Australia's Penfolds is perhaps best known for its iconic Grange bottling, but the iconic winery doesn't stand still. Under the direction of chief winemaker Peter Gago, it continues to release innovative new wines. The latest endeavor has just been unveiled, a lineup of four California-based wines from vineyard holdings in Napa, Sonoma and Paso Robles, with prices ranging from $50 to $700. In a twist, two of the bottlings also include a small amount of Australian wine.
"This is not us marching into California to show people how to make wine," Gago told Wine Spectator. "It's made with respect."
Gago adds that this project follows decades of investing in vineyards and building relationships in California, led by senior winemaker Stephanie Dutton and winemaker Andrew Baldwin. In the late 1980s, Penfolds started experimenting with planting vine cuttings from esteemed sites in South Australia, including Kalimna and Magill Estate, in the company's Paso Robles vineyard holdings. Now that Penfolds is a part of the Treasury Wine Estates portfolio, the winemaking team now also has access to prime grapes in Napa and Sonoma owned by sister wineries such as Beringer and Sterling.
These four new wines add to the growing portfolio of Penfolds projects outside of Australia, including a new Champagne venture, which debuted in 2019, and a potential collaboration in Bordeaux. Other innovative Penfolds releases of late include the G3, a blend of three vintages of Grange, which was released in 2017 with a $3,200 price tag and almost instantly sold out, followed by the G4 in 2020 (this time blending together four vintages of Grange).
Following the Penfolds model, the California Collection wines are defined by bin numbers and have a hierarchy of quality, starting with the Bin 600 Cabernet-Shiraz ($50) and moving up through the Bin 704 Cabernet Sauvignon ($70) and Bin 149 Cabernet Sauvignon ($149) to the flagship Quantum Bin 98 Cabernet Sauvignon ($700 a bottle). All of the new releases are from the 2018 vintage.
Both the Quantum Bin 98 and the Bin 149 carry the moniker "Wine of the World" on the label, as the Quantum includes Australian Shiraz and the Bin 149 has some Australian Cabernet blended in. Gago says the idea of blending in Aussie wine happened organically. He and his team were assembling the final California blends and brought benchmark wines from Australia to taste alongside. They tried adding a bit of Australian wine and it elevated the overall blend.
Founded in 1844, Penfolds has become one of the best-known Australian wineries, producing a wide range of bottlings, some of which show off single vineyards, some show regional snapshots while others are more encompassing blends that feature particular grapes and barrel regimens.
"The lovely thing about our house styles, or stylistic templates, is that you can do projects in other regions," explained Gago. "But we're not trying to create a Coca-Cola. These are just standalone and different.
For skeptics of the project, Gago points out that the Grange bottling, which was introduced in 1951, was considered radical at the time and didn't get critical acclaim until 1962. "It took 11 years for the Grange to be acknowledged," said Gago, adding with a laugh, "I'm hoping it takes 11 days for these."
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