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Posted by Michael Franz on January 15, 2016 at 8:56 AM

From Best of 2015, Stalward Producer of the Year: Penfolds

Sadly, Australian wine continues to struggle under the cloud of Yellow Tail, which has undermined the quality reputation of the whole country’s wine industry (at least among the impressionable and inexperienced…which constitutes the majority of America’s wine consuming public).  Thankfully, hope springs eternal on account of producers like Penfolds.  Under the winemaking leadership of Peter Gago, this country makes terrific wines at ever price level every single year, ranging from affordable lines like Koonunga Hill ($12 or less) to Grange, which is undoubtedly the single best wine of the entire southern hemisphere. 

Fine wine drinkers should target the "Penfolds Collection" (a.k.a the “Bin Series” wines) and higher-end bottlings, which aren’t all expensive, but are all superb examples of their type.  On the more affordable end of the spectrum, Shiraz “Bin 28” South Australia 2012 checks in at 92 points and is a steal for $30.  Riesling “Bin 51” Eden Valley costs a little more at $40 but scored 93 for now--with at least a decade of improvement ahead of it.  Both Cabernet Sauvignon “Bin 407” 2012 (93) and Cabernet / Shiraz “Bin 389” (93) are more expensive than in decades past at $69 suggested retail pricing, but both now show even more concentration and age-worthiness than in earlier years.  At the higher end, Shiraz “St. Henri” South Australia 2011 (94) is the most approachable of Penfolds’ big-ticket red wines, and yet it never seems to dry out or tire with time in bottle, and can improve for three decades.  Which makes a retail price of $99 seem pretty reasonable.  Shiraz Magill Estate 2012 earned the same score of 94, and though it rings up for $130, it may well surpass the St. Henri if given a couple of decades to unwind all of its nascent complexities.  In this price range, Shiraz “RWT” Barossa Valley 2012 may be the best value of all at $150, earning 96 points thanks to almost unfathomable depth of flavor.  This ultra-concentrated wine has already soaked up most of its oak, and though it is phenomenally powerful, there’s nothing chunky or obvious about the wine.

Penfolds’ flagship white is Chardonnay “Yattarna” South Eastern Australia 2012, assembled from top sites (including cool climate ones) and showing a combination of penetrating fruit flavors, refreshing acidity, and a multiplicity of complex accents from ultra-fine oak.  It is already thrilling to taste (96) but will unquestionably improve for another two decades.  Priced at $130, it is worth every penny, and I’d trade almost any Burgundy producer’s Grand Cru Batard-Montrachet straight up to acquire this bottle.

Cabernet Sauvignon “Bin 707” South Australia 2012 (97, $350) won’t hit its apogee for at least 25 years, and though this is also true of a top wine from Pauillac in an excellent vintage, the 707 will be truly enjoyable in 5 years, whereas the Bordeaux will require 15.  At the very top end, Shiraz “Grange” South Australia 2010 ($850 suggested retail) was tied at 99 points (with Delas Hermitage “Les Bessards” 2012 as my choice for Best Red of 2015.  Grange 2010 is so dense, deep, penetrating and persistent that it almost defies comparison with any other wine.  Indeed, if it were not also so beautifully balanced and proportional, it almost wouldn’t seem like wine at all, but rather like something else entirely.  In light of the foregoing verbiage, it might seem silly to score the wine at 99, and my only defense is that this is just a nick shy of 1982 Cheval Blanc when I tasted that wine at 5 years of age in terms of sheer gorgeousness.  However, of those two wines, the Grange has more latent capacity to improve over a very long span, so we shall see.  Let’s talk again in 30 years.

Dow's, Porto (Douro, Portugal) 10 Year Tawny Port NV ($31, Premium Port Wines)
Tawny Ports mature in wood casks, losing their youthful purple color, and developing the rich, tawny, nut brown hue referred to in the name.  Dow’s Ports have been made since 1798 and their 10-year Tawny Port continues a centuries-old tradition of quality.  Dow’s house style is drier than most Port producers.   With less sugar to cover any deficiencies, making drier Ports is a challenging task.  Dow has succeeded brilliantly with the 10 Year Tawny Port. It has lush, spicy/plummy fruit with hints of almond, raisins, caramel, and toffee. Fine Tawny Port is an oft-overlooked beverage.  The French drink lots of Tawnies as aperitifs -- with the tangy caramel livening the palate for the meal to come.  A glass of this fine Port makes an excellent dessert all by itself, or a perfect companion for nuts, Bosc pears, and blue cheeses (Stilton is the classic match).  Tawny Ports also endure well after opening.  Since they have been exposed to air for a decade, they can last nicely for weeks or months.
93 Wayne Belding

Dr. Michael
This Issue's Reviews
Bubbling Up From the Chalk: Exploring the Geologic Heritage of Champagne
Wayne Belding

Because Champagne is so popular, much is made of the chalky soils that comprise the vineyards of the Montagne de Reims and the Côte des Blancs. Let's delve into the geologic history that created this distinctive terroir. The name Champagne is derived from the Latin word 'campania' -- meaning an open place. This is reflective of the relative infertility of the soils. When the Romans arrived on the scene, they described what we see today if we look east from the Champagne vineyards. Known as the Champagne Pouilleuse (literally 'lousy Champagne' -- a reference to its relative infertility), this large expanse of land is underlain by chalk, but without the benefit of sand and clay interbeds that make the Champagne vineyard area so bountiful for the vine.
M by Michael Mondavi
Ed McCarthy

In 1999, Michael Mondavi, his wife Isabel, and their two adult children, Rob and Dina, purchased Animo Vineyard in the Atlas Peak region of eastern Napa Valley, with the vision of producing their own wines. At that time, Michael was still running Robert Mondavi Winery, along with his brother, Tim. Five years later, Constellation Brands became the owners of Robert Mondavi Winery (in 2004), allowing Michael to concentrate on his own endeavor, officially called Michael Mondavi Family Estate, but usually referred to by its primary wine, M by Michael Mondavi. Brother Tim formed his own winery, Continuum, in St. Helena, Napa Valley. The great Robert Mondavi, family icon, passed away in 2006 at the age of 94.
Wine With
WINE WITH…Salmon Cakes

Many of us remember being served salmon patties when we were kids. They were good, or at least good enough, in a harmless, bland way. But our friend John recently served us salmon cakes he'd made with fresh fish, which was a very different experience than dining on the retro canned version. John's weren't boring! In fact, they were so delicious that we decided to try and replicate the dish ourselves a few nights later. While fresh salmon is the key here, we think a couple of other pointers are worth mentioning. Many recipes call for embellishing the basic ingredients with bell peppers or jalapenos, wasabi or other heavy spicing, capers, cheddar cheese, and all manner of other 'enhancements,' but we prefer to let the subtly gorgeous flavor of good, fresh fish speak for itself. In a symbiotic way, keeping the ingredients simple and straightforward allows the pure flavors of a good wine to shine through as well.
On My Table
Nostalgia in the Present
Mary Ewing-Mulligan

I can still remember the first California Chardonnay that wowed me, back in the late 1970s. It was from an area we then referred to as the 'South Central Coast,' but today would go by a more specific appellation. The wine was a fresh, flavorful Chardonnay with gentle fruitiness and wondrous texture. In the subsequent era of big, oaky California Chardonnays, and the next, reactive era of fresh but unexciting un-oaked Chardonnays, I sometimes recalled that wine with nostalgia. Today, I discovered its stylistic cousin in the 2013 Albatross Ridge Estate Chardonnay from Carmel Valley in Monterey County.