It’s like being in the engine room of some bloody great ship, sitting in the old stillroom at Penfolds Magill. The powerhouse of a towering palace, at least. But there a few of us sat last week, leering at a table laden with the cream of Australian premium wine. Peter Gago AC kept our snifters trim.
Here are my favourites, and a couple that’ll be very popular but just ain’t my style:
First, there are four exemplary white wines.
The Bin 51 Eden Valley Riesling 2017 ($30; 12.5% alcohol; screw cap) is more like actual glass than, say, chalk or slate. Sure, it does have some granular action in the tail but it’s closer to the pith of some tiny limes I recall from Dum In Mirrie, a flat slice of mud and lush jungle with crocs on the side off Dundee Downs on the Timor Sea. Sorta takes your mind off lime pith, eh? But go back there and think of cool lime juice and its thickish texture and gingery chilli broth and perfect glassy clarity and you have something like this or go all Issey Miyake and Hendrick’s Gin with cucumber.
Near the top, there are three Chardonnays. The Bin 311 Tumbarumba 2016 ($45: 12.5% alcohol; screw cap) is one for wusses. It seems full of isovaleric acid and cheesy tropical umami: soothing, brow-stroking notions of motherly pulchritude. It’s the one for avocado lips. Millions will love it.
Yattarna Chardonnay 2015 ($150; 13% alcohol; screw cap) is the huge cushy limousine. There are no bumps. This is royal lavishment: poached peaches and crème brûlée. Gago says there are oatcakes. I reckon it’s more like buttery shortbread down beneath the plumpedness. Somewhere in there. Serious king-hell luxe, mon. Town car. This be the squish.
Like other recent years, the Reserve Bin A Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2016 ($125; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap) is marching off into barren stony ground in its style, far away from the cushion of the Tumbarumba or Yattarna. Its most immediate fruit starts out somewhere tight like grapefruit or even more like the pink grapefruit or the artery juice of the blood orange without so many red corpuscles. Then it marches off into the wilderness, driven, aloof. It’s stunning wine. Now for austere; a decade later for slightly older austerely scrumptious.
You prefer curvy? Go Tumbarumba or Yattarna.
While we’re on angular wine, the Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($500: 14.5% alcohol; cork) has been cornered in brand new American oak hogsheads for 20 months. While I’m sure this wine is dead true to its heritage and tradition and made from the fastest tightest deepest vineyard selections from Coonawarra, Barossa, McLaren Vale and Padthaway, I have never been capable of loving Quercus alba wood of this concentration. Never been a lover of such ramrod stiff right wing stuff. This wine is angular, man. It’ll make the wheelwrights and lumberjacks purr from right across the yard. It’s a record-breaking 707 for promise and accuracy: if you like ’em you’ll love it. But it just ain’t me.
On the other hand, the Bin 407 South Australia Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($95; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap) has confectioner’s sugars and musk all over its crystallised violets, meadow blooms and hedgerow. I felt it was from chalk and it turns out to be primarily from Wrattonbully, Coonawarra and Limestone Coast chalks before they gave it admixtures of McLaren Vale and Barossa. This has some supple form and some sensuality, and some older barrels (in with 25 per cent new French ones) set it afloating and playing about without getting bargey. It’s spritely and perfumed.
My romantic pick of the Cabernets this year isn’t even that. It’s the blend our earliest white forebears brought from Bordeaux, in the days when those Aquitaine reds often contained a sploosh of reinforcing Hermitage. The Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz 2015 ($95; 14.5%; screw cap) is a beauty. It’s had only Quercus alba, but equally spread over new, one and two-year-old barrels. So it has plenty of that classic old-fashioned Penfolds shellack in with the snakes draped panting in the blackberry vines and the hillbillies burning offcuts to boil their still out the back. A bastion of the great Penfolds castle, and a very good example. This wine is a piece of serious regional pride. Very posh but never fancy, the 389.
From which we make a neat sideways step to wine of a style we once called claret, as in fine and tending to austere: St Henri Shiraz 2014 ($125; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap). Almost so shy and refined as to avert its eyes, this is a relic recipe followed to the T. It almost has tea leaves rustling in its bouquet, but that’s pink everlasting flowers and lavender floating on a genteel syrup of prune and currant, chicory, fig and juniper, all perfectly harmonised and settled after a year in bloody huge 50-plus-years-old oak vats. Damn thing glows. This one’s really after the real old style. Prim and proper, but practising sensuality.
Much more boisterous and bumptious is the RWT Bin 798 Barossa Shiraz 2015 ($200; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap). All French oak, 83 per cent new, this is like interrupting somebody like the king in the royal vestry. They’ve not cut short the oak polish budget but they know if you can smell it you shoulda saved that money for starch and ironed it into the raiment cuffs and collars and the doilies. But that recent touch of dusting cloth and polish is rich and hangs about the sense of somebody very big and so damn royal that you daren’t even look up. That’s Barossa Shiraz. This is a mighty wine, but that authority is still so noble as to show the sort of soulful motherliness Max loved. So it’s not really so bumptious as we expected. It’s gruff, but it’ll take your hand.
Which brings us to the Grange Bin 95 2013 ($850; 14.5% alcohol; cork). Goodness me. Peter poured this with a 2012, which reassured my initial notion that this is a more supple and sensual wine than that. Twelve was indeed mighty; a bit lurchy yet. This is a fitter, more svelte prince. The black armour lacquer smells like a waxed Japanese screen. Soy. Big thundry summer ozone raindrops in the dust outside; in here a vase of marshmallow, elder and hawthorn. Sense of humour: there’s a crown hanging in the damn hawthorn. It – no he – has dashed through to dining where there’s prunes soaked and smudgy plum and streusel fresh yeast kuchen blackberries and mulberries. Linen in the press. Drink: incredibly fine and silky; precisely sensual; yearningly slender and languid many single-line poems on reflection. There’s a trunk of copperplate lists and dust from the verge of the austral zones … those big raindrops … This is a more serene, reflective Grange than usual. It’s the Guerlain Mitsouko Grange. Perfection.
I didn’t mention money, did I?
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