Penfolds California Collection $81-900

What’s the Deal?

Penfolds may be one of the largest and most respected wine companies in the world, but compared to some of their more stuffy European brethren, they’ve always been imbued with a far more adventurous spirit when it comes winemaking (read this story on how their legendary wine Grange came to be and ask yourself, is this something that Mouton Rothschild would sanction?). But there’s adventurous and then there’s smashing through the envelope, and it’s the latter that might apply to this new California Collection. Sure, it’s not radical for an Aussie company to have wine from another country€”their parent group, Treasury Wine Estates owns a plethora of prestigious California wineries like Beringer, Stag’s Leap and Sterling€”so it’s perhaps a logical brand extension.

But here’s where the daring comes in€”instead of just releasing a “ordinary” prestige Californian head winemaker Peter Gago (that’s him below) has gone a step (or two further) and blend choice parcels of his Australian wine with equally premier parcels from California. Given how common blending wine from different parcels of wines is, you might think big deal. But for the wine world, doing an ultra-premium wine in such a manner simply isn’t done, even though there’s no logical reason why. 

What’s in the Bottle?

There are four bottles in this inaugural release: the $81 Bin 600 which is actually a blend of Cabernet from Napa and Shiraz from the company’s vineyards in Paso Robles; the $100 Bin 704, which is pure Napa Cabernet; the $300 Bin 149, a blend of Australian and Napa Cabernet; and the flagship $900 Quantum Bin 98, which blends Australian Shiraz with Napa Cab. The latter two wine carry a “Wine of the World” designation to account for their unique make-up. All the wines obviously run the stylistic gamut given their differing parts but there are a few constants: a measured intensity, abundant fruit, great structure.

Should I Buy?

Well this is tricky given the high price tag, but why should it be? My instinct tells me that Penfolds set the price of Quantum where it did to avoid wine speculators buying it and immediately flipping it or hoarding it like some commodity. Opus One, another Napa Cabernet made by a large company in far greater numbers than the Quantum is $600. And don’t even get me started on the prices of French Bordeaux: a bottle of Chateau Latour from the off-year of 2007 is $1200 (and it’s also made in much higher volume). My advice – if you have the means, the collection offers you relatively modest entry point with the Bin 600 to see if this is the type of wine that you might get passionate about.