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Mature Penfolds Bin 28, 128 and 389

Written by JW. Posted in Australia

Inspired by tasting some old Aussie Coonawarra Cabernets at the London Wine Fair I decided to have a look at a few older bottles of red from Penfolds that I’ve squirreled away over the years from the 1998 and 1996 vintages. Tasting the wines reminded me just how wonderfully these wines can age as well as what terrific vintages ‘96 and ‘98 were in South Australia.

Penfolds Bin 128 is their Coonawarra Shiraz, unusual in that it is one of the few Penfolds wines that it is not a multi-region blend. It is also unusual in that it is aged in French rather than American oak. The 1998 is a wonderful wine, spot on and fully mature but still in great shape and shows just how well Shiraz does in Coonawarra. By contrast the 1996 was a little oxidized and tired and hadn’t developed as well. Ordinarily I’d put this down to storage, although they both were aged in identical cellar conditions.

Also tasted were Penfold’s Bin 28 and Bin 389 both from the 1996 vintage, which has a reputation as a great vintage in South Australia. Bin 28 has a long history and was one of Penfold’s first ‘special bins’ started in 1959 by the legendary Max Schubert, the creator of Penfold’s Grange.  It is also known as ‘Kalimna’, named after the famous Barossa vineyard. While the Bin 28 blend does have some fruit from this vineyard, it is actually a multi-region blend from the Barossa Valley and Clare Valley, and also contains fruit from districts such as McLaren Vale and Langhorne Creek. It’s aged in second and third year American oak barrels. The 1996 is a beautiful example of mature rich Barossa Shiraz and represents wonderful value. At the time of purchase in 1999 it was less than £8 ($12) a bottle. I wish I’d put away a couple of cases. The 2007 vintage tasted recently, though maybe not quite in the same league, now retails around the £12-15 ($18-22) mark, so the price in real terms is little changed. I recall drinking the 1976 Bin 28 in the mid 1990s courtesy of James Halliday. That too was a wonderful wine that had aged beautifully.

Finally the 1996 Bin 389 is still holding up well with nice mixed mature Cabernet and Shiraz notes, a wine still with some oomph and body, but which is unlikely I feel to improve any further and with a little caramel starting to creep in. It’s a blend of 50-60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40-50% Shiraz. Again it’s a multi region blend from Barossa, Coonawarra, Padthaway, McLaren Vale, Langhorne Creek and the Clare Valley and has been aged in a mixture of new and used American oak. Penfolds seem very happy with their reds in 2008 and, on the basis of the wines I’ve cellared, I’d certainly recommend putting away a few cases of Bin 28 for future enjoyment given their price. By the way there’s some good video content on the Penfolds site with their winemakers

Penfold Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz, 1998

Brick red, heathy and still opaque at centre; very attractive blackcurrant nose; wonderfully sweet and ripe allied to nice oak; quite precise with cassis and mature notes – spices, menthol and tar – creeping in; palate sweet entry, more blackcurrants and cassis; some alcohol, spices, leather and espresso at the end; extract here and still lots of fruit and life. Tannins very round and ripe. This is terrific stuff and absolutely wonderful to drink now and showing no signs of fatigue. 91+/100

Penfolds Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz, 1996

Dark red black; lacks the life of the ‘98, some caramel on the nose which hints at oxidation; some chocolate and tea beneath; earth and undergrowth on the palate though still quite sweet and ripe with mocha and chocolate tones but feels tired.  Maybe poor storage. ?/100

Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz, South Australia, 1996

Deep black red; glossy; sweet, ripe and fully mature with lashings of blackcurrants, along with mocha and bottle aged characters; spices, wonderful; sweet ripe palate, fresh still, with the US oak now mellowed into sweetness and notes of tobacco and spice; spicy finsh with espresso notes. Excellent. On par with the quality of the ‘98 Bin 128. 91+/100

Penfolds  Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz, South Australia, 1996

Dark; legs; viscous looking, dense and dark; lots of VA lift at first, later blew off to reveal warm nose of liquorice, blackcurrants, tobacco and olives, very warm and attractive; palate sweet and ripe [alcohol here] but with nice density and extract. Tannins supple, some tobacco and coffee on the finish. Good length with some alcohol on the finish. Some caramel starting to creep and wine eventually fell away a bit after an hour or so in a decanter. 88-89/100

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