Category Archives: Australian Cabernet Shiraz

Aug 08 2015

Long Live Penfolds Bin 389: Notes from a Vertical Tasting

Posted on August 08, 2015 | By

Penfolds Bin 389 is sometimes referred to as ‘Baby Grange’ or ‘Poor Man’s Grange’. Like the iconic Penfolds Grange, Bin 389 shares the same legendary creator, Max Schubert, who first produced the wine in 1960, nine years after unveiling his experimental 1951 Grange.

In fact, a significant portion of the wine that goes into the Bin 389 is aged in the same American oak hogsheads used for the previous vintage of Grange. Twenty to 30 percent of the wine sees new oak treatment.

The fruit for both wines is sourced from different vineyards and regions – the goal always to secure the best fruit available. Fruit that doesn’t quite make the cut for Grange will often find its way into the Bin 389.

Some critics have argued that the ‘Baby Grange’ moniker is not an accurate descriptor of Bin 389 because the blend is quite different to the shiraz-dominant Grange. Bin 389 has a much higher percentage of cabernet sauvignon, a feature that according to wine critic Julia Harding MW gives the wine “those cedary-fresh Cabernet characteristics” that are absent from the fuller bodied Grange. (Penfolds’ Bin 389 vs Grange by Julia Harding MW, 26 June 2009).

One hallmark quality that Bin 389 definitely shares with Grange is its ability to age. My husband’s wine group recently enjoyed a vertical tasting of Bin 389, covering a good selection of vintages dating back to 1986. Below are their tasting notes. A very impressive lineup indeed:

Penfolds Bin 389 2012

Concentrated, dark, young and full bodied. Already pleasant to drink. Great prospects.

Penfolds Bin 389 2010

Still dumb but plush fruit and good acid balance bode very well for the future. Exceptional.

Penfolds Bin 389 2008

Starting to drink well, slightly varnishy nose but good depth of flavour and long Read the rest

Sep 09 2013

The Great Australian Red Tasting – An Opportunity to Try the Remarkable Penfolds Bin 60A 2004

Posted on September 09, 2013 | By

The opportunity to try the Penfolds’ legendary Bin 60A doesn’t come around very often. Only two vintages of this exceptional cabernet shiraz blend have ever been made. The inaugural 1962 vintage, made by Grange creator Max Schubert, is widely regarded as Australia’s greatest ever wine and the follow-up 2004 vintage scored an impressive 99+ points when it was reviewed by the Wine Advocate’s Lisa Perrotti-Brown in 2010.

Tyson and MatthewThe beautifully balanced, luscious yet exquisitely elegant Bin 60A 2004 certainly set the benchmark high at this week’s The Great Australian Red tasting, hosted by the competition’s founders, Matthew Jukes and Tyson Stelzer, at the Art Gallery of NSW in Sydney.

But fortunately it was just one of many stand-out wines in a very impressive line-up of the uniquely Australian blend of cabernet and shiraz.

Another highlight of the tasting was a comparison of five different vintages of Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz: 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008 and 2010. Personally, my favourite was the 2004 vintage, possibly because it was the oldest vintage and, I suspect, just starting to hit its stride. It’s a wonderful example of the wisdom of blending cabernet with shiraz. Here the cabernet (53%) complements the full bodied richness of  shiraz by providing structural backbone, freshness and acidity. Interestingly, Penfolds’ tasting notes for the 2004 vintage refer to the wine as “a true ‘Baby Grange’ release, as per the original style blue-print.”

The Wolf Blass Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz Malbec 2004 was another impressive example from the 2004 vintage. This cabernet dominant blend is a big wine designed for long-term cellaring. The enveloping aromas of warm, dark rich fruits with hints of charcuterie, chocolate and truffles anticipate the richly fruited savoury accented flavours of this beautifully structured, opulent yet elegant wine.

The Great Australian Red competition … Read the rest

Dec 12 2011

Reviews for Penfolds Bin 620 Coonawarra Cabernet Shiraz 2008: Australia’s most expensive wine!

Posted on December 12, 2011 | By

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 … Read the rest

Sep 09 2011

Wolf Blass: The man behind the famous label

Posted on September 09, 2011 | By

I recently had the good fortune to attend a cocktail party at a beautiful harbourside Sydney mansion for the launch of the current release of the Wolf Blass luxury collection: the Gold, Grey, Black and Platinum labels.

The line-up of wines was excellent with the sublime Platinum Label Shiraz 2008 Grange-like in the complexity and depth of its bouquet. But the real highlight of the evening was the chance to listen to the entertaining musings of the very dapper 77 old Wolf Blass, who is still a roving international ambassador for the brand.

I went home with a copy of Wolf Blass’ biography, Wolf Blass: Behind the Bow Tie, by Liz Johnston. The book proved a fascinating read. Apart from providing a very entertaining history of a German immigrant generally regarded as “larger than life,” the book offered some very interesting insights into the Australian wine industry and Blass’ very important contribution to its development.

Blass’ business success is legendary. His winery, which began in a Barossa Valley tin shed in 1973, became Australia’s number one wine brand by value and volume in 2003. Today it one the jewels in the Treasury Estate (formerly Foster’s) portfolio with production in excess of 70 million bottles a year.

And by any standard, Blass is also one of Australia’s greatest marketers. The ingenious colour coding of the Wolf Blass range, for example, still sets the brand apart for the ease with which it guides consumer access to high quality products as various price points. Johnston describes Blass’ very German penchant for discipline and order, and indeed the clever branding of his wines reminds me of Mercedes Benz with its A to S Class series.

In a country famous for shooting down its tall poppies, Blass fearlessly embraced self-promotion, proudly wearing the “Australia … Read the rest

Feb 02 2011

Jacob’s Creek Johann Shiraz Cabernet: The 2010 Great Australian Red!

Posted on February 02, 2011 | By

Jacob’s Creek Johann Shiraz Cabernet 2005 was the winner of The Great Australian Red competition in 2010 and also took out the trophy for the Best Shiraz-Dominant blend.

The competition, which was launched in 2006 by UK wine writer Matthew Jukes and Australian wine writer Tyson Stelzer, is a unique wine show because it focuses exclusively on Australian blends of cabernet and shiraz. It has a very rigorous format – the scores of all 13 judges are counted against every wine in the show, and the judges include some of best winemakers in the country. Winemaker judges for the 2010 show were Brian Walsh (Yalumba; Chair of Judges), Jeffrey Grosset (Grosset Wines), Toby Barlow (St Hallett), Michael Fragos (Chapel Hill), Tash Mooney (Fox Gordon), Kym Teusner (Teusner Wines), Joch Bosworth (Battle of Bosworth) and Katie MacAulay (Lion Nathan).

From a commercial perspective, Jacob’s Creek put the shiraz cabernet blend on the map when it introduced the budget priced Jacob’s Creek Shiraz Cabernet to UK consumers in the mid 1980s. As a young Aussie expat living in London on a very limited budget in 1985, this great value (ie. cheap) and very drinkable Aussie blend was welcome news to my friends and I. We snapped it up along with thousands of others, making the brand the UK’s top seller.

The Jacob’s Creek Johann Shiraz Cabernet is, of course, at the other end of the spectrum to the budget blend. The most recent 2008 vintage retails for around $75 versus $11.50 for the Jacob’s Creek Classic Shiraz Cabernet. But by all accounts the extra dollars for the Johann are well worth it.

Named after Johann Gramp, the pioneer of Orlando Wines,  the Johann is Orlando’s flagship wine. It’s produced only from the highest quality shiraz and cabernet  vineyards in South Australia, with … Read the rest

Feb 02 2011

Yalumba The Signature: Celebrating Tradition, Culture & The Best of Vintage

Posted on February 02, 2011 | By

In a sense, Yalumba’s The Signature, a cabernet sauvignon/shiraz blend first released in 1962,  reads like a history of the winery. Each vintage is named in honour of an employee or person who has made a significant contribution to culture and traditions of the company.

The Signature itself holds a very special place not only in the history of Yalumba but in the winemaking history of Australia.  As the winery notes, “In a market largely obsessed with single-varietal wines, Yalumba has remained steadfast in its commitment to that most Australian of wine styles, the Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz blend.”

Director of Winemaking Brian Walsh is in fact so enthusiastic about the style that a number of years ago he convinced the prestigious Royal Adelaide Wine Show to add cabernet/shiraz and shiraz/cabernet blends as a separate class. Together with The Great Australian Red – a wine competition exclusively limited to Australian examples of the blend,  these shows are lifting the profile of this unique Australian wine style.

The Signature is a consistently high scoring wine. Robert Parker of The Wine Advocate scored the 2002 vintage 96+ points, and The Wine Spectator awarded the 2005 vintage 92 points. Here’s Harvey Steiman’s glowing review:Smooth, velvety and beautifully focused to show the depth of ripe currant, blackberry, grilled meat and smoke notes that don’t quit on the long, deftly balanced finish. Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz. Drink now through 2015.” (Tasting Note, The Wine Spectator, 30 September 2009).

I have a friend who absolutely raves about the quality and value for money of The Signature. It typically sells for around 30 per cent less than its similarly regarded peers. I think the Wine Advocate’s Lisa Perrotti-Brown had a point when she remarked that “Yalumba’s top wines should not be overlooked … Read the rest

Feb 02 2011

Wolf Blass Black Label: Still Setting the Benchmark for Red Blended Wine

Posted on February 02, 2011 | By

Wolf Blass Black Label, a cabernet shiraz blend, has won the coveted Jimmy Watson Trophy four times. The first win was back in 1974 and given to the Wolf Blass Wines Dry Claret 1973, the very first vintage of the wine. Wolf Blass Wines Dry Claret went on to pick up consecutive trophies for the 1974 and 1975 vintages. Twenty-three years later, when the wine had been relabled as Wolf Blass Black Label, the 1998 vintage scored the Jimmy Watson Trophy for an unprecedented fourth time.

Today, the wine is still being lauded as one of Australia’s great expressions of the uniquely Australian cabernet shiraz blend. The Wine Advocate’s Lisa Perrotti-Brown singled out Wolf Blass Black Label as a highlight of the cabernet shiraz blends presented at last September’s Wine Australia Landmark Tutorial:

Six of the fourteen wines that were presented to us were Cabernet / Shiraz blends. Amongst the most impressive examples were the Wolf Blass Black Label Cabernet / Shirazes from 1987 and 2006. I thought these two wines most clearly demonstrated how well these grapes can complement one another in the South Australian context, with Cabernet lending structural backbone and freshness of flavor profile and acidity when combined with Shiraz’s voluptuous richness. (Shiraz and The Great Australian Blend – Landmark Tutorial Day 2 by Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW,, January 2011)

The Black Label Cabernet Shiraz is the benchmark of Wolf Blass’s red wine portfolio. According to the winery, up to 800 different parcels of fruit, typically from super premium Langhorne Creek and Barossa vineyards, are classified (numerous times from vine to post maturation) and the best possible final blend is then constructed. The components of the blend spend a total of 24 months in new and old French and American oak before blending and bottling, … Read the rest

Feb 02 2011

Penfolds Bin 389: Perfecting the Art of Blending

Posted on February 02, 2011 | By

At Wine Australia’s Landmark Tutorial last September, the Wine Advocate’s Lisa Perrotti-Brown scored the 1975 Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz a very impressive 92 points. Here’s her review:

The 1975 Penfolds Bin 389 has a perfumed nose of dried cherries and pot pourri with some cigar boxes, stewed Ceylon tea and dried mint. Structured with medium-high acid and a low to medium level of grainy tannins, it still gives a lot of dried fruit and savory flavors with a long finish of dried figs and baking spices. The wine has peaked but appears to be at nice plateau. (Shiraz and The Great Australian Blend – Landmark Tutorial Day 2 by Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW,, January 2011)

I had a look at The Wine Advocate’s scores for vintages of Bin 389 dating back to 1993 and up to the 2007 (1993 is the earliest listed review and a few vintages were omitted). 91 points is the highest score, so a score of 92 for a bottle that was 35 years old is a real testament to the wine’s ageability.

Of course, Penfolds Bin 389, first released in 1960, does have a great reputation for ageing well. Its ‘baby Grange’ moniker, in part a testament to the fact that some components of the wine spend part of their time maturing in the oak hogsheads used in the previous vintage of Grange, is also well-earned recognition for the wine’s consistency of style and longevity.

Perrotti-Brown has referred to Penfolds as the ‘Champagne of Australian wine’: “If Champagne is all about the the art of blending, then Penfolds is the Champagne of Australian wine. Those that think large companies producing wines that emphasize blending can’t make great wines need to think about the Champagne model or simply try some of Penfolds top wines … Read the rest

Feb 02 2011

Cabernet Shiraz Blends: ‘The Great Australian Red’

Posted on February 02, 2011 | By

The blend of cabernet sauvignon and shiraz has been called the most Australian of wine styles. Indeed, according to wine critics Matthew Jukes and Tyson Stelzer, shiraz cabernet is ‘The Great Australian Red.’ They were so convinced of its importance to the Australian wine industry that in 2006 they launched the The Great Australian Red – a new wine competition exclusively limited to Australian examples of the blend.

So why is the style unique to Australia? Well, the French would probably regard it as taboo (and in any event French regulation forbids it) to blend the noble grape of Bordeaux, cabernet sauvignon, with the noble grape of the Rhone, shiraz. But French tradition didn’t prevent Max Schubert, creator of legendary Penfolds Grange, from making the Penfolds Bin 60A – a blend of Coonawarra cabernet and Barossa shiraz. The inaugural 1962 vintage went on to become Penfolds’ most successful show wine of all time. Together with its 2004 successor, the only other vintage of the wine ever made, the Bin 60A is considered the benchmark for the style, and many regard the 1962 as Australia’s greatest wine!

Blending the firm, classic tannin structure of cabernet sauvignon with the rich fruit and ripe tannins of shiraz certainly seems like a very good idea. The shiraz adds middle-palate velvety richness and savoury notes to the elegance and length of cabernet, creating a complex but balanced wine with great cellaring potential.

A trend towards single variety wines has meant that many winemakers have overlooked the benefits of multi-variety blending. Nevertheless, a number of wines stand out as iconic expressions of the style, and new winemakers are starting to embrace a blend that is not bounded by region or ‘old world’ preconceptions.

Over the course of this week, we’ll look at four of Australia’s leading … Read the rest