The Penfolds Icons; Undervalued or Overhyped?

Penfolds Wines are iconic, it would be hard to find an Australian wine drinker who has either not tried some Penfolds Wines or who does not recognise the brand. The new Penfolds Icons vintages have just been released and it begs the question…are they worth the prices they command?

Now, I’m not a professional wine reviewer, and I’m not claiming to be, but I have had the luxury of trying a fair number of Penfold products. Of the 69 vintages of Penfolds’ Grange alone, I’ve tasted at least 15, so while I may not be a “pro”, I'd have to at least consider myself a bit of an Oenophile

With all that experience, tasting bottle after bottle, I figure it’s time to put pen to paper (or finger to keys) and share my thoughts on the Penfolds Icons: Are they all they are hyped up to be? Are they worth the money? And which ones should every wine aficionado consider adding to their personal cellar? 

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Penfolds Grange

Penfolds Grange

The Penfolds Grange is by far the most notorious of the Penfolds Wines. It has been a popular choice for Australian red wine drinkers for decades. But it was really put on the map back in 1995 when Wine Spectator Magazine named the 1991 vintage “Wine of the Year”, firmly placing it on the global stage as a great Australian Shiraz.

Considering it spent the first 40 odd vintages trading under $150 per bottle and even lower in the 70’s & $80’s…is it worth the price tag of $900+ that it currently commands?

Grange regularly receives 98-99 out of a possible 100. So, it’s undeniably a fantastic drop and up until its rise to fame, you could snag a bottle for as little as $50, making it incredible value for money. However, any of us who aren’t professional wine tasters rarely remember the taste. We remember the experience of opening the bottle, the reason you opened it in the first place, who was there but  not so much the aromas and flavours. 

At around $900 a bottle these days and best served after 10-20 years it’s a long-term commitment and hard to justify, but It will always be appreciated as a present. For me, I like to give it as a gift, and hope to be around when they open it.

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 Penfolds Bin 707

BIN 707 Cabernet Sauvingnon

Back in the early 90’s I was a ‘wet-behind-the-ear 20 something’ who, with a friend, managed to get his hands on a bottle of 1984 Bin 707. We pried it open with a bent fork and swigged it straight from the bottle. It was a revelation to someone who, at that time, considered most wine to be vinegar.

This however, could only be described as liquid velvet. It was the gateway wine that’s led me to where we are today. Based on my most recent experience drinking the Bin 707, it has not changed. 

The Bin 707 deserves its place amongst the Penfolds Icons. Although it’s a great wine, at close to $700 a bottle I am going to say it’s just not worth it. Most of the increase in price in the last decade or so has been due to significant demand from Asia, rather than its appreciation to “true value”.

Remember that the 1984 vintage that I first tried? That was released with a price tag of only $50 a bottle. In my opinion, it’s soft, supple, luxurious, it just flows across your palate and is rich in flavour. There has clearly been a lot of care, attention and skill put into crafting this wine. The 707 is a display of exceptional craftsmanship. A multi-blend that delivers consistency and is unmistakably recognisably South Australian.

For me, it’s the memory, this wine was the gateway to the world I currently live in so it will always hold a place in my heart, and my cellar. But if you want value, seek it out in wine auctions. 

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 Penfolds St Henri Shiraz

St. Henri Shiraz

Probably my favourite of all the Penfolds Wines and definitely one I would recommend to any interested collectors. 

Most Penfolds Icons have their fans and detractors, but I challenge you to find a bad word said about the St Henri. It is the ideal example of a Penfolds Shiraz and at about $130 a bottle its bang on for value. 

What you need to remember about Penfolds is that they make their wines to age well, it does not matter whether it’s a Koonunga Hill or Grange…there must be some sort of mantra in the winemaking team “make it well but make it to age well too” or some such.

The best example I have come across was a 1972 Penfolds St Henri which a friend kindly shared back in 2014. It was magnificent and remains one of my favourite wine memories. What blew me away was the still fresh aromas on the nose and there was primary fruit on the palate…for a 40-year-old Australian Red Wine, this was amazing.

St Henri is a more elegant style of South Australian Red, and for my money the one I would grab each year without hesitation because even the bad vintages are good.

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Penfolds RWT Shiraz

RWT Shiraz

Obviously, with any list, even one made up of the Penfolds Icon’s, there are going to be winners and losers. Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s a well-made drop.

A single region Barossa Valley Shiraz matured in French oak. It is opulent and fleshy, in contrast to the Grange. It has a moderate price tag when considered against the other triple figure bottles in the Icon range, and it’s sealed with a screw cap, so you know it will live for 20 to 30 years. 

But, with all that taken into consideration, it’s price-tag is starting to climb, so the question I ask myself, and you should be asking yourself; Are there better options that could take a spot in your cellar for the next 20 to 30 years?

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Penfolds Bin 150 Shiraz

BIN 150 Marananga Shiraz

With its first vintage in just 2008, the Bin 150 is a relative junior amongst a long list of time-tested titans. 

I’ve been lucky enough to have a close friend who is an avid collector of the Bin 150 wines. This has awarded me many opportunities to sample the different vintages over time, and I must say; they are exquisite. 

The Bin 150 Shiraz has a moderate price tag, coming in at only around $100 (or less) this is a bottle that is worth the money. It will last for decades, if you can keep your hands off (my friend can’t).It’s a great example of poise and power in a wine. Both rich and in other ways restrained.

My advice to anyone trying to build their collection; put this one in the cellar and be prepared to surprise yourself in 10 years’ time. It keeps beautifully and being a screw cap, it’s always as fresh as a daisy.

When you are ready to taste it, do yourself a favour, open and decant for a couple of hours. The difference is remarkable.

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Penfolds Bin 389

BIN 389 Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz

What can you say about Bin 389 that hasn’t already been said? It’s a classic Australian blend, so beautifully made. It’s perfectly made for the ‘Australian’ lifestyle, pairing symbiotically with the quintessential backyard BBQ. 

The Bin 389 is a classic all-rounder. Perfect for pairing with a nice steak, giving it as a gift, or popping it in the cellar to be enjoyed at a later date.

Shiraz/Cabernet or Cabernet/Shiraz is very much an Australian invention. Sadly it’s not as popular as it used to be. But the “389” is a great example of why it works. When you get the blend right it is seamless…you will not know where the Shiraz ends and the Cabernet begins, it’s almost like a completely new grape. If you want a good example of what this blend is supposed to taste like, look no further than the Bin 389.

When I first started selling wine, it was running close to $60. Now it’s moved closer to the $100 mark and in my opinion, it’s still worth buying. My recommendation, pop one in your cellar, and open it up on a special occasion, no matter how old it gets, it will shine. 

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Penfolds Bin 407

BIN 407 Cabernet Sauvignon

Inspired by the Bin 707, the 407 Cabernet Sauvignon offers a great wine experience at an affordable price point. That said its still about $100 per bottle.

Over time Australia has fallen out of love with Cabernet Sauvignon, as a grape, and the Coonawarra as a region. There are still older generations who drink Coonawarra Cabernet and love it, but the younger wine generations need some convincing.

Once upon a time the Bin 407 was purely sourced from the Coonawarra, but as wine regions around the Coonawarra like Padthaway, Wrattonbully and the Limestone Coast have proved their worth, they are also being incorporated into the blend. In some years, if it’s cool enough, McLaren Vale and Barossa contribute as well.

Personally, I believe that the Penfolds Bin 407 is a great example of why we need more good Cabernet in our lives.

All of this is why I believe the Bin 407 is great value for money. It’s not the cheapest, but it will age well, and the experience will always be one to be savoured.

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If you want value for your cellar, my money is on the St Henri and the Bin Wines (150, 389, 407). Any of these in your cellar will reward you with a self-congratulatory pat on the back in the years to come.

We never advertise Penfolds Icons for sale, because our focus is on discovering and highlighting the smaller winemakers. The ones who take a few rows of vines and turn them into “sunshine in a glass” (to quote winemaker Rob Mack of Aphelion Wines).

But our role in finding you The)Right)Drop) is to ask what YOU want to drink and source it for you.

This includes the current Penfolds release, feel free to email us hello@therightdrop.com or call 1300 TR DROP and we can discuss pricing and availability with you.