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This appears on the Sommelier India website and was originally written with a slight Indian slant on it..but tasting notes are tasting notes, so here is the bones of the Sommelier India piece.

One of the joys in the wine-writing malarky is the being invited to tastings. Good tastings. Tastings that not many would be privy to. I’m not going to lie about it. It’s a privilege, and it’s great fun! The view taken by those inviting people like me is that what I write will be read by readers like you. You’ll then have information to make a decision about whether or not to purchase the wines that I write about. Provided you trust what I taste. Which I hope you do.

And so it came to pass that I received an invitation to preview the new releases of the Bin, Icon and Luxury ranges of wines from Penfolds, one of Australia’s oldest and most renowned wine producers from the Barossa Valley. Penfolds celebrates its 170th year anniversary this year. 

Of the Luxury range, Penfolds flagship red, Grange 2009 sits atop magnificently. A dark, brooding wine with fruit and oak power but an underlying tremor and tautness that promises great things, fifteen, twenty, even thirty years down the track. At the post-tasting lunch, one of the wines served was the 1964 Grange, which is fifty years old now, but showing not a whisker more than 15 or 20.  The 2009 Grange promises to be as long-lived if not more than the ‘64. The wine itself has a suggested retail of about AU$785 but I have a feeling that they’ve added a buffer into the retail price to allow for a bit of discounting. Without doubt, if you look for it in the US or UK leading up to Christmas, you’ll get it for cheaper.See my tasting note for the 2009 Grange below.

 

Penfolds has a history of experimentation, Indeed, one of it’s Icon wines, the RWT Shiraz is a result of such a regime. (RWT stands for Red Wine-making Trial). In this spirit, Penfolds has released the Bin 170 Shiraz from their proprietary Kalimna vineyard, from a parcel of vines known as Block 3C, which dates back to the 19th century. The first batch of this was produced in 1973 and even today, this Shiraz goes into the Grange blend in most years. The wine is impressive – there’s no doubt about that. What is astounding, however, is the price: a whopping AU$1,850 suggested retail price, per bottle. It’s difficult to say whether it’s worth it, but it certainly places the wine in the echelons of the great cru from Bordeaux, or Burgundy, or even some of the iconic reds out of Italy or Spain (think Vega Sicilia’s Unico or their Reserva Especial). But I can’t think of many wines this young that would command such a high price. The wine itself is superb. It has wonderful complexity of flavour, melding dark chocolate with dark and purple berries, tobacco spice and cedary, charry oak. The high 14.5% alcohol is well-integrated, and the wine shows impressive balance and freshness which promises more than fifteen years longevity. I certainly can’t afford a bottle of it, but for those who can, it is definitely a wine to cellar and return to in the future.

Penfolds also introduces new Bin wines that show great value and stylistic definition. Alongside Bin 2 (Shiraz Mourvèdre) and Bin 8 (Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz) – both released last year – sits Bin 9 (100% Cabernet Sauvignon), a delicious wine with velvety tannins and typical Cabernet structure and fruit definition (think black currant/cassis) and even some subtle florals. At a suggested retail price of AU$30, this is certainly a wine that I will be stocking up at home to drink over the next year or two.

Highlights of the tasting are below. 

Bin Range

 

Bin 311 Tumbarumba Chardonnay 2013 (13%)

The use of older oak gives this wine a subtle roundness to complement it’s fresh, juicy palate. A hint of creamy texture and minerality lead to a long finish.

 

Bin A Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2012 (12.7%)

Wow! A wine under 13% alcohol. Some smoky/mineral notes on the nose along with fresh white peach. Racy acidity and delicate on the palate. Quite a restrained wine that is almost European in style. Very impressive! 8 months in French oak – 55% new, 45% 1-year old.

 

Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz 2012 (14.5%)

Some minty notes on the nose along with some florals and sweet red fruit. Quite a fruit-heavy, rich wine with a hint of blackcurrant/cassis. No barrel fermentation (lack of creamy characters on the palate). 13 months in new, 1 and 2-year old French oak.

 

Bin 138 Barossa Valley Shiraz/Grenache/Mourvèdre 2012 (66/23/11 percent respectively, fermented separately and blended at bottling) (14.5%)

Spicy/earthy undertone, over-arched by sweet dark and red berries on the nose. A hint of vanilla. Fleshy mouthfeel – quite round – along with fruit sweetness without being over the top. A hint of pepper spice/Christmas-cake spice. Quite complex. Could be good for up to 10 years. 12 months in old American oak.

 

Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 (14.3%)

A very good wine from a trying vintage (a lot of the other 2011’s showed a slight bitter extraction and a lean-ness. Yields we down and quality of the fruit, I would hazard, was lower than the vintages on either side – 2010 and 2012). Typical Cabernet flavours of blackcurrant/cassis, sweet dark fruit and bell pepper. A light leathery note belying dusty tannins and fresh acidity.

 

Icon and Luxury Range

 

Yattarna Chardonnay 2011 (13%)

The flagship white of Penfolds, with a suggested retail price of AU$150, this showed overt oaky/cedar notes on the nose along with spice and ripe fleshy fruits (peach, melon) along with nutty notes reminiscent of Meursault. Nothing like Meursault on the palate, though: quite a forward style with attractive sweet fruit, creamy/yeasty notes and zesty acidity. Delicious New World Chardonnay!

St. Henri Shiraz 2010 (14.5%)

A blend of Shiraz fruit from Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, Coonawarra, Adelaide Hills, Wrattonbully and Clare Valley.

My favourite wine of the day, next to the 2009 Grange. Inky dark fruit on the nose/ Very silky on the palate with some oaky/cedary notes along with dark berry-fruit. Quite an earthy style and some dried dark fruit. Pleasant tea-leaf notes too. Perfect balance between slightly bitter extraction and concentration of fruit flavours. All of this leads to a long finish. Suggested retail $95 – which is an absolute bargain for this wine, which will certainly reward cellaring for up to twenty years.

 

Magill Estate Shiraz 2011 (13.6%)

Aged in a mix of French and American oak for 14 months

Sweet berries and Christmas cake spice on the nose. A little grapey on the palate, showing dark berries, with slightly chewy tannins. A hint of delicacy, lacking the concentration of St Henri. Very good oak integration – rather seamless on the palate. Finishes a little short, suggesting perhaps time needed in the bottle to settle and integrate more, but also an indicator of the weaker vintage.

 

RWT Barossa Valley Shiraz 2011 (14.5%)

100% French oak. 51% New; 49% 1-year old

First thing that strikes is the dark colour – almost black/purple promises a wine of pure concentration and intensity. Very attractive purple fruit and florals on the nose. Palate is quite chocolately, synonymous with Barossa Valley Shiraz. Loads of dark berries and kirsch notes. Rather an attractive wine with chewy tannins that hold loads of fruit. Very concentrated with a hint of pepper spice. All very subtle and still buried under the fruit. Finish could be longer, but overall, an excellent wine.

 

Grange 2009 (14.5%)

98% Cabernet Sauvignon 2% Shiraz. 18 months in new American oak. Fruit from Barossa Valley (80%), McLaren Vale, Clare Valley, Magill Estate

Intense, complex nose of dark berries, cedar and peper spice. A hint of lifted purple florals too. Chocolately on the palate with that pepper again, along with ripe dark fruit (plums, berries) and a slight hint of meaty/gamey characters. How DO they get these flavours?! Taut, tight-knit tannins that are intricately poised and really well integrated into the wine. The high alcohol too, is well balanced – it’s only tell is a slight warmth in the finish and a slight sweetness on the nose and palate. A long, dark chocolate finish. Very impressive and undoutedly long-lived, although perhaps not as long as the great great vintages. Drinking ideally from 2020 to 2035 but perhaps a tad longer if stored in perfect conditions.

 

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Tasmania – a southern state of Australia and the only one that is not attached to the mainland. Recently, the state has demarcated 7 key wine-making sub-regions. From north to south these are North-West region (around the town of Devonport); Tamar Valley (around Launceston); North East region (around the Pipers Brook area); East Coast (around Bicheno); Coal River Valley (around Richmond); Derwent Valley (around Hobart) and the Huon/Channel Valley (around Cygnet).

The regions are spread equally north and south of the 42nd parallel (42 degrees south of the equator – see map below). Considering somewhere like Bordeaux is around the 45th parallel, by inverting the map, we see that Tasmania is a much cooler grape-growing region than many parts of France. The varieties that do well here are aromatic white varietals like Pinot Gris, Riesling and Gewurtztraminer but Chardonnay and and especially Pinot Noir lend themselves perfectly to the region.

Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and even Shiraz grow exceptionally well is some of the warmer sites such as Tamar River and Coal River.

Top producers include Stefano Lubiana (sparkling), Domaine A (dark, rich reds); Jansz (by Yalumba for well-priced, well-made sparkling wines) and Josef Chromy (sweet wines and whites). Constellation/Hardys also have a good operation in Tasmania, producing the Bay of Fires sparkling wines and sourcing the best fruit for Arras, their expensive, premium sparkling wine which retails in Australia for about US$110/bottle.

Wine Regions of Tasmania

Wine Regions of Tasmania

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more about Tokaji…

Aszú sweet wines are controlled by by minimum sugar and ‘extract’ requirements (how much juice can be acquired from a bunch of grapes). Traditionally, the concentration of Aszú wines was measured by the number of ‘puttonyos’ of grapes were used to prodcued the wine. ‘Puttonoyos’ are very similar to baskets and are approxiamtely 27 litres in capacity. These baskets of grapes went into barrels 136 litre barrels of fermenting grape juice to add sweetness and concentration.

Today, the puttony number is based on the content of sugar and sugar-free extract in the mature wine. Aszú ranges from 3 puttonyos to 6 puttonyos, with a further category called Aszú-Eszencia representing wines above 6 puttonyos. Unlike most other wines, alcohol content of Aszú typically runs higher than 14%. Annual production of Aszú is less than one percent of the region’s total output.

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Tokaji (toh-kye): a Hungarian sweet white wine produced in the Tokaj, a region in the north east of the country. Wines produced in 2 villages in Slovakia are also allowed to use the name Tokaj, since, pre-World War I, they belonged to Hungary. Tokaji is usually made with Furmint and Hárslevelű grapes and sometimes is blended with Muscat Blanc a Petits Grains (called Sárgamuskotály in Hungary) for added perfume. Officially, 3 other varietals are allowed in the production of sweet Tokaji: Zéta (previously called Oremus), Kövérszőlő and Kabar.

The grapes are picked very late, usually when they have been affected by Botrytis. The grapes are called Aszú. This term simply means that the grapes are dried or raisined when harvested. Aszú can sort of be likened to the ‘Auslese’ in German.

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Rivesaltes (reev-salt): a village in southern France, north of Perpignan and a name that applies to 2 styles of wines produced there. Both wines are sweet, fortified wines (a category known as Vins Doux Naturels – VDN). Muscat de Rivesaltes AOC, accounts for about 70% of France’s Muscat production and is the only sweet, fortified Muscat wine that can be produced with the grape Muscat of Alexandria. Muscat Blanc a Petits Grains, another Muscat clone is also used. The wine is fortified through the ‘mutage’ process (see below, 02/07/2009).

Muscat Blanc a Petits Grains

Muscat Blanc a Petits Grains

Muscat of Alexandria

Muscat of Alexandria

Note how the grapes on the left have a tighter, more compact bunch.

Muscat de Rivesaltes is a wine that should be drunk as young as possible and as cool as possible, either as an aperitif, or with fruity or creamy desserts, according to Jancis Robinson. Generic Rivesaltes (the VDN) can be made from a variety of grapes, red and white, and in a variety of methods. It can have a flavour profile that covers raisins, coffee, chocolate and nuts and can be a decent pairing to chocolate dishes.

Generic Rivesaltes AOC

Generic Rivesaltes AOC

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Recioto (reh-chee-yo-to): a style of wine produced in the Veneto region in northern Italy. Recioto wines are almost always sweet wines and are produced by selecting either the ripest grapes or the ripest grape bunches, harvesting them late and allowing them to dry on racks in special drying rooms (see image below). What inevitably happens is the grapes become raisined, resulting in very concentrated flavours in the wine.

Recioto della Valpolicella is a DOC sweet red wine made from Corvina, Rondinella and other local grape varieties. This is the most prevalent Recioto style of wine. Less common is the sweet Recioto di Soave DOCG, made from dried, white, Garganega grapes. These wines can be somewhat expensive. Botrytis is encouraged for the sweet white wines and not always welcomed in the production of the sweet red wines as it results in a somewhat oxidised character which can be unpleasant.

Corvina grapes drying on racks in the Veneto region

Corvina grapes drying on racks in the Veneto region

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Vendange Tardive (von-donje tar-deev) literally meaning ‘late harvest,’ this refers to wines made from grapes that were left on the vines longer than those that were harvest normally. It can only be used for wines from Alsace. What happens in this case is that the grapes shrivel and look like small raisins. They may or may not be affected by the noble rot Botrytis but the resulting wine is always concentrated and very rich. It is usually sweet but can also sometimes be practically dry.

Grapes beginning to shrivel when left late on a vine.

Grapes beginning to shrivel when left late on a vine.

This style of wine (indicated by a V.T. on the label) is similar to other wine from Alsace in that it is usually full-bodied, elegant and rich. It is often a perfect match to rich meat dishes like duck and pork and goes very well with foie gras if it is a sweet style.

Hugel et Fils, Trimbach and Zind Humbrecht are 3 VERY renowned producers from Alsace who make excellent V.T. styles, usually sweet. Pinot Gris and Gewurtztraminer V.T. wines are intriguing and wonderfully aromatic. V.T. Rieslings are often pricey and incredibly age-worthy.

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