of 18 months. This explanation of style shows why Penfolds will not make Bin 707 in difficult or more elegant years where the fruit profile is underpowered, sinewy or out of character. It was not made in 1981, 1995, 2000 or 2003!
Penfolds Bin 707Cabernet Sauvignon is an immensely concentrated style with dark berry/dark chocolate fruit balanced by well-seasoned new oak, plenty of fruit sweetness and strong, but not overwhelming tannins. This is a medium to long-term cellaring style of wine. If you can wait the distance, Bin 707 builds up into a wonderfully complex and interesting wine.
Penfolds St. Henri Shiraz, South Australia
Penfolds St Henri is one of Australia’s greatest red wines with a compelling history and heritage. The wine, first made in 1953, is often seen as a foil to Grange. The 'claret' style was developed by winemaker John Davoren (1915-1991) at the now defunct Auldana Cellars and Vineyards, purchased by Penfolds in 1943. The label is based on an original 19th century design. Occasionally turn-of-the-century Auldana Cellars St Henri appear at auction. In the 1950s and early 1960s Penfolds St Henri achieved greater commercial success than Grange. The Auldana Vineyards, however, ceased production in 1975 because of urban pressure. Nowadays St Henri is a multi-district blend drawing shiraz from the Barossa Valley, Eden Valley, McLaren Vale, Clare Valley and Langhorne Creek. The Adelaide foothills, once a primary source, is now making significant contributions to the blend.
A smaller proportion of cabernet sauvignon is sourced from the Barossa Valley, Coonawarra and Bordertown. Every parcel is batch-fermented in headed down stainless steel tanks at Nuriootpa and open fermenters at Magill. Each component is classified according to fruit profile and structure. The young wines which make “the cut” are matured for between 15 and 18 months in large 1460 litre old oak casks. Over this period, the fruit builds up further complexity and richness while the tannins soften and develop. St Henri has a lacy firm grained palate texture that distinguishes it from other Penfolds Shirazes. With age these wines further develop gaining more complexity, generosity, velvety texture and weight. The best vintages will evolve for up to 30 years and sometimes even further. Penfolds St Henri, a shiraz dominant - sometimes 100% shiraz wine, is based on fruit definition and flavour, but the absence of new oak – so prevalent in contemporary Australian fine wine – sets it apart.
Penfolds RWT Shiraz Barossa South Australia
Penfolds RWT Barossa Shiraz, first vintaged in 1997, was released after several years of Red Winemaking Trials. The two disciplines of viticulture and winemaking are increasingly intertwined as growers and winemakers work together in search of optimum balance, ripeness and flavour development. Identification of the best vineyard sites around the Barossa Valley, securing a regular supply of independently grown fruit and establishing a classic winemaking thumbprint were key elements to the evolution of RWT Shiraz. The perfumed, richly textured and seductive fruit is drawn from several mature (20 to 100 year old) vineyards located in a broad arc across the west and north-west Barossa Valley around Kalimna, Moppa and Ebenezer. Other vineyards are located in the central west district around Stonewell, Marananga and Seppeltsfield.
Following the Penfolds tradition RWT Shiraz is batch-vinified in headed down open stainless steel fermenters and then racked into new tightly grained French oak to complete fermentation. The wine is matured in new and seasoned French oak, with periodic "rack and returns", for around 12 to 15 months before bottling. The overall winemaking is identical to Grange. It differs because of its regional identity and maturation in French oak. RWT Barossa Shiraz is an opulent powerful wine with sumptuous fruit sweetness, underlying spice/ savoury nuances and chocolaty tannins. Although beautiful to drink when relatively young, these wines are built for the long haul. The best vintages should last for half-a-century.
Penfolds Magill Estate Shiraz, Adelaide South Australia
Magill Estate is an elegant, modern, classic, single-vineyard wine based on a historic vineyard first planted in 1844 by Dr Christopher Rawson Penfold. The historic 5.2 hectare Penfolds Magill Estate “monopole” is one of the few single vineyards in the world located within city boundaries. At its peak in 1949 the vineyard – planted to several different grape varieties – on rich chocolaty red-brown soils - covered 120 hectares of gentle north west facing slopes. Regarded as one of the choicest sites in colonial South Australia it has gradually diminished to 5.24 hectares because of urban development. Its legacy as the “Grange Vineyard”, ensures its place in Australian wine history. The mostly dry-grown vineyard is planted on fertile red-brown earth over limestone.
It comprises three blocks replanted in 1951, 1967 and 1985. All of the vines are planted on their own roots. None of the original Magill vines used for the production of the early Granges survive. The first Magill Estate vintages (1983-1989) represent a work in progress rather than a clear vineyard style. Penfolds Magill Estate is batch-vinified in open wax-lined concrete tanks. Fermentation is completed, and then the wine matured in a combination of 2/3rd new French and 1/3rd new American oak for a period of around 12-15 months. Post 1990, These are lovely medium bodied perfumed wines, “soft of nature, yet structured and substantial”. Contemporary vintages, distinctly different to the mainstream Penfolds style, show intense floral/ blackberry/ aniseed aromas, smooth richness and a "long spine without being overtly firm."
Penfolds Reserve Bin A Series Chardonnay, Adelaide Hills - South Australia
The Reserve Bin A Series Chardonnay has established a strong following since it was first released in 1994. It is a fresh, minerally style that lies at the vanguard of the Chardonnay genre in Australia. With its distinctive flinty aromatics, creamy flavours and long crisp acidity, it perfectly articulates the fruit complexity and mouth-watering energy of cool-climate Adelaide Hills fruit. The origins of Reserve Bin A Chardonnay are inextricably linked with the development of Penfolds ultra-cuvee Bin 144 Yattarna Chardonnay. During the late 1980s the winemaking team were asked to trial and develop a white wine making philosophy that would mirror the success of Penfolds red wines in the mainstream markets.
The first trials were based on three main varietals; Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. At a very early stage it was believed that the wine should be a relatively taught and linear wine with plenty of aging potential. Cool climate Chardonnay was seen as the best variety as it has beautiful perfume and pristine fruit when young, yet can develop richness and complexity with age. Much of the project focussed on the Adelaide Hills and Tumbarumba – a relatively new cool climate wine region in New South Wales. Initially it was thought that a component of Tumbarumba Sauvignon Blanc fruit would add lift and freshness to the wine. Early indications from the wine show circuit showed that this was possibly “the way to go” as the 1994 vintage attracted plenty of plaudits in its early career. The wine developed too quickly and before too long it was realised that the Reserve Bin A style was best developed as a 100% Adelaide Hills Chardonnay.
Penfolds Reserve Bin A is sourced from up to 80 vineyards mostly located around Birdwood, Balhannah, Morialta and Gumeracha - a long stretch of varied cool micro-climates along higher elevations of the Adelaide Hills. The wine centres specifically on ten key vineyards all owned by loyal independent growers. Yields are kept low at around three to four tonnes per hectare to maximize flavour development and balance. The wine is only made in years with ideal growing conditions.
Andrew Caillard MW
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