One of the things I like best about writing is for brief moments you can be anyone, anywhere, at any time you’d like to be. For example, right now I’m an Italian-American Australian parking my imaginary canary yellow convertible Fiat 500 in the Penfolds parking lot in Adelaide Australia. Hoorah!
Penfolds is clearly Australia’s most respected vineyard and winery. From the flagship ‘Grange” at $850.00 a bottle to the Griffyonomy class Bin 2, 8, 9, and 23 at $15, a Penfold’s wine is a can’t miss bottle of pure drinking joy.
Penfolds story begins in London in 1838, when Doctor Christopher Rawson Penfold and his young wife sailed off to the Free Colony of South Australia. They arrived and purchased 500 acres, planted Grenache on the hills overlooking the Gulf of St. Vincent, and built what is today is known as the Magill Estate. They started making a port-like wine in 1844.
The good Doctor died young but Mary forged onward, forming a partnership with her son-in-law Thomas Hyland. By 1890, Penfolds and Company is producing about ⅓ of all the wine in South Australia.
Nothing much changes until the late 1940’s, when Australian servicemen return home from World War II with a taste of European table wines. In 1948, a young assistant winemaker named Max Schubert is sent to Spain to study Sherry Production. He makes a side trip to Bordeaux, catches the Bordeaux bug, and can’t wait to get home to make his own Bordeaux-style wine based on Shiraz (Syrah).
In 1957 Hermitage Grange is born to less than rave reviews: “a concoction of wild fruits, sundry berries and crushed ants predominating” was not exactly an ego boost. However, Max is determined to keep trying, and with permission from a Penfolds family member keeps working under cover until 1959, when he gets approval from the directors to release the wine.
The wine was a success. and 1960’s Schubert leads Penfolds into other table wines based on Australian and international varietals. Shooting from the hip and flying by the seat of his pants, Schubert was a stickler for quality and the brand grows.
Don Ditter took over for Schubert in 1973. Far more analytical, Ditter still kept the values set for Grange by Schubert. In 1989 John Duval took on the chief winemakers role. In 2002, a high school math teacher turned winemaker Peter Gago took control. Now with 60 year old vines, Grange’s consistency from vintage to vintage allows their wines to stand on the same stage as any other high-profile, age-worthy wine in the world.
Today Penfolds is owned by Treasury Wine Estates, which is one of the largest wine companies in the world. They produce 31 million cases a year from labels such as Beringer, Chateau St, Jean, St. Clement, Stages Leap, Castello di Gabbiano in Italy, Colores del Sol in Argentina and Rosemount, Lindemans and Coldstream Hills in Australia. Penfolds is the jewel in the corporate crown, worth about $2.8 Billion.
Penfold’s is not very creative in naming wines. For the most part they just use Bin numbers. Originally these numbers would refer to where the wine was stored underground in numbered alcoves call “bins”. In 1970 they set the bin numbers to the wine, not the alcove, to keep from driving their customers nuts. The bin number has nothing to do with the cost or age of the wine. If you want to decode the bin numbers you’ll need a chart.
Our wine is a Bin 2, 2010, first released in 1960, an “Australian Burgundy”. It’s a palate-pleasing blend of Shiraz and Mourvedre. There is only a slight nose and deep purple color to greet you in the glass, but what makes this wine a champ is the taste. Its soft, medium-bodied, and just begs for you to drink it and enjoy. This is a fun wine that offers complexity that adds to the value of the wine and not confusion. The Bin 2 has the manors of a nice Rhone with an Aussie accent.
If you ever have to bring a wine to an event and your are not sure of what wine to choose, you cannot go wrong by choosing a Penfolds wine. Especially if your host doesn’t want to get clubbed over the head with a fruit bomb wine.