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Penfolds: The Importance
Leading Australian critic James Halliday rates Penfolds as a five star winery, noting: “There is no other single winery brand in the New, or the Old, World with the depth and breadth of Penfolds.” At his inaugural Australian Wine Companion Awards in 2014, Halliday named Penfolds the Winery of the Year. Jancis Robinson calls them “Australia’s most established maker of investment quality red wine” and their wines have reminded James Suckling of “great pre-phylloxera Bordeaux of 1864 and 1865."
Popularity in Asia increased when the Penfolds Collection was launched in Shangai in 2015, the first time these wines had been unveiled outwith Australia. In 2016, Penfolds was awarded the World’s Most Admired Wine Brand title from Drinks International. Compiled by more than 200 Masters of Wine, sommeliers, teachers and journalists, topping this list shows the global dominance the brand has achieved.
The Langton’s Classification, established by the auction house in 1988 and considered to be the honour roll of Australian fine wine, defines an unbiased and proven benchmark of the country’s top wines by ranking them based on how well they perform in the open market, the demand they attract and the price they realise across at least ten years. The sixth amendment of the classification, ranks Penfolds Grange and Penfolds Bin 707 as Exceptional (the highest accolade), Yattarna Chardonnay, Bin 389 and RWT Shiraz as Outstanding (considered Australia’s super seconds) and Bin 128, Kalimna Bin 28, Bin 407 and Magill Estate Shiraz as Excellent (the “heart of the secondary wine market”). No other winery has as many wines in the classification.
Penfolds: The Insight
Penfolds produce a wide range of wines across all price points. However, the most important wines for collectors are their top reds. These wines are often cross-regional blends. As Jancis Robinson puts it, Penfolds is: “one of the few wine companies in the world producing internationally famous wines that are not terroir-specific.” This makes them somewhat less vintage dependent and assures consistently reliable quality.
The star is Grange, probably Australia’s greatest wine, described as an icon by James Suckling. At time of writing, the wine scores an enormous 970 points on Wine Lister and is described as “one of the most talked about wines by the fine wine trade.” It is always listed first in the Langton’s Classification due to its status, while the others are listed merely in alphabetical order. The founder of Langton’s, Andrew Caillard MW calls it: “an iconic wine; a reference example” and Langton’s states that “the best vintages have a lifespan of 50 years and more.” For those looking for a slightly lower-priced alternative, Bin 389 is often considered ‘Baby Grange’.
All of the Penfolds range featured in the Langton’s Classification, the increasingly popular St Henri Shiraz and the wines their original wooden cases (OWC), are all worthy of serious consideration. The bins are numbered after where the wines sat in the winery, rather than denoting a quality level. RWT stands for Red Winemaking Trial, the RWT being a Shiraz purely from Barossa in contrast to the multi-regional sourcing for Grange.
Penfolds wines are so long-lived that in 1991 the company launched Re-corking Clinics. These give owners of wines that are 15 years old or older an opportunity to have their wine: “assessed by a winemaker, and if necessary, opened, tasted, topped up and re-capsuled on the spot.” Leading auction houses Christie’s and Langton’s have noted higher auction realisations for wines re-corked by Penfolds.
Penfolds: The Background
Founded in 1844, Penfolds has grown to become one of Australia’s most famous exports. Christopher Rawson Penfold and his wife Mary arrived in Australia from West Sussex. They settled in the Magill Estate and built a cottage called The Grange. They started producing fortified wines, but the popularity of claret-style wines grew and by 1903 Penfolds was the biggest winery in Adelaide and beginning to expand into McLaren Vale and New South Wales. After World War II, winemaker Max Schubert travelled to Europe and was inspired by the wines of Bordeaux to create Grange Hermitage, later to become Grange. Now, the winery is situated in the Barossa Valley, but the grapes come from all over South Australia. Penfolds’ vinyards are located in Adelaide (the Magill Estate focuses on Shiraz), Kalimna, Koonunga, Waltons and Stonwell vineyards in Barossa (predominantly Shiraz and Canbernet Sauvigon), Eden Valley for the whites, McLaren Vale and Coonawarra. Peter Gago has been the Chief Winemaker since 2002, providing further consistency.
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