Geoff Kelly Wine Reviews
Independent reviews of some local and imported wines available in New Zealand, including earlier vintages.

The annual release of the Penfolds Bin reds each year is always eagerly awaited.  As with many other Australian labels,  virtually all inescapably grown in a climate often too hot for fine quality (as opposed to size),  the quest each year is to find wines that show both Penfolds style,  and climatic restraint,  expressed as varietal quality.  In other words,  some wines that are more complex and interesting and international in character,  not just another big Aussie red.

This year's batch includes wines from 2004,  2003,  2002,  and 2001,  the popular Bin 389 and related being 2003.  Of these years,  2002 is close to a model year,  lacking temperature extremes in February and March.  Certainly some 2002s from other makers have been exciting wines.  2004 may show some of the qualities of 2002,  whereas both 2003 and 2001 are more variable.  Penfolds themselves speak of 2003 as a vintage to be enjoyed before 2002.  None of these years are poor,  however.

I have been assessing and cellaring Penfolds reds since the 1965 vintage,  and their better wines are amongst the most cellar-worthy in Australia.  It is best,  however,  to concentrate on the cooler more aromatic years,  years which the Aussies often write down,  at least initially.  Though this interpretation is changing,  as the realisation gradually dawns amongst Australian wine people that bigger is not always better.  There are two good reasons to go for the cooler years.  The berries retain more of their floral and aromatic flavour constituents,  and just as importantly,  there is less volatilisation of eucalyptus oils to contaminate the grapes.  Thus the wines are more complex and international in style.  

All these comments reflect my desire to achieve in cellar wines which have enough varietal character and finesse to be run in blind tastings,  with comparable wines from other countries.  There is nothing worse than carefully assembling a proposed blind tasting over 20 years,  then upon presenting it (as seen from an international perspective),  to find the Australian contenders are disqualified from meaningful blind assessment because they stink of eucalyptus and Australia,  far more than of any grape variety.  It is good to record that on occasion,  Penfolds reds have triumphed for me in such tastings.  When well selected,  just allow time to work its alchemy (and marry away the firm's enthusiasm for new oak).

Accordingly,  in these notes,  finesse and lack of euc'y characters have been rewarded.  The other thing worth saying about Penfolds is that right across the range,  from Rawson's Retreat to Grange,  there is this incredible house style.  The key characters are richness,  ripeness,  and fragrant oak,  sometimes to excess.  But the point is,  even the cheapest,  Rawson's Retreat and Koonunga,  are sufficiently in style to be worth cellaring,  the former for say five years,  the latter for 10 – 15.  I still have the original 1976 Koonunga Shiraz / Cabernet in cellar,  and whilst it is now light and fading,  it is still very much alive and a pleasure with food.  And the essential style has not prostrated itself before the instant gratification culture.  I expect some of these reds today to cellar just as well.  The only problem for the wine-lover is:  the good grapes no longer go into labels like Bin 28.  The equivalent grapes to my 1971 Bin 28,  for example Kalimna Vineyard material,  are now found in 2002 RWT,  leaving aside the differences in elevage.  Certainly has made cellaring the good ones (as defined above) a joy.    


Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and related blends
Pinot Gris
Sweet / Sticky
All other white wines, blends, etc.
Cabernet, Merlot, and related blends
2003  Penfolds Cabernet Sauvignon Bin 407
2002  Penfolds Cabernet Sauvignon Bin 707
Cabernet / Shiraz
Pinot Noir
 Syrah = Shiraz
2003  Penfolds Shiraz Bin 128
2003  Penfolds Shiraz Bin 28
2001  Penfolds Shiraz Grange
2003  Penfolds Shiraz RWT
2002  Penfolds Shiraz RWT
2001  Penfolds Shiraz RWT
2002  Penfolds Shiraz St Henri
2001  Penfolds Shiraz St Henri
Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre & related blends
2004  Penfolds Grenache / Shiraz / Mourvedre Bin 138
All other red wines, blends etc
2003  Penfolds Cabernet / Shiraz Bin 389
2004  Penfolds Koonunga Hill Shiraz / Cabernet
2005  Penfolds Rawson’s Retreat
From the Cellar. Older wines.


2002  Penfolds Shiraz RWT   19 +  ()
Barossa Valley,  South Australia,  Australia:  14.5%;  $169   [ cork;  14 months in French oak 66% new,  34% 1-year;  RWT = Red Winemaking Trial;  www.penfolds.com.au ]
Dense ruby and velvet,  the deepest of the shirazes.  One sniff,  and this is marvellous Australian shiraz / syrah,  and seeing the wine in the same context as the 2003 Chapoutier selections parcellaires serves only to confirm how good it is.  Just on bouquet,  the great thing about it is it is not euc'y,  not boysenberry over-ripe,  not too oaky,  and not showing perceptible VA,  all of which are endemic in premium Australian shiraz.  Instead,  it shows plush fruit spanning cassis to darkest black doris plums touching on blueberry,  with fragrant nearly cedary French oak delightfully subdued and making the whole thing aromatic.  It is not quite cool enough to show a floral or cracked peppercorn “syrah” component on bouquet,  but it is very close.  Palate is the bouquet liquefied,  suggestions of boysenberry sur maturité creeping in now,  velvety rich as if some barrel-ferment,  blueberries too,  more oak than the bouquet indicates,  immensely concentrated.  The berry flavours last and last in the mouth.  This wine will cellar for 10 – 40 years,  and end up looking much like the 1970 Bin 28 does now - leaving aside the differing oaks.  This is not as silly as it sounds,  for in those days Bin 28 was truly a premium wine,  with much of the fruit derived from the Kalimna vineyard.  Great wine – one could not cellar too much of this.  GK 07/06

2002  Penfolds Cabernet Sauvignon Bin 707   19 +  ()
Barossa Valley,  McLaren Vale & Padthaway,  South Australia,  Australia:  14.5%;  $160   [ cork;  CS 100%,  from an unusually cool dry summer (which means quality in Australia);  14 months in 100% new American oak hogsheads;  Penfolds rate the ’02 with the 1996 and 1990;  www.penfolds.com.au ]
Dense ruby and velvet,  denser even than the ’02 RWT,  the darkest of the cabernets.  Bouquet is immensely powerful both from intense cassis,  and from scads of new oak,  reminding immediately of a latter-day version of the recently-tasted 1986 Mouton-Rothschild.  On palate,  the concentration of cassis is remarkable,  the wine intensely aromatic,  both intrinsically and from the excess (surely) of new American oak.  Yet it has to be said,  the level of oak is only a fraction that of the 2001 Grange.  The total balance,  given the richness,  is good (in its style),  and both berry and oak linger for ages on the palate,  with the ultimate last word going,  unbelievably,  to the cassis.  This augurs well for its development in cellar.  Like the 2002 RWT,  this is a great example of the Penfolds style,  from a great year.  Only a few vintages reach this quality of berry flavour,  usually these wines being simply too hot-climate.  Invest in as much as you can afford,  for it will cellar for half a lifetime,  10 – 50 years.  2002 Penfolds Bin 707 will be wonderful in 10,  20 or 40 years – take your pick.  Just provide for it !  GK 07/06

2003  Penfolds Shiraz RWT   19  ()
Barossa Valley,  South Australia,  Australia:  14.5%;  $153   [ cork;  15 months in French oak 70% new,  30% 1-year;  RWT = Red Winemaking Trial;  www.penfolds.com.au ]
Ruby and velvet,  the same hue as the 2002 RWT,  but not the density.  Bouquet is great however,  a little fresher than the 2002,  with nearly a hint of dark lilac florals and cracked pepper,  a distinct suggestion of syrah rather than shiraz.  Palate continues in exactly the same vein,  beautiful cassis,  dark plum and blueberry,  a toasty suggestion on the oak as if there is a barrel-ferment component,  all a little fresher and crisper than the 2002,  but not quite as concentrated.  This too is Barossa shiraz at its best,  reminiscent of the earlier famous 1970 and '71 Bin 28 shirazes.  Cellar 10 – 35 years.  GK 07/06

2001  Penfolds Shiraz St Henri   18 ½  ()
Fleurieu Peninsula,  Padthaway,  Barossa Valley  and other districts,  South Australia,  Australia:  14.5%;  $59   [ cork;  16 months in large old oak;  www.penfolds.com.au ]
Ruby and velvet,  much the same weight as the 2001 RWT.  Both the St Henris benefit from decanting.  This 2001 has quite the best bouquet I have ever struck on St Henri,  notwithstanding trace brett.  There are some dianthus-like florals and thoughts of syrah,  on overt blueberry,  with underpinning cassis,  plum and boysenberry,  very rich,  much more complex than the 2002.  Palate continues the fine berry in quite a peppery tannin structure,  still quite oaky despite the stated old-oak-only elevage,  the fruit nearly as rich as 2001 RWT.  This is a remarkable St Henri,  in a bizarre / gigantic way almost offering a promise of pinot noir-styled bouquet and fruit,  delightful.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 07/06

2001  Penfolds Shiraz Grange   18 ½  ()
South Australia,  Australia:  14.5%;  $421   [ cork;  17 months in American oak 100% new;  www.penfolds.com.au ]
Ruby and velvet,  almost some carmine,  one of the deepest.  One sniff and this is Grange,  almost a caricature of itself,  back to the massively oaky style there was some respite from in one or two vintages of the late '90s.  Of course there is great berry too,  intense cassis and darkest plum,  but the level of oak is ridiculous,  catering to fetishists.  Palate is wonderfully rich,  but the berry is a little browning in character,  like blackcurrant jam (under cellophane) 10 years old one has found in the back of the pantry.  Berry and oak battle it out through a long vanillin and nearly buttery (+ve) palate,  with incredible richness.  This and the 707 are soul-mates,  but whereas the 707 is within bounds (just) on the oak front,  this Grange is so in pursuit of its own image,  there is a risk of losing the plot.  Somebody needs to say,  wine is usually drunk with food,  had you forgotten.  On concentration,  it has to be scored highly,  but in the sense most Grange is 'consumed' (as the Americans say) prematurely by trophy hunters,  rather than savoured by thoughtful tasters,  score hardly matters.  Cellar for 20  – 50 years,  when it might reflect the generous score above.  But if you want to see what good shiraz (with some thought of syrah) actually smells and tastes like,  get seven 2001 St Henri for the price of one of these.  GK 07/06

2003  Penfolds Cabernet / Shiraz Bin 389   18  ()
McLaren Vale,  Barossa Valley and other districts,  South Australia,  Australia:  14.5%;  $45   [ cork;  12 months in American oak 27% new;  www.penfolds.com.au ]
Ruby and velvet,  one of the densest colours in the batch.  Freshly opened,  the bouquet is voluminous,  based on rich berry and new fine-grained potentially cedary American oak.  And tasted freshly opened,  the wine is much too oaky.  The remedy (if you have to commit infanticide with this wine) is to decant it in the morning into a wide-necked vessel,  and let it breathe all day.  The fruit develops magnificently,  the cabernet cassis coming to quite dominate.  Thus breathed,  palate is rich,  long,  still too oaky in youth,  but a pretty exciting wine in its heroic style.  Cellar 10 – 35 years at least.  Currently the 1970 is very attractive drinking,  for example.  GK 07/06

2001  Penfolds Shiraz RWT   18  ()
Barossa Valley,  South Australia,  Australia:  14%;  $153   [ cork;  14 months in French oak 65% new,  35% 1-year;  RWT = Red Winemaking Trial;  www.penfolds.com.au ]
Ruby and some velvet,  distinctly older than the Grange and St Henri of the same year.  This too is big shiraz in a Penfolds style,  but more rustic than the stunning 2002.  Berry includes browning cassis,  dark plum and boysenberry,  with a slight salty complexity which is worrying.  Fruit weight is good,  richer than the '01 St Henri,  but not such a clear varietal statement.  This is more a Penfolds Bin red,  for example a fine Bin 28,  rather than the clear super-class shiraz RWT has set out to create.  Cellar 10 – 30 years.  GK 07/06

2003  Penfolds Shiraz Bin 128   17 ½ +  ()
Coonawarra,  South Australia,  Australia:  14%;  $30   [ cork;  12 months in French oak 20% new,  balance older;  www.penfolds.com.au ]
Ruby and velvet.  Benefits from decanting,  to reveal sweet ripe rich fruit spanning the cassis / black doris plum and blueberries spectrum.  Like the 2002 RWT,  the wine is not euc'y,  oaky or over-ripe,  instead inclining to a lovely expression of shiraz almost as syrah.  Palate brings up the blueberries a fraction,  as well as cassis and plum in attractive berry-dominant style.  It is a little more aromatic than the RWT,  hinting at black peppercorn,  and not obviously acid-adjusted on the finish.  Though not as rich as the top wines,  this is an attractive Bin 128,  which will cellar 10 – 20 years at least.  Wines don't have to be huge to cellar well,  as a current bottle of 1968 Bin 128 (courtesy of Moss Delany) attractively shows.  GK 07/06

2003  Penfolds Cabernet Sauvignon Bin 407   17 ½ +  ()
Coonawarra,  Langhorne Creek,  McLaren Vale and other districts,  southern South Australia,  Australia:  14.5%;  $32   [ cork;  CS 100%;  12 months in American and French hogsheads 27% new;  www.penfolds.com.au ]
Older ruby,  some velvet.  Bouquet is softer,  rounder and more mellow in style than Bin 707 or the 389,  but it still shows clear cassis and dark plum in oak which is potentially cedary.  A South Australian cabernet with this much varietal definition would have been feted nationwide in the 1960s (as for example the 1963 Seaview Cabernet Sauvignon or the 1965 Hardys C 546),  yet now they are almost routine in the Bin 407 series.  Palate is much lighter than the 2002 Villa Cab / Merlot Reserve,  and simpler too,  but there is an attractive spread of oak-influenced cassis which will mellow beautifully.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 07/06

2002  Penfolds Shiraz St Henri   17 ½  ()
McLaren Vale & Barossa Valley,  South Australia,  Australia:  14.5%;  $59   [ cork;  some CS;  14 months in large old oak;  www.penfolds.com.au ]
Ruby and velvet,  not quite as dense as the 2001 St Henri.  Both St Henris benefit greatly from decanting,  this one to show a more straightforward Penfolds Bin red.  It is all a little browner and hotter climate than the top wines – surprising for the year – but still rich and clearly shiraz.  Palate though rich is drier and more phenolic than the 2001,  with slightly porty flavours and a fair tannin load to lose.  Will lighten up in cellar 10 – 25 years.  GK 07/06

2004  Penfolds Grenache / Shiraz / Mourvedre Bin 138   17  ()
Barossa Valley,  South Australia,  Australia:  14.5%;  $31   [ cork;  17 months in older French and American oak;  www.penfolds.com.au ]
Ruby and velvet,  a little carmine.  Bin 138 varies in style,  some years being southern Rhone-like,  others being more a juicy popular South Australian red.  The '04 is in the latter camp,  soft,  fragrant,  boysenberry and some blueberry,  and suggestions of maceration carbonique,  some overlap with Rawson's Retreat.  Palate is berry-dominant,  much less oak than the other Bin reds,  finishing on attractive plummy and blueberry fruit.  Perhaps not all the wine is in oak for the stated 17 months.  This is the Penfolds Bin red to go for,  if the others seem too tannic.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 07/06

2003  Penfolds Shiraz Bin 28   16 ½ +  ()
McLaren Vale,  Langhorne Creek & Barossa Valley,  South Australia,  Australia:  14.5%;  $31   [ cork;  12 months in older American oak;  www.penfolds.com.au ]
Ruby and velvet,  below midway in depth.  Bin 28 now includes fruit from warmer areas than the Barossa,  and in the last couple of decades the style has broadened and browned-off somewhat,  compared with the marvellous (at best) wines of the '70s and '80s.  This is a rich shiraz in a more commercial Penfolds approach,  all a bit leathery and phenolic,  lacking floral and berry aromatics and complexity.  Plenty of size,  though,  so needs to mellow.  It will cellar 10 – 25 years,  in its style,  but won't reward the way the earlier editions did.  GK 07/06

2004  Penfolds Koonunga Hill Shiraz / Cabernet   16 ½  ()
Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale,  & Langhorne Creek,  South Australia,  Australia:  13.5%;  $17   [ screwcap;  Sh > CS;  c. 10 months in older oak only,  both French & American;  www.penfolds.com.au ]
Ruby,  some carmine and velvet,  the lightest of the shiraz-style wines in this batch.  Bouquet is fresh red fruits alongside the Penfolds Bin wines,  as if a percentage of the wine perhaps does not see oak.  Cassis,  plum and boysenberry qualities are all present,  all fragrant and attractive.  Palate brings up the boysenberry of typical Australian shiraz,  and the whole is very youthful and a little raw at this stage.  But this is serious red wine,  dry finish,  which will amply repay cellaring.  In three years it will still be fresh,  but more mellow than today,  and in 10 years will be attractive mature red.  It will achieve this on its intrinsic fruit quality and excellent technical balance,  plus restrained oak.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 07/06

2005  Penfolds Rawson’s Retreat   15 ½ +  ()
South Australia,  Australia:  13.5%;  $12   [ plastic closure;  Sh & CS from all over SA,  ‘including a sizeable contribution from the Barossa Valley’,  but also Murray River etc;  elevation is discreetly referred to on the website:  ‘Parcels of this wine were fermented and matured with a combination of French and American oak’,  a wording which neatly allows chips in s/s,  nowadays almost inescapable in supermarket wines;  www.penfolds.com.au ]
Ruby,  some carmine and velvet.  Bouquet on this wine is much more everyday,  in the context of the blind tasting.  There is a clear maceration carbonique / roto-fermenter component,  in a juicy boysenberry and bottled plums style.  Palate has plenty of berry,  all a little raw from lack of exposure to oak storage,  and inclining to the populist boysenberry ice-cream kind of red,  not quite bone-dry to the finish.  Sound and wholesome as such,  still with wonderful Penfolds richness,  and will be much better in a couple of years.  Will cellar for 5 – 8 years,  if the regrettable plastic closure is OK.  Why not screwcap ?  GK 07/06