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November 2011


General Ranting

Dan Sims

Australia's Most Expensive Wine on Release: 2008 Penfolds Bin 620 & the Twitter debate that followed.

Hey, at least it's under screwcap!

Twitter is a funny thing at times. It can spark debate, encourage conversation, and, on occasion, bore you to tears with the mundane. Then, every now and then, it generates true, open and honest discussion on a range of issues and engages all, who care to dabble, in true issues that face the industry (& other) often at bizarre times. Twitter is not 9 till 5; it's 24/7.

Much to my wife's annoyance, I've gotten into the habit of checking twitter prior to going to sleep … and in bed; who knows what I might have missed. And I'm so glad that I do as the other night I happened upon some tweets from the launch of the new 2008 Penfolds Bin 620. Yes, the one that's been launched at $1000 a bottle in Shanghai, China.

Now before we get into the discussion, I should clarify for those who may have joined in on the conversation at a later stage. Penfolds have just released a wine for $1000 in Shanghai, China; the Bin 620 which is the first time since 1966. Why, because "Our special bin wines are only made in exceptional vintages with exceptional parcels of fruit,"

Now, I've been lucky enough to try the wine though when I did, I had no idea of the price. It was a secret. Below is my tasting note from a tasting at Penfolds earlier in the year – it's unedited and was done on the fly so forgive it if it's not fancy.

Seems to be aromatically the sum of it's parts with the ripe, fresh, fragrance of dark fruited Shiraz and the herbal, structural backbone of cabernet. Palate builds with weight, power and structure that is almost muscley. This is big and whilst heavy set and structured, the tannins tie it together, interwoven, interlaced, silky even. Pretty epic and wow, very good. Actually, I could finish more than a glass of this; several even. Long and lingering indeed. Very impressive. I really like.

Yes, I clearly liked it so no question of quality from me.

My real issue with the Bin 620 is not the wine, and not really the price; I really don't care how much it is. Where I do have a problem is the over the top adulation, from some, about the 'authenticity' and 'story' and about how unbelievably important it is for Australia to have such a wine. The quality of the wine in undeniable, it's excellent, but don't wrap it up and serve it to me in a blanket of spin declaring 'authenticity' and 'story'. It just feels like money making and capitalising/pandering to the Chinese market. To steal a word from @winehero's latest post, 'Opportunism'.

This is a wine aimed at the Chinese market and if you doubt me, read this article in The Age. Basically a press release it states that yes, this was a wine released for the Chinese market and deliberately pitched at the high end. It's about marketing and the positioning of Penfolds as the premium Australian wine brand in China; and you know what, that's fine. They've certainly done the yards, no?

Though don't take it from me, this is direct from Penfold's Global brand director, Sandy Mayo.

"This is the most expensive wine on release that we've had," Ms Mayo said. She said demand for Penfolds was accelerating around the world, including Asia. "That's why we are in China now and why we're launching this wine in China."

and then later states in the article …

"A wine like Special Bin 620 is adding to that level of aspiration."

Yes, it does, therefore increasing interest, raising the price and increasing revenue. So yes, this release, launched in China, is about making money and capitalising on demand. And as I said before, fine. So when I read tweets, from some at the launch, telling all of whom that cared to follow that 'it's about credibility & the story' … 'authenticity' … '2008 was an exceptional vintage in Coonawarra' (BTW, wasn't it super, super hot?), 'each grape is worth $1.50', I can't help but cringe. It's just feels like sycophantic pandering.

The ensuing twitter debate quickly lost track of my initial issue of spin/pandering, not necessarily price. Calls of 'why can't Australia charge this much' and comments like 'Aust wine not always seen as high quality', 'perception of quality in China is determined by price' and we should basically be thankful for wineries such as Penfolds & Torbreck for charging huge amounts for their wine so it will make everything better. Really?

Many chimed in though Mr Mike Bennie's comment (one of many for that matter), for me, hit the mark saying '...fitting wine to a market is how Australia got into current trouble'. Yes, I couldn't agree more. Shouldn't we learn from our mistakes?

Yes, China is an incredibly important market, and yes, it is providing opportunities to Australian wineries and no, I certainly don't pretend to be an expert on the country (follow @winehero for that), but come on! If $1000 is supposed to set the bar for 'high quality' Australian wine, I guess the likes of Clonakilla, Mt Langi, Cullen, Oakridge, Yabby Lake, Shaw & Smith, Spinifex, Voyager Estate, De Bortoli, Kooyong, Tyrrell's, Vasse Felix, and a host of many, many, many more are just supermarche wine, right? They most certainly are not.

So in reality, what does this all mean to us here at home? Nothing or everything? Or just a bunch of airtime to a wine in which we will never see nor drink but read about in wine articles, press releases, wine auctions and one day, perhaps, 'aspire' too.

Not me. But each to their own, I suppose.

For a different perspective & more eloquent insights, check out @winehero's post on the subject HERE.

Wine, Penfolds


Bruce Mcpheast November 18, 2011

Its all about the taste, no? Try it and any wine without over analysing and judging the vintage, the label, the alcohol and the region. If you like it, drink some more..enjoy. If you don't..then its not for you, but may be for others. Why make it so negative..there are lots of wine options..each to their own..there's more to celebrate than to critisize about Australia wine at present...Cheers!

Andrew November 18, 2011

Well said Bruce an inherently negative website/ blog this is.

Andrew Graham November 18, 2011

There is just one question to come out of all of this... Is it going to be good for Australia? Judging by all the hype, attention and press this topic has received (internationally too) the answer to that is yes. Sure it's a wine that is promoted more on price than anything else, but as a promotional vehicle it's been a runaway success. I think you're dead right that this wine is more about pretensions than authenticity but I also think I can appreciate the value of such a halo product, particularly in the context of an image preoccupied Asian market. Ultimately I'd never pay the dollars for this and it's hardly representative of modern Austalian wines. But in a way I'm glad that it exists, though I'm also willing to admit the failings of the wine (and I hate too hate the fawning) by the same token. Admittedly I may well be tainted by the fact that I can't take off my marketing hat here, yet I still can't say I'm sad about the hype here - more congratulations in my book...

Yvonne Lorkin November 18, 2011

I would attempt to contribute something half-interesting to this post but it's 11.25pm and my husband is giving me grief about checking twitter while I'm in bed - curses!

Cam Haskell November 18, 2011

Well, Bruce and Andrew, I think, if anything, Dan has been kind. I have far greater reservations about this project. And as someone who works for a smaller producer, I absolutely loathe the manner in which Penfolds pretend to be making small, craft contributions to the wine world. To put it in perspective, this is, at a production of 1000 cases, double the size of Romanee-Conti. All the verisimilitudinous stuff about story and history and hushed tones... due me a favour. And limited production? What, forty odd barrels from, say, 12 tonne of fruit? I don't care if they're big. Be big. Be intergalactically effing MASSIVE. But don't pretend to be craft. As small producers, we don't have economies of scale. We don't have the budget for overseas launches in researched, targeted markets. But we do have a right to own those sorts of craft labels, words and presentation. Penfolds, unequivocally, does not. People want an authenticity. A kind of truth in their wine. But when you're making regional blends, as Penfolds' wont is, then an awkwardness presents. They're not going to tell you where it comes from. So how true is the wine? It's not that it's dishonest or disingenuous - it just can't be that true to a place. It's even less true when they're acting like they're whispering to the barrels in dark, damp stone cellars that were built by Moses. As for vintage quality, wasn't it 10 straight days over 40C in Adelaide? (Penfolds haven't shied away from cooked fruit in some of their wines [the Marananga Shiraz is, for mine, wracked with it and wrecked by it].) I agree that there is more to celebrate than criticise in Australian wine at present. It's just not bleeding Penfolds / TWE pretending to be past, present & future of what is going on. Penfolds stopped being the venerable grand ole man of Australian wine some time ago, probably well before they were part of a listed company. It's undignified that they keep pretending to be something that they're not.

Jay November 20, 2011

Couldn't agree with you more Cam!

Ailton December 31, 2011

Beto o site que tem os canais para assistir TV é esse ai

Adam J February 26, 2012

penfolds is extrememly popular amongst australia and with an australia dinner of say the surf n turf or even a light pasta. Adam from Melbourne

Peter Jay April 24, 2012

24 April 2012 - I see there has been an Australian wine launched at Vinitaly (Verona Italy) called the Parawa Ingalalla Grand Reserve 2007 at Euro 1000 per bottle!

Dan Sims April 24, 2012

Hi Peter,

Yes, you're right. I guess everyone is trying to cash in on Asia. The wine you speak of has no track record at all. It really is a joke that wine. not good at all.


Robert Allen April 24, 2012

Hi Dan- when you tried it what did you think it was worth per bottle, based purely on the taste?

Max Shen April 24, 2012

Hi Dan,
Unlike you I have not tried this particular wine (parawa), but its a free market and ultimately the consumers will decide if the price is right? As I understand it the Aussie wine industry down there has a problem of too much cheap wine..How about you encourage small producers having a go? Anyway thats my contribution!

Jimmy Ng April 27, 2012

Hi Dan - where can I buy this in Singapore or Hong Kong? What was it like to taste (price aside)??
To be fair is it better than some of the recent releases from Bordeaux? Considering its cheaper than these imports? I will be in Wanchai next week.

Dan Sims April 27, 2012

Thanks for the follow up comments Robert, Max & Jimmy. To clarify, I haven't tried to Parawa and won't be able to it seems as hardly any wine media here have. Frankly, I wouldn't taste it anyway as I'll never buy it and don't believe in it on principal.

I am all for small producers 'having a go' and support them anyway I can but this (Bin 620) is not 'small production' nor from a small producer. As for the Parawa, it's smaller production but there are plenty of other (& better) smaller producers making much more credible wine with a much better track record.

Jimmy - as for buying it in Singapore/Hong Kong, are you talking the Bin 620 or Parawa. Either way, I honestly couldn't help you so perhaps contact them directly. Yes, it may be cheaper than some Bordeaux, but Bordeaux at least has a track record; Parawa doesn't. (And I think Bordeaux is WAY over priced).

Thanks for contributing.


Si Chung May 10, 2012

Hi Dan - interesting comments above, although I was a little unsure what you meant by saying you did not believe in it? I can assure you it is real and exists. I have just been told by a wine agency yesterday here in Causeway Bay that the Parawa is all sold out. (Also regarding "track record" - when a wine is tasted blind how many points are allocated for history and track record?)
Cheers - I do enjoy your blog.

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