Seasonal conditions in South Australia may have something to do with the early release of the Penfolds Bin Range. Never one to complain about a tasting, David Pike swills his way through the offering.

THE Penfolds Bin Range is usually reserved for release in the early part of each year. Southcorp Wines, however, has just unleashed the 1999 Penfolds reds onto the market, just in time for Christmas.

With yields down across South Australia in 1999, many of the wines in the very popular Penfolds Bin Range are well down in volume. I have been told the Penfolds Bin 389, 128, and 28 were down by around 45 per cent. Penfolds Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon and the blended Bin 138 were slightly up on volumes in the stunning 1998 vintage.

Having a look back through my notes, it seems much of South Australia suffered through a very warm summer. A very promising growing season was affected by March rains, which settled in to cause a range of problems within the vineyards. Many producers declared the 1999 vintage as very difficult as a result of the rains.

The Barossa was one of the worse affected areas, and this is reflected in the qualities of shiraz available in many of the bin range wines. Coonawarra fared a little better and didn’t seem to be affected too badly by the rain problems that beset the Barossa. Overall the cabernet fruit was in very good shape and, in a number of circumstances, produced some very good wines.

The Penfolds wines from the 1999 vintage are not long-term cellaring prospects. Penfolds oenologist Peter Gago has likened the vintage to the 1992 vintage, which means the wines are for drinking now and over the next four or so years. By this time your 1998 wines, which you have tucked away, will be just getting into the groove.

Those looking for the super premium Penfolds wines such as Yattana, Penfolds Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon and Penfolds St Henri, will be able to keep filling the moneybox for a few more months. May looks like the release date for these wines.

Penfolds Bin 138 Shiraz Mourvedre Grenache 1999 $21

Quite sprightly, with some savoury earthy tobacco and spicy pepper-like aroams. The palate shows raspberry, bramble flavours with savoury notes, gripping tannins, friendly acidity and integrated oak use. This is food-friendly wine.

Penfolds Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz 1999 $24

Intense perfumed aroams, white pepper, a touch of damson/plumy fruits, with a slight herbal tomato leaf notes in the background. The palate shows sweet fruits with primary red berry and damsons fruit. Tannins are quite dusty and gripping, showing balanced acidity and a slight licorice touch. The Bin 128 finishes with length of flavour and balance. This is my pick of the new releases.

Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz 1999 $24.

I found a whole array of aromas poking up in this wine. Raspberries, plums, chocolate, spices and violets all seem to be present. On the palate I found plenty of fruit, with red berry, dark cherry and fruitcake touches. There was a slight leafy character with acid and oak balance with length and medium-term commitment.

Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz 1999 $35

Savoury aroams leapt from this, the ‘poor man’s Grange’. Green tea and prunes combined with stewed plums and hints of chervil. Sweet jammy primary fruits, integrated oak that is not dominating, dusty tannins and complementing acidity. There is a touch of chocolate and prunes on the finish, which is balanced and has length.

Penfolds Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon 1999 $24

It shouldn’t be too long until Southcorp comes to its senses and turns this into Bin 407 Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon. Red currant and cranberry and tomato bush aromas were most evident in this wine. The palate followed the same direction, red current, mulberry sweet fruit flavours, mouth puckering tannins and evident cedary oak. This wine showed some distinctive varietal characters. While I enjoyed this wine, it will need some time to integrate.

While on the subject of Penfolds, coming up on November 30, Langton’s Fine Wine Auctioneers will be presenting Australia’s first single wine auction, which will be dedicated to Penfolds Grange. More than 300 lots of the world famous wine will be on offer and you will be able to bid for bottles, cases, magnums and imperials.

Langton’s, in conjunction with Christie’s, have put together the auction as part of Penfolds Grange 50th anniversary. The undoubted highlight of the auction will be the opportunity to put a complete collection of Grange in your cellar. There are only around 40 complete sets in cellars around the world, making it one of the rare wine collections in existence. The set of 46 bottles from 1951-1996 will not come cheaply, the last complete set, sold last year, fetched $176,000. If you are interested in the set or any of the other lots up for grabs, contact for a catalogue.

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