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, eRobertParker.com, 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 to become believers.” (Wine Advocate #192, December 2010)

Penfolds holds the envious position of being able to choose the very best parcels of grapes from five different sub-regions around South Australia for its Bin 389. As panel member James Halliday noted at the same Landmark Forum attended by Perrotti-Brown: “This wine is very much made to a house style and a very good house style. Penfold’s viticultural resources are enormous and this is the top 10% of the crush.” (Shiraz and The Great Australian Blend – Landmark Tutorial Day 2 by Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW, eRobertParker.com, January 2011)

Peter Gago, chief winemaker for Penfolds, explained in conversation with the Wine Spectator’s Harvey Steiman the reasons behind the cabernet shiraz blend: “To me, the Cabernet texture has a transparency you don’t often find in Shiraz, and an elegance. The Shiraz fills in the spaces without overpowering the Cabernet.” (A look Back at Penfolds Bin 389, Havey Steiman at Large, 29 July 2009).

Penfolds describes the shiraz grapes in the Bin 389 as akin to “small black pearls,” providing intensity, flesh and opulence to the wine.

Steiman is right in noting that Bin 389 is “not in the same league as Grange, sobriquets not withstanding.” But given that most vintages sell for a fraction of the price of Grange, it’s definitely a top cellar pick!