At a recent media tasting, a row of Pill bottles, Pain relievers and cold remedies was dwarfed by statuesque wine bottles containing the new vintages of the Penfolds top-of-the-line wines. Penfolds chief winemaker Peter Gago had landed in Toronto seriously under the weather.
The antibiotics he was on for a throat inflection prevented him from consuming alcohol and the effects of a cold had compromised his sense of smell and weakened his voice. “I can’t talk and I can’t taste,” an uncharacteristically placid Gago told the assembled. “What good am I?”
The gifted winemaker rallied quickly, however, when he started to present the collection of new and old wines, including wines from the 1990 and 1991 vintage that were sent over from Penfolds wine library at the Magill Estate Winery in Adelaide, Australia. The older wines were significant as they helped focus attention on the launch of the sixth edition of The Rewards of Patience, a comprehensive overview and guide to the wines produced by the premium winemaker.
The guide, which is produced every five years, includes tasting notes of almost every wine produced at Penfolds dating back to the 1940s. The wines were tasted by an independent panel of interna-tional wine writers, including Neil Beckett, editor of Britian’s World of Fine Wine, Joshua Greene, editor of US magazine Wine and Spirits, and editor Andrew Caillard, co-founder of Australia’s leading wine auction house, Langton’s Fine Wine Auctions.
“I agree with some. I disagree with others, but so what? It’s their assessment,” Gago said of the results. “It’s edition six and each vol-ume gets bigger and better.”
He added that the tasting sessions are unique because it’s a “warts and all” report. The panellists’ comments are published whether they found the wine in question to be good, bad or indiffer-ent. It goes without saying that Penfolds’ confidence pays off.
Penfolds, Gago explained, was “the only winery on the planet to subject themselves to such an examination.” The benefit of exposing the winery to this kind of rigorous inspection is that consumers have “increased confidence in our cellarability.”
As the producer of Grange, Australia’s most famous red wine, Penfolds has a well-established international reputation for produc-ing age-worthy red wines. An estimated two out of three bottles pro-duced leaves Australia.
Since being elevated to the chief winemaker role, Gago has worked to add more even lustre to the winery’s pedigree with the ongoing evolution of luxury and icon wines. For instance, the Yattarna Chardonnay continues to transform under his watch, as expansion of vineyards in cooler climate regions such as Tasmania, Adelaide Hills and Tumbarumba brings different fruit expres-sion into the final blend. He also launched new labels, the Bin 311 Chardonnay, Bin 8 Cabernet Shiraz and a long lineup of limited release Cellar Reserve wines.
As only the fourth person to hold the chief winemaker position since Max Schubert was first appointed in 1948, Gago prefers to char-acterize his role as being something of a caretaker. “I am mindful of the contributions of previous generations,” he writes in the Foreword to the new edition. “Penfolds winemaking is teamwork and genera-tional. The strength of Penfolds is that the wine comes first. We are custodians of a wonderful Australian tradition steeped in wine lore and the spirit of generosity.”
Time and again during his presentation, Gago reminds tasters that “these wines aren’t made to a formula, they are made to a style.” In the case of Grange, that style was established by Max Schubert, starting with its first vintage in 1951.
The 2003 Grange ($370, 336388) is as concentrated and complex as you would expect of such a legendary wine, while the 2005 Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon ($120, 414995) and 2005 RWT Shiraz ($135, 564278) don’t suffer any in comparison. Perhaps the most impres-sive wines of the tasting were the stellar 2004 St. Henri Shiraz ($64, 510875) and the spicy and structured 2005 Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz ($37.95, 309625). Both wines are something special — and are easier to source than the tightly allocated luxury wines. (For complete tast-ing notes, visit the Editor Notes blog at www.vinesmag.com.)
Consumers in Ontario will have the chance to experience the Rewards of Patience tasting for themselves during this year’s Gourmet Food and Wine Expo in Toronto. The November 21 tasting features the current releases of Grange, RWT, St. Henri, Bin 707, Magill Estate and Bin 389 alongside a specially selected older vintage. Matthew Lane, director of wine education for Fosters Wine Estates, will lead the tasting. Tickets are $190. Attendees will receive a copy of the new edition of The Rewards of Patience. Call 905.634.8003 ext. 311 or visit www.foodandwineexpo.ca for more information.