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Three top drops from Penfolds

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Whitey picks three remarkable wines from the 2014 Penfolds release.  The Bin 389, along with the rest of the Bin Series, is now available. Yattarna and Grange will enter the market on May 1.

Penfolds Yattarna Chardonnay 2011
$150; 13% alcohol; screw cap; 95+++ points

Probably the most vast, impenetrable white wine I can recall, this monster is as close as Penfolds has yet got to the true spirit of a “white Grange”.  At once more promising than the recalcitrant Bin A, this brute seems to just sit there on the ground, more Great Pyramid than Sphinx. It has no face to fall off. It even smells like the bloody pyramids.

I’ve been letting it play two games with me. The first is pouring it cold, and letting its movie unfold as it warms. Those edgy, acrid reeks of cordite and other very dangerous explosives grow with great deliberation, awakening the old powder monkey in me. The second is repeating this day after day, as the bottle wanes and the wine gradually admits oxygen through the cracks between its mighty bricks.

Fruit? Chardonnay. Forget all those melons and vanillinoids and peaches and whatnot. They’re all here in great force, but only to be united in a Chardonnay as intense and majestic as Chardonnay gets, anywhere. I’d like to offer more precision in my prophecy about this wine’s ascension to glory, but it is simply too thick and concentrated and closed yet for more accurate analysis. If I were Peter Gago I’d be expecting some shareholder-obsessed Grace Longhurst writing from head office, just as she did to Max Schubert in 1957, to accuse me of “accumulating large stocks of wine which to all intents and purposes were unsaleable”, ordering me to cease production forthwith. Bugger them. When this wine finally enters into Heaven, to sit on the right hand of God, it’ll be the first time a Chardonnay’s done that without the Almighty grunting “Get off my goddam hand.”

Five days later: the worst thing that’s happened is the wine’s beginning to look a bit more along the lines of what everybody seems to imagine Chardonnay should be like.  If my plus signs, which indicate cellaring potential, extended so far, I’d add another on this the last glass in the bottle. Stunning.

Penfolds Bin 389 South Australia Cabernet Shiraz 2011
$80; 14% alcohol; screw cap; 93++ points

Smooth and mellow, harmonious and gently alluring from the first sniff, this seems to me to be the best 389 for years. It has hints of red and black fruits and various things critics normally hunt for in the snifter – it oozes old harness, dates and dried figs, for example – but overall it triggers a wistful mindful of good solid things from a past many of us can barely recall, if indeed we were lucky enough to smell such stuff in the first place.  You’d never recall any of these aromas if you grew up in a block of flats, for example. Or at the beach.

It’s a wine of mood rather than bright facets, all assimilated and harmonised in the textbook Penfolds style of yore. It’s almost melancholic. Forget the “Baby Grange” nonsense some marketer thought up Bacchus only knows how many vintages ago – it’s nothing like Grange. But it IS pure Penfolds. The flavours are right up the same old barn: hessian dust; bags of plums and old apples in the stable. Then there’s just the cutest, most appropriate rise of fresh dark fruits about halfway through, after which those perfect old tannins and pithy, lemony acids seep in, stirring the drinker to reach out through the dream for another pour. It’s a wine I could just sit and drink for its perfect ponderance. Have a couple right up with people you can talk to, but really, really try to stack some away. This’ll undress you in 10 years.

Five days later: Peaked on day three. Still a lovely nostalgic reverie in this glass … I’m drinking it with Beethoven’s Last Quartets. It’s still a perfectly presentable luxury of a drink, worth the money, but only if you cellar it awhile. I’d give it another plus, maybe another point.

Penfolds Bin 95 Grange 2009
$785; 14.5% alcohol; cork (!), 93+++ points

Smashed schist and fudge are words you won’t find in any of PR guff for this wine. Smells that are worlds apart. But they’re what I get upon my liberation of this poor imprisoned thing. Massage it back to life with jug swirls and double decants and the gap between these extremes begins to fill with little oozes from one side or the other. Carbon comes from the stony side; banana esters and fresh tar from the other. The tar gradually remembers its roots in vegetation, and it lets wimpers of prune and juniper and Deadly Nightshade berries loose.

It is a black velvet wine after two hours. It has no shimmer. After four hours there’s a hint of prune. Promising. At least prunes have shiny skins. At this stage the flavours are showing signs of edema: it is a raw, brutal, gradually swelling thing. It was not built for this vulgar molestation. It was triggered, after all, in the year of obscene heat which in retrospect seems a rehearsal for 2014. But rather than tip this first glass back into the bottle where it belongs, I have savoured it right up to the moment of the Penfolds press embargo lifting. So I publish.

Points? How do you measure this baby’s life before its umbilical is severed? I’ve taken the advice of the anaesthetist and put up 93 with the imagining of more plus signs than my rigorous protocols permit. Don’t take any notice.

Three days later: The wine is beginning to harmonise and perhaps even glow as it sucks in the oxygen. It still lacks any shiny reflections: its flavours are all matte black, like a well-dressed woodfire stove. For lack of understanding – I don’t lack faith – I’ll hand it another point, perhaps expecting to give it more in a day or two if I can avoid drinking it all in a wild lustful surge. It is only now revealing touches of delightful primary fruit. Blueberries and blackcurrants, prune and mainly marello cherries in kirsch, dusted with confectioner’s sugar. It also has that wicked traditional twist of young balsamic, which in such modest degree simply serves to make me more huuuunnngreee.

It’s a 25-30-year wine, no worries. Especially if it had a screw cap. Right now, a jug of it with spooned Stilton and Patum Peperium Gentleman’s Relish on thin rye toasts would set me swooning.

Even in horrid vintages like this, Peter Gago and his stern determined team are making the best Granges, although of course I couldn’t taste Max’s models fresh upon release until I hit the red in the early ’70s. My bad.

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