Penfolds Tasting Night Review!

In my next life, I want to have a job like Jamie Sach’s. Jamie is the global ambassador for Penfolds, travelling the world and sharing the heritage, history and wines of this famous Australian company.

Last week about 40 lucky people gathered at Hotel West End for a Penfolds tasting night, put on by Sense of Taste and hosted by Jamie.

As well as enjoying some fine food and sampling great wines, Jamie talked to us about the rich history that is Penfolds.

How in 1844 founders Dr Christopher and Mary Penfolds planted the vine cuttings they had brought with them on the voyage to Australia. So began the Penfolds wine company at Magill Estate.

How in 1870, after Christopher’s death, Mary assumed total responsibility for the winery and early forays into Clarets and Rieslings had proved popular.

How in 1948 Max Schubert became the company’s first chief winemaker (there have only ever been four chief winemakers), having joined the company as a messenger boy in 1931. A true innovator, Schubert propelled Penfolds on to the world stage, with his experimentation of long-lasting wines – the creation of Penfolds Grange in the 1950s.

How in 1957 Schubert was told to cease production of Grange. He ignored the instruction and for the next three years continued to craft his Grange vintages in secret, hiding three vintages ’57, ’58 and ’59 in depths of the cellars. In 1960 production of Grange restarted, and international acknowledgment and awards followed.

As Jamie talked, we sampled Penfolds’ Brut Rose Champagne NV, produced in collaboration with French Champagne House Thienot, and six wines, including the “baby Grange’’ Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz 2020.

A glass of champagne was a welcome starter. Chief winemaker Peter Gago is passionate about champagne, and the Penfolds x Thienot offering has exceeded all expectations.

The NV Brut Rose is comprised of 30% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir and 50% Pinot Meunier. It’s blush in colour, which comes from minimal skin contact. Very pleasant to drink.

The first wine we tried was the Penfolds Bin 51 Riesling 2022 ($40.99). Fruit for this was sourced in Eden Valley, where the cooler climate and elevated locale is ideal for this aromatic wine variety.

Jamie reckons the 2022 vintage is one of the best and, while recommended for immediate drinking, could age for up to 20 years. Think mandarin, lemon cordial, lychee and jasmine floral aromatics and a freshness across the palate.

Next up was the Bin 311 Chardonnay 2021. Kym Schroeter is Penfolds’ only white wine maker (there are nine red wine makers) and is producing world-class chardonnays, world beaters in terms of value for money.

The 2021 Bin 311 has the largest percentage of Adelaide Hills fruit since 2017. It’s pale in colour and cool-climate aromatics abound - white nectarine, grapefruit, light florals and nashi pear.

A generously flavoured palate with citrus flavours to the fore. Minimal filtration is employed, preserving elegant fruit flavours. The wine is matured is mostly seasoned oak.

Fantastic to drink now but promises to develop even greater complexity with careful maturation.

Our next offering was the Bin 8 Shiraz Cabernet 2019, where Penfolds’ wine makers have combined Cabernet Sauvignon with Shiraz to great effect.

Jamie says Cab Sav is very challenging to grow, compared with Shiraz. This is mainly due to when the fruit is picked.

Shiraz is harvested in February-March, usually very good weather conditions for picking fruit. But Cab Sav ripens a lot slower and is not ready until April, and often later in the month. This is one of the reasons Penfolds has started making this blend of wine in California and France.

The Bin 8 has been crafted in the traditional Penfolds style. Ripe, balanced fruit flavours are supported by softly integrated oak, resulting in an impressive, smooth red wine. A great food wine.

The Penfolds Bin 28 Shiraz 2020 offers a showcase of warm-climate Australian shiraz – ripe, robust and generously flavoured. Today, Bin 28 is a multi-region, multi-vineyard blend, with the Barossa Valley always well represented. It will age well, between 10-25 years.

Now it was time for the big guns.

Out came the Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz 2020 and St Henri Shiraz 2019.

First made in 1960 by Schubert, the Bin 389 was the wine that helped forge Penfolds’ reputation with red wine drinkers by combining the structure of Cabernet Sauvignon with the richness of Shiraz.

Bin 389 is often referred to as “Baby Grange’’, in part because components of the wine are matured in the same barrels that held the previous vintage of Grange.

Jamie says 2020 wasn’t the easiest vintage. Penfolds had two winemaking teams working alternatively due to Covid, and South Australia experienced bushfires and very hot, dry conditions.

But he notes it’s often the vintages that throw a bit of adversity that end up really delivering, and the 2020 Bin 389 is one of those.

Jamie says it really doesn’t matter when you drink this wine - on day one, in a year or 30 years, it will still be good. And it was, with a lovely balance between the Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz.

Finally, Jamie’s favourite – the St Henri Shiraz. He says, in a good year, the St Henri can give Grange a good run for its money. A classic Penfolds wine and affordable, definitely one to put down for the birth of a child or a special anniversary.

The St Henri was developed in parallel with the Grange during the 1950s, and the two were level pegging for many years.

It is unusual amongst high-quality Australian red wines as it does not rely on any new oak. Rich and plush when young, gaining soft, earthy, mocha-like characters with age.

It is matured in an assortment of large old vats that allow the wine to develop, imparting minimal, if any, oak character.

As Jamie pointed out throughout the night, while the Grange is Penfolds’ crème de la crème, all wines in the Penfolds stable follow the same values and winemaking philosophy, have the same polish and finesse, the ‘Penfolds stamp’ if you will, as the Grange.

For what it’s worth, my favourites on the night were the Riesling and St Henri Shiraz. But don’t take my word for it. Talk to your local Sense of Taste manager about Penfolds, in particular the 2022 collection, which for the first time comprises three country of origin releases – Australian, Californian and the inaugural French release.

Disappointed to have missed this great night? Don’t despair. Keep your eye on the Sense of Taste website for upcoming events.

Our Gin and Whisky Showcase is on August 27, at Wellers Hill Bowls Club. Taste 90+ spirits from local and international brands. All available for purchase on the day, at great prices. Tickets are $50 and can be purchased through Eventbrite.