TN: Good Penfolds at a decade+

NOBLEROTTERSSYDNEY - PENFOLDS PRIOR TO 2005 - 360 Bar & Dining, Sydney (4/05/2015)

Catching up on the upper echelons of Penfolds range; 2005 and prior was the filter. Eight Rotters raided the cellar; Gordon quite generously. No cork victims; relief all round.

NV Philip Shaw Edinburgh Palace Koomooloo - Australia, New South Wales, Central Ranges, Orange
{diam, 12.5%} (Glenn) Young. Fresh, clean palate of green apple. Light-bodied palate of simple applelike fruit; little evidence of autolysis or time on lees. Delicate bubbles, but a short finish and rather hollow feel to the texture leave an underwhelming impression.

1998 Penfolds Cabernet Sauvignon Bin 407 - Australia, South Australia
{cork, 13.5%} (Geoffrey) Double-decanted two hours prior. A strictly Penfolds nose; there’s not much varietal character here. Vanilla, coconut, liquorice. The palate has a real resin and pine character. But it’s earthy too. There’s no real fruit left here, just soft oak flavours. Barely present powdery tannins, medium-body I guess, but it’s not all that pleasant still. I don’t really think the wine’s too old; it’s just more evidently reflecting its fundamentally unbalanced nature. On the way to oblivion for me.

2005 Penfolds Bin 389 - Australia, South Australia
{screwcap, 14.5%} (Bruce) Decanted at table. Classic rich 389 nose. Meat, oak, red berries. Ripe shiraz. The palate is medium/full-bodied, smoothly glycerine-infused, with immensely sweet fruits of blackberry and plums. Quite youthful. But, the acidity is low and the tannins soft. Has heft on the palate, but seems to have a slippery quality from the alcohol, perhaps? There’s a raisin-like quality to the finish too. At a decade old, it doesn’t inspire me to cellar further, I must say. Where’s the dimension, the complexity? Come to that, where are the tannins? Suspect I was in a minority of one with this view, but I miss the old-fashioned, more savoury-but-still-new-world quality of the early 90s and prior vintages. Blame the screwcap?

2004 Penfolds Shiraz St. Henri - Australia, South Australia
{cork, 14.5%} (David) No decant. Plummy and ripe. Smells big, but restrained; like a V12 engine idling at 900rpm. The medium/full-bodied palate has opened up a little at a decade old; it’s balanced, with plum and blackberry flavours, medium dusty tannins, a touch of pine/oak flavour, and a polished, long-finishing texture. Made the preceding Bin 389 taste woodchippy and coarse. This was a much acclaimed vintage on release; I reckon this has got another decade at least before it reaches a peak. Should be awesome with time.

1990 Penfolds Cabernet Sauvignon Bin 707 - Australia, South Australia
{cork, 13.5%} (Gordon) Double-decanted three hours prior. Fascinating tasting of a pair of well- (but separately) cellared bottles. First up; lovely currents, with a touch of twigs, herbs, basil. Sweet old US oak. Endlessly seductive aromas. The palate is a match; impeccably balanced; aging new-world cabernet (per the nose) seasoned with a little coconut. The texture is glossy and smooth; still with medium chalky tannins and medium acidity. Endless finish. Peerlessly aging great Australian cabernet. At peak, seems possible to hold longer but that’s taking a risk.

1990 Penfolds Cabernet Sauvignon Bin 707 - Australia, South Australia
{cork, 13.5%} (Ronnie) Decanted at table. This was subtly but appreciably different to the first wine. It smelt a little clearer and more perfumed. On the palate it appeared to be slightly more tannic, which was a little odd, because this bottle was detectably cooler – 2-3C I reckon than the first. The wine shared absolutely the flavour spectrum of the first example; it was hardly different enough to call ‘contrast’. Just that little nuance. I wonder how much of the difference we identified was solely due to the temperature diference? Comparing these two bottles was like contrasting Pavarotti singing on Friday night with the same repertoire on Saturday…

1989 Penfolds Grange - Australia, South Australia
{cork, 13.5%} (Gordon) Double-decanted three hours prior. The classic liquorice, plum, sweet bubblegum aromas and flavours that this wine has been so consistent in offering over the last 15 years. Amongst the same flavours on the palate is a burnt, charcoal-like character. It’s medium-bodied, and although it tastes younger than its quarter-century of years – if without quite the depth of flavours of the surrounding bottles on Bin 707 – this was the least of the last half-dozen bottles I’ve tasted this century. Either an inferior bottle, or the first sign that this wine is leaving its peak behind. Drink now.

1994 Penfolds Cabernet Sauvignon Bin 707 - Australia, South Australia
{cork, 13.5%} (Graeme) Double-decanted three hours prior. One of the few 707s not to say South Australia on the label: it does say Mt Barker but it’s the one in Western Australia. This was not unlike the 1990 bottles, but it smelt much more strongly of coconut and vanilla, along with the underlying current fruit. Big wine on the palate; full-bodied. Medium/high dusty tannins, lowish acid. Plenty of life left here though, and very much in the house style, with meaty cassis/currant flavours. Seems maybe a touch monolithic beside the 1990; less perfectly balanced, with that coconut oak sticking out a bit. Still, to complain of that is splitting hairs; this might miss the beguiling sweetness of the ’90, but I’d drink this with pleasure any day of the week.

1999 Penfolds Cabernet Sauvignon Bin 707 - Australia, South Australia
{cork, 13.5%} (Greg) Decanted at table. Only somewhat developed; tight nose is still dominated by woody, coconutty US oak. The palate is all raisiny cabernet, but also sullen and withdrawn. Would almost certainly have benefited from a longer decant time. Full-bodied, dry, highly tannic, with medium acid. Too much tannin? Seems backward for 16 years. Still, given the pedigree I’d trust this in the cellar; keep.

2008 Nugan Estate Sémillon Botrytis Cookoothama - Australia, New South Wales, Big Rivers, Riverina
{375ml, screwcap, 11%} (Glenn) Caramel/nougat; the age hasn’t affected the primacy of the honey-tinged fruit too much; but the acidity has softened out. Nicely caramelised on the palate, although the shortish finish tends toward the hollow. OK, undemanding sweetie, but time to drink.

Great night. They don’t come much more reliable that premium Penfolds, you gotta admit.