Home
Page
Geoff Kelly Wine Reviews
independent
analytical
non-commercial
Independent reviews of some local and imported wines available in New Zealand, including earlier vintages.
LIBRARY TASTING AT REGIONAL WINES & SPIRITS,  WELLINGTON,  29 APRIL 2021


PENFOLDS RAREST BIN REDS 60A & 42,  GRANGE,  707,  RWT … PLUS GIACONDA,  ALL 2004,  ASTRALIS 2002,  and THREE 1971 REDS

   
Geoff Kelly,  MSc Hons


Conclusions from the tasting:
This Australian reds tasting based on 2004 and 1971 wines was an absolute adventure for participants.  Not only did we have some of Australia's most ‘famous’ wines,  but also some of its ‘finest’.  Given Australian pride in its red wines,  coupled at times with domestic speakers having less familiarity with relevant international benchmark wines,  these two descriptors do not always coincide,  at least in the estimation of tasters beyond Australian shores.

Of the 21 tasters present,  only two had previously made the essential (to wine learning) comparison of Penfolds Grange Shiraz 100% new American oak,  vs Penfolds Shiraz RWT c70% new all-French oak,  vs Penfolds Cabernet Sauvignon Bin 707,  100% new American oak,  the wines all from the same vintage.  These three labels in their best years in one sense define Australian red wine attitudes and enthusiasms.  Understanding them is essential to understanding Australian red wine.  And nobody at all had tasted the even rarer / more special Penfolds Cabernet Sauvignon Bin 42,  and Penfolds Cabernet / Shiraz Bin 60A.  So,  an  adventure indeed.

And at the other end of the tasting,  none present had tasted three Australian reds of repute,  all of the same year,  when each wine is 50 years old.
 

The top four wines of this tasting all rated 19 or more points.  In this review,  the gentler and subtler wines,  those better suited to enjoying with food,  gained points.  From the left,  the near-legendary 2004 Penfolds Cabernet Shiraz Bin 60A,  clearly cabernet sauvignon on bouquet at this stage,  but then the palate filled out and ‘sweetened’ by very pure shiraz,  a wine of great refinement, 19.5;  2004 Penfolds Shiraz RWT,  shiraz ripened to the blueberry level on bouquet,  but still nearly syrah in its quality, 19 +;  next the long-standing pure cabernet sauvignon 2004 Penfolds Bin 707,  intensely cassisy,  highly fragrant,  remarkable concentration,  gentler than some examples from earlier years, 19 +;  and finally the highly-regarded but sometimes contentious 2002 Clarendon Hills Syrah Astralis,  in a particularly elegant showing, 19.


Thus,  to say people were interested in the 12 wines is a clinical understatement.  A better measure is that all but one of the wines was somebody's top or second favourite wine of the evening.  This is a remarkable endorsement both of the wines,  and also tasters’ ability to accommodate both very young,  and very old wines.  Further,  despite four of the wines having current (unrealistic,  in auction terms) wine-searcher valuations approaching $NZ1,000,  there was no head-and-shoulders favourite wine.  There was,  therefore,  much for tasters to enjoy.

An introduction to the style of Penfolds red wines,  and the now legendary Max Schubert, is given in my 2017 article:  Do Penfolds reds including Grange cellar for 50 years,  here.  Much more information about Max Schubert and his pivotal role in the evolution of Penfolds red wine styles is available on the Net.

As an outside calibration wine for the expensive 2004 Penfolds wines,  at the writing-up stage I opened Le Petit Vin d’Avril,  of the same age.  This wines is ‘famous’ in that Vincent Avril uses it to condition his new barrels,  so there is no new oak aggression in his grand vin,  Clos des Papes.  The whole wine-making style of Clos des Papes is therefore the polar opposite of Penfolds.  This wine is also remarkable in the Southern Rhone Valley,  in that it contains both cabernet sauvignon and merlot:  it is thus merely a Vin de France.  This sometimes wonderful but all-too-often overlooked wine is anything but 'Petit':  at best it can be both substantial,  and long-lived.  The results were more than illuminating,  if assessing wine quality to international standards be the goal.

Invitation / Introduction:  
The heart of the tasting is a comparative evaluation of the top 2004 red Bins from Penfolds Wines.  Given the growing reputation of Penfolds as a winery,  this is a tasting to go out of your way for,  simply because 2004 was a cooler year in South Australia,  and therefore (within the Penfolds context),  the wines are more varietal,  more aromatic,  and somewhat subtler than usual. 

The tasting includes some of Australia's greatest reds.  Some are more expensive than Grange,  which means,  now that the release price for current Penfolds Grange is $850 (or more),  that the tasting cannot be cheap.  But the tasting is also rare,  these wines rarely being seen together.  The Giaconda and Clarendon Hills shiraz wines are nearly as famous as Penfolds,  and rarer.  They will provide a kind of calibration role.

To counterpoint the young wines,  and some will still be very young,  we have a 1971 Penfolds 389 which back then drew on the fruit now going into these latter-day top-end Bins,  a 1972 Penfolds St Henri not often offered with age,  and both the 1971 Tahbilk Cabernet and the 1971 Tahbilk Shiraz.  For many years,  1971 was regarded as the absolute benchmark vintage for Tahbilk reds.  It will be fun to see these wines at 50 years age exactly.

References:      
Evans,  Len,  1978:  Complete Book of Australian Wine,  Third Edition.  Paul Hamlyn,  512 p.
Halliday,  James,  2002:  Classic Wines of Australia and New Zealand,  Third Edition.  386 p.  Harper-Collins.  
Lake,  Max,  1966:  Classic Wines of Australia.  Jacaranda Press,  134 p.
Read,  A,  & A Caillard,  2000:  The Rewards of Patience,  Fourth Edition.  144 p.  Penfolds.
www.jancisrobinson.com  =  Jancis Robinson MW and Julia Harding MW,  subscription needed for reviews
www.penfolds.com/en-au/wines/tasting-notes.html  short-cut to the core of the hard-to-use Penfolds website,  most of the wines in ‘The Penfolds Collection’,  Bin 60A and Block 42 in ‘Special Bins’.
www.robertparker.com  =  Robert Parker and Joe Czerwinski,  vintage chart,  subscription needed for reviews
www.winespectator.com  =  vintage chart,  subscription needed for reviews




THE WINES REVIEWED:

At the decanting stage,  the wines all seemed sound,  so no Reserve wines (listed at foot) were needed.  The first price given is the current wine-searcher value,  but note that for Penfolds in particular,  wine-searcher is unduly influenced by the world-wide demand for Penfolds wines currently.  Penfolds has been particularly desirous of becoming well-known in the East.  Thus the prices for older bottles offered by wine retailers overseas is often far,  far higher than the same wine will fetch at auction,  in Australia or New Zealand.  An approximate indication of the original purchase price is in the text following,  if clues are available.  Most wines have been cellared in Wellington since original purchase.

1971  Chateau Tahbilk Cabernet
1971  Chateau Tahbilk Shiraz
2002  Clarendon Hills Syrah Astralis Vineyard
2004  Giaconda Shiraz Warner Vineyard
2004  Penfolds Cabernet Sauvignon Bin 707
2004  Penfolds Cabernet Sauvignon Block 42
  2004  Penfolds Cabernet / Shiraz Bin 389
1971  Penfolds Cabernet / Shiraz Bin 389
2004  Penfolds Cabernet / Shiraz Bin 60A
1972  Penfolds Shiraz / Cabernet St Henri
2004  Penfolds Shiraz Grange
2004  Penfolds Shiraz RWT


The twelve wines generated the most amazingly aromatic and berry-rich aroma around the glasses,  really enticing and exhilarating.  Dark cassis-like notes were the main sensation,  plus fragrant near-cedary oak,  and a generally piquant and exciting quality hard to describe.  You could not wait to smell and taste them.  Eight of the wines being so young,  the colour gradation in the 2004s does not show up here,  but wine 4,  Penfolds Shiraz Grange,  was the deepest and most intense colour,  followed by wine 5,  Penfolds Cabernet Sauvignon Bin 42.  Wine 6,  2002 Clarendon Hills Syrah Astralis,  despite its reputation,  was the lightest in the front row.  In the back row,  wine 7 the 2004 Penfolds Bin 60A,  was midway in depth,  in the 12.  Wines 9 to 12 are the 1970s wines,  wine 11 the 1971 Tahbilk Cabernet being the darkest of these four,  and wine 10 the 1971 Tahbilk Shiraz being the lightest,  but still a very acceptable colour … at 50 years of age.


Coonawarra and Kalimna,  South Australia,  Australia:  13.5%;  $1,058   [ Screwcap,  ullage c.25mm;  original price c.$380;  this wine is if anything more famous than Block 42,  in that it takes its heritage directly back to 1962 Bin 60A,  made by Max Schubert after his Bordeaux odyssey,  and agreed by all those who have tasted it to be the greatest wine Penfolds has ever made.  Penfolds considered the cool year 2004 to match 1962,  and hence made this follow-up wine.  It shows an incredible sense of heritage and perspective,  to wait 42 years to try and make this second bottling.  56% of the wine is Coonawarra Block 20 cabernet sauvignon,  the balance being shiraz from Kalimna Blocks 4 and 14,  and Koonunga Hill Block 53G.   Again,  the Penfolds website is infuriatingly vague (and not enough effort made to correct mistakes),  but Lisa Perrotti-Brown has access to Peter Gago,  Penfolds chief winemaker,  and advises that fermentation was completed in new American oak hogsheads,  followed by 13 months elevation in similar barrels.  Sources vary,  but there seem to be about 500 x 9-litre cases of this wine (like the Block 42,  but hard to be sure,  now that 6-packs are the standard unit for these expensive wines).  Victoria Daskal,  Managing Editor at The World of Fine Wine,  London,  2009:  Tangy berries and minty nose. Very good fruit and prevalent oak. Advised to wait, but it is excellent now. Full flavour, layers of fruit, mint, oak, like hitting a flavour tune fork and feeling it reverberate on your palate: zesty and lively and young, 18;  RP@RP,  2006:  Its blackberry, blueberry, tar, lead pencil shavings, licorice, and spice box-scented bouquet is followed by a wine boasting an unctuous texture buttressed by decent acidity as well as fabulous extract and richness. This stunning blend should have a minimum of three decades of aging potential and be a true collector's item for many years to come, 98;  weight bottle and closure:  712 g;  ;  www.penfolds.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  youthful for its age,  in the middle for depth of colour.  Bouquet is aromatic,  piquant,  enticing,  with wonderful dark fresh berry characters approaching cassis in quality,  though it is hard to tease out the berry from aromatic new oak.  The wine has a faint pennyroyal lift,  almost subliminal,  but making it exciting to smell.  It is not euc'y.  Palate follows perfectly,  not overly rich or overstated,  the cabernet speaking much more loudly at this stage,  the wine having reminders of a young Bordeaux such as Mouton-Rothschild (with its noticeable oak),  but then the palate is softened and fleshed-out by silky shiraz fruit,  feeling as if it were free-run juice.  Any acid adjustment for this wine is subtly done,  it thus pretty well escaping the great peril of many Australian red wines,  a spiky added-tartaric finish.  When compared with Cabernet Sauvignon Bin 707 of the same year,  the wine is gentler,  more bordeaux-like,  not as obviously American oak,  and in particular it finishes more attractively.  Great wine,  and so far as you can tell not in any way closed or compacted by being bottled under screwcap.  Top wine for four tasters,  the top wine in that respect,  and one second-favourite.  Thought to be cabernet-dominant by half the group.  Cellar 20 – 40 years.  GK 04/21

South Australia,  Australia:  14.5%;  $136   [ Cork 49mm,  ullage 17mm;  original price c.$80;  RWT = Red Winemaking Trial;  fermentation completed and elevation 14 months in all French hogsheads (thus contrasting with Grange),  69% new;  J. Harding@JR,  2014:  Very fine dark fruit. Pure, dry, dark and mineral. Lots of spice but also savoury. Soft and chocolate textured but a lovely dark dry fruit flavour. Very smooth. Has that savoury character of Douro reds but it's softer, smoother and more approachable. Delicious, 18;  J. Miller@RP,  2007:  … delivers an expressive nose of smoke, leather, grilled bacon, game, blueberry, and licorice. Full-bodied, it is dense, ripe, and layered as well as opulent. More forward than the Magill Estate, this hedonistic Shiraz can be enjoyed now but will continue to evolve for another 8-10 years, 95;  weight bottle and closure:  606 g;  www.penfolds.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  a good colour for its age,  well above midway in depth.  Bouquet is softer and ‘sweeter’ than the top Cabernets,  less aromatic,  less oaky,  only the faintest piquant lift,  instead nearly floral,  with exquisite berry inclining mostly to blueberry,  some red plum,  no overt oak.  Palate is beautiful,  of syrah quality,  great length,  purity and depth,  not obviously oaky,  not obviously tartaric-adjusted,  but instead long and 'sweet' on dry extract.  I imagine against a very good Hermitage of the same age,  the blueberry level of ripeness would seem a bit lush,  but as a quality expression of syrah in a ripe year,  this  RWT would fare very well indeed.  The alcohol is well hidden in the succulent berry,  and any tartaric addition is well-nigh invisible.  One top vote,  one second,  and mysteriously,  two least.  Seen as shiraz by half the group.  Cellar 10 – 30 years.  GK 04/21

South Australia,  Australia:  13.5%;  $591   [ Cork 49mm,  ullage 25mm;  original price c.$125;  CS 100%,  from Barossa Valley including Kalimna,  McLaren Vale and 23% Coonawarra;  fermentation completed and 15 months in all-new American hogsheads;  J. Harding@JR,  2006:  Very intense blackcurrant and cassis leaf edge. Very intense pure cassis, sweet ripe tannins but still has a touch of the freshness of cassis leaf. Very very thick pile with just a touch of grip on the very end. After time in the glass: spicy, lavender chocolate (I had some lavender-flavoured chocolate recently!), wonderfully fresh even though it is so ripe and pure, melted chocolate tannins, 17.5;  J. Miller@RP,  2007:  … it exhibits a classic Cabernet nose of cedar, tobacco, spice box, black currant, and blackberry liqueur. Medium-bodied (13.5% alcohol) but dense and concentrated, with tons of black fruit flavor, the wine is tightly knit, structured, beautifully balanced, and very promising. It needs a minimum of 10-12 years of cellaring and should provide pleasure through 2040, 95;  weight bottle and closure:  598 g;  www.penfolds.com ]
Ruby,  nearly carmine,  and velvet,  youthful for its age,  the third deepest wine.  Bouquet is intensely berried,  with a light pennyroyal lift but not euc'y,  like the 60A piquant and enticing,  but the new oak a good deal more noticeable.  The purity of berry on bouquet is captivating.  Palate likewise is intensely cassisy,  a staggering depth of berry and fruit,  and much better balance of berry to oak than some of the heavily-handled later 1990s Bin 707s,  the depth of fruit such that the length of flavour almost covers over any ‘cabernet hole’ in the palate.  Only when you compare the palate carefully with the 60A,  do you notice a relative shortness here,  compared with the near-succulence of the 60A,  with its benison of shiraz filling out the texture.  Finish too is not as fine as the 60A,  just a little tartaric spikiness is noticeable.  It is a pity Penfolds do not pay relatively more attention to mouthfeel and texture,  considering world wine standards,  and less to pH meters.  I would love to see this wine at 45 years,  when some of the tartaric may be sparkling crystals on the cork,  and the liquid thus gentler.  Top wine for three tasters,  and second-favourite for another three,  so one of the top wines for the group.  Recognised as cabernet-dominant by eight tasters.  Cellar 25 – 40 years.  GK 04/21

McLaren Vale,  South Australia,  Australia:  14.5%;  $425   [ Cork 50mm,  ullage 20mm;  original price c.$250;  Sy 100% hand-picked at 2.5 t/ha = 1 t/ac from non-grafted bush-vine syrah planted in 1920 on a site said to be 45° slope;  current vintage $A400;  no back vintages on website (despite price),  current spends 18 months in 100% new French oak;  Wine Spectator,  2004:  Polished, round and beautifully balanced to bring the blueberry, plum and blackberry character into relief, the lingering flavors riding effortlessly on superfine tannins. More refined, not as big or chunky as previous vintages: 95;  RP@RP,  2004:  An extraordinary perfume of flowers, creme de cassis, blackberries, roasted meat, new saddle leather, and earth is followed by a wine with sweet tannin, sensational concentration, full body, an unctuous texture, and a full-throttle, tannic finish. Yet it reveals unbelievable elegance and finesse. Too many Euro-centric elitists argue that Australian wines are too rich and over the top, but all of these offerings have been made by someone with great talent and vision who takes the extraordinary ripeness and purity of fruit available from these old vine vineyards and crafts them into wines that are quite European in style ... just richer and denser. The 2002 Astralis is a tour de force. Anticipated maturity: 2012-2025+, 99;  weight bottle and closure:  864 g;  www.clarendonhills.com.au ]
Ruby,  a hint of garnet creeping in,  velvet,  midway in depth.  Bouquet is intriguing,  a soft and pure depth of plummy dark berry with cedary complexity factors woven through it.  There is not quite the clinical purity of the young Penfolds wines,  but instead an almost European complexity,  softness,  and charm.  On palate the fruit is slightly ‘cooler’ than the RWT,  hints of cassis and darkest black doris plummy berry,  attractive oak of potentially cedary quality,  and long,  long richness.  There is no hint of acid addition to the tail.  If comparison with Hermitage was permissible for RWT,  it is even more appropriate here,  with its extra dimension of flavour complexity.  Only fair to mention that this is the first ‘pure’ and sweet bottle of 2002 Astralis I have tasted,  previous bottles having some brett complexity.  In that regard,  two tasters offered the descriptor ‘bacony’ for this wine.  Recognised as shiraz-dominant by eight tasters.  Top wine for two tasters.  A lovely bottle,  to cellar 10 – 30 years,  noting that each bottle will be different.  GK 04/21

Barossa Valley,  South Australia,  Australia:  14.5%;  $209   [ Cork 46mm,  ullage 26mm; original price c.$40;  CS 53%,  Sh 47;  elevage 13 months in US oak c.20% new,  c. 65% 1-year including some ex-Grange,  balance older;  JH@ JR,  2009:  Vanilla sweetness and some peppery spice over dark savoury rich black fruit. Dominated by oak at the moment. Not ready to drink. Very sweet oak covers the fruit at the moment. A grip of tannin. A bit thick even though smooth. Less finesse in the tannins than the 2004 Grange but quite juicy, 17.5;  H. Steiman@WS,  2007:  Velvety in texture, with refined tannins surrounding a plush core of currant, huckleberry and peppery spice flavors that linger effortlessly on the finish. Best from 2008 through 2016. 27,000 cases imported, 90;  weight bottle and closure:  598 g;  www.penfolds.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  just above midway in depth.  A voluminous bouquet augmented by a little spirit,  and a pennyroyal lift,  the cabernet component dominant at this stage of the wine’s evolution,  quite a cassisy quality.  On palate oak becomes noticeable,  but the berry quality is so good,  it just makes the wine intensely aromatic.  As with Bin 60A,  shiraz fills out and sweetens the palate,  the wine building into a very aromatic mouthful.  Only on the finish does the Penfolds preoccupation with pH show up,  the tartaric addition being noticeable.  All the same,  this is an exceptionally flavoursome and harmonious 389,   reminding of some offerings in the 1970s.  A pity Penfolds were still skimping on corks in 2004,  46 mm,  for what is a 50 year wine.  Top wine for one taster,  and second favourite for another.  Cellar 15 – 35 years.  GK 04/21

South Australia,  Australia:  14.5%;  $936   [ Cork 49mm,  ullage 21mm;  original price c.$425;  Sy 96%,  CS 4,  variously from Magill,  Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale;  fermentation completed and 16 months in all-new American hogsheads;  J. Robinson,  2009:  Lifted and above all fresh! Wonderfully subtle and savoury and with a hint of cough medicine but wonderfully dry and thick and long on the palate. Serious first growth claret build (with which comment I presumably insult all parties...) Australia lurks in the undercurrent rather than imposes itself on the flavour of this wine. No heat at all. Extremely fine tannins. Wonderfully suave and really not like any other wine I can think of. At this stage not noticeably sweet, 19.5;  Jay Miller@RP,  2009:  a superb nose of wood smoke, Asian spices, incense, game, blueberry, and blackberry liqueur. Medium to full-bodied, satin textured, with deeply layered, succulent blackberry, plum, and chocolate flavors, it has the structure and complexity to merit extended cellaring of a decade and more. The winery estimates a drinking curve of 2016 to 2050; I'd be a bit more conservative on the long end of the range. It will ultimately be seen as one of the great vintages of Grange, 99;  weight bottle and closure:  597 g;  www.penfolds.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  clearly the youngest and deepest wine,  a remarkably fresh colour for its age.  Bouquet is deep,  dark,  pure,  and intensely aromatic on both berry quality hinting at cassis,  and noticeable oak.  A spirity lift adds to the aromatic quality,  with just a suggestion of pennyroyal,  but nothing as coarse as euc.  Nonetheless,  the total bouquet is pretty assertive.  In mouth the wine is saturated with flavour,  incredibly deep and dry,  but the exact nature of the fruit and berry quality is somewhat obscured by excessive oak.  And the finish is spiky on tartaric acid,  to a fault.  In a year like 2004,  when the possibility of real syrah quality might be captured,  it is so sad that instead the fruit has been built into simply a too big and ‘monument’ winestyle.  For all its concentration,  purity and strength,  in terms of oak handling,  alcohol,  and pH,  the wine is simply too aggressive / bold.  When it comes to wine with food,  who wants a battleground ?  And Penfolds do not help themselves,  for having built an obviously 50-year plus wine,  it is still in 2004 being bottled with a 49mm cork.  Only 54 / 55 mm corks can be ‘guaranteed’ to last 50 years,  as anybody seriously interested in mature wine knows.  Who in truth wants a re-corked,  topped up,  adulterated wine,  when with a decent cork at the outset,  you can have the original ?  Two people rated this wine top at the blind stage,  but six had it as their second-favourite.  In one sense therefore,  for the group this was the most popular wine of the evening.  And it will cellar exceptionally well:  the 'consumerist' American estimate of cellar life above is ludicrous.  Half the tasters recognised it as shiraz-dominant.  Cellar 25 – 45 years.  GK 04/21

Kalimna,  South Australia,  Australia:  133%;  $1,133   [ Screwcap,  ullage c.25mm;  original price c.$380;  some idea of the esteem in which Penfolds hold these special Bin wines,  is that Block 42 has only been released in 1996 and 2004.  Both cooler years,  note.  Other years,  the fruit goes to Bin 707,  etc.  The 4 ha / 10 ac vineyard was planted in 1885:  Penfolds claim that it is thus the oldest planting of un-grafted Cabernet Sauvignon continuously produced in the world.  The Penfolds website notes are somewhat garbled,  but it seems the wine completes  fermentation in new hogsheads,  country of origin not given,  followed by 13 months in barrel,  whether the same or different not specified;  Lisa Perrotti-Brown says 100% new American oak for both phases.  About 500 x 9-litre cases made,  same caveat as for 60A.  Jancis Robinson,  2005,  not noted for her tolerating heavy or clumsy wines,  says of this wine:  I must say it's the most charming Penfolds wine of the modern era I have ever tasted.  and:  … very, very fresh – opulent but with great old Cabernet's refreshment factor on the nose (no, not green), 19;  James Suckling,  2011:  When you find a great Aussie Cabernet, they really are something. For example, the 2004 Penfolds Cabernet Sauvignon Barossa Valley Kalimna Block 42 blew me away, although Barossa is not necessarily known as a region for Cabernet. I gave the wine a perfect 100 points. It's one of the few Barossa reds that shows an incredible complexity, richness and power without being over-the-top or overly alcoholic. Balance with intensity is what comes to mind, 100;  weight bottle and closure:  708 g;  www.penfolds.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  a good colour for its age,  and the second-deepest.  First impression on bouquet is a negative character,  almost tainted,  which one winemaker in the group characterised as ‘bushfire / smokey’.  Behind that factor is a lot of berry hard to characterise,  but dark,  and a lot of hessian oak.  Palate is an order of magnitude better than the bouquet – but to genuine wine lovers,  bouquet is all-important.  Berry is now clearly cassis,  and the oak though noticeable is potentially cedary and fine-grained.  Palate structure is softer and finer than Bin 707,  with tartaric adjustment less noticeable.  Total palate is narrower than Bin 60A,  when compared with its shiraz flesh,  but lovely in its detail.  Were it not for the bouquet taint,  this Block 42 would be the better wine,  relative to Bin 707.  Will that character on bouquet marry away,  is therefore the question ?  Less likely perhaps,  under screwcap.  One person rated this their top wine,  and two their second-favourite,  with one person rating it least.  Cellar 25 – 40 years.  GK 04/21

Nagambie Lakes,  Central Victoria,  Australia:   – %;  $ –    [ Cork 46mm,  ullage 22mm;  original price $1.85;  note,  not the same wine as those labelled ‘Cabernet Sauvignon’,  which are Reserve series.  Max Lake,  in his wonderful 1966 book Classic Wines of Australia,  says simply of Tahbilk:  Tahbilk has real presence … the atmosphere reeks of age … The Purbrick family acquired the vineyard in 1925…  Our wines were made before the days of refrigeration or small wood,  but with low cropping rates;  matured for 18 – 24 months in large wood,  virtually none new.  1971 was at the time regarded as an exceptional vintage by the winery,  though it is fair to say that at that stage,  that implies more perfect and ripe conditions,  rather than the complexity sought in cooler dry years in Australia today.  Tasting reports for the 1971 wines are few,  but Evans,  1978 perceptively (for the times) says:  Of the recent Cabernets … I am most interested in the ‘70 and ‘72 vintages. Both these wines are lighter in character than wine like the ‘71, which is a big firm wine in the ‘old’ Tahbilk tradition.  Conversely,  consider Max Lake,  1966:  The wines tend to be robust and fruity,  but with excellent balance, the finest showing real finesse and complexity of flavour, which even when ‘big’ is never gutsy or coarse.  Philip Rich in a 2010 report on the 150th Anniversary Tasting for Tahbilk noted that this wine was a ‘highlight’ of the event;  weight bottle and closure:  554 g;  www.tahbilk.com.au ]
Garnet and browning ruby,  below midway in depth.  As is often the case with mature good wines,  the Tahbilk Cabernet opened up over many hours.  It was better the next day,  in fact.  What is remarkable is the purity of the berry and fruit,  considering its age,  the wine still almost showing fading / browning cassis aromatics,  the latter augmented by a near-floral note reminiscent of the Australian flowering mint shrub Prostanthera.  Palate has astonishing fruit for its age,  and equally remarkable purity,  considering there was little or no new oak for this wine,  at that time.  As Evans says,  in their younger day,  the 1971 Tahbilks seemed a bit solid against the lighter more fragrant 1969s and 1970s,  but whereas the latter are fading now,  this 1971 wine still has much to say.  And the texture is mellow,  no hint of  acid addition.  A very food-friendly wine,  totally European in styling,  as might be expected of Eric Purbrick.  Second-favourite wine for three tasters.  The wine is fully mature … and a bit too too old for some.  Cellar future totally cork-dependent:  as was the norm then,  46mm corks are standard,  and 46mm cannot be guaranteed for 50 years.  The corks are failing now.  This bottle the best ullage of six checked for this tasting.  GK 04/21

South Australia,  Australia:   – %;  $1,190   [ Cork 46mm,  ullage 36mm;  original price c.$3.25;  Penfolds Bin 389 occupies a unique place in the Penfolds hierarchy of red wines.  It used to be the most famous of the affordable Bins,  before the plethora of Bins now,  largely because some of it was matured in the barrels used for the previous year’s Grange.  All the oak is American,  and 20 – 30% is new.  It was first made in 1960,  cabernet sauvignon is usually 50% or a little more,  and it is regarded as eminently cellar-worthy.  1971 was a well-regarded vintage in South Australia.  In those days,  again before the many Bins,  fruit from some of Penfolds famous Adelaide and Barossa designated vineyards was used in Bin 389.  Evans,  1978 described the wine thus:  Both the ‘71 and ‘72 vintages were a return to the old standard, magnificent wines with all the Bin 389 characteristics of rich fruit and oak. The ‘71 wine had magnificent fruit character.  The Rewards of Patience team in 1999 described the 1971 wine as:  Very complex wine with fig/chocolate/coffee-like aromas and earthy licorice-like characters. Deeply concentrated, fruit-sweet palate with meaty chocolate/ licorice flavours and silky, persistent tannins.  It was a preferred vintage,  but one must comment,  only hot-climate tasters could think descriptors such as those used are positive for red wine;  Halliday in his Classic Wines uses similar words,  commenting also:  This has always been a classic wine … persistent ripe tannins on the finish. A great bottle of a great wine, *****;  wonderfully,  Penfolds website does still give (skimpy) details for this vintage;  weight bottle and closure:  586 g;  www.penfolds.com ]
Medium ruby and garnet,  the third to lightest.  This wine did not quite gel for me,  either at the tasting,  or afterwards.  There are better bottles … having started with a case (of 12).  This bottle showed a complex interaction of fresher and newer oak than the two Tahbilks,  yet on bouquet older and drier berry and fruit characters,  with a faint suggestion of leathery / brett complexity,  and trace VA.  Palate marries these attributes up well,  still surprisingly good fruit,  all a bit leathery,  but much better mouthfeel than the Giaconda.  Tasters seemed to take the view that at 50 years of age,  red wine is allowed to be less than perfect.  Thus three people rated it the top wine of the evening,  and three their second-favourite.  Two had it as their least wine.  There was certainly more ‘complexity’ than the two Tahbilks,  which were a little one-dimensional in comparison,  though purer.  Again 46 mm  corks,  and they are failing,  so best not cellar it much longer.  GK 04/21

Nagambie Lakes,  Central Victoria,  Australia:   – %;  $ –    [ Cork 46mm,  ullage 34mm;  original price $1.85;  again this is the mainstream red,  not one of the special Bins.  The ‘1860 Vines’  wine had not been introduced,  at that stage.  The introductory comments for the Cabernet apply.  Evans (1978) notes:  This is a softer wine than the Cabernet, showing a little less tannin, lighter colour, and less depth of flavour; is usually drinkable earlier than the Cabernet.  One contemporary tasting note:  RH@JR,  2010:  Lovely mahogany colour and bewitching chocolate pudding nose with raspberry coulis and mint leaf. Some decent tannic structure and a lovely meat juice complexity on the finish. Subtle, interesting,  16.5;  weight bottle and closure:  582 g;  www.tahbilk.com.au ]
Rosy garnet and ruby,  the lightest wine.  At the tasting the wine was impaired by a light musty / TCA note,  detected by seven tasters.  Overnight it breathed off remarkably well,  to reveal classic warmer-year Australian red-fruited shiraz,  browning raspberry rather than boysenberry,  like the Cabernet beautifully clean older oak,  unlike the Cabernet no Prostanthera floral note.  Palate is lighter and less tannic than the Cabernet,  and in one sense therefore even better with food.  Being less rich than the Cabernet,  it was therefore too old for some.  Top wine for one taster,  but least wine for six,  due to the light TCA.  Time to drink up this wine,  since like the Cabernet,  the corks are failing.  This bottle too the best ullage of six.  Score reflects the well-breathed wine.  GK 04/21

Beechworth,  NE Victoria,  Australia:  13.5%;  $125   [ Cork 49mm,  ullage 20mm;  original price c.$80;  Sh 98%,  rousanne 2;  all wild-yeast fermented,  extended cuvaison;  elevation in French oak usually less than 40% new,  for not quite two years,  no filtering;  J.  Czerwinski@Winemag,  2007:  Maybe the closest thing to French Syrah you'll find coming out of Australia, this Shiraz defies the Oz stereotype, offering up elegant perfumes of hickory smoke, black pepper and herbs that bear a striking resemblance to top-notch Côte-Rôtie. Layers of blackberry and blueberry fruit provide a solid foundation for the smoky, meaty complexity that emerges on the palate. This is not an overweight, overly tannic wine, but a supremely balanced rendition of Shiraz that should age gracefully for up to 15 years, 94;  RP@RP,  2006:  beautiful blackberry fruit intermixed with hints of graphite, smoked herbs, tapenade, and spicy vanillin. Medium to full-bodied, elegant, and backward, this impressive offering spent 20 months in barrel (60% new French), and it should age nicely for 7-10 years, 93+;  weight bottle and closure:  858 g;  ww.giaconda.com.au ]
Ruby and garnet,  markedly the oldest of the 2004s,  below midway in depth.  Bouquet is fragrant,  complex,  much older than the other 2004s,  smelling both mature,  and cooler-climate against the South Australian wines.  There are suggestions of dark berries such as browning cassis or black doris plum,  a hint of herbes,  and savoury leathery notes bespeaking light brett,  plus trace VA.  Palate marries these diverse elements up quite well,  a lighter wine but with reasonable body and dry extract,  but then a sour note to the tail,  though whether added acid,  or more likely natural acid at the cooler (550m asl) Beechworth site in a cooler year,  is unclear.  Taken as a whole,  as a mature wine it would be food-friendly,  but it is not a wine for technical tasters.  No first or second places,  three least.  Cellar a few years more,  10 maybe,  but each bottle will be different.  GK 04/21

Auldana and Magill,  South Australia,  Australia:   – %;  $737   [ Cork 46mm,  ullage 39mm;  original price $5.35;  St Henri is the great exception in the Max Schubert and John Davoren original legacy of Bin labels for Penfolds,  in that the wine sees no new oak.  It is matured solely in 2,000-litre old wood,  and old hogsheads.  St Henri is shiraz-dominant,  not as strictly so as Grange,  however.  Fruit was then Auldana (now disappeared in Adelaide suburbia) and Magill.  Evans (1978)  describes the wine as:  This is one of the two top Penfolds wines and certainly one of the most celebrated wines in Australia.  …  The ‘71 St Henri is  the best of this line I have seen for some time. … The ‘72 was not far behind it in quality … The biggest problem with St Henri is its price.  In the 2000 edition of Penfolds Rewards of Patience,  the wine is described thus:  Very developed, with balsamic/herbal/chocolate-like aromas and some volatile acid. Bitter-sweet chocolate/spice/herbal fruit characters on the palate, moderate concentration, drying tannins and medium length. Past its peak.  Not scored.  Elsewhere,  Halliday rated it ***.  It is worth mentioning that this wine is rare now,  rarer than Grange;  weight bottle and closure:  578 g;  www.penfolds.com ]
Garnet and ruby,  close to the Tahbilk Shiraz but not quite so rosy,  the second lightest wine,  and the oldest in appearance.  Freshly opened,  the wine showed ghostly browning berry and clean oak,  all smelling harmonious but frail.  For my first note at the decanting stage,  I wrote:  ‘clean,  but this will be gone by tonight’.  In the event the wine surprised me,  hanging in there surprisingly well,  clean,  browning all through bouquet and palate,  but still a suggestion of fruit,  a hint of cloves,  older oak,  a bit acid (it was a cool year),  but not empty.  You would still happily drink it with a meal,  if nothing better were offering.  And in the event,  one person liked it so much it was their top wine of the evening,  while three had it least.  A wine now fading away.  GK 04/21




Reserve wines:
#  1999  Torbreck Shiraz The FactorBarossa Valley,  South Australia
14%;  $162     Cork;  J. Halliday,  2011:
 a powerful, dense bouquet with ripe plum to the fore, then gentle spice and positive oak. The smooth palate has plush, ripe, dark berry and plum fruit, fine tannins, and excellent oak integration, 95;  https://torbreck.com 
#  1994  Penfolds Shiraz Magill Estate,  South Australia
13%;  $143     Cork;  H. Steiman@WS, 1998:
 
Rich and generous in flavor, this is a complete wine, with spicy blackberry and chocolate flavors swirling through a finish that eases off a bit, making it feel elegant. Drink now through 2004. 3,200 cases imported, 90;   www.penfolds.com
#  1981  Ch Tahbilk Shiraz 1860 [ pre-phylloxera vines ]Nagambie Lakes,  Central Victoria
14%;  $ –     Cork;  among the oldest pre-phylloxera (ungrafted) shiraz vines in the world;  RH@JR,  2010:
 
Raspberry and redcurrant, chocolate, fresh and lengthy with lovely depth and a leathery finish, 17;  James Scarcebrook,  2015:  …  lifted aromatics, more toasty charred notes, smoked meats. Quite fresh for its age,  sweeter oak tannin hanging in there, a bit of creamy texture, pretty lovely, more sweet breads.  No score;  www.tahbilk.com.au