PENFOLDS Bin 920 Cabernet Shiraz, Coonawarra
It is a tradition at Penfolds to experiment, research and develop new wines. The large number of mostly one-off, bin-numbered wines produced, beginning in the 1950s, is testament to a company diversifying away from its core business of fortified wines. In the 1960s, the primary aim was to make ‘show wines’, but the program also resulted in the development of current-day staples like Bin 707 and Bin 389 and, more recently, of Bin 407, RWT Shiraz and Yattarna Chardonnay.
In effect, the first two ‘Special Bin’ wines were the then-experimental 1951 Grange and the ‘control wine’ Max Schubert made alongside it so he could see what the wine would be like matured in a single, old 4500 litre cask rather than the new, 300 litre American oak barrels in which he put the ‘real’ Grange.That wine is now forgotten, but, said Schubert (in 1979): ‘It did... set the guidelines for the production and marketing of a whole range of special red wines which have been sought after, vintage by vintage, to this day’.
Schubert’s successors, the late Don Ditter, John Duval and Peter Gago, continued the tradition, making small-batch wines (1000 dozen or less) for comparison with existing styles, to try out something new in the way of varietal or regional combinations or simply to spotlight a brilliant parcel of fruit. Some may be forgotten in time, but others are considered among the greatest Australian wines of all time.
CoonawarraThe first vines were planted in Coonawarra by John Riddoch in 1890, however it was not until the renewed interest in table wine production in the 1950's that Coonawarra was brought into the limelight. Located almost 380 km southeast of Adelaide, Coonawarra is today one of the most famous red wine regions in Australia. Its weathered limestone terra rossa soils, avaibility of water and relatively cool maritime climate make it a unique viticultural region. Extremely flat and unprotected, Coonawarra is exposed both to the swinging influences of the cool Great Southern Ocean and hot, dry northerly winds. Spring frosts also pose a major threat with the potential to wipe out entire crops. Mechanical harvesting is widely employed in the region although smaller producers prefer to tend their vines by hand. Coonawarra is best known for classically-styled Cabernet Sauvignon, although in good years, Shiraz from the region is also very compelling.
Penfolds is probably the most extraordinary of the world’s wine brands with an enviable reputation for quality at every price level. The original Penfold was an English doctor who, in 1844, planted grapes at Magill, now a suburb of Adelaide. However, it was not until the late 1940s that Penfolds began to forge a reputation for red wine.
The Penfolds house style emerged from a fortified wine producing culture and evolved as a winemaking philosophy which has had a profound effect on the entire Australian wine industry. Many of the techniques initially adopted to make Penfolds Grange would become part of the wider Penfolds winemaking culture. The number of techniques employed in the research and development of Penfolds wines is astonishing. Max Schubert and his team pioneered: major advances in yeast technology and paper chromatography; the understanding and use of pH in controlling bacterial spoilage; the use of headed down/submerged cap fermentation and the technique of rack and return; cold fermentation practices; the use of American oak as a maturation vessel and perhaps most critically, partial barrel fermentation. Nowadays, the use of American oak and barrel fermentation for instance is considered traditional Barossa winemaking practice!
Today, Penfolds house style embraces the concept of multi-regional blending, optimum fruit quality, the use of fine-grained American or French oak, barrel fermentation and maturation. Overall, the Penfolds style is about highly-defined fruit aromas, fruit sweetness, ripe tannins, richness, power and concentration. The number of iconic wines that have emerged from the Penfolds stable over the years is remarkable. Bin 389 a Cabernet Shiraz blend released in 1960 is now considered the quintessential Australian wine blend. Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz and Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz released in 1962 pre-empted the contemporary enthusiasm for regional definition by about 25 years. Improved vineyard management, site selection and winemaking brought about subsequent releases of Bin 707 and Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon. The Penfolds Wine Making Philosophy is the accumulation of more than half-a-century of knowledge and winemaking practice initiated by Max Schubert and subsequently refined by Don Ditter, John Duval and Peter Gago. Their collective commitment to multi-regional and vineyard blending contributed to a consistency of style and quality that has cemented Penfolds reputation as the foremost producer of premium age-worthy red wines in Australia.