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Best not to put a cork in it

China Daily | Updated: 2011-04-02 07:51

The best of the 2008 Penfolds reds are discussed in this third and final column about Penfolds. The Bin 389 cabernet sauvignon shiraz is a uniquely Australian marriage of grape varieties that are not normally combined: a 52:48 percent blend of cabernet and shiraz. The cabernet gives the wine structure and the shiraz provides richness.

The wine smells like a freshly baked cake, with touches of dark chocolate and assorted berries. Scents of bread and butter pudding follow, along with a nutty finish. I also detected wafts of pipe tobacco.

In the mouth the wine offered masses of blackcurrant and mulberry fruits and a mix of licorice and mocha flavors.

Chief winemaker Peter Gago described the Bin 389 as sitting somewhere between the poise of the 1996 vintage and the power of the 1998 vintage, when this blend was first released.

Gago described it as the "star performer in the Penfolds bin line-up, consistently hitting the value and quality sweet spot". The 1996 and 1998 Bin 389 wines have become very collectible because of their quality and longevity. "Hopefully Bin 389 aficionados do not make the same mistake with the 2008 vintage," Gago said.

The Bin 389 has a recommended retail price in Australia of $65.

The 2008 vintage of the Bin 28 Kalimna shiraz is the 50th commercial release of this wine. Gago said it would rival the outstanding 1998 vintage. Originally Bin 28 was sourced exclusively from the Kalimna vineyard on the northern edge of the Barossa Valley. But demand is so high that the Barossa only provides about 40 percent of the blend with the rest coming from other parts of South Australia.

The wine is matured in older American oak hogsheads to enhance fruit complexity and structure. This means the tannins are silky yet approachably soft. The color is intense and the wine has aromas of plums and black olives. A marvelous wine, it has a recommended retail price in Australia of $34.

Grapes for the 2010 Penfolds Bin 311 chardonnay came from the Tumbarumba region in the Snowy Mountains of New South Wales. This wine is similar to French chablis. It has elegant flavors of citrus fruits, a mineral texture and great length - the wine feels precise and lingers in one's mouth.

Kym schroeter, white winemaker for Penfolds, said the 2010 Bin 311 chardonnay had the acidity, balance and structure to be enjoyed in its youth, but also had the potential to develop further complexity after cellaring for three to six years.

The Bin 311 has a recommended retail price in Australia of $40.

All of these wines had screw caps, known as Stelvins. These ensure wines arrive in as fresh a condition as when they left the vineyard. The same cannot be said for corks.

This week I eagerly opened three wines from a South Africa vineyard with a good reputation. All had problems with their corks.

When wines are stored standing up, over time the cork dries and shrinks, and a gap occurs between the cork and the bottle, and wine can develop major problems.

Chemicals used in making the cork can sometimes leaves traces that taint the wine. We often say the wine is "corked". Various awful things happen: The wine can lose all flavor and aroma and becomes effectively colored alcoholic water.

In worse cases, the wine develops a horrible aroma, similar to the smell of a wet dog when it comes inside after rain, and the wine also tastes bitter.

Avoid wines with corks, especially when they are stored badly in heated wine shops.

(China Daily 04/02/2011 page12)

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