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Strewth! Penfolds remain wizards of Australian wines

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This week, an homage to Australia.

It’s exactly five years since I came back from a three-week tour of Oz courtesy of Wine Australia, and while I tried a vast amount of sublime wines, one producer kept popping up and surprising me: Penfolds.

Founded in 1844, Penfolds is the greatest name in Australian wine. Top-end wines like the Bin 707, Yattarna, and Grange Hermitage, rank amongst the world’s greatest.

Penfolds Max's Cabernet Sauvignon (53355234)
Penfolds Max's Cabernet Sauvignon (53355234)

What surprised me when I was there, and what continues to surprise me, is how Penfolds wines at every price point can blow your socks off, as the following shows.

Koonunga Hill Chardonnay (Tesco £9) is one of those wines that never disappoint. This medium-bodied wine is full of fresh apple, peach and pear fruit backed by a touch of spice and citrus.

Clean and bright, it’s refreshing and satisfying and remains one of the best Chardonnays you can buy for under £10.

Penfolds Koonunga Hill chardonnay (53355164)
Penfolds Koonunga Hill chardonnay (53355164)

Australia has developed an outstanding reputation for Riesling.

Regions such as Eden and Clare Valley produce wines of style and beauty, and in the case of Grosset’s Polish Hill, one that will scare you witless when it’s young! Penfolds produces a delicious one, the Autumn Riesling (£9.49 Majestic).

This offers sweetly-tinted dried pears, peaches, and apricots that are balanced by fresh, tangy acidity. Try this with hard-white cheeses.

Koonunga Hill Shiraz/Cabernet (Tesco £9) was the second red I ever had from Penfolds.

The first was their £500+ Grange Hermitage 1989, and to be honest, it compared pretty well. Shiraz-Cabernet is an Australian original, and the best offer plenty of upfront, succulent black berry fruits from the Shiraz, bolstered by refined, minted blackcurrants from the Cabernet.

The Koonunga Hill does this brilliantly and gives a wine that’s fun yet serious. Try this with a warming winter casserole.

Next is a wine that celebrates one of the key figures in Penfolds rise to prominence, Max Schubert, creator of Grange. Max’s Cabernet Sauvignon (£20 Sainsbury’s) is a beautiful expression of Australian Cabernet.

With an inky, red-purple robe, on the nose there’s a rush of raw blackcurrant and raspberry fruit, with secondary tones of eucalyptus and smoke. The palate is rich and generously fruited with a firm, minerally finish that suggests that stashing a few of these away will pay significant dividends.

Finishing on a high, we have the Kalimna Shiraz (Majestic £24.73). One of Penfolds oldest wines, this is a class act. Crammed with black and red berry fruits, vanilla, mint, and warm spices, despite its significant size – I’ve seen smaller counties – it’s refined, elegant, and displays dazzling purity.

The current release – the 2018 – is still a babe in arms and will repay another decade of cellaring, assuming you can resist its charms now.

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