Come November 2019, Penfolds chief winemaker Peter Gago would be working at the Australian wine brand for 30 years. But you wouldn’t have been able to tell that from the 61-year-old’s sprightly gait. “If I get to November next year intact, it will be 30 years at Penfolds without a sick day,” he exclaimed proudly. When we met him in Bangkok, he was just finishing up his world tour of launching the Penfolds 2018 collection and he wasn’t even going to stay the night. Immediately after the collection launch, he flew back home to Australia.
Despite his schedule, Gago was able to sit down with us to talk about the new Penfolds 2018 collection. Similar to the wine brand’s annual release, each collection is a vast one, featuring wines from the lowest range to the highest priced ones. Overall in the collection are five vintages, seven varieties, and 15 regions — including several white wines. With so many to choose from, we selected five of the best bottles you need to try — with recommendations from Gago himself.
Naturally, the Grange is one you should try out from the Penfolds 2018 collection — if your bank account allows it because the bottle goes for US$600 upwards. The 2014 Grange is Penfolds 64th consecutive release. What makes it slightly special this time around is that, for the first time, it includes grapes from Wrattonbully. This multi-regional blend is 98% Shiraz and 2% Cabernet Sauvignon, aged in 100% new American oak. For the top tier of Penfolds 2018 collection, you can imagine that it tastes heavenly. On the nose, the wine is spicy and rich with hints from the fine-grained American oak. On the palate, the wine is intense and rich with ripe tannins thanks to the Shiraz, while the Cabernet Sauvignon enhances the aroma and palate structure.
The Bin 311 Chardonnay is one of the few whites available in the Penfolds 2018 collection, and it has a complex aroma with notes of white stonefruit. The Chardonnay is made with a blend of grapes from Adelaide Hills, Tasmania, and — for the first time — Tumbarumba. “The Bin 311 Chardonnay is completely different for us now,” said Gago.
“The 311 now has fruit from Tumbarumba — the New South Wales’ Snow Mountains region. We go wherever we can, to find the coolest climate fruit when it just ripens,” he explained. The reason behind this is because “they give you tartness on the palate and definition.”
The Bin 389 is also nicknamed the Baby Grange, thanks to the use of former Grange and Bin 707 barrels. The multi-region blend with 37% new American Oak has a creamy aroma, but still with a spicy finish. The wine is full-flavoured with dark fruits for a long finish. Even UK-based wine writer, Matthew Jukes praised the Bin 389 and gave it an 18.5+/20 rating.
If there was a bottle in the collection that comes close to the popularity and high ranking of the Grange, it would be the Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon 2016. It has already received high ratings from wine writers around the world; Matthew Jukes rated it 20/20. It’s so popular that even Gago doesn’t have a chance to try it. “I go for wine tastings so I can taste the wine. I’d tell them: ‘Thank you for inviting me to this tasting, it’s the only way I can try a 707 nowadays’,” he joked.
The Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 is also another multi-region blend matured in 100% American oak. This dark red wine is plush with aromas of spices and herbs with oaky nuances. The body is also intense in flavour with oak tannins. Despite the price, he said, it hasn’t slowed Penfolds down on producing the Bin 707. “It’s no wonder, the Kalimna Block 42 vineyard is the oldest, continuously-producing vineyard in the world,” he said. “They’ve been producing fruits uninterrupted for over 120 years.”
The Bin 798 is one of the few single-region wines in the collection, and it’s made with mostly new French oak. For those not in the know, RWT here stands for Red Winemaking Trial, a name given to the project internally when developmental work began in 1995. The 100% Barossa Valley Shiraz wine has an exotic spicy aroma with savoury sweet tasting notes, and even a hint of chocolate. It’s a complex wine well worth a place in your wine cooler.