I tasted Penfolds' blue-chip reds ahead of the May 3 release date - missing the ''mine's smaller than yours'' retail price scrum invariably accompanying the release. Therefore, by the time you read this, prices at major retail outlets will probably have tumbled below the recommended prices below.
Yet again under winemaker Peter Gago, we see a magnificent suite of reds built for long-term cellaring. Each shows its own distinctive character. And all, except St Henri, bear the deep purple thumbprint of Max Schubert, genius Grange creator.
Retailer discounting notwithstanding, prices have moved up steadily in recent years, marking the internationalisation of the Penfolds brand - underpinned increasingly, like Bordeaux and Burgundy, by the rising wealthy classes in China.
With the exception of Grange, the wines come both cork and screwcap sealed. I recommend the screwcap in all instances. Grange comes only with cork at this stage.
Penfolds St Henri Shiraz 2008, $95
Style: Elegant, medium-bodied shiraz (91 per cent, the rest cabernet sauvignon) without the input of new oak, a thumbprint of most Penfolds reds.
Tasting note: Deep red colour with a vivid purple hue at the rim; pure, ripe, and youthful mulberry-like varietal aroma. The beautiful, pure fruitiness flows through to a supple, juicy palate - the fruit layered with fine-boned, drying, savoury tannins. This is big but typical St Henri - elegant, understated, no oak in sight and built for long-term cellaring. Can be enjoyed now, but from experience should drink best from 15 years of age and continue to evolve for decades (reliably under screw cap).
Penfolds Magill Estate Shiraz 2009, $130
Style: Medium-bodied, finely textured 100 per cent shiraz reflecting seasonal conditions.
Tasting note: Deep red/black colour with youthful crimson and purple tones at the rim. The aroma combines ripe varietal fruit and spice meshed with oak (an effect produced by barrel fermentation says Peter Gago); has quite an acid attack after the St Henri - accentuating both the vibrant berry flavours and the well-integrated oak characters. Layers of assertive but velvety fruit and oak tannins add texture and carry through the finish with the fruit. A particularly good Magill with good cellaring potential - best drinking after another two or three years in the cellar.
Penfolds RWT Barossa Valley Shiraz 2009, $175
Style: An aromatic, opulent and fleshy expression of Barossa shiraz (100 per cent), contrasting with the power and intensity of Grange. Matured in French, not American oak.
Tasting note: Deep, dense red/black colour with purple rim; the nose delivery highly aromatic plummy fruit mixed with sweet, spicy French oak, promising a wine of opulence. The palate delivers the promise - big but graceful, combing ripe Barossa shiraz flavours with sweet oak and layers of juicy tannin. There's a meaty note, too, reminiscent of the browned outside of chargrilled steak, adding an umami dimension to the fruit/oak amalgam. RWT 2009 should drink very well after another few years and evolve well for a decade or two if well cellared. Gago says RWT helps protects Grange from periodic suggestions to lighten it up.
Penfolds Grange Shiraz 2007, $625
Style: Powerful and unique expression of warm-climate shiraz (97 per cent, the rest cabernet sauvignon) capable of very long-term cellaring. Becomes finer and more elegant with prolonged bottle ageing.
Tasting note: Dense red/black colour all the way to the rim; an all-Grange aroma - ripe, penetrating and idiosyncratic; enormously powerful, mouth-puckering palate. An exquisite, exotic lump of flavour and texture, all in one piece, the many components inseparable from one another. Somewhat firmer and without the particularly buoyant fruit of the 2006 vintage - a typical Grange expression of the vintage. Are there any other Australian wines as good as this? Yes. Are there any others that taste like this? No. This is unique. Best drinking should be from 15 years - for many decades if well cellared.
Penfolds Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, $250
Style: A powerful style in the mould of Grange. Known affectionately within Penfolds as ''Grange cabernet''.
Tasting note: Dense red/black colour with brilliant purple rim; a beautifully aromatic Bin 707, led by sweet, ripe, dark berries, typical of Coonawarra cabernet (100 per cent), seasoned by sweet oak. Beautiful, sweet, dense, ripe fruit pushes through the firm, griping tannins on the palate. The overall impression is of power with elegance in a wine we know from experience retains its clear varietal character for decades, becoming finer and more elegant with age. This is a classy Bin 707, at home with lamb or beef now, but likely to be at its best in 15 years or more. Chateau Shanahan's 1986 still drinks perfectly, so no rush with the 2009.
Penfolds Bin 169 Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, $250, only at cellar door
Style: Gago says Bin 169 is to Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon what RWT Shiraz is to Grange - a fragrant, elegant expression of a regional specialty, matured in French oak. Gago believes Bin 169 will protect the unique Bin 707 style just as RWT protects Grange. Not tasted this year, but sampled previously on a couple of occasions with Gago, Bin 169 easily sits with Australia's finest cabernets - a pure, vibrant, luxuriously textured expression of Coonawarra.