Penfolds Collection 2023
BY ANGUS HUGHSON | JULY 25, 2023
Penfolds’ annual tastings of new releases is
always a game of mental gymnastics. This year’s range spans five vintages, two
continents (thanks to the recent addition of California/South Australia blends) and eleven different regions, from the cool depths of Tasmania up to the Clare
and Napa Valleys.
Adherence to house style rather than a
strict region-focused ideology has always been the overriding philosophy here.
Penfolds picks the best fruit at the right quality level across their range of
wine styles, of which there is certainly more than one. Sleek, vibrant Rieslings
with classic modern Australian Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs are the recent
additions, and then there are the ubiquitous Penfoldsian broad-shouldered red
wines, traditionally from South Australian terroirs. But they are not alone. The
second vintage release of international blends brings together fruit from Napa
Valley and South Australia. This year also sees Penfolds adding a new wine, the
2022 Grenache Bin 21. Keen observers of the Australian wine scene will not be
surprised. Grenache’s profile is increasing, particularly in South Australia.
It was only a matter of time before Penfolds would follow suit.
Among these mental gymnastics, several
themes often emerge. There’s an overarching feel to the releases but also some
key regional and vintage takeouts - the hits and the misses. This year is no
different. It is a ‘steady as she goes’ set of wines and will carry plenty of
appeal for fans of these various styles. This is in light of quite an
extraordinary and unprecedented run of vintages. Yet, it is challenging to generalize
when comparing Tasmania to the Clare Valley. The distance of 1,700 kilometers is
a little further than a direct line between London and Naples, with climatic
conditions equally disparate.
Two thousand and twenty-three has been one
of the coolest in recent times in Eastern Australia. We need to go back over a
decade to find a similar year. The good news, for now, is that 2023 will craft
scintillating Rieslings in critical regions, as evidenced by the new release of
Penfolds Bin 51 from Eden Valley, the best in recent memory with stunning
balance and focus. Two thousand and twenty-three will be a vintage to go long
for fans of the dry, linear Australian style with strong aging potential.
Chardonnay’s story is a little more
complex, with this year’s releases, vintages 2021 and 2022, sourced from
Tasmania plus the elevated regions of Adelaide Hills and Tumbarumba in New
South Wales. These cooler vintages on the
Australian mainland and Tasmania largely played right into the hands of winemaker
Kim Schroeter and Penfolds’ modern, refined style. The only real hiccup was in
Tasmania, with some late-season rainfall in 2021. Two thousand and twenty-two
was then an oddball vintage, perfectly illustrating the seasonal complexity
even in this remote corner of the country. Northern Tasmania enjoyed a warmer
and even season, with Southern Tasmania also experiencing a good finish to the growing
cycle after a wet start. The East Coast was more challenging, cool and wet,
making it one of the more complicated in recent memory.
For red wines, 2021 and 2022 have been
relatively mild. I’ve already described in detail the 2021 Barossa vintage in my recent
Barossa report. Suffice it to say, it is a good to excellent vintage,
depending on crop loads, which is also true in McLaren Vale. Autumn and spring
rains in the lead-up to the 2021 vintage offered very welcome relief from what
had been a run of warm, dry years, showcased in the wines from 2019 and 2020,
Grange and St. Henri.
The relative drought has driven the style
of these wines most of all. Two thousand and twenty had a scorching start to
the growing season, but it settled with average temperatures down three degrees
in February, which saved the year. Two thousand and nineteen was a little more
severe. Temperatures were two to three degrees above average for much of the
growing season, with 11 days over 35 degrees Celsius (95ºF) in January. Combined with an arid winter, 2019 saw dramatic reductions in
yields, while the lead-up to 2020 was the driest on record. Similarly,
2020 yields were down 50% on long-term averages. The resulting wines are bold and
flavorsome but certainly not stepping over the line into over-ripeness, which
local winemakers and viticulturists are now much more adept at handling in
these warm, dry vintages.
Speaking of red wines, only one truly
exciting theme slowly emerged through tasting the 2021 vintage. While this year
offers a good to excellent proposition from the warmer regions further south, particularly
in Coonawarra and Wrattonbully, 2021 is off the Richter scale. The cool season
and windy conditions during flowering, thanks to its greater exposure to the
Great Southern Ocean, created a fabulous, if low-yielding, vintage for Cabernet
Sauvignon and Shiraz. Evidence of this came with the wonderfully evocative Shiraz
Bin 128, a sophisticated and age-worthy cool-climate wine. From there, each
time Coonawarra Cabernet popped up in a blend, such as the Bins 389, 407, 169
and 707, the sheer purity and vibrancy of Coonawarra fruit shone through. I
would not be surprised to see a Special Bin release to showcase an outstanding
vintage in the coming years. At a macro level, the Limestone Coast,
particularly Coonawarra and Wrattonbully, seems to be somewhat more protected from
the effects of climate change thanks to their greater proximity to southerly
ocean currents. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the future.
The depth of fruit from Coonawarra in 2021
has also been a driving factor in making quality Cabernet Sauvignon, the
leading theme in this year’s releases, with impressive strength across the
entire range. It is worth noting that there is comprehensive sourcing of
Australian Cabernet Sauvignon on top of Coonawarra with this year’s wines,
including fruit from Barossa, Wrattonbully, McLaren Vale, Padthaway and
Adelaide Hills. This brings balance to the wines, while they also carry fine
tannins that will provide cellaring potential. The Quantum and Bin 149 bottlings,
blends of Napa and South Australian Cabernet Sauvignon, are in their second
vintages. The Quantum, in particular, reflects the stunning 2019 Napa vintage
and is another exceptional release.
The 2019 Penfolds Grange brings together
fruit from Barossa, McLaren Vale, Coonawarra and the Clare Valley, 97% Shiraz
and 3% Cabernet Sauvignon with 19 months maturation in 100% new American oak
hogsheads. It is a heavy-set vintage and a strong release with power and
richness that will undoubtedly drink well for decades. However, this was shaded
by the Quantum international blend, a fascinating turn of events to see this
innovative style hit such peaks in only its second vintage. While traditionalists
may despair at the combination of two different terroirs, the wine quality of
this across-boarders mix is undeniable and will likely see these styles become
more important over the coming years, both for Penfolds and on the broader
All the wines in this report were tasted in
Sydney in June 2023.
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