As a gift, a bottle of wine is generally a safe choice – particularly at this time of year. Who wouldn’t welcome the warmth of a winning winter wine, after all? But how to upgrade your bottle from something safe into something more exciting? The most memorable wines tend to boast three key elements – quality, naturally, but also a story behind them, and a heritage to tap into. And few producers, particularly in the southern hemisphere, can boast a richer heritage than arguably Australia’s most storied name, Penfolds. Dating back to 1844, it has, in the subsequent 180 years, been a consistent trailblazer at the forefront of the country’s fine wine scene.
Beyond provenance, there is another, more tangible element behind the best bottled gifts, of course. Presentation. And Penfolds knows this as well as any Champagne house (indeed, it actually makes a Champagne these days, but that’s another story…), having produced limited gift-box editions of some of its range for the festive season. With artwork based around the underwater world, the packaging is vibrant as it is vivid – and crucially, at a time when drinks companies are more and more watchful of their carbon footprint, they’re made from 75% recyclable materials.
One such rendering comes in the form of the Bin 28 Shiraz – a classic example of arguably the producer’s (and country’s) signature grape variety and style. Drawn, as is Penfolds’ core approach, from a variety of sources and then blended into a harmonious whole, it is made in that classic, generous, ripe-fruited style, with smoothly integrated oak lending decadent hints of densely packed Christmas cake. This is a wine made for winter, all dark, brooding fruit for dark, brooding nights, and perfect for sipping by the fire or with warming winter suppers (we’re thinking turkey casserole or sausage and mash).
But it's also a wine that will age well. And here’s where you need to know something about the recipient’s tastes and know-how when deciding on your bottle. Wine might be a safe choice, but it can also be a minefield. Does the recipient favour big, bold, upfront wines, or something more earthy and savoury? And if you’re buying a wine for them to lay down and develop such flavours, do they have somewhere to store it in the right conditions?
If so, and you’re looking for a more complex, age-worthy cuvée, the Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz is, it is said, Australia’s most collected wine. There’s good reason for this reputation – the wine boasts prodigious ageing potential at a relatively affordable price point compared to more celebrated cellar favourites from France or Italy. And while the newly released and festively liveried 2021 vintage boasts spicy, meaty blueberry fruit now, it could easily age for 25 years or more, developing more savoury, earthy flavours as it evolves.
Many of Penfolds’ wines come named with a ‘bin’ number, originally employed to indicate their storage location in the winery cellars, but since expanded to a mind-boggling array of references. Penfolds also refers to Bin 389 as ‘Baby Grange’, in a nod to the most reputed wine in its portfolio (aside from having a similar profile, some of the constituent parts of 389 are aged in the same barrels as held the previous vintage of the vaunted Grange). Both, like the Bin 28, are multi-regional blends, with the wine focused less on the ‘terroir’ of a particular site, and more on the end goal of the overall house style.
It's a philosophy that also extends to the most famous Penfolds white wine, Yattarna (Bin 144, if you’re keeping track). Like Grange, Yattarna embraces a multi-regional, merit-based sourcing philosophy, blending the very best chardonnay fruit from a range of cool-climate regions. Again, it’s a wine with notable impressive ageing potential, the 2021 earmarked for drinking from 2025-2045.
For more immediate – and affordable – drinking, Bin 311 Chardonnay is a more modest reflection of the same philosophy, its fruit sourcing having moved in the last few years from being single-region to multi-regional. Today that generally means the cooler areas of Tasmania, Tumbarumba and the Adelaide Hills which, not unlike Yattarna, yield zippy, lean, lemon-and-lime aromas and a racy acid backbone, filled out with a creamy mouthfeel derived from barrel fermentation and oak-ageing. Perfect for turkey with all the trimmings, we feel.
Penfolds Bin 28 Shiraz
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