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Behind the back labels of Penfolds blends


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Philip White has a think about two expensive Shiraz blends from Penfolds.

Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna ® South Australia Shiraz 2012
$40 Vintage Cellars, $37 Dan Murphy’s; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 80++ points

Kalimna is a priceless old vineyard property at the north end of the Barossa. There’s a very, very special 1880s Cabernet Block 42 there, whose wine sells at around Grange prices. If you wanted to, you could have paid $168,000 for 750 mls of the 2004 in the ravishing Ampoule, which quickly sold out in 2012.

On the other hand, Kalimna’s Shiraz vines start in 1948. Somehow, instead of revering that special place, some marketing genius decided to make Kalimna a registered brand name in a more generic sense, so the grapes in this wine come, as the label vaguely admits, from South Australia, which is a fair bit bigger than little ol’ Kalimna. Not to mention quite a lot cheaper, as far as buying grapes goes.

Pushing it even further, the back label says “It is Penfolds [sic] oldest Bin wine”. So we have the “oldest Bin wine” which is actually 2012 and it may or may not include fruit from Kalimna.

It sure as hell includes quite a lot of fruit from somewhere else.

Maybe the buyer of Penfolds red at these prices is expected to be so breathlessy aspirant that they won’t notice such polish from the propaganda division which somehow lives on in the ruins of Foster’s old Melbourne ramparts. I seriously doubt whether these people actually drink wine.

It was quite raw and brash on first opening. Now four hours later, it seems to fit the modern Penfolds ‘claret’ style: tight and velvety; not exactly jumping with juicy or openly alluring fruit.

There are gradual insinuations of dried fig and juniper berries and nuts like you get in panforte. And there’s a nice summer prickle about it, like red dust. It’s the sort of wine that might gradually suck the patient drinker, as we say, in. In the sense that it reluctantly releases glimmers of this and that. And it’s leathery, like old dry harness. It’s very dry to schlück, and, as I say, velvety and dusty. It’s on the verge of sucking all the water out of your eyes. It’s right-wing wine.

Its American oak is not too intrusive, but it’s certainly there. I reckon it’ll start to show the beginnings of a sense of humour in another two days. If in doubt, double-decant. Or wait 10 years. Or have it now with tart cheddar. Or buy something else.

Like Jacob’s Creek, Kalimna was once a small vineyard.

Penfolds Bin 150 Marananga Shiraz 2012
$75 at Dan Murphy’s, $63 at Langton’s (both Woolworths); 14.5% alcohol; cork; 94++ points

The old rocks that underlie Marananga are about as old as rocks get inside your actual Barossa Valley, which is otherwise mostly very young geology. This is not to guarantee that these old rocks grow better wines, but they tend to. Wines like Greenock Creek’s Roennfeldt Road grow in ’em. When he discovered that Michael Waugh had bought that tiny block, Peter Lehmann complained that too many of his trophies came from that particular vineyard. So while the location of the Penfolds vineyard at Marananga remains annoyingly vague, this newish Bin number should be good.

It is indeed a simmering, glowering, provocative brute. With unusual finesse for such machismo. It stares you down. It is overtly masculine. It is the blacksmith pushing the wife aside and making the bloody blackberry tart his way. He puts mint leaves on the top, and then great gloops of cream, and way beneath, his awkward pastry is not particularly fine as far as its sieving and rolling went. Then, like old Burgundians eat their tiny forest strawberries, he’s ground white pepper over it.

Drink it. Oooyez. I know we’re getting into the heady nether regions of pricing, but let me guarantee you this is three times the wine of the Bin 28. It’s intense, and yes, velvety, but up the middle of its stony lane there’s an open gutter full of the oozing gooey juice of many luscious fruits, most of them black and not yet growing on Earth. I mean they’re obviously extant in the wine, but the things they remind me of are too dark and mysterious and jungly to have yet evolved.

I’ll leave you with blackberry, pepper and aniseed. And that wicked black syrup.

A shoulder of venison stewed ever so slowly with juniper, blackcurrants, whole beetroots and all the business in a mixture of vintage port and champagne should set you off nicely, served with a spinach jam and mashed potato, parsnip and carrot, with chopped raw Spanish onion whisked in at the end with some Paris Creek butter and the Italian parsley. Grurgle sounds from me.  Yep, grurgle.

Bloody good job, Gago and gang. Knockout.


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