Roll out the red carpet

Jeni Port
Red alert: Penfolds chief winemaker Peter Gago calls 389 '<i>the</i> bin wine of Penfolds'.
Red alert: Penfolds chief winemaker Peter Gago calls 389 'the bin wine of Penfolds'. 

Let's start with Grange. While it is always the last wine poured at the annual Penfolds "Icon and Luxury Collection", it's the first wine everyone wants to talk about.

And let's stick with the words, which say so much more than a score out of 100 ever can. "It [the new-release Grange 2009] reminds me a bit of the '77 Grange when it was around the same age," suggested long-time Penfolds winemaker John Bird at this year's tasting at Penfolds, Magill.

It's a sweet thought, even though so few of us got to see the '77 as a toddler. "While this wine may not be the heaviest Grange we've ever seen," he concluded, "it's still too early to drink."

Grange 2009 ($785) is indeed not a heavy wine - at least, not for Grange.

It builds quietly, with an undercurrent of powerful fruit in waiting for a long turn in the bottle - black and red berries, chocolate, licorice, cloves, cinnamon, cola, fruit cake and baked earth. Oak is yet to fully interplay with fruit, tannins are bright. Here we see a classic Grange on the finer side.

Vintage 2009 was warm-to-hot and yields were on the low side, which explains the great concentration in fruit.

And yes, it's way too young. Penfolds suggests peak drinking starts in 2016. Can't see it. Maybe 2020. The drinking arc, according to Penfolds, stretches way out to 2050, which will be fine and dandy for some.

But the latest Bin Series (released March 6) and Icon and Luxury Collection (to be released May 1) red wines are about more than Grange. Or they should be.

There are some disappointments among them and, yes, some of them come from the 2011 vintage. It was, to use the word most voiced by winemakers, a "challenging" year.


Hence, 2011 Bin 407 cabernet sauvignon seemed to respond to the season a little on the thin side, especially to finish, while the screeching acidity and herbal-ness of 2011 Magill Estate shiraz is a world away from the violets and florals sometimes associated with Magill.

There will be no 2011 wines released under Bin 707 or Bin 169, both cabernets.


Bin 389 cabernet shiraz is, as always, the go-to wine. Penfolds winemaker Peter Gago calls 389 "the bin wine of Penfolds. I have a bias." It is shared. It's not the American oak barrels used in the previous vintage of Grange (hence, "the poor man's Grange" moniker) that provides 2011 ($80) its classic style so much as the seamlessness of fruit and oak, tannin, acidity and balance.

St Henri shiraz is another stalwart that rarely fails to impress.

The 2010 ($95) is old-school winemaking. Slipping into it feels like a comfy shoe - gentle and warm - with its earth and berry, dust and dried spice characteristics.

Marananga Bin 150 Barossa shiraz is one of the real delights of the 2011 vintage - youthful and taut, vibrant in spice and fruit, but the oak is still way too evident. Give it time.

What a pity little fruit from the famous Kalimna vineyard finds its way into the Kalimna Bin 28 shiraz. Fruit from McLaren Vale, Barossa and Adelaide now dictate what is referred to as the Kalimna style. Generous with a sweet cocoa, licorice allsort centre, the 2011 ($80) boasts expressive savoury notes that lift the wine.

The 2012 Bin 128 Coonawarra shiraz ($40) has the Penfolds oak stamp (one of the most sophisticated and tell-tale wine signatures going) and can be approached right now.

Equally accessible is 2012 Bin 8 cabernet shiraz ($45), with red fruits galore and something the winemaker calls "compliant tannins". They are exceedingly accommodating, at that.

The Bin red series just keeps growing. Newcomer Bin 9 2012 cabernet ($30) offers lots of sweet, ripe cabernet fruit defining the wine, and little else.

But what a little sweetheart we have in Bin 2 shiraz mourvedre - a soft, medium-bodied, delicious wine, with old oak rounding and rolling away the hard edges and elevating its meaty, licorice block/confection, spicy flavours in a Cotes du Rhone kind of way.

A nice way to finish.