Dan and I went to Penfolds this morning. It cost us A$200, which is a fuck of a lot of money, but strangely enough, I don't feel ripped off - the pours were about 60 ml, which equates to a raw cost of about $80 per person, so there really was only a $20 overhead to try these puppies - a lot cheaper than actually buying a bottle of each for around $900! The gentleman who led the tasting was friendly, knowledgeable, and funny, and it was a great opportunity to try their ultra expensive wines that I wouldn't have otherwise tried. Here, then, are my tasting notes, unredacted for the most part:
1. 98 Yattarna. Tumbarumba, ADL Hills, Fleurieu. Definitely a little bit of that funky oldness there. I guess that's oak there? -> Tastes pretty good. Definitely more complex than the Leeuwin. Great length. Nice acids. Just fine. Might need to be older. Lees-y flavor? Kept on lees about 3/4 of the time before bottling. Amazing length, really.
2. 97 St. Henri. 'Mainly Barossa.' No phylloxera in SA. Also has Padthaway + ADL Hills components, etc. Beautiful dried blood color. A blended wine. Done in huge old oak vats. Beautiful, elegant nose. 97 is about 3% cab. sauv. '98 is 100% Shiraz.
3. 98 Magill; single vineyard wine, ca. 30'000 bottles/year. Adelaide hills again. 60/40 French/US oak. Again, nice red color. Smells unlike anything I've had before. Lots of tannin here. Kind of austere in a nearly unpleasant way. A bit sweet. Seems kind of disjointed; needs time?
4. 99 RWT; all Barossa fruit, mostly old vine Kalimna. All French oak; 75% new. Again, huge tannins, so obviously better old? Not particularly elegant now. Nice length. Sweetness lingers on for a bit, pretty impressive but again... no old world funk here.
5. 98 Bin 707 (after the Boeing jet). Mostly Coonawarra w/some old Barossa fruit. American American oak here (-> big fruit). Looks like black cherry soda, kind of smells like cedar shavings / hamster cage. Almost a sour (umami?) thing going on the mouth, gets you really salivating. Tannins, but under control.
6. 97 Grange. Very bad year, climate-wise, but Parker sez it's great. Again, lots of particulate matter. Nose is absolutely stunning, again distinctive & strange. 2 years new US oak. 3% cab. sauv. Actually smells like crusty bread? Nah, just smells really beautiful. Again, produces saliva, tannins obvious but in check.
7. NV Grandfather port. Important to remember that there's a lot of good brandy in here! Amazing. Beautiful, sweet, rich, amazing.
[That's all I wrote at the time. All in all, it was an interesting experience. The Grange was every bit as wonderful as you'd damned well expect for about US$140 a bottle; it really surprised me. It really is in a class of its own. My favorite overall was the Bin 707, which I think would be lovely if you could cellar it for at least a decade; however, the St. Henri is lovely and not quite so expensive (the Grange is $320, the Yattarna $120, the 707 $120, the RWT $150, the Magill $65, the St Henri $50, the Grandfather $80). Thing is, though, none of these wines have that Old World funk/terroir thing going on which I adore so much. Nothing really touched the Clonakilla, Yalumba, Plantagenet, Mitchell, or Knappstein in terms of sheer audacity and interest. Yes, these wines were lovely, obviously expensive, and refined, but dammit, I want more than that. And, honest, I don't want to pay so much for my wine. A$48 for Clonakilla or even A$15 for the Yalumba Barossa shiraz gives you an awful lot more bang for your buck than these guys, but I have to admit that the Penfolds wines are really something very special. Hell, I even liked the Yattarna, which is 100% chard. It was pretty fabulous; as I will most likely never, ever have a superpremium chardonnay again, I will just content myself with pretending that really fine Chablis tastes like this. Still, I'd really rather spend one-third the price of a bottle of Yattarna on a bottle of riesling.]