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Pride of Penfolds

Sunita Sue Leng
Sunita Sue Leng  • 5 min read
Pride of Penfolds
The stars at the Singapore release of the Penfolds Collection 2019 were its salty Chardonnay and the sublime ‘Baby Grange’
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The stars at the Singapore release of the Penfolds Collection 2019 were its salty Chardonnay and the sublime ‘Baby Grange’

SINGAPORE (Oct 7): Longevity is a hallmark for Penfolds, says Sam Stephens, its Singapore-based winemaking ambassador. The Australian wine producer, which celebrates its 175th birthday this year, has certainly put the continent on the global wine map, with vintages that have cellared admirably and multi-vineyard blends that have won top scores. It is also the maker of Grange, arguably Australia’s most famous premium wine.

As the Penfolds Collection 2019 highlights, however, it is not all about the big-ticket, big-bodied Grange. The collection showcases the winery’s benchmark labels, with the 2017 vintage taking centre stage. Growing regions across South Australia, where its vineyards are concentrated, had a cool and wet winter and spring, which provided the vintage with more moisture. There were also no prolonged heatwaves in the summer.

As a result, there is a bit more acidity running through the reds, notes Stephens, who took members of the media through a tasting of the following wines. The standouts for Options were its very drinkable 2018 Bin 311 Chardonnay, which pairs well with many Asian dishes, and the 2017 Bin 389 Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz, or “Baby Grange”, which was in a league of its own.

2018 Bin 311 Chardonnay ($70)

The Bin 311 is a cool climate Chardonnay that squarely captures Penfolds’ effort to source the best fruit from the best regions. In this case, the grapes hail from Adelaide Hills, Tumbarumba in New South Wales and Tasmania. All three regions had a relatively cool year, with Tumbarumba, which is some 700m above sea level, seeing good rainfall right up to December.

This is a wine with personality: a distinct salinity and minerality on the nose and palate combined with hints of white peach and lime. “There is a slight tartness that would work with fish or Hainanese chicken rice, as well as coconut-based curries like a Thai green curry or even a laksa, if there is not too much heat,” Stephens says.

2017 Bin 2 Shiraz Mataro ($37)

Not the most common of blends, this is a Barossa Valley-driven Shiraz softened by a grape that originates from France’s Rhone Valley. Mataro (also known as mourvèdre) thrives in the Barossa and has largely been used in Australia in fortified wine production and blending. In the case of the Bin 2, mataro, which makes up 15% of the blend, adds a dash of complexity to the medium-bodied wine while bringing out the trademark layer of spice from the Shiraz. On the nose, there is a whiff of liquorice and sandalwood. While a bit vibrant in its youth, this is a wine that should find its legs after some time in the bottle.

2017 Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz ($70)

A showcase of warm climate Australian Shiraz, this is ripe, robust, plummy. “It’s a quintessential South Australian Shiraz which speaks to Australians,” says Stephens. It is named after the Kalimna Vineyard that Penfolds purchased in 1945 and is renowned for its distinctive soils, which are deep and sandy, allowing for good drainage. The Bin 28 is today a multi-region, multi-vineyard blend similar on the nose to the Bin 2, but with more vanilla and dark fruit in the mouth. If left to cellar, chocolaty notes come out, adds Stephens.

2017 Bin 389 cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz ($120)

Quick quiz: What is the most collected wine in Australia? It may come as a surprise that it is not Grange. Instead, it is Penfolds’ Bin 389, with Grange at No 2. One reason is the price gap. The 2015 Grange retails at $990, several times the price of the 2017 Bin 389. Second, the Bin 389 is an all-round crowd-pleaser.

It is known as the Baby Grange because components of the wine are matured in the same barrels that held the previous vintage of Grange. Beyond that, the Bin 389 is a unique Australian blend, notes Stephens. A combination of 54% Cabernet Sauvignon and 46% Shiraz, this is a varietal blend few European wineries experiment with. The Cabernet Sauvignon has more natural tannins and provides structure, whereas the Shiraz lends the wine its plummy, blackcurrant notes, he adds.

It is in the style of Penfolds’ powerful red wines but has a finesse even in its youth and a well-crafted balance of fruit and oak. The 2017 vintage, being cooler, also gives the wine a herbal note with traces of mint and eucalyptus. At $120 a bottle and with 30 years of cellaring potential, the Bin 389 is very good value.

2017 RWT Bin 798 Barossa Valley Shiraz ($225)

The RWT range stands out from the multi-vineyard sourcing and American oak maturation that Penfolds leans towards. In contrast, RWTs are single-region, Barossa Valley Shiraz that use only French oak. The experiment began in 1995 under the name “Red Winemaking Trials”. No longer a trial, RWT joined the Penfolds line-up with its 1997 vintage. Fruit is selected for its aromatic qualities and lush texture, and the style is opulent and fleshy.

“RWT is a unique expression of Shiraz,” says Stephens, adding that it gets more herbaceous as it develops. During the tasting, Stephens also uncorked a 2005 RWT Bin 798 to illustrate the RWT’s longevity. Compared with the 2017, the 2005 was more herbal on the nose with aromas of dried flowers while, on the palate, black tea and graphite notes surfaced. “The oak is showing through more but there are still tannins in there, which shows the wine still has the ability to age,” says Stephens.

The Penfolds Collection 2019 is available at select wine stores and online at The Cellar (

Sunita Sue Leng is a former associate editor at The Edge Singapore

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