I LOOKED on as Peter Gago, Penfolds chief winemaker, signed my copy of the seventh, and latest, edition of The Rewards of Patience. I was thrilled. This is Penfolds’s groundbreaking book that’s as much a vintage-by-vintage guide to the cellaring and enjoyment of Penfolds wines as it is a chronicle of the continuing Penfolds story. Gago had been waylaid into the impromptu book signing and photo session just as he was leaving lunch—and the roomful of writers and editors who were still enjoying the 2013 Penfolds Grange with the cheeseboard selection.
The man has boundless energy. He had already given interviews to the media the afternoon before, and then went on to grace the gala dinner afterward. That morning of the book signing, he had walked us through the re-corking of a 1962 Penfolds Bin 60A, the bottle borrowed from the Penfolds museum cellar. The Penfolds Recorking Clinic was in full swing in Singapore. Gago’s day was just unfolding. Mine had just officially ended. Meeting the celebrated winemaker and tasting the legendary 1962 Penfolds Bin 60A capped an extraordinary 24 hours.
The 2017 edition of The Penfolds Re-corking Clinic Southeast Asia marked the clinic’s return to Singapore after four years. Held on November 14 at The Capella at Sentosa, the event brought together not just collectors but also those in the wine trade and media from Singapore, the Philippines, Indochina and Malaysia. But guests started arriving the day before (November 13), to take part in other activities that included the Penfolds 2017 Collection Release Dinner for trade and the one-on-one interviews with the winemakers for media.
November 13: Interview with the Winemakers
Gwen Cheong, senior public relation manager for Asia for Treasury Wine Estates, had arranged the 3 pm interview slot with Peter Gago, Penfolds chief winemaker, followed by the one-on-one with Stefanie Dutton, Penfolds senior winemaker.
Gwen had, in fact, arranged the media itinerary, from the airport transfers to in-room hotel check-in (at the JW Marriott South Beach) and everything else in between. By a stroke of good luck, the Philippine delegation (lifestyle columnist Pepper Teehankee and myself) was first in line to interview Gago. I was starstruck. This is the guy one reads about in the wine books and magazines.
The face of the iconic Penfolds Grange, the only wine on the heritage list of the South Australian National Trust. He must have been asked the same questions in countless interviews. How do you get consistency from vintage to vintage? What is the Grange style? A single vineyard Grange? Which is your favorite Penfolds wine? But the winemaker beat us to the first question. Have you had lunch? We had a most interesting wine talk—while the winemaker had his tomato soup.
In great vintages, the Koonunga Hill wines have great cellaring potential. Stefanie Dutton talked about the merits of Koonunga Hill, Penfolds’s early-drinking, entry-level wine with a sterling reputation for exceeding its price point in delivering quality. She had joined the Penfolds red winemaking team in 2010 and is responsible for crafting the Koonunga Hill wines. Her tip: Get any of the 2010s from Penfolds. And Gago did say that the 2010 is a star vintage, calling it “the millennium vintage that arrived a decade late.”
But it was the Koonunga Hill Autumn Riesling 2016 that bowled me over later during the media get-together at dinner. Pale straw-yellow with greenish highlights. Vivid citrus over floral notes. It reminded me of a mouth-watering lemon granita. I made a note to add it to my winelists.
November 14: Penfolds Re-corking Clinic
A BOTTLE of the Penfolds 1962 Bin 60A Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz had just been uncorked with infinite care. The visual check had deemed it a candidate for topping up and recorking because the wine level had dipped below the shoulder of the bottle. Gago then poured a tasting portion and zapped the bottle with nitrogen gas. He swirled the glass. I caught a whiff of exotic aromas. Fruitcake spice, raisins, cigar box, caramel. He took a sip, then broke into a wide smile. Was he going to drink all of it? There were just 425 cases of the 1962 Bin 60A. Critics say it’s one of the greatest wine ever made in Australia. It was never released again until in 2004. Who would like a taste? Peter Gago held out the glass for all to see the wine’s brick-red color. One never passes up on the opportunity to taste a legend.
Since 1991 Penfolds has been providing its singular after-sales service worldwide through its Re-corking Clinics, where collectors of Penfolds red wines bring their bottles at least 15 years old (and older) to have a complimentary “health checkup.” The wines are assessed by a Penfolds winemaker and, if deemed necessary, opened, tasted, topped up, recorked and recapsuled on the spot. To date over 150,000 bottles from all over the world have had their checkup in clinics held regularly in major Australian cities and in the United States, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Singapore and Hong Kong.
LUNCH saw the unveiling and tasting of the highlights from the 2017 Penfolds New Collection: 2017 Penfolds Bin 51 Eden Valley Riesling—91 points, Decanter Magazine; 2016 Penfolds Bin 311 Tumbarumba Chardonnay—92 points, Decanter Magazine; 2015 Penfolds Kalimna Bin 28 Shiraz—93 points, Robert Parker; 2015 Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz—95 points, Decanter Magazine; 2013 Penfolds Grange—100 points, Robert Parker. With such high scores, how can the wines be anything but stupendous?
Gago held us in rapt attention, flitting with ease from tasting notes and vintage conditions to Grange’s longevity and performance in the secondary market. The Re-corking Clinic also aims to encourage people to optimally drink their wines. Patience is rewarded, but don’t wait too long, he says. Drink up!