Words by Tyson Stelzer, International Wine Communicator of the Year
Whatever your opinion of big brands, far-flung blends, controlled allocations and upwardly spiralling prices, this is one of the most outstanding and important Australian wine releases of the year – not only for South Australian shiraz and cabernet, but now for a more than respectable pinot, and one of the finest chardonnays ever conceived in this country.
For South Australia’s most famous red winemaker, a foray ever deeper into Tasmania for chardonnay and pinot noir is a telling declaration for the future of cool climate winemaking in Australia. The company has maxed out the altitude of the Adelaide Hills (at around 650m) and has turned to latitude to, as chief winemaker Peter Gago puts it, ‘climate proof its risk management’.
This release represents Penfolds’ strongest set of chardonnays yet. White winemaker Kym Schroeter rightly considers the trio of 2018, 2019 and 2020 to be ‘probably our best all-round white release I’ve ever seen.’ Yattarna 2018 is one of the finest chardonnays I’ve tasted outside the grand crus of Burgundy itself.
Prices have remained steady (this is not the year for price rises), with the exceptions of Grange and Bin 707 (each up $50) and Bin 407 (up $10). Gago comments that ‘the price of Bin 707 continues to go up, and none of us like it, but there is still a queue around the corner, and it remains the quickest Penfolds wine to sell out.’
Penfolds has worked very hard to establish its international markets (Gago has been courting the US for three decades now) and it has a strong presence there and in China, the Nordics and across Europe (and now even boasts ‘significant’ sales into France). With warehousing established in each of its key markets, the brand is well positioned to weather this year’s inherent supply chain disruptions.
As fate would have it, the first cork-sealed bottle I opened (Magill 2018) was cork tainted. Penfolds’ insistence in bottling everything under $150 under screw cap and everything over under cork sends a contradictory and nonsensical message. Why deny the market the opportunity to choose a reliable closure for the wines where it matters most? Some markets still insist on corks, but why not offer the choice in markets where screw caps have long been embraced?
Despite decades of rhetoric, cork companies have failed dismally in their attempts to eradicate cork taint. In the past month I have also opened new release cork tainted bottles from Louis Roederer, Vieux Télégraphe, Jacob’s Creek, Tapanappa and Fox Creek. These represent more than nine percent of the cork-sealed bottles I’ve opened. One month’s sample is too small to be statistically significant, but even the 3.8% cork taint that I encountered in more than 700 cork-sealed champagnes last year is 3.8% too high in this day and age, when taint-free closures are readily available.
Penfolds’ best buys this year are Yattarna Bin 144 Chardonnay 2018, Bin 311 Chardonnay 2019, Reserve Bin 19A Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2019 and Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon 2018. Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 and Grange Bin 95 2016 are both very strong releases at the big end of town – assuming you’ve just won the lottery! If you buy nothing else, don’t miss Yattarna 2018. All available from 6 August 2020.
For a full breakdown on each wine in this year’s Penfolds collection, visit Tyson’s website at https://www.tysonstelzer.com/penfolds-collection-2020/