Please note: The 2013 bin Reds and Icon reds are previewed here
PLEASE NOTE: I've written a second post on this subject - Penfolds Bin release 2012 - price hike a slap in the face
On March 1, I received an email from info@winecompanion (the JH team)to tell me about the annual Penfolds Bin Release. Here’s what it said:
THREE DISTINCT PENFOLDS VINTAGES TEAM WITH THE 50TH BIN 389 TO ENSURE A COMPELLING 2012 BIN RELEASE
Penfolds is pleased to announce the annual Bins release, an important launch that is distinguished by a significant anniversary of one of its most revered labels Bin 389, and the release of the first two Bins from the impressive 2010 vintage. And here’s the picture that came with it:
The following day, I received my weekly email from Tyson Stelzer who also mentioned the Penfolds Bin Release. He said: ‘There's one word to describe the pricing of the much-anticipated Penfolds release yesterday: expensive. If discounting and bonuses were as energetic as last year, a 14% price rise would have seemed reasonable. But they weren't. Not even close. Last year, keen specials fell between 40 and 48%. The best so far this year is just 35%. And no bonus magnum or wine fridge, either.’ He then suggest these ‘best buys’:
- Bin 51 Eden Valley Riesling 2011 ($22 at Kemeny's),
- Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz 2009 ($25 at Dan's and 1st),
- Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 ($42 at Dan's and 1st)
- and most importantly, Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz 2009 ($49 at Dan's and 1st).
I don’t often agree with TS, but his was exactly my first reaction: these wines are getting expensive. I suspect the tighter pricing is a result of Penfolds’ recent separation from Australia’s big brewer of really ordinary beers. The Penfolds brand, which has been bought and sold more times than a hooker’s favours, is now the jewel in the crown of Treasury Wine Estates.
Trouble is, the Penfolds Bin wines aren’t as good as they used to since all the best fruit Penfolds has access these days goes into the special bins it sells at $100 plus. Another factor is the fierce competition in our market, which has raised the bar in the quality/value stakes. The Penfolds brand still has a lot of admirers but there are more exciting reds and whites made in South Australia these days for less money.
Let’s dispense with the whites first: I can buy a Leo Buring Eden Valley 2006 Riesling at Dan M’s for less than the Penfolds listed above, or I can buy the 2010 Paulett Polish Hill River Riesling, a classic from a better year, for $15. I bet that both of these are better wines than the Penfolds, since Riesling making has never been one of Penny’s strengths. This one is only 11%, and that will come back to bite it in the bum once the blush of youth is gone.
2011 Penfolds Bin 311 Henty Chardonnay is on the grapefruit side of the spectrum, and has plenty of acid to go with it. At 12% alcohol, this wine is going to struggle to put on enough weight and muscle over time. The fruit comes from western Victoria rather than Tumbarumba – Drumbourg presumably, which is better suited to Riesling in my view.
The wine is over $30 discounted, which makes Kooyong Estate’s Clonale Mornington Peninsula Chardonnay a bargain at $22.50. Belgravia’s Apex Chardonnay from Orange ($21) and Bellarmine Chardonnay from Pemberton ($18) are other top choices that come to mind for much less money. These three are classy wines made in small quanitities.
I had a chance to taste a few of these at 1st Choice on the weekend. I started with the 2009 Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz which begins really well with clean, sweet fruit on the nose lifted by classy oak, and the initial impact on the palate is positive. From here on, the show dalls apart: there’s less depth on mid-palate than you'd expect, and the finish is thin/ hollow. A head-and-shoulders Bin 28.
This is not a good sign, since Bin 28 is one of the pillars on which the reputation of Penfolds was built. These days, the wine is no longer made from Kalimna or even Barossa fruit, but from areas all over South Australia - Padthaway, Barossa Valley, Langhorne Creek, McLaren Vale and Robe.
Bin 128 is still made from Coonawarra Shiraz, and this wine had more density and depth than the Bin 28, perhaps because it’s a year younger (from the great 2010 vintage). It’s a bit more closed as well, and thus harder to judge, but I'm not convinced that it will ever be a great Bin 128 (not that we've seen many of those in the last decade and a half).
Another Penfolds foundation rock is Bin 389, and the 2009 is a tour de force rippling with ripe fruit and fancy oak and more depth, acid and tannin than the Bin 28. Touch of the old Arnold Schwarzenegger in this one and, like all bodybuilders, a bit exaggerated and unbalanced.
I preferred the Bin 407, another blend from the Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, Robe, Padthaway, Wrattonbully and Coonawarra.. It has the ripe fruit and polished oak of the 389 but is a touch more elegant (14% rather than 14.5) and superbly balanced. This is my pick but of the 2012 Penfolds red release but, with a rock-bottom price of $42, I’m not rushing out to buy a case. Same goes for the 389 at $50.
Bin 138 Bin 138 Old Vine Grenache Shiraz Mourvèdre is a more recent addition to the Penfolds Bin line, and a bit more affordable at $25 after discount. Sadly, this wine is a lightweight in the GSM stakes despite the old vines claim and the 14.5% alcohol. All the right flavours are there but real substance is lacking.
For better value, look elsewhere
While the great Penfolds brand was bought and sold in the last few decades, and chief winemakers came and went, a new generation of young Turks in the Barossa built big reputations: Turkey Flat, Torbreck, Thorn-Clarke, Hewittson, Kalleske, Teusner, and Sons of Eden. Their wines are largely hand-made in limited quantities, while Penfolds Bin reds are made on a pretty large scale.
If you want great Barossa reds at great prices, I’ve made a few suggestions below. If you just want great Aussie reds, there are more choices:
- Teusner Riebe Shiraz 2010 $18
- Thorn-Clarke Shotfire Shiraz 2009 $19
- Seppelt Chalambar Shiraz (Grampians/Bendigo) $20
- Kalleske Moppa Shiraz 2010* $23
- Mount Langi Ghiran Cliff Edge Shiraz 2010** $27
- Turkey Flat Shiraz 2009 (in a class of its own) $38
- Lake Breeze Bernoota Shiraz Cabernet 2009*** $18
- Annie’s Lane Quelltaler Watervale Shiraz Cabernet 2010**** $20
- Majella The Musician Coonawarra Cabernet Shiraz 2010 $18
- Yalumba The Signature Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz 2006 $39
- West Cape Howe Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 $18
- Teusner The Gentleman Cabernet Sauvigon (Eden Valley) $18
- Wynns Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 $20
- Mitchells Sevenhill Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 $24
- Majella Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 $28
Grenache, Shiraz, Mourvèdre blends
- Kalleske Clarry’s Blend 2010 $18
- Turkey Flat Butcher’s Block GSM 2010 $18
- Sons of Eden 'Kennedy' GSM $20
- Teusner Avatar 2010 (in a class of its own) $23
I just wanted to show how Penfolds is slowly pricing itself out of its competitive environment. The list above includes many great reds at much more attractive prices than Penfolds basic Bin reds. An interesting note in the press release from the Great Australian Red 2011 challenge is this:
‘The judging day coincided with the launch of Australia’s most expensive release this year, 2008 Penfolds Bin 620 Coonawarra Cabernet Shiraz 2008 (AUD$1000). http://www.matthewjukes.com/2011/11/the-great-australia-red-2011-the-blend-that-defines-australia-the-results/
Yes, the folks at Penfolds have spent the last decade creating more unique labels in the $100 – 1,000 range, presumably because people with too much money and not enough sense want to buy more Penfolds reds as investments, or to impress their friends. I think the folks at Penfolds may have taken their eye off their core business.
* Kalleske Moppa Shiraz 2010 – Trophy for best wine of show at Shanghai
** Mount Langi Ghiran Cliff Edge Shiraz 2010 – tripe trophy winner Sydney 2012
*** Lake Breeze Bernoota Shiraz Cabernet 2009 - Gold medal and Trophy for the Best Wine $20 and under at The Great Australian Red challenge
**** Annie’s Lane Quelltaler Watervale Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 - Trophy for the best Shiraz-dominant Blend, Trophy for The Great Australian Red 2011
At the same contest, the 2009 Penfolds Bin 389 won a silver medal, as did the Majella Musician. The usual cautions about wine show bling apply.
One more thing: 2005 for the Mitchells and 2006 for the Yalumba are the currently released vintages. These companies hold their wines back a bit, for which they deserve our applause.