Putting South Africa’s Finest Wine Offerings Into Perspective – Tasting Australia’s Penfold’s Bin 620 Cabernet Shiraz 2008….

I had a wonderful time in Cape Town at Cape Wine 2018 and before that at the Nederburg Auction of older South African wines. Of course Cape Wine 2018 will be remembered for Tim Atkin MW’s first personal 100 point SA wine score, an active debate surrounding scoring and score inflation both in South Africa and globally and also the prickly pear issue of where to price South Africa’s premium wines, many made from old vine heritage vineyards around the Western Cape that are super expensive to farm. Serious questions indeed.

Some of these questions were brought into a new perspective when I returned to my office to find a bottle of Penfold’s Bin 620 Cabernet Shiraz from Coonawarra freshly opened on a colleagues desk courtesy of a private client. This is a Wine Advocate 98/100 point wine as scored by Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW and retails currently in the UK market for £850 per bottle inc taxes (R16,575 pb). So we are talking serious kit here… and amazingly a wine that makes even the Penfold’s Grange look positively cheap!

Tasting the wine, it is a blend that pays homage to the 1966 Bin 620, a legendary Penfold’s show wine from a great vintage. Crafted from the uniquely Australian Cabernet Sauvignon – Shiraz blend, this wine is considered to be the personification of the Penfold’s house style and worthy of a Special Bin status. The wine was bottled by Penfold’s Wines at Nuriootpa, South Australia in July 2009. The 2008 vintage was produced from the low yielding Coonawarra Blocks 5, 10 and 20 and is considered to be made in a very similar style to the famous 1966 vintage. The wine was barrel fermented in new French and America oak and is classically structured and considered worthy of extended cellar aging for several decades.

Penfold’s Bin 620 Cabernet Sauvignon – Shiraz 2008, Coonawarra, 14 Abv.

The wine has a wonderfully deep ruby garnet opaque core and is a blend of 51% Cabernet Sauvignon and 49% Shiraz. Rich, lifted and hedonistic, the nose is brimming with earthy black berry, freshly torn mint leaf, camphor leaves, wood spice, dried tree bark, cassis and black cherry kirsch liquor notes with nuances of milk chocolate, bruleed coffee beans and exotic botanical herbal spices. The palate is dense, creamy and unctuous but retains a certain poise and posture supported by gravelly mineral tannins, graphite spice, crème de cassis and a fine vein of palate refreshing acidity. The finish is super long and intense with just the faintest hints of cherry cola, salty liquorice, black berry confit and freshly baked raspberry crumble. The vinous adjectives and descriptives positively drip out of ones mouth with this complex offering. It is a big wine that walks a very neat, classical line and will impress most fine wine connoisseurs.

(Wine Safari Score: 97+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

So how does this wine compare to some of South Africa’s finest? In wine terms, however delicious this wine is, it still  has the taste of a lot of sunshine on the fruit and the creamy unctuous glycerol mouthfeel is perhaps not as conducive to matching with food other than perhaps with meaty barbeques. This is a micro-cuvee of only 900 cases so merits attention to detail and probably a big price tag. But I would argue there are many equally impressive South African benchmark reds every bit as alluring and complex and which are much more classically proportioned and suitable for a true gourmands palate. As for the price, well, the mind boggles. R16,000 Rand can buy quite a lot of very fine wine.

As I questioned at the Cape Wine 2018 Old Vine Seminar, the problem with South Africa’s premium wine offering is not their quality and certainly not their styles but more the fact that the wines are more appreciated overseas than they are in the local home market. South Africa’s finest crown jewels are all being exported because the local market, unlike Australia, USA or New Zealand is not comfortable paying the prices that these fine wines inevitably will need to sell for. Locals shy away from buying wines over R250 Rand (£12.99) a bottle let alone R16,000 Rand a bottle. The result is a two speed market where all the best offerings are exported to an appreciative, thirsty European audience while the home market scrapes the barrel like a fishy bottom feeder in a muddy pond trying to find the last undiscovered bargains. This needs to change before we can set about bringing better profitability to the local wine industry. A healthy fine wine market inevitably has to be driven primarily by strong local demand… then the rest will follow… a la Penfold’s top cuvees.

The Redman 2004 Coonawarra Red Blend – Capturing the True Australia Day Spirit…

I attended a fantastic tasting this evening on a cold winter’s night in East London’s Shoreditch ahead of the Australia Day Tasting tomorrow. Plenty of interesting wines on preview from ABS Siegel, the award winning wine shipper and distributor.

But I thought I would write about one wine specifically that caught my eye… the beautifully maturing Redman Coonawarra Red Blend 2004. A current release vintage in the more ‘archive’ spirit of fine wine, this wine was aged 13 years in barrel and bottle. Made from 30+ year old vines grown on the famous terra rosa red Limestone soils, this 14 Abv. blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Shiraz was aged for 24 months in French oak to produce a fine wine that firmly tips its hat to the French Languedoc red blends of the L’Herault and Faugeres, but at the same moment remains a true essence of the coonawarra itself. 

Tasting Note: Dark dense and opaque, there is a wonderfully exotic expression on this 13 year old Cabernet based blend. Such a complex interwoven nose of sweet tannery leather, burnt oranges, citrus peel, cedar spice, violets, salty liquorice, tart cassis, and earthy, oyster shell notes. There is just a hint of bruleed blackberries in milk chocolate with caramelised molasses hints. The palate is as expressive as the nose, truly characterful with an impressively salty, tart crystalline acidity, picante notes of cedar wood spice and liquid minerals, edgy gravelly tannins and a salty, dense, textured orange peel tinged finish. A truly impressive wine that is embracing its age gracefully but only because it knows its muscles are still bristling youthfully underneath a designer t-shirt. (Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Redman Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 ~ An Aussie Coonawarra Classic…

Not sure whether it’s a sign of my age or a sign of the times, but I don’t seem to drink that much Australian red anymore. To be fair, I do enjoy the cooler climate whites as well as many of the more new wave wines from people like Tom Shobbrook, Si in Western Australia, Luke Lambert and Timo Mayer in the Yarra Valley. 

But for Sunday lunch today, I ventured to the cigar shaped Coonawarra with its red terra rossa soils over white limestone. The Redman Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the real classics. Established in 1908, the Redman winery was a pioneer of the region, being an independent, family owned winery producing estate-grown red wines made by a 4th generation winemaker.

Tasting Note: This Redman Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, at a modest 13.5 Abv, was made from low yielding vines grown on the classic terra rossa soils. On opening, the nose was saline, broody and closed with black berries, cassies, bramble spice and earthy red currants. Given air, the wine blossoms, while always remaining taught, fresh, cool and nervy with tart Victoria plums, crunchy black berry and earthy forest fruits. Also no shortage of classic cedar and violet perfume on the nose, and spicy cigar box and cassis leaf on the palate, with dry limestone tannins. Finish is cool, crisp, crunchy and taught with great varietal intensity and length, which suggests this wine can surely be cellared for 10-15 years. A fine effort from the Aussies. (Wine Safari Score: 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)