Tasting the evolution of Penfolds

Penfolds 2011 Thomas Hyland Shiraz, left, and Penfolds 2010 Bin 389 Cabernet-Shiraz. (Supplied)

Penfolds 2011 Thomas Hyland Shiraz, left, and Penfolds 2010 Bin 389 Cabernet-Shiraz. (Supplied)

Christopher Waters, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:48 PM ET

Some wineries are wired differently. Take Penfolds, the legendary wine brand with a heritage that stretches back to 1844, a mere eight years after the foundation of South Australia.

The winery’s spiritual home is the Magill Estate in Adelaide, where Dr. Christopher Penfold and his family first planted vines purchased in South Africa on the voyage to Australia.

Winery operations are largely conducted in Barossa Valley now, about 90 minutes north of the original site. But Magill continues to function as a vineyard, working winery and hospitality centre that boasts one of the top winery restaurants on the planet.

An unwavering focus on quality is the guiding principle of a vast portfolio that ranges from red to white to fortified wines that command prices that escalate from affordable to über luxury. Penfolds’ Koonunga Hill label retails for about $15. The new release of its celebrated Grange, a multiregional blend of Shiraz and Cabernet first made as an experiment in 1951, sells for $500.

Every five years, the winery opens its cellar and invites international critics to taste every bottle produced to create a book called The Rewards of Patience. Now in its seventh edition, the book collects these independent and frank critiques as a studious appraisal of almost all of the winemaking history at Penfolds.

It represents an amazing resource for consumers and collectors.

“Loyalty, a feeling of belonging, Penfolds’ own brand of craftsmanship and its wine styles are values that have been built up over generations,” writes author Andrew Caillard in the preface to the seventh edition. “Such attributes, along with its fine wines, have made Penfolds an Australian institution.”

Not surprisingly, many efforts from the 1950s and ‘60s are deemed passed their drinking windows, but some noteworthy bottles still contain magic.

The best part of the new report, however, is how well the new vintages stack up against the monumental wines that established Penfolds’ reputation. Lovers of bold red wines should snatch up any remaining 2010 reds available on liquor stores’ shelves. The Bin 389 Cabernet-Shiraz, Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon and Kalimna Bin 28 Shiraz rank high in my estimation.

The Rewards of Patience, available in print and an e-book through online retailers, would exist as an interesting curiosity if it only marvelled at the drinkability of old wines that are seemingly as rare as unicorns. Instead, it’s a vital chapter in the on-going history of one of the world’s best wineries. The Penfolds’ legacy isn’t preserved in amber. It continues to evolve and improve with each passing year.

Wines of the Week:

****1/2

Penfolds 2010 Bin 389 Cabernet-Shiraz

South Australia

BC $69.99 (309625) | AB $59.99 | MB $69.99 (013432) | ON $44.95 (309625)

A blend of grapes and regions ensures the consistency of Bin 389 vintage after vintage. The so-called Baby Grange is always an exciting red that’s marked by full-bodied concentration. The 2010 stands out as one of the best yet. It’s drinking nicely now and has the potential to age for decades if you have the patience.

****

Penfolds 2011 Thomas Hyland Shiraz

Adelaide, South Australia

BC $19.99 (611210) | AB $20 | ON $21.95 (611210)

South Australian winemakers struggled through adversity during the cool and wet 2011 vintage, but there are no signs of trouble in the glass here. Nice intense fruit and a polished texture make this a terrific red for grilled red meat or lamb.

 


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