What you might not already know about Penfolds: the experimental BIN wines, the corking clinic and the fascinating story about this enormous charming and innovative kangaroo
Read for you by Carlo Gardini (Cinellicolombini partner)
In Italy as yet there is little habit in drinking “foreign” wines except for Champagne of which we seem to be one of the main world markets, and this regardless our excellent Spumante.
This is how I discovered the wines of some of the most important Australian wineries during my holidays inMalta and then I continued drinking them back in Italy as I was made curious by their very different tastes and aromas compared to our productions.
A while ago we received from our importers and friends Caroline and Alan a wine from Penfolds as a present, without doubt one of the better known Australian wineries. Founded in 1844 by Christopher Rawson Penfold who bought his first 500 acresof good land in Magill, in Southern Australia. This is where Christopher Penfold begins planting a Vineyard using vines of French origin that he had taken with him, twenty years later his wife Mary take over, and runs it for a further 25 years practically until the end of the 1800… and in those days a winery run by a woman really was something extraordinary.
Penfolds has always been a winery open to new ideas and has played a fundamental role in the creations of a typical “style “ for its nation.
It produces in fact many types of quality wines some of which can be considered milestones in the Australian winemaking as they demonstrate that wines made in the new world can last in time…Grange, a blend of Shirazand Cabernet Sauvignon, is, without doubt, the primogenitor of this generation of new wine making.
It was born from an intuition by Max Schubert, a winemaker who, having started at the winery as a deliveryman, and soon passed on to the production. Endowed with great passion and curiosity, at the end of the 1040’s he travel a lot around Europe visiting the major wine regions among which Bordeaux where he had the possibility of tasting the most famous wines. Chateaux aged for 40 04 50 years. It was from that experience that he decided to produce an Australian wine able to last a long time.
Upon returning to Australia he fulfils his dream in 1951 producing for Penfolds a new type of wine called Grange Hermitage, with a great structure and a maximum extraction from the grapes, it was a wine destined to last in time.
The first vintage sold was the 1952 but a few years later, this wine was “demolished” by the critics and Penfolds decided not to continue the production….Max Schubert does not give up and secretly continues his experiments, hiding the vintages from 1952 to 1959 behind a wall in a secret corner of the winery.
Fortunately after a few years the Penfolds management and some critics tasted again the “new wine” which had an extraordinary success, so that in 1960 it began once again to be produced with the name “Grange” in so fulfilling Max Schubert dream and changing the philosophy in winemaking for Australian wines. With the passing of time, and thanks to collaborators and successor of its creator, Grange takes on the present day characteristics, enriched with fresher aromas, more richness and ripeness in fruit, better choices in wood. In 2013, the 2008 vintage produced by Peter Gago, the present head winemaker, obtained 100/100 both from Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate……Really a great success!!
But the innovative spirit is still today present in the work of the winemakers of this old but young and modern enterprise.
There are 45 types of wine made by Penfolds and they vary in quality and price, from around twenty dollars to the nearly 900 for the “Grange”; the grapes arrive from 220 different vineyards and producers but the owned vineyards are positioned in 5 different areas ( from Coonawarra to the Barossa Valley ) distant one from the other but always in the southern part of the new continent.
As already mentioned the favourite wines at Penfolds are the Cabernet Sauvignon’s and especially the Shiraz, that in the Australian soil seems to give a particularly sapid wine rich in aromas.
But lets go back to my last tasting…. It is amazing to drink in Italy a wine that cannot be found here. It is the blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz “Bin 389” vintage 2005 produced with grapes from the Barossa Valley. The word “Bin” means that it is an “experimental” blend while the number talks of the ageing room 389 in the Penfolds winery.
Every vintage of Bin 389 is different because of the origin of the grapes and the length of time the wine has aged in the barrel. In 2005 they used 52% of Cabernet and 48% ofShiraz, fermented in wood and aged 13 months in American 238,5 litre barriques of which 26% were new.
The Bin 389 vintage 2005 is still an intense ruby red, the aroma still recalls blackcurrants, liquorice and coffee with a beginning of leather. I the mouth it is still possible to taste bilberries and prunes, in harmony with the intense and ripe tannins, and the right amount of wood. This wine is also called “the small Grange” because it ages in the same barrels used for the Grange ( the Penfolds’ main wine ) from the previous
year. It was produced for the first time in 1960 and was absolutely fundamental to get the higher quality wines from Penfolds known.
One last thing, as a further example of the young and modern spirit of this winery I can quote the advertisement that I saw on the last edition Wine Spectator where they talk about another service from the Penfolds winery since 1991…the “corking clinics” so, the possibility, free of charge, for collectors to take their bottles that are more then 15 years old to be “visited” by the head of the estate winemakers Peter Gago and, if there be the need, have them uncorked, toped up and re corked certifying the operation…and this in many cities out of Australia