Tuesday, March 22, 2016

A Magnificent Tasting at Penfold’s Magill Estate Winery

(Feb. 20, 2016) On our last day in Adelaide, we were fortunate to obtain a private tasting at Penfold’s Magill Estate with winemaker, Jason Barrette, and Hospitality Director, Jane Gibbs. This was organized by famous Australian photographer, Milton Wordley, who is good friends with Peter Gago. When Milton learned I hadn’t visited Penfold’s since 2003, he insisted on setting up the visit for us. We are very glad we followed his advice.

Old Vines Saved from Bulldozer by Winemakers

The Magill Estate is located in a suburb of Adelaide, and boasts 12 acres of old shiraz vines.  It is the only vineyard within a city limit within Australia, and was saved from being demolished by bulldozers when dozens of winemakers protested its destruction.  All of the other vineyards in the area were pulled out for a housing development.  It is also the original homestead of Dr. Penfold, and therefore the heart of the famous and historic wine brand. Penfold’s Grange and Bin 707 are both produced at Magill, as well as other high-end wines in the Penfold’s portfolio.

The winery complex is beautiful with its mellowed natural rock exterior, complemented by a new modern cellar door.  From the steps you can look back across the Magill Vineyard to Adelaide, with the Gulf of St. Vincent’s shining blue in the distance.

Rock Exterior of Penfolds

Six Amazing Wines

Jane ushered us through the beautiful new tasting room, with its light and airy modern architecture blending amazingly well with the old rock walls of the original winery.  We passed the new restaurant, and then entered a private tasting room in the back where Jason was already ensconced next to a flight of six wines.  I was touched that they had taken the time to print up personalized tasting mats for us.

Modern Penfold's Cellar Door
The next hour was magical as Jason tasted us through the six wines and then provided a quick tour of the winery. His passion for the wines and high level of knowledge were evident, and he also displayed a fun sense of humor. He provided the perfect level of detail on the wines:

2012 Yattarna Chardonnay – made from multiple vineyards across Australia, this chardonnay was impressive with its mineral and lemon nose, streamlined palate, crisp acid, flint and nutty notes – reminiscent of Chassagne Montrachet.  Well-balanced with a long and satisfying finish.  Barrel-fermented with batonnage in55% new French Oak, aged 8 months.

2014 Cellar Reserve Pinot Noir – a medium-bodied, fleshier style of pinot noir with a dark ruby robe.  Lovely floral and spice notes on the nose, following by mixed berry and sage on the palate. Surprisingly muscular tannins for a pinot with generous French oak, well integrated – a cabernet lover’s pinot. 100% fruit from Adelaide Hills, 30% whole cluster, cold soak for 4 to 6 days, wild ferment, hand plunging 5 to 8 times per day.  Free run to barrel, 77% new oak, 9 months on full lees.

2012 St. Henri Shiraz – we loved the elegance of this shiraz with fine-grained tannins, mixed berry, sage, lavender and a hint of mint.  Fermented in stainless steel, it then spent 18 months in foudre. There is a 2% addition of cab, and it is designed to be a contrast to the concentrated style of Grange.  The vineyards are older, established in the 1950’s, and this wine focuses on highlighting the elegance of the vineyard.

2013 Magill Estate Shiraz – made from the old vineyard in front of the winery, the Magill Estate Shiraz has long been a favorite of ours.  It has the classic blueberry and raspberry notes of shiraz, but also has bitter chocolate and some complex herb notes, with oodles of well-integrated sweet oak.  Jason said it was made in concrete coated in the traditional beeswax, and then aged in 100% new oak; 2/3 French and 1/3 American for 15 months.

2013 Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon – this cab is very inviting with warm mixed berry compote, tobacco, floral notes, and the rich coconut and dill of 100% American oak. I felt like I was tasting Silver Oak, but in a much more concentrated style. Jason said it is not made every year, and that at $500 per bottle is the #1 wine they sell in Asia. It is made from a mix of 3 viticultural regions: 40% Adelaide Hills, 30% Barossa, and 30% Connawarra.  It is massive, concentrated, and completely satisfying, but needs time in bottle or decanting.

Heavenly Tasting of Six Wines at Penfold's

Tasting Heavenly Syrup in the 2008 Grange

2008 Grange – the last wine of the tasting was the Big Boy, of course. I have only tasted Grange on two previous occasions, and it never disappoints.  It truly is the icon wine of Australia. Priced now at $785 Australian a bottle, it is the most expensive wine in the country. The 2008 is an especially wonderful vintage, as it is only one of less than a dozen wines (ever!) to receive 100 points from both Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate and the Wine Spectator.

The 2008 vintage is 96% shiraz and 2% cab from 12 different vineyards: 89% Barossa, 9% Clare and 2% Magill.  Jason said they always put a little Magill in the blend. The grapes are handpicked and selected in the vineyard, and then gently destemmed and crushed. They are placed in an open top cement fermenter, where they undergo an 8 – 10 day fermentation. It is then aged 18 – 21 months in American oak. The blend is not assembled until after aging and when all lots have been classified. Only the best lots make it into Grange. It is usually a blend, but there have been 6 years when it was 100% shiraz.

The wine is incredibly powerful, but filled with finesse and an endless finish.  It has the classic nose of warm berries and chocolate, with huge velvety tannins on the palate and a concentration that is almost syrup like.  New flavors of blueberry, anise, vanilla, and mocha are revealed with each sip. A truly amazing and memorable wine.

It is called Grange Bin 95 because each of the bottle storage bins in Magill’s underground cellars used to be numbered, and many years ago Grange just happened to be stored in the number 95 bin.

With Winemaker, Jason Barrette, in Penfold's Barrel Room

Quick Tour of the Cellar and Sip of the 2016 Grange

After the tasting of a lifetime, Jason offered us a quick tour of the cellar.  We jumped at the chance because we knew the 2016 Magill and perhaps other components of Grange were bubbling away in happy fermentation.

As we walked along the path from the tasting room to the cellar, I was once again impressed by the beauty of the old rock buildings, bathed in the sunlight. Jason opened the door to the cellar and we stepped onto a catwalk to overlook a vast sea of square cement bins, each filled with what seemed to be a surging mass of red and purple. It was the birth of the 2016 Penfold’s shiraz contender, bubbling away madly in a joyful rush of fermentation.

Fermenting Shiraz
Jason requested a sample from one of the many worker’s on the floor.  We were brought a small glass of opaque ruby liquid, and Jason handed it to me to taste. Notes of raspberry jam wafted from the glass, and followed through on the palate as I enjoyed the new wine brimming with notes of spice and mixed berry compote.

“There,” said Jason.  “Now you can tell people you had the first taste of one of the potential components of the 2016 Grange.”

“Really?” I asked.

“Yes,” he nodded.  “Because you just tasted Magill, and we always put Magill in the blend.”

I felt very pleased, and incredibly blessed by our magical visit to Penfold’s.  My husband was so impressed by our visit  that when we arrived back in California, he insisted we buy a case of Penfold’s. So I got in touch with some friends at Treasury, and a few weeks later a mixed case of Penfold’s wines arrived on our front porch.

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