Since its founding over 175 years ago, Penfolds, the Barossa Valley winery, has established itself as one of the finest in Australia. Over the past few years, it has taken things a step further. Led by Peter Gago—the brand’s fourth ever chief winemaker—Penfolds has expanded its footprint, becoming a world-class winery that also makes wines all over the world. Nowadays, the much-anticipated annual release of the Penfolds Collection, the brand’s lineup of premium wines, includes wines not only from Australia, but also from France (Bordeaux and Champagne), the United States (Napa Valley), and China. Recently, at Napa Valley’s historic Rutherford House—not far from where Penfolds farms the grapes for its pioneering American wines—Gago held court over the winery’s 2023 collection, the finest of which have been rounded up below.
One of the most exciting developments from Penfolds over recent years is its expansion into China, a country long considered a sleeping giant in the wine world. Gago and his team ventured to the high-elevation vineyards in Shangri-La and Ningxia to craft Penfolds’s new Chinese wine, the Chinese Wine Trial or CWT 521, and the results are remarkable. A blend of 82 per cent cabernet sauvignon and 18 per cent marselan, the 2021 vintage CWT 521 is a big, inky, meaty wine that, if you can find it, will reward cellaring for upwards of 15 years.
The youngest wine from Penfolds’s latest collection is also one of its most exciting. Coming from the Eden Valley, a region to the east of the Barossa Valley that is proving to be a world-class producer of riesling, the 2023 vintage of Bin 51 is in an approachable, old-world style that will impress even the most obstinate German riesling fans. Surprisingly well integrated at such a young age, the 2023 Bin 51 is supported by a stark, granitic lemon backbone that offers slight hints of the tertiary petrol flavours that will develop over the next 10-plus years.
For the 72nd consecutive vintage, Penfolds Grange, the winery’s icon wine and one of the world’s most coveted, has returned. On the heels of a 2018 vintage that is largely considered to be one of the best of recent years, the 2019 vintage has proven to be no slouch when it comes to Grange. A blend of 97 per cent shiraz and 3 per cent cabernet sauvignon, the 2019 Grange is loaded with concentrated and ripe red and purple fruit flavours held together by high-strung tannins and already impressive secondary saline and eucalyptus qualities. Tasted alongside the 1989, 1999, and 2009 vintages of Grange, the 2019 is looking every bit as special as its forebears.
Penfolds’s flagship chardonnay has proven every bit as world-class a wine as Grange in recent vintages, and the 2021 release is no exception. Using fruit from across three cool-climate regions—Tasmania, Tumbarumba, and the Adelaide Hills—the 2021 vintage is a succinct encapsulation of Australia beyond the Barossa Valley and shiraz. Leading with a slightly reductive, flinty nose, the 2021 vintage explodes with a cottony lemon curd flavour on the palate. But what is most astounding about this wine is its length—the distinctly rich citrus flavours carry on for what seems like ages. It will no doubt last for ages in cellars as well.
Penfolds’s only varietal grenache, Bin 21 is a new release that shows the future the winery may have with Australia’s second red grape. The notoriously finicky variety is tamed by the steady hands of Gago and his team, who have crafted a wine of surprising elegance given its young age and the hot climate that the grapes come from. A nose marked by earthy mushroom and rose petal scents leads into characteristically ripe cherry, raspberry, and bramble flavours on the palate. Ready for drinking now, this racy, light, and bright Barossa Valley grenache is a welcome counterpoint to the aging focused and often-austere style Penfolds is known and celebrated for.