It is the finest Australian red wine I have ever tasted and trust me, I've been privileged enough to try the best of the best. Last produced in 1966, more than 40 years ago, it is made only in exceptional vintages.
Called Penfolds Bin 620 Coonawarra Cabernet Shiraz, in 2008 everything came together to allow a repeat performance of this unique blend. As Penfolds' chief winemaker, Peter Gago, explained at the recent global launch in Shanghai, "We have to get very good cabernet and shiraz.Usually we get a great vintage for one but not necessarily for the other ... rarely do they coalesce."
Obviously in 2008 in Coonawarra, one of Australia's premier wine regions, a near-perfect vintage made it possible for the earlier ripening shiraz to be blended with the later ripening cabernet. The South Australian district traditionally produces wines from vines grown in terra rossa soil, which is red earth over limestone, and grapes sourced from these vines have more intense flavours, more weight and firmer structure. Gago noted, "The blend is 51 per cent cabernet, 49 per cent shiraz and it's hard to say [which is] dominant ... it's a lighter style and definitely has that nod to an old fashioned claret. Consequently it's probably more food-friendly."
You'd expect such a wine to have an almost overwhelming brutish quality but what makes this such a remarkable wine is the exceptional tannins alongside its accessibility and balance.
So why the relatively early release after just three years in bottle?
Said Gago, "Our flagship wine Grange is usually released as a 5-year-old ... this wine hasn't changed a great deal in the last 18 months. The secondary characters have yet to kick in so it seemed a good time to release it now. It has accessibility now but will bring enjoyment over many, many decades."
As always, any discerning consumer needs to put all the hype to one side and apply the ultimate test - the wine itself in the glass.
Given that Bin 620 is in extremely limited supply, (less than 1000 cases produced) and is approximately the same price as a bottle of a French first-growth, expectations would be sky high. I can confirm they will be met.
New Zealand's meagre allocation is now available. Be quick.
2008 Penfolds 620 Coonawarra Cabernet Shiraz
Unique, spectacular and ultimate sophistication, this wine has limited availability and you'll need to ask for it at specialist wine stores. It is harmonious, restrained and youthful with silky velvet tannins.
2009 Matua Valley Series Dartmoor Chardonnay
Single vineyard wine from grapes grown in Hawkes Bay, it is rich and flavoursome with a swish of buttery oak, mellow stonefruit characters and a pleasant nutty aftertaste.