Four years after the death at 59 of Dr Christopher Penfold in 1874, an Australian journalist discovered that his widow Mary blended ‘the wines when they are two or three years old’, a process that ‘is done under Mrs Penfold’s personal supervision, not in conformity with any fixed and definite rule, but entirely according to her judgement and taste’. The reporter stated that there was ‘about 20,000 gallons of wine of that age ready for the market’, with a ‘total stock… close upon 90,000 gallons’.
The Penfolds had emigrated from Sussex some 40 years previously and lived in their cottage, the Grange, in the foothills of the Mount Lofty Ranges. An attempt to cultivate an efficacious treatment for anaemia had already mutated into a large and decidedly non-medical business within their own lifetimes. The mighty label that bears the name of their family home is recognised around the world as one of the most prestigious syrahs ever put in a bottle – ‘the first growth of the southern hemisphere’, as one critic put it.
First secretly created in 1951 by the legendary wine maestro Max Schubert, based on Old World techniques (with some New World nous), Penfolds Grange is a precious and limited production beauty, now considered a classic – the supermodel that owns the catwalk of Australian wine. An example of the original vintage has sold for $50,000 (a standard vintage still goes for a healthy $785). It’s fortuitous that Schubert ignored his bosses’ demand to cancel his early trials. Taking on his mantle and that of his successor, John Duval, would have been a huge weight for anyone. Luckily, Newcastle-born Peter Gago has big shoulders and a huge amount of talent.
He has maintained and surpassed Grange’s quality since taking the reins in 2002.
But it’s his Special Bin reserves that have won plaudits including Winemaker of the Year. Common consensus is that his anniversary edition, to celebrate 170 years since the Penfolds first planted their French stems brought from England, is a masterpiece that surpasses the old favourite. The 2010 Bin 170 Kalimna Shiraz is a one-off, single block, single vineyard wine from outstanding 2010 vintage. Created only once before in 1973, it’s sourced exclusively from old vines planted in the ancient soils of Block 3C in the Kalimna Vineyard of the Barossa Valley.
The main difference from Grange is that this wine finished its fermentation in French oak barrels, 55% of which are new. Grange sees only American oak. The wine is tremendously deep and concentrated, with the silken texture and fleshiness that comes with very old vines. It is subtle, elegant and structured. This one could be laid down for decades.
At $1,800 a bottle and only 500 dozen produced this will become one of the most sought-after reds in the world. And what better way to protect your investment than in a rather more than average case. Seven imperial (six litre) bottles have been crafted for a collaboration with renowned English craftsman David Linley.
Opening the case is an occasion in itself. It features a bespoke compass marked with intricate detail and precision engraving. To open each imperial case one must turn the precious jade inset dial to the longitude and latitude coordinates of Magill Estate – (-34, 138) – the spiritual home of Penfolds. Only then can the case be opened, to get to the precious contents. Other features include a detailed Penfolds crest on the box exterior, crafted in impressive marquetry inlay, and a secret drawer built into the box that is, according to the designer himself, ‘one of the most challenging features to include in a piece of furniture’. The drawer contains a stunning photographic journey of Kalimna Block 3C as well as a Certificate of Authenticity.
The drawer lid will be customised by LINLEY with the purchaser’s name and bottle number (from one to seven). The imperial case will also include a synthetic hygrometer combined with a bimetal thermometer to measure the perfect room climate, a barrel-inspired interior and a bespoke wine pourer. The whole is as great as the sum of its many exclusive parts. And just so those of a more restrained nature don’t feel left out, a limited edition LINLEY for Penfolds magnum case and 750ml bottle case have also been crafted for this special release.
Peter Gago himself made a return to his (and Dr P’s) mother country for the unveiling in London. Enjoying the pleasant atmosphere that can only be generated by 200 journalists drinking samples of £1,200 bottles of Shiraz, he remarked: ‘This is such a befitting partnership. David Linley and his team of fine craftsmen share many of the values that Penfolds has honoured since it was founded in 1844. It is a pleasure to share such vision with LINLEY on this project.’
No, Peter. The pleasure was, and continues to be, all ours.
Available in Imperial (6L), Magnum (1.5L) and 75cl bottle sizes, the ‘Linley for Penfolds’ cases are available to buy from Berry Bros. & Rudd, with a cost ‘in bond’ of £33,000 for an Imperial, £2,332 for a Magnum and £1,992 for a case of three 75cl bottles.