A $700 California-Australia Wine Blend Aims for Icon Status
(Bloomberg Businessweek) -- Australia’s most famous winery, Penfolds, likes to challenge preconceptions. When its multiregion Grange blend first appeared in the 1950s, it was viewed as radical (and undrinkable) but is now a collectible. This year the company introduced another iconoclast: the 2018 Penfolds Quantum Bin 98, a $700 wine that straddles hemispheres. The cabernet that makes up 87% of the blend comes from top Oakville and Diamond Mountain vineyards in Napa, and the remainder is shiraz from the best spots for old vines in South Australia.
• Blends of cabernet sauvignon and shiraz are Australia’s definitive style, and 2015’s the Caley ($350) is the fourth vintage of Yalumba’s flagship red. It’s a rich, fruity, spicy mix of 74% cabernet from the Coonawarra region and 26% old vine shiraz from the Barossa Valley. Unlike Quantum, it shouts Australia. Aged only in French oak, it’s also less concentrated.
• The 2016 Penfolds Grange ($800) is the reverse of the Quantum blend: shiraz with a tiny amount of cabernet sauvignon (3%), all sourced from three regions in Australia. Massive, concentrated, and robust, it has a track record for aging and investment potential.
• The outlier 2016 Château Palmer XIXth Century Historical wine ($350) is a rare deep-textured cuvée from the château’s vineyard and syrah (aka shiraz) from the Rhône Valley. It pays homage to past tradition, when Bordeaux winemakers dosed their wines with syrah to give them color and power.
Intensely rich and mouth-filling, with an inky purple color, Quantum has blueberry-sweet fruit and a polished, velvety texture that echoes Penfolds’ bold, dramatic house style. No worries about top quality here. Blending different grapes and vineyards to make a wine is not a new tactic—look at a Champagne such as Krug Grande Cuvée, which includes wine from as many as 100 plots to create complexity and character. But with a couple of exceptions, previous transcontinental blends have been bargain-basement bulk plonk.
With Quantum, chief winemaker Peter Gago aims to use California sun and soil to make a wine comparable to its Grange. The shiraz is shipped from Australia to California in stainless steel tanks along with oak barrels for aging that come from Penfolds in the Barossa Valley. Blending, aging, and bottling take place in Napa, where Penfolds’ parent company Treasury Wine Estates owns multiple wineries. And, of course, it comes with a Grange-like price tag. Will it improve over 30 or even 50 years—the way Grange does? We’ll have to wait and see. $700
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