If you’ve been following Cellarit on Facebook or keeping up with recent wine news, you couldn’t have missed reading about the fanfare around Penfolds official release of the Bin 620 Coonawarra Cabernet Shiraz 2008 in Shaghai, China. The lavish launch was held at the opulent Waldorf Astoria Hotel, where guests were treated to a six course banquet and a spectacular light show with contemporary Chinese dancers.

The reason behind all the fuss was Penfolds’ release of a wine that was last made in 1966. “Special Bin” wines are only produced when the vintage conditions are perfect, and quantities are very limited. As former Penfolds Senior Winemaker and consultant John Bird explains: “In 2008, we tasted several rows of our Coonawarra blocks (5, 10 and 20) and realised that this had something extra, something unique. It transported me back to 1966 and the experimental Bin 620. The fruit profile is classic Penfolds. Having tasted many parcels of Coonawarra fruit it became apparent that we simply had to make this wine.”

The $1,000 price tag, of course, also attracted a fair bit of interest. It made the wine Australia’s priciest release to date, trumping Torbreck’s The Laird Shiraz 2005, which has a $700 price tag.

So, is it worth it? Well, before looking at what the critics have to say, consider for a moment its price in a global context. A 12-bottle case of Château Lafite Rothschild 1982, for example, recently sold for $US57,360 at an Acker Merrall auction in Chicago. That’s $US4,780 a bottle for a vintage of which at least 15,000 cases were made versus less than 1000 cases for the Bin 620 Conawarra Cabernet Shiraz 2008.

To date, critics have been unanimous in their praise for the Bin 620 2008. Langton’s Andrew Caillard said that it is “without question” one of the best wines to be released in 2011: “This type of wine shows that we’re able to stump up the best wines in the world”, he said. “It’ll pull up everything around it.” (Penfolds Special Drop by Julie-Anne Sprague, Financial Review 18 November 2011)

James Halliday described it as “one of the greatest red wines Penfolds has made in the last 50 years.” Here’s an excerpt from his glowing review:

The brilliantly clear, deep purple-crimson colour is an enticing start, and the seamless fruit and oak integration on the bouquet is perfect. Complex cedar and cigar box aromas are entwined with a basket of perfectly ripened black fruits. The palate is exceptionally intense, yet supremely elegant, with immaculate balance, texture, structure, line and length. Its outstanding tannins give the wine a certain authority: this is not a fruit-bomb style, yet is far more accessible than most Granges at this age. (Penfolds Releases Bin 620 Coonawarra Cabernet Shiraz 2008 by James Halliday, Australian Wine Companion, 17 November 2011)

Huon Hooke scored the wine 97 points, calling it “magical,” and The Wine Front’s  Campbell Mattinson described it as “Pure, ripe, elegant, lengthy, composed. Quite sensational in its style.”

Another quick word on the price! James Halliday recalls that many years ago he purchased a case of the 1966 vintage from Len Evans’ Bulletin Place Wine Shop for around $20 a bottle! Perhaps today’s $1000 price tag will seem like a real bargain 45 years down the track!

Merrill Witt, Editor


Photo Credit: The Wine Guide