Over the last few years, we’ve heard an occasional murmuring that Penfolds—Australia’s most famous winery and the winery behind the iconic wine Grange—had purchased vineyard land in California and were up to something “big.” What exactly? No one knew.
Last night, we found out. In a high-production video with more than 1500 people watching, Penfolds launched its inaugural California Collection, a group of four red wines, two of which are blends of California wine and Australian wine and are dubbed “Wine of the World.” It was the first time I’d tasted the wines.
PENFOLDS BIN 600 Cabernet Shiraz ($50) is a California blend of both those grapes grown in Napa, Sonoma, and Paso Robles. Some of the wines in the blend were the result of heritage selections of vine cuttings brought from Australia and planted in California. The wine had big structure framing a core of spicy ripe red raspberry and blueberry fruit. High deliciousness quotient here.
Next came the PENFOLDS BIN 704 Cabernet Sauvignon ($70), a Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon. I found it closed in for a few minutes, but then the wine whirled out of the glass with terrific cassis, dried cranberry and chocolate notes. It’s an intense wine but not over extracted, not syrupy, and not oaky. Rather more classic, balanced and worth putting away for a few year’s aging.
PENFOLDS BIN 149 Cabernet Sauvignon ($149), one of the wines labeled “Wine of the World,” is a cabernet sauvignon blended from grapes grown in Napa Valley as well as in South Australia. A big, rich, hedonistic dynamo, the wine was absolutely packed with juicy cassis flavors. Lots of fine tannin gave it a magnificent structure. Most of all, though, I found it the liveliest wine of the night. It reminded me of Bordeaux, Napa Valley, and Australian cabernets all rolled into one exquisite wine.
Finally, the flagship wine—PENFOLDS QUANTUM BIN 98 Cabernet Sauvignon ($700)—is a blend of cabernet from top Napa Valley vineyards and 13% shiraz from pedigreed vineyards in South Australia, known for its old shiraz vines. The Quantum label also carried the phrase: “Wine of the World.” It was in a word: massive. But it was also impeccably “built.” It had what chief winemaker Peter Gago referred to as a rich full mid palate—an almost “fat” middle framed by an impressive structure. And it had what winemaker Steph Dutton called “blue fruit bounce.” Plus, the thick velvety softness was showstopping. A comparison with Grange is inevitable. Will it ever be as complex as Australia’s most famous wine? Will it be as beautiful with 30 to 50 years of age? I hope I’ll be able to find out.