Penfolds, the Australian winery known for its famous Grange Shiraz as well as for value-priced varietals, has released two new ranges of wines in the United States. Called Rawson's Retreat and Thomas Hyland, these new lines fill in price gaps in Penfolds' portfolio and serve to bring renewed attention to the company in a market increasingly crowded with Australian wines.
The initiative was taken by the new team from Rosemount, who took over management of Penfolds and other Southcorp-owned wine brands after the two companies merged in early 2001.
Priced from $7 to $9 a bottle, Rawson's Retreat -- named after the stone cottage built by winery founder Christopher Rawson Penfold -- will be Penfolds' new entry-level line of whites and reds. Available for many years in the United Kingdom, Canada, Asia and Australia, these wines have been vastly improved for the U.S. market. Made from a combination of estate-grown and purchased grapes from appellations throughout South Eastern Australia, the wines have been revamped in a fruit-driven style intended for early drinking.
The first Rawson's Retreat releases, all from the 2001 vintage, include an easygoing, fruity Chardonnay (84 points), a smooth, polished Sémillon-Chardonnay (85), a light, velvety Merlot (84) and a soft, appealing Shiraz-Cabernet (85), with a crisp finish. About 130,000 cases are targeted for the U.S. market.
The Thomas Hyland line -- named after the founder's son-in-law, who took over the winery after Penfold died in 1870 -- is a new tier in the portfolio, falling between the Koonunga Hill wines and the higher-end Bin series (which includes Grange) in terms of price and overall quality. Penfolds is starting with 10,000 cases of Chardonnay and 48,000 cases of Shiraz, and plans to add a Cabernet to the lineup next year. The company intends the wines to be ready to drink on release, but also to be worth aging for several years. For now, the wines are available only in the United States.
The 2001 Thomas Hyland Chardonnay (90, $13), made from grapes from the Adelaide Hills region, is the most noteworthy of Penfolds' new releases. Silky, supple and creamy, it is beautifully balanced to layer its intense nectarine, pear, lime and cream flavors.
The 2000 Shiraz (86, $15), made from grapes from the McLaren Vale, Coonawarra and the Barossa Valley, is smooth and refined, with peppery blackberry and cherry flavors on a velvety frame.
When CEO Keith Lambert took the reins of Southcorp Wines, he indicated that the company needed to capitalize more on Penfolds' reputation for good wine. While Penfolds is perhaps the best-known Australian brand in the United States, it has been outsold by Rosemount and Lindemans. Southcorp also owns Seaview, Seppelt and Wynns Coonawarra, as well as smaller brands. The company is involved in three international joint-ventures: La Perouse, in France's Languedoc-Roussillon region; Seven Peaks, in California's Central Coast; and a project with Robert Mondavi Winery for two new lines of California and Australian wines.
Check our recent ratings of Penfolds wines.
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Read Harvey Steiman's recent tasting report on Australian wines: