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Cellaring for success
JUST 15 MINUTES from Adelaide's city centre lies Magill Estate – a quiet, unassuming vineyard that adds to the many others that line the foothills of the famed wine region. But to Australian wine lovers, Magill Estate is the spiritual home of Penfold's, whose very name is synonymous with the country's winemaking history.
The estate was established in 1844 by Dr Christopher Penfold and his wife Mary, with vine cuttings that the British couple carried on their voyage to Australia. Dr Penfold was a surgeon by profession, and left it to Mary to tend to the fledgling vineyard. By the time she retired in 1884, Penfolds was already producing a third of all South Australia's wine, and by the 1900s, it was the state's largest winery.
Fast forward to 1951, when chief winemaker Max Schubert led the creation of an experimental 1951 Bin 1, a red wine designed to rival those he saw and tasted in France. The wine was never commercially released, but subsequent vintages, which we know today as the flagship Penfolds Grange, was met with such enormous success that the late British wine expert Hugh Johnson even declared it a "First Growth of the southern hemisphere."
Penfolds Grange remains a testament to one man's foresight in producing a wine that would rival Bordeaux's premier crus — its creation is the first in a long and illustrious ‘bloodline' that continues to live on in the Penfolds collection. Auction sales of old Penfolds vintages are testament of their value — Langton's recently auctioned off a bottle of 1951 Bin 1 for a staggering A$103,000, the highest price ever paid for a bottle of Australian wine.
RISING TO THE OCCASION
Key to the consistency, quality and cellaring potential of Penfolds wines is the estate's longstanding experience and acuity. Unlike many typical old world producers, Penfolds has extensive sources which give it access to the highest quality fruit both from its own estate and independent growers across renowned regions and vineyards. This way, it guards itself against years when poor growing conditions result in mediocre harvests.
But perhaps its greatest strength lies in its team of winemakers led by chief winemaker Peter Gago, who ensures that Penfolds continues to roll out critically acclaimed releases year after year.
One stellar example of this is the newly announced Penfolds g4, a multi-vintage red woven from Grange 2002, 2004, 2008, and 2016. Limited to just 2,500 bottles worldwide, the g4 celebrates the Grange DNA whose harmony is composed of quality, structure, and style. More than just paying homage to Penfolds' venerable technique of blending across vintages, it also represents the beauty of a whole greater than the sum of its parts. Indeed, the g4 is only possible because of synergistic blending. So if you are looking for a wine to celebrate a major achievement, or perhaps to cellar for a special occasion, there is hardly a more fitting option.
For the latter – perhaps a wedding anniversary – the 2016 Grange is ideal. With an intensely aromatic nose that evokes figs, black plums, and blackberries, leading to a rich full-bodied palate of blue/black fruits, dark chocolate, and mocha, the wine is perfect with meat dishes from roast lamb to braised short ribs.
For an evening with close friends, go for something relatively light-hearted and highly versatile. The 2019 Bin 311 Chardonnay pleases with its charming nose of lemon blossoms, cashews, and nougat. Flavours of citrus and white stone fruit coupled with crisp acidity and nuanced oak/vanillin means that this wine would go exceedingly well with seafood, salads, cheese and fruit tarts. It's also worth noting that Bin 311 is a fine example of Penfolds' prowess in multi-regional blending by creating a marvellously balanced and precise Chardonnay using fruit sourced from Adelaide Hills, Tumbarumba and Tasmania.
For a milestone 60th birthday, look no further than the 2018 Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz. The 2020 release of this great classic, affectionately known as ‘Baby Grange', commemorates its 60th anniversary since it was first made by Schubert back in 1960. Perfectly balanced with great focus and depth, the wine has lifted aromas of cassis, nuts, and vanilla, with intricate flavours of black cherry and roasted beetroot for a long, appealing finish.
While these and the rest of the wines in the 2020 collection are perfectly ready for drinking, some years of cellaring would allow the wines to reach their fullest potential. As Gago once quipped at a tasting, "The story of Penfolds has not been written yet." This is merely one chapter that began in the winery, and it is in the hands of the discerning and successful Penfolds collector to finish in the cellar.
For more information, visit www.penfolds.com.