TN - a vertical of old Penfolds Magill Estate with some extras

Mini-vertical over dinner with friends. It was really interesting seeing the way the style changed from clearly Aussie, but fresh, low alcohol and almost elegant in the 1980s, to become more like the rich, glycerol-infused, dark fruited Shirazes of today as we entered the 1990s. Wines were good either way though, with just one or two exceptions.

Bubbles to start

1996 Jean Laurent Champagne Blanc de Blancs Brut - France, Champagne
What a difference a year makes. Still not the easiest Champagne in the world, but this has rounded off quite dramatically from the last bottle, which was almost undrinkable. The one thing I liked about it last time round was the nose, and that showed even better this time round. Beautifully fragrant notes of baked bread, yeast, fresh straw-mushrooms and an underlayer of sweetish whites fruits, lemons and even strawberries just about burst out of the flute. Wow. With time, some rosemary scented herb notes, nuts and soy emerged - great complexity all round. The palate though, was a different story. Not quite the banshee-like screech of acidity of the last bottle, but the attack on the first sip was still really sharp - with a rush of lemony tartness causing my mouth to pucker and my eyes to water. Woah. Punishing. After about half an hour though, it really toned down to show ripe lemons, green apples, bread, mineral and, moving past the mid-palate, preserved limes. Finish was tremendously impressive, with tons of orange peel and lemon zest notes just lingering in the mouth for about forever. A very interesting Champagne. Not all there at the moment, but this should develop very nicely in the next decade or so. (92 pts.)

'85 , '87

1985 Penfolds Shiraz Magill Estate - Australia, South Australia, Mount Lofty Ranges, Adelaide Plains
Drinking beautifully when first poured. Unfortunately, this did not have quite enough fuel in the tank to go the distance, fading a little after about half an hour in the glass. Lovely nose - musky notes of dried fruit, prunes and plums was wed to spice, cocoa, dusty earth and chalky minerals. Unmistakably Australian in its dark fruit and sweet spice profile, but with a gentle complexity that one seldom sees in more modern wines. On the attack, the palate struck me as being absolutely fresh and alive, with mouthfilling flavours of ripe plums and prunes, just starting to enter the dried fruit territory. The wine had really elegant lines though - with low alcohol wed to integrated acidity and silky tannins. All lovely, aromatic and balance. More spice and smoky tobacco notes asserted themselves at the mid-palate. Finish had an impressive length, with a hint of Aussie Shiraz crushed beetle notes, smoky ash, mushroomy earth notes, dried prunes and haw flakes. The wine lost energy after time in the glass unfortunately, flagging a bit at the end, and showing lots of smoke notes with little fruit. Still though, an absolutely charmer which was extremely interesting to drink throughout. (92 pts.)

1987 Penfolds Shiraz Magill Estate - Australia, South Australia, Mount Lofty Ranges, Adelaide Plains
Unlike the 1985 Magill, which was lovely from the get-go and then started to flag, this was a little slow coming out of the blocks, but really gained a head of steam towards the end of the evening. Nose started out a little less expressive and slightly oakier than than the 1985, with cocoa powder and dusty earth dominant, along with some subtle fruit in the background. With time though, the fruit started coming out, with some ferrous mineral notes and plenty of sweet spice - like cardammon and anise. Likewise, the palate seemed a little simple, with prunes dominant in a smooth-tannined and freshly balanced packaged. With time though, gummy plums, smoky notes and spice merged in a very pleasing melange. Finish was okay at first, but started growing impressively, with more smoky, ashy notes, a touch of mineral and plenty of fresh sour plum and prune notes. Not quite the charmer that the 1985 was, but this seemed the more complete wine overall. (92 pts.)

'92 , '93

1992 Penfolds Shiraz Magill Estate - Australia, South Australia, Mount Lofty Ranges, Adelaide Plains
A pretty good wine. but I thought this lacked the depth and character of the pair of 80s’ bottles that we had in the earlier flight. Nose had more new world inflections for one thing - with ferrous mineral, earth and spice wed to woody, brambly notes and lots of high-toned, glycerol-infused plum and prunes flavours. Plenty of richness on the palate as well, with crystalined, almost gummy prunes and plums on the attack. Nicely balanced tough, with fresh acidity lifting the wine. I thought it was just a little tight around the edges, compared to the more giving wines in the last flight. Past the mid-palate, there was a distinct streak of bloody, ferrous mineral, a touch of orange peel and smoky tobacco moving into the finish. There was some length at the tail-end. Not prodigious, but with a linger of plums and blueberries with dried, lemon zesty notes. Somehow though, it seemed to lack a bit of power at the back-end, sounding just a little on the hollow and empty side. A wine starting to slip perhaps? All in all, a pleasant wine. Nothing to crow about, but still very pleasurable to drink. (90 pts.)

1993 Penfolds Shiraz Magill Estate - Australia, South Australia, Mount Lofty Ranges, Adelaide Plains
My least favourite of the night. This was pretty simple and just about decent - a disappointing showing for a 17 year old wine for sure. Nose was exceedingly woody with a touch of greenness I thought. There were plums and blueberry cream notes, almost shading into dried fruits, but these were dominated by lots of dried wood notes, absolutely reminiscent of the woody smell of wine crates, along with some damp earthy soil, and lots of eucalyptus, menthol and a high-toned varnish, crushed-beetle scent. Not unpleasant, but not the most pleasant nose for sure. The green, menthol-like notes carried on into the palate, where gummy plum and blueberry notes mingled with roasted asparagus and smoky capsicum flavours. Lots of freshness still, especially when moving into the finish, where dark fruits suddenly unfolded - berries, plums and cassis. However, even here the slightly green woodiness haunted the wine, with cocoa inflections from the American oak mixing with slightly herbal, raw woody tree bark notes. Far from undrinkable, but clearly the weakest showing of the line-up. (88 pts.)

'94 , '95

1994 Orlando Shiraz Centenary Hill - Australia, South Australia, Barossa, Barossa Valley
A really good wine. This stuck out from the Penfolds Magill Estate line-up from a mile away. Strangely though - I rather uncharacteristically liked this big, Barossa beast more than any of the more subtle, gentler Magill charmers. Nose was clearly new world, and clearly Aussie. with menthol and eucalyptus notes suffused into glycerol-laced sweet plum and prune flavours, along with a toss of earth and some high-toned licorice. Rather nice, but it was on the palate where the wine really shone though. Again, clearly new world, with some sweet glycerol running through the wine, but what really stood out for me was the tremendous balance that this had, with all the new world dark fruit held up by a lithe sense of structure and integrated acidity. Really interesting spice notes were sprinkled throughout the wine as well - cumin. coriander seeds, licorice - and just that little meaty edge. Finish had a lovely length as well, with a powerful pull of dusky fruit past the mid-palate into smokey spiciness at the tail. Yummy. (93 pts.)

1995 Penfolds Shiraz Magill Estate - Australia, South Australia, Mount Lofty Ranges, Adelaide Plains
Back to form after a disappointing flight - this wine was very differently styled from the 80s’ Magills, but very good nonetheless. Nose was very interesting, with dusty, dried earth notes melded with dusky plums seasoned with nice spice notes. The palate had plenty of quality as well. By far the most masculine of the wine we tried, there was a touch of savoury meatiness running through rich, ripe plum and spice notes, quite a bit of glycerol, but all held in superb balance by well-integrated acidity and smooth tannins. The finish had decent length, the longest, but with a nice clean showing of fruit, spice and earth. A classy, well-controlled wine. (92 pts.)

Sticky to end

2001 Château Lamothe Guignard - France, Bordeaux, Sauternais, Sauternes
This looked, smelt and tasted like a Sauternes 20 years older. Golden, almost amber in colour, its nose showed dried mangoes, burnt caramel and honey, with high-toned passion fruit notes and a hint of coconutty oak. Very pleasant, if not for the fact that it was spiked by a synthetic, rubbery, plasticky note. More burnt caramel on the palate, along with orange peel, tangerines dried apricots and spice box flavours. Again though, there was that plastic component in there somewhere. Apart from that, this was a very pleasant drink. Not terribly complex, nor as intense as top-class Sauternes, but it was very balanced, and not too sweet, almost as if the sweetness had fade with age. Slightly different experience, it seems, from other posters, who seemed to find this sweet and lacking acidity - storage issue with this bottle causing premature aging maybe? In any case, finish was decent as well - longish, with dried apricots and almond notes staying in the mouth. Always good to have a sweet to end a meal, and this was really pleasant. (91 pts.)

I’m sure I remember reading somewhere (in a Rewards of Patience?) that the winemaking team reckoned they hadn’t quite pinned down the Magill style until the 90s, and prior to then were picking under-ripe fruit. Or is that my imagination? (83 was the first vintage, I think.)
At any rate, I don’t think there’s a lot prior to 98 that’s much in demand; 90, 91, 96 possibly - anything older mostly thought of as being middling wines at or past their best.
I rather think the price of Magill reflects supply and exclusivity, rather than intrinsic quality these days.

Hello Paul,

Magill Estate was always my favourite wine from Penfolds; I liked that it was a smaller scale, less ripe, more refined wine (yes, I am an anti-flavour wine elite member). The 1985 at ten years old was my favourite aged Australian red wine experience at that point; it was still Australian but with refinement, harmony and plenty of complexity. Not in the least bit soupy which is what bigger Australian wines become if you age them for too long.
Many thanks for the excellent notes, you brought back some memories.


Daicd - my sentiments exactly, especially with the two wines from the 1980s. CLearly Aussie, but clearly different. Real charmers, somehow reminding me of the St Henri Shiraz. I actually did not find any of them under-ripe except for the 1993. But that may be a function of vintage as much as winemaking. In fact, I think it would rather be a pity if it went the way of the ripe Aussie Shiraz post-1998.

I must agree with Graeme though. In terms of its pricing, I would much rather pay for the St Henri, which is probably a far superior wine in a similar style.

Yes - as Pennies’ only single vineyard wine it reflects the vintage more than most. In my CT notes, I find only one pre-91 TN, and that for the 88. My four-year-old note on the 95 doesn’t differ significantly to yours. And at least the 2001 was within the tradition; haven’t tasted vintages after that.