Penfolds Remembers Max Schubert
Two new wines aim to celebrate Max Schubert, but do they hit the mark?
© Treasury | Max Schubert still working in his office at Penfolds in 1983.
Max Schubert was Australia's most important winemaker ever. So Treasury Wine Estates has decided to honor him with a pair of environmentally unfriendly, generic red wines.
Schubert, who the Sydney Morning Herald declared one of the 100 most important Australians of the 20th Century, thus joins Charles "Carlo" Rossi and Charles Shaw on the lower reaches of giant wine stores' shelves. Maybe they'll have much to talk about.
The idea, a secretly wrapped wine label, has some basis. Schubert created Penfolds Grange, still Australia's most iconic wine. He did so after being sent to Europe in 1949 to learn how to make better fortified wines, which is what Australians drank then. He used grapes from some of Barossa Valley's best old Shiraz vineyards for the first release, a 1952. But people didn't buy the wines so, in 1957, Penfolds ordered him to stop making it. For three years Schubert carried on secretly without new oak barrels.
In 1960, Penfolds' board changed its mind, and Schubert could make the wine officially again. The Grange became the flagship not just of Penfolds, but the whole Australian fine wine industry.
In 1962, Schubert made a non-Grange Shiraz-Cabernet blend called Bin 60A, which may have been the single best wine ever made in Australia. In 2008, wine critic James Halliday wrote about it: "An utterly superb wine, a glorious freak of nature and man... The palate is virtually endless, with a peacock's tail stolen from the greatest of Burgundies... This is possibly the greatest red wine tasted in our times in Australia."
How would you honor such a man? The idea of making a wine in secret is appealing, and Treasury still has access to some amazing vineyards. I'll never forget tasting a delicious wine I hadn't heard of, the 2004 Penfolds Kalimna Block 42 Cabernet Sauvignon, at a Napa Valley luncheon. I saw the unassuming name and thought, I want to buy some of that, so I asked: "Where can I get a bottle?" It turned out to be a limited release wine Penfolds hasn't made since, and it costs at least $600 – if you can find it. Maybe Treasury could have made another Block 42 release and called that "Max's."
Instead, they made this stuff.
First, the packaging. There's a Christmas-red plastic wrap around the bottle to hide the customary Penfolds logo underneath. It seems like a waste of money: you peel it off and it's gone. It's not a peel-off label you can keep to remind you of the wine; it's just an awkwardly shaped bit of plastic wrapping too small to reuse. It doesn't even flatten. You tear it off and throw it away. And they shipped this all the way from Australia. The bottle's not particularly lightweight either. Well, our country just left the Paris climate treaty, so, fine, ship us the overpackaged refuse from your teeming shores.
Inside, here's how Schubert is being honored. The 2015 Penfolds Max's South Australia Shiraz Cabernet (14.5 percent alcohol) is red and tastes red. It's not bad if you like generic red blends. It has a little bit more added acid than some, but it tastes pretty much like anything else that comes out of an enormous freight tanker: competent. You can buy competence for less than $15 now, making this a slightly pricey tribute.
Though I nearly fell asleep tasting that wine, I was pleasantly surprised that the 2015 Penfolds Max's South Australia Cabernet Sauvignon (14.5 percent alcohol) actually smells like Cabernet, with some fresh herb notes. The added acidity stands out a bit but will serve the wine well with food. It's not bad for Cab in the just-under-$20 price range, which can be awful. The fruit's ripe and it smells like Cab.
I just wonder if this is how Max, who died in 1994, would want to be remembered. He was named Man of the Year by Decanter in 1988. He's a Member of the Order of Australia. There's an electoral district named after him in Barossa Valley.
And now he has this wine! Max didn't even work for Treasury, which didn't own Penfolds then. Maybe his descendants should sue. I hope they're getting paid.
PENFOLDS BIN 707 CABERNET SAUVIGNON IMPERIALS - INSPIRED BY BOEING
For the first time in Penfolds history and to celebrate Boeing's 100th anniversary, ten limited edition Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon Imperials have been created, each individually enclosed in a handmade presentation case.
Inspired by its original namesake, the Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon collaboration celebrates this distinctive and powerful fine wine and Penfolds long connection to the Boeing 707 aircraft.
To commemorate the commercial Imperial debut of this very rare wine, a dual vintage has been released: five 2012 vintage imperials and five 2013 vintage imperials – one to commemorate each decade in Boeing’s history. Showcased within the presentation box is a Boeing 707 ‘horn button’ a rare collectable item.
Penfolds Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon Imperials offer a rare opportunity to own a piece of aviation history and an Imperial offering of benchmark Australian Cabernet Sauvignon.
THE PENFOLDS RELEASE 2015 COLLECTION
The Penfolds Collection evolves this year with the new vintage release of the winery’s family of fine wines, officially available from Thursday 15th October. Noteworthy wine milestones and anniversaries together with vintage nuances are evident and while the winemakers led by Chief Winemaker Peter Gago continue to act as custodians of the past, they continue to deliver their own distinctive interpretation of the wines.
The 2015 Collection spans five vintages across 20 individual wines of appeal and provenance, all proudly displaying the Penfolds ‘House Style’ established more than 171 years ago.
Key highlights include:
• 2011 Grange is the 61st consecutive release, this is only the sixth Grange since the experimental 1951 vintage to be 100% Shiraz.
• 2013 Kalimna Bin 28 Shiraz celebrates its 55th consecutive release.
• 2013 Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon for the first time made predominantly from Adelaide Hills fruit.
• 2014 Bin 311 Tumbarumba Chardonnay celebrates its 10th consecutive release.
Penfolds Chief Winemaker Peter Gago reflects, “this year’s Collection again reminds our winemaking team of the magic and unknowns of wine. There’s still so much that we don’t know, a continuum of surprise is occasionally explained by science, history or experience. Our 2013 reds have significantly transformed in bottle – grown, complexed, fattened… call it what you will. These wines make us smile and remind us of why we do, what we do.”
In addition to the release, for the first time this year, Penfolds will also unveil a selection of wines in stylishly crafted gift boxes and for collector’s who acquire Grange they can now personalise their gift box with a bespoke plaque denoting a name and personal message.
Earlier this year Penfolds was named 2015 International White Winemaker by the International Wine Challenge (IWC) in recognition of Penfolds whites delivering drinkability and durability. Senior White Winemaker Kym Schroeter, who has over a quarter of a century of Penfolds winemaking experience, asserts, “overall I believe this year’s white release is ‘right up there’ in terms of quality and ageability. Certainly wines for the cellar!”
These whites span three vintages, 2013 - 2015. The Penfolds Collection 2015 offers wines of great narrative, largesse, aging potential and cultural significance.
PENFOLDS NAMED AUSTRALIAN WINE PRODUCER OF THE YEAR AT INTERNATIONAL WINE AND SPIRIT COMPETITION 2014
Penfolds has been named Australian Wine Producer of the Year by the International Wine and Spirit Competition (IWSC) at an awards dinner held in London on October 12th. In addition to this prestigious honour Penfolds also received the Trophy for best Worldwide Fortified Wine, awarded to Penfolds Grandfather Rare Tawny.
Penfolds Chief Winemaker Peter Gago said: “It’s a proud moment for the Penfolds winemaking team to be recognised by the IWSC, particularly given the number of high quality wines entered from across Australia and the world. We’re honoured to be recognised in this competition particularly in our 170th year.”
The collection of 2014 IWSC medals for Penfolds included:
- NV Penfolds Grandfather Rare Tawny – Trophy and Gold
- 2012 Penfolds RWT Barossa Valley Shiraz – Gold Outstanding
- 2012 Penfolds Reserve Bin A Chardonnay – Gold
- 2012 Penfolds Kalimna Bin 28 Shiraz – Gold
- 2012 Penfolds Bin 150 Marananga Shiraz – Silver Outstanding
- 2014 Penfolds Bin 51 Eden Valley Riesling – Silver Outstanding
- 2013 Penfolds Cellar Reserve Chardonnay – Silver Outstanding
It’s the second major international wine competition award in 2014 for Penfolds. Earlier this year the winery collected the Len Evans Trophy for consistency over a five year period at the International Wine Challenge. These accolades also come after the winery received Wine Enthusiast (US) magazine’s New World Winery of the Year award in January and more recently Peter Gago was named 2014 Gourmet Traveller Wine (AUS) magazine’s Winemaker of the Year, and recipient of the Len Evans Award for Leadership by the title.
The International Wine and Spirit Competition was founded in 1969 and is the premier competition of its kind in the world. All entries are blind tasted in groups divided by variety, region and vintage as necessary. It remains the only international wine competition that puts all wines through chemical analysis as well as judging by a team of senior tasters.