Penfolds Shiraz Masterclass

Penfolds 20150228 glasses top viewAt the end of February, The Wine Advocate, the wine magazine of Robert Parker, invited to their own wine event in London, called ”Matter of Taste”. It consisted of a sizeable walkaround tasting, in principle featuring only “RP 90+” wines, and a number of Masterclasses. I participated in two of these: Roederer Cristal and Penfolds Shiraz.

Penfolds 20150228 Samuel Stephens

We were guided through the tasting by Samuel Stephens, Penfolds’ Europan brand ambassador.

The Penfolds tasting was arranged in a quite instructive way: for high-end Shiraz wines in different styles in two vintages,  2010 and 1998. These two vintages are said to be rather similar, so the difference between the two mainly show what happens to the wines with cellaring. Or “The Rewards of Patience” as Penfolds usually calls it when they choose names for their tastings featuring older vintages. It is also the title of a book with information on their wines in different vintages. The 7th edition was handed out at the tasting, and it includes tasting notes for all the range up until the 2010 vintage, and for some wines (mostly whites) in the 2011 and 2012 vintages.

Wines and tasting notes

St Henri

Was produced experimentally in the vintages 1953-1956 and launched in the 1957 vintage. The wine is raised 18 months in large old oak barrels of 1460 liters. The oak regime is therefore markedly different from the other top wines in the Penfolds range. A small proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon is usually included in many vintages.

St Henri is a classic with a reputation for taking a long time to mature. In this tasting the wines came across as definitely “tougher” than Magill and RWT, but at the same time they show a very fine elegance compared to how many may imagine Australian Shiraz. In a way, St Henri comes across as leaner than the other wines, but still possesses a lot of concentration.

I get the impression that St Henri has received more attention in recent years. Possibly this is because the wine have become (even) better, but I also think that it plays a role that a more restrained oak regime has become more fashionable. The price has also remained reasonable.

2010 St Henri
100% Shiraz

An elegant nose of dark blackberries, some ripe blackberries, some violets and other light flowery notes, some pepper and other spices (but not too pronounced spiciness) and a hint of leather. Palate with good concentration and quite dark berry notes with ripe blackberries and blackcurrants, fine acidity, rather noticeable but well integrated tannins. Fruity, not at all “difficult” now but quite young and has potential, 94(+) p.

1998 St Henri
92% Shiraz and 8% Cabernet Sauvignon

A big and elegant nose with blackberries, blackcurrants, tar, noticeable spice notes, developed aromas with leather, dried fruit (including prunes), dried spices, and pepper. Palate with dark berries including blackberries, noticeably spicy with powerful black pepper notes, fine acidity, some tannins that emerge mid-palate, and a peppery and mature aftertaste. Fantastically fine balance, rather fully developed but not at all old, 93 p?

Magill Estate

Magill Estate is located in the outskirts of Adelaide and is the historical origin of Penfolds. The property has always been one of the sources of grapes for Grange, but this wine was launched in the 1983 vintage. Since grapes grapes are “selected up” to Grange, it might be seen as a second wine of one of the components of Grange, although I guess that Penfolds might not quite approve of that terminology given that Magill Estate is one of their “luxury wines” (using their own labels). The wine is raised 12-15 months in new barrels of French oak (about 65%) and American oak (about 35%).

2010 Magill Estate

Powerful and fruity nose with ripe blackberries and ripe blackcurrants, black pepper, flowery notes with some violets, sweet liquorice, hints of vanilla and “mixed liquorice” with some white and yellow pieces (i.e., mint liquorice and lemon liquorice). Palate with ripe blackberries and ripe blackcurrants, quite powerful concentration with ripe and sweet berries, balancing acidity, powerful pepper notes and other spice notes, rather prominent tannins. Young and in a straight-forward masculine style, 94(+) p.

1998 Magill Estate

Noticeably developed nose with dark fruit notes, dried fruit, and some oxidized notes, pronounced character of prunes, plum compote and spice notes, but also some characters that recalls a developed Bordeaux with barnyard aromas and so on. The palate is noticeably mature and shows notes of oxidation with ripe berries and “older” dark fruit, good acidity, integrated spice notes and tannins. The aftertaste is spicy with fruit including dried fruit. Fully developed, 91 p?

This wine is more developed than the other three 1998s, with more dried fruit notes.

RWT Shiraz

RWT is short for Red Winemaking Trials and was launched in the 1997 vintage after a number of years of such “trials”. RWT originates from Barossa Valley. The wine is raised 12-15 months in 300 liter barrels of French oak, of which typical 50-70% new oak. The percentage was higher in the two vintages presented at this tasting, though. Note the difference to Grange, where American oak is used.

My impression from the tasting was that RWT is a quite powerful wine, and comes closest to Grange in weight among the other three.

2010 RWT Shiraz
80% new French oak in this vintage.

Powerful nose of ripe blackberries with slightly sweet berry note, pronounced notes of liquorice and in particular salty liquorice, and pepper. On the palate quite a big and almost massive wine with ripe blackberries, salty liquorice, spice notes with black pepper, reasonably well integrated but massive tannins. Young, 95+ p.

A “bigger” wine than the 2010 St Henri 2010 with powerful concentration, and more potential for development than the 2010 Magill Estate.

1998 RWT Shiraz
100% new French oak in this vintage.

Nose with blackberries, other dark berries, tar, pepper, some mint and eucalyptus notes (that I didn’t find in the other 1998s), a hint of liquorice and aniseed, as well as some classical notes reminiscent of a developed Bordeaux or Rhône wine. Palate with powerful concentration, ripe dark berries, prominent spice notes with pepper, decent acidity, rather softened and integrated tannins, and a spicy and ripe aftertaste. Rather fully developed, but not “old”, 93 p.

In the walkaround tasting I also tasted:
RWT Shiraz 2012
75% new French oak in this vintage.

Nose with ripe blackberries, some violets, salty liquorice, and pepper. It gives a “sweeter” impression on the nose compared to the 2010. Palate with good concentration, ripe blackberries, rather sweet fruit note, pepper, well integrated tannins, and a fruity aftertaste. Young, 93 p.

My impression – although based on a quick tasting of a small tasting portion – is that the 2012 is a quite good wine, but that it doesn’t quite reach the level of the 2010.

Grange

Grange – or using the full name, Bin 95 Grange Shiraz – is an iconic wine not just in the range of Penfolds, but also among Australian wines as a whole. This wine was the result of the ambition of winemaker Max Schubert to produce a Bordeaux-styled wine using Australian grapes, and his conclusion that Shiraz was the most suitable raw material available. The 1951 vintage was produced experimentally, and 1952 was the first commercial vintage. At that time, the name was Grange Hermitage, since Hermitage was one of the names then used for Syrah/Shiraz in Australia. Since the name of a protected designation of origin may not be used for other wines when sold within the EU, Penfolds removed the Hermitage part of the name from the 1990 vintage.

At this time, ambitious Australian wines were mostly equal to Port-styled fortified wines, so an ambitious “table wine” was something new. This new style of wine was not universally appreciated, to say the least, so in 1957 the management of Penfolds decided to close down the production. However, Schubert & co secretly produced the 1957-1959 vintages at the Magill Estate, and hid away the barrels of the vintages not yet bottled at the decision to cancel the production. In 1960, production was resumed, since the previously sold bottles had developed favorably. Later, Grange also started to receive attention in the international market. My impression is that was only when Wine Spectator in 1995 named the 1990 Grange to the wine of the year when Grange fully had reached the status as one of the truly great of the wine world. Their first 100 point score from Robert Parker was awarded to the 1976 vintage, but only when it was reevaluated in 2002. The 1986 vintage was close with 99 points in 1995. The first and so far only RP 100 score for a young vintage went to the 2008 vintage, but more than half of the vintages in the 2000s have today received a score of RP 98 or higher. It is also worth mentioning that Parker and Australian sources (such as Langton’s) differ in their opinions of many Grange vintages.

The wine is raised 18-20 months in 300 liter barrels of new American oak. Other than Shiraz, most vintages include a small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon, nowadays usually not more than 8%.

2010 Grange
96% Shiraz and 4% Cabernet Sauvignon

Big and powerful nose of ripe blackberries, powerful note of sweet liquorice, notes of violets that provide elegance, and pepper. Palate with powerful concentration, ripe blackberries, ripe blackcurrants, sweet liquorice, quite a bit of black pepper, well integrated but powerful and prominent tannins. Young, 95-96(+) p.

1998 Grange
96% Shiraz and 4% Cabernet Sauvignon

Big nose with blackberries and tar (almost “Mourvèdre-dark” notes), sweet liquorice, discrete vanilla notes, hints of leather and classical notes of developed Bordeaux. Palate with powerful concentration, ripe blackberries, noticeably spicy and peppery, somewhat softened but still noticeable tannins, great length with good balance, and a noticeably spicy aftertaste. 96 p.

The 1998 Grange shows darker notes and is more powerful than the other 1998s, and shows more peppery notes.

Penfolds 20150228 glassesAs a sweet finish we tasted:
Grandfathers Rare Tawny
Mixed grape varieties, mostly Mataro (=Mourvèdre), Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Grenache, but also other. Non-vintage, average age at least 20 years on release. 19.5% alcohol, can’t find any information about sugar content.

Amber colour with a paler greenish edge. Old Tawny Port nose going in the Madeira direction, red berries, nut cakes and spice notes. The palate is quite concentrated and sweet with powerful spice notes, dried fruit, and balancing acidity. 93 p

Swedish version of this post.

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