COVID-19 might temporarily have grounded Peter Gago, chief winemaker and renowned flying winemaker at Australia’s iconic Penfolds winery, but it hasn’t stopped the Penfolds Collection 2020 from reaching world markets.
The term “flying winemaker” generally refers to winemakers who flit back and forth between the northern and southern hemispheres so as to make wine twice a year. Gago has taken the term to another level, as he travels ceaselessly to lead tastings of Penfolds wines, preside over wine dinners, and take part in the famed Penfolds recorking clinics—where Penfolds winemakers visit cities around the world to put new corks in any 15-year-old or older Penfolds wine to ensure that they age safely.
But 2020 has seen Peter Gago largely confined to Adelaide, the site of Magill Estate where Dr. Christopher Penfold started making wine in 1844. Penfolds (no apostrophe) wine is now sourced from there and from vineyards in diverse parts of Australia, which gives the winery one of its distinctive characteristics. Although many Penfolds wines are from single vineyards and regions, many others are multiregional. Penfolds Grange, the winery’s top wine that sells in Canada for about $1,000 a bottle on release, is made from grapes from four regions, including Magill Estate.
Multiregional wines are common in the world of wine, but high-value and prestigious wines are often promoted as single-vineyard wines or estate wines, the latter sourced from vineyards near the winery. In the case of Penfolds Grange, the vineyards are distributed across South Australia, while other Penfolds wines are sourced from vineyards not only in that state but also in New South Wales and Tasmania. Drawing on several regions, each distinct in site and climate, allows the winemakers at Penfolds to bring together components that contribute complexity and balance to their wines.
Penfolds has launched its 2020 Collection, with selected wines arriving in Canada during October and November. They include the famed Grange 2016, a dark-fruited wine (all shiraz but for three per cent cabernet sauvignon) that is fine, complex, stylish, and already harmonious. The balance is right on, with the acidity perfectly calibrated to the fruit. Peter Gago estimates that Grange has a life of 60 years—although he prefers to drink it at the 20-to-25-year mark.
As prestigious and sought-after as Grange is, Gago thinks RWT Bin 798 Shiraz 2018, from Barossa Valley, is “the wine of the Collection.” RWT stands for Red Winemaking Trial, the name given to the wine within Penfolds in 1995 when it began a project to make a shiraz to “redefine Barossa shiraz at the highest quality level.” It’s a rich, elegant wine with lifted, broad, and deep flavours, and acidity perfectly tailored to the fruit.
Other shiraz wines in the Penfolds Collection 2020 include St Henri Shiraz 2017 and Kalimna Shiraz Bin 28 2018. The first, which has three per cent cabernet sauvignon, is made in old wooden vats and delivers luscious fruit with perfectly balanced acid. Kalimna is 100 per cent shiraz and sets the multiregional record for this collection—it was sourced from nine different wine regions in South Australia. It shows exceptional balance of fruit, acid, and weight, with the fruit focused and defined.
Yet the Penfolds Collection is far from being exclusively shiraz. Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz 2018, which is 57 per cent cabernet sauvignon and 43 per cent shiraz, is often known as “Baby Grange,” partly because it is aged in barrels that held the previous year’s Grange. The 2018 edition is richly textured and flavoured, with fine balance. Penfolds Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, sourced from six South Australia regions, delivers a concentrated and complex flavour profile, with the acidity contributing some appealing juiciness to the texture. One of the whites in the collection, Bin 311 Chardonnay 2019—made from grapes grown in Tasmania, South Australia, and New South Wales—is a wonderful example of cool-climate chardonnay. It offers layers of bright fruit supported by fresh, vibrant acidity that makes for an attractive, juicy texture.
Red and white, the wines of the Penfolds Collection 2020 deliver style and elegance across the board. Their ideal drinking windows range from a few years to a few decades, and many are definitively cellaring wines. Yet what is immediately clear is that these are above all drinking wines. They are serious and approachable, thought-provoking and sociable, the sort of wines you might want to put away but that you look forward to opening.
Highlights of the Penfolds Collection 2020
Penfolds Bin 311 Chardonnay 2019
Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz 2018
Penfolds Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon 2018
Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz 2018
Penfolds St Henri Shiraz 2017
Penfold RWT Bin 798 Shiraz 2018
Penfolds Grange 2016
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