House of Style: Penfolds Winery - 2020 Collection
Penfolds makes brilliant wines every vintage—and the 2020 collection may be the cream of the crop.
Australia’s legendary Penfolds Winery released its 2020 collection this fall and, so far, it’s being heralded by critics as one of the best in recent years. If you take winemaker Peter Gago’s word for it, make that decades. “Of particular note are the charm and character of the core 2018 Penfolds Bins—as good as any released across the last half century,” he notes. “There’s not a weak link in the chain.” Bold words for bold wines but not unwarranted, given the winery’s 176 years of vintage history and its enduring reputation.
Penfolds maintains remarkable consistency and quality through the entire portfolio—from $16 Chardonnay to the flagship $1,000 Grange. The house style encompasses three tiers of wines representing three approaches: single vineyard, multi-vineyard regional blends, and blends of vineyards from multiple regions. Blending has been a hallmark of Penfolds style from the beginning and is even more practical today as climate change makes grape farming so unpredictable. “In a warmer year, we go south, to Coonawarra, Wrattonbully, Padthaway and Robe. In a cooler year, we go north, to Clare Valley, Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale. Before global warming was a concept, we were already doing these things,” Gago says. The house style is always achieved, come hell or hellish weather.—DICK SNYDER
THE WINEMAKER DESCRIBES SOME OF THE NEW RELEASES + TASTING NOTES BY C100B
Penfolds Bin 311 Chardonnay 2019 $50
GAGO: We deliberately did not use any oak in the early days, because if there was any template for the style, I’d say we were looking to Chablis. To set it apart from our other Chardonnays in our portfolio, we decided to source grapes from one ultra-cool climate region. But now, in the interest of risk mitigation, we’re sourcing from several regions—but these areas are so marginal they’re almost too risky. While the style of the 311 hasn’t changed, we’ve brought in some more vineyard sources and just a little new oak [about 35 per cent], with eight months in French barriques. This has some of the same grapes that go into our flagship Chardonnay, so it’s like a mini Yattarna.
TASTING NOTE: Citrus with lime cream and peach, margarita, subtle Thai basil, a hint of vanilla and honey- suckle. Bright attack, supple middle, long fruity finish. Layered, concentrated and elegant, and just 13 per cent alcohol. A more delicious Chardonnay at this price is hard to imagine. 93 points
Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz 2018 $50
GAGO: Bin 28 goes back to 1959 uninterrupted and the house style has not changed. It’s not a formula but a stylistic choice. It always sees French oak, never new, and it’s always a cool climate style. It’s a larger wine, a warming wine, and it really brings something to the table. The vineyards that go into this blend—from Barossa, Padthaway, Mount Lofty Ranges, Adelaide Hills and others—are all special, but the synergistic character of the blend over-delivers. That’s what we like to think…otherwise, we’d just make separate wines.
TASTING NOTE: Seductive, powerful aromas of plum, blueberry, cake spice and cocoa, with soft leather, white pepper and pork fat. The oak is fully integrated, the attack focused and the palate generous, with dark fruit, sweet spice and pepper, and a cola finish. This is Shiraz at its absolute best. Decant, or hold for 10+ years. 95 points
Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz 2018 $150
GAGO: This wine goes back 60 years and the house style has never changed. It’s always Cabernet-dominant, it’s always matured in American oak, and it’s always a blend. It’s the baby Grange—in fact, along with Grange, it’s one of the top cellared red wines in Australia. This is 57-per-cent Cabernet Sauvignon and 43-per-cent Shiraz, aged in American hogsheads, with 38-per-cent new.
TASTING NOTE: A forceful presence, with 14.5-per-cent alcohol, yet a deliciously snappy entry. Black cherry, blackberry jam, cherry cough syrup, sweet spice and dried herbs. Intense, savoury, concentrated and complex,
it reveals more of itself with every sip. Supple, with grippy tannins and a long delicious finish. 96 points