First up was the St Henri 2010. Made without any new oak, instead opting for 14 months in old 1,460 litre vats (as opposed to the popular 225 litre barriques, for example), this is a 97% shiraz with barely a spit of 3% Cabernet. It was gorgeous on the nose, deep and soft with some kirsch, white pepper and raisins, but the palate was a little hot I felt, which outed its gob-smacking 14.5% alcohol. Beyond this it was deep but restrained, with a solid core of tannin. I felt overall that it was still unresolved and needed time to allow the heat and tannin to die down and integrate more fully.
Then on to another 14.5% alcohl behemoth: the RWT 2010. Penfolds are noted for blending wines across regions, but the RWT is their single-region wine, being sourced exclusively from the shiraz heartland of the Barossa Valley. RWT stands for “Red Winemaking Trial”, which was its moniker when it was still an initial concept back in 1995. Being 100% shiraz, I was taken by its surprisingly Cabernet-like characteristics of blackberry initially on the nose, before leading into some more typical blueberry and black pepper territory. It had a gorgeous, silky palate, especially following from the St Henri, though heightened tannin and acidity here suggested that this also needs some time to lie down. With excellent length finishing with some damson and mocha, this was a big, intense wine which will be superb in years to come.
The fabled Magill Estate 2010 was up next. Proper old-school – or at least as old-school as a relative newbie such as Australia can get – this is a single-vineyard, basket-pressed wine sourced from the famed Magill estate from which the iconic Grange was once made. The dizzying 14.5% alcohol was the only thing it shared with the two wines above as we were treated to another take on Aussie shiraz. A beautiful and much more fragrant nose had some alternating spice and savoury notes, before leading to a delicate palate with a fantastic mineral streak which was a surprise and a delight. Deep and concentrated with the tannin not as aggressive as the other two, this proved to be an ‘iron fist in a velvet glove’ of a wine, both excellent now and deeply promising.
The room was then introduced to Penfold’s flagship Cabernet, the Bin 707 2010. Up to now it was all about the shirazes, except for a brief fling with the Bins 407 and 389, so judging by the silence, punctuated only by gasps of delight and murmurs of approval, it was clear that before a sip was taken that this was something to sit up and take notice of. For me, it was somewhat reserved for now, with a pure core of blackcurrant and cedar typical of Cab which I found was overpowering and blocked the way to detecting anything more subtle in there, though some other scents such as sandalwood did do a burlesque show-and-tell whenever I returned to the glass before quickly subsuming under the Cab.
Again though the acidity and tannin a little heightened which will hopefully resolve itself after some time in the bottle. In all this was a tasting of a still too young wine which was volatile and aggressive though showing huge promise. Still, I’ve tasted a few good Cabs recently and wouldn’t rate this above them I’m afraid to say.
Finally, it was on to the most iconic of them all: the Grange 2008. The word ‘iconic is often thrown about with abandon, but in this case it’s very much relevant: this vintage of Australia’s most commended wine has recently achieved a “double century” of two perfect 100 scores in both Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator, the eleventh wine ever to do so and the only New World wine to gain the accolade.
Massive, intense, complex yet balanced and surely only to get better with time, the Grange was an incredible and electric wine that had the audience enthralled. It was really intense. Did I mention that it was massive too? Oh, and also very intense. A punch in the gob by Tyson would only just about match it. It was beyond words.
I bet you expected a better tasting note for a €700 wine, and so did I. But ask anyone who has bungee-jumped for example to describe their experience and they likely can’t, resorting instead to a smile, a sigh, and the declaration that to know one must experience it. Unfortunately not everyone will get to experience a wine like Grange due to its stratospheric pricing: assuming the liquid in my glass amounted to, say, 100ml, then my sip of this icon cost a mere €93. So not many would have the money for a glass, let alone the €700 for a bottle, and I count myself extremely lucky that my line of work leads me to these situations.
So my overall impressions? Penfolds have just recently been awarded Best Winery in Australia and I don’t think anyone can refute that. Their wines are immense but, more crucially, really quite varied given they’re mostly made from the same two or three grape varieties. If only you didn’t have to re-mortgage the house to experience them – even their “mid range” – then many more would be able to experience their beauty.
St Henri Shiraz 2010
€100 approx. from good specialist off-licences
97% Shiraz, 3% Cabernet
RWT Barossa Valley Shiraz 2010
€155 approx. from good specialist off-licences
Magill Estate Shiraz
€140 approx. from good specialist off-licences
Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon
€325 approx. from good specialist off-licences
100% Cabernet Sauvignon
€700 approx. from good specialist off-licences
98% Shiraz, 2% Cabernet