Penfolds California Collection 2021 Released

Penfolds launched the first edition of its California Collection in a virtual event on March 4th, showcasing four distinct 2018 vintage wines which bring together the worlds of California and Australia wine. It’s the culmination of a project which began over two decades ago, with the planting of vines from Penfolds’ Magill and Kalimna estates in Paso Robles. But it’s also the mere starting point for a project which should continue—pardon us—bearing fruit for many decades to come.

The ethos of the project is straightforward, though its execution is anything but. “It’s reds in California through a Penfolds lens,” says chief winemaker Peter Gago. He’s been in the role since 2002, succeeding John Duval, and has been with Penfolds stretching back to 1989.

That same lens manages to offer a glimpse at the present by extending its gaze both to history and to the future. “While we are always respectful of our past… at the same time, we were very much asking ourselves as a team, ‘what does the next 175 years look like for Penfolds?'” explains senior winemaker Steph Dutton.

There are consistencies between what Penfolds is doing in California and what it’s built its reputation upon in Australia, but notable differences too. That’s as it should be, switching not merely between neighboring wine regions but between hemispheres. “I think it’s important to have a little bit of both,” Dutton said. “To make sure we have that Penfolds thumbprint, and house style that we’re known for… but it’s also important that we source something really different as well.”

The Penfolds California collection is headlined by the 2018 Quantum Bin 98 Cabernet Sauvignon, a bottle priced at $700 and billed as a “wine of the world,” in that it features a blend of grapes from California and Australia. The bulk of the blend, 87%, is Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley, brought to life with the injection of 13% Shiraz from Australia. “It’s a sprinkling of Shiraz,” Gago says. “A1 grape, top tier, ‘could have been a contender.'” He goes onto to say the wine, which is aged for 16 months in new oak (80% French, 20% American), “commands respect,” and will hold up to cellaring for “many, many decades” to come.

“It screams, it shouts, ‘Penfolds’ on the nose,” Gago says. “But, again, it is so, so Californian, there’s something else in there.” Dutton highlights the plush, velvety texture and big blue fruits as key qualities.

The lineup continues with the 2018 Bin 149 Cabernet Sauvignon ($149), another wine of the world. Bin 149, though, is entirely Cabernet Sauvignon, predominantly from Napa Valley and backed up by south Australia at a 14.9% clip. It was also aged entirely in new oak, though the ratio is flipped, with the lion’s share being American.

If Bin 98 was blue, Bin 149, to Dutton, is black and “exudes all the dark berries and blackcurrant.” Once again, the question is being true to a certain Penfolds ethos and style while allowing a fresh take to evolve naturally. “You see an element of familiarity with these wines,” she says. “Consistences that you see in our philosophy. There were some things that were nonnegotiable.”

Gago emphasizes that the Australian grapes added into this release were no mere afterthoughts or leftovers, either. “It’s being able to marry in flagship-worthy, A-grade material [from Australia], and still letting the narrative be about Napa Valley,” he says.

Also in the 2021 Penfolds California Collection is the 2018 Bin 704 Cabernet Sauvignon ($70), all Cabernet from Napa, aged in a combination of new and used French oak. “We’re looking at accessibility upon release, but again with that ability to age,” Gago says. Expect dark red fruits and gooey dark chocolate offset by a bit of dusty and chalky character, with a moderate tannic structure and bright spot of acid.

Last but not least is the 2018 Bin 600 Cabernet Shiraz ($50), a California wine including grapes from Paso Robles and Napa Valley. “There’s something about the way those two varieties connect,” Gago says. The wine features a medium body with rich depth, with vanillins and wood spice alongside black pepper, anise, orchard fruits, and tart berries.

“It’s California landscape, but a quintessential Australian blend,” Dutton says.

One eye to the past. The other to the future. One foot in Australia. The other in California. Or as the tag line for the collection states: “Two Hemispheres, One Story.”