Peter Gago introduces Penfolds Bin 170


Gago profile

Last night, Berry Bros. & Rudd had the privilege of co-hosting the launch of Penfolds Bin 170 – a special release which coincides with the company’s 170th year. Prior to the unveiling, we caught up with Peter Gago, Chief Winemaker, for a one-on-one tasting of Bin 170. Here are his thoughts on the past, present and future of this notable wine.

When we talk about a wine such as Grange, we have to go through the philosophy of multi-regional blending, quite often putting a bit of Cabernet into the blend and explaining why we do that, talking about synergy and so on. In this instance – for Bin 170 – all I have to talk about is the terroir of one location, the sense of place, those few rows of vines, the singular site: our vineyard at Kalimna.

With Bin 170, I can be totally specific. I can talk about soil profiles to two metres, four metres, 10 metres, and so on; I can talk about rainfall; I can give you everything in terms of facts and figures but by doing that it deconstructs and reduces it into something it isn’t: this is a real wine. It’s so rare that we release a single vineyard wine of Shiraz from Kalimna – the last time we did that was 41 years ago in 1973.

So a note on the history: in 1973, Penfolds decided to model a Coonawara Cabernet blend with a Kalimna Shiraz, but they felt it wasn’t quite at the right quality level – the Kalimna Shiraz shone, but the Cabernet didn’t match up to it so they never put the two together. In that year, as a result, they released two separate wines, a Bin 169 Coonawara Cabernet and a Bin 170 Kalimna Shiraz. The Bin 170 has never been made since, so this is where we are now with the second ever release.

This wine differs from the ’73 in that it is matured completely in French Oak – we thought in 2010 that due to the poise of the wine and the clarity we didn’t want American oak to add anything else to it; we wanted to contain it and, in our humble opinion, French oak hardens up the wine to give it definition without adding other characters. We deliberately went 50-50 new and old wood. We left the wine on lees for a while to add a little body. While we initially thought we might need to add a little something into this to make a blend, but it soon became self-evident in the barrel that this was something special. Sixteen months later, by the time we got to a bottling decision, we thought “that’s going to bottle as it is”. We have no regrets.

I should talk about the whole 170 thing – other than it being named after a Bin wine, all the stars aligned: we were going to release this last year, but then someone said “why don’t you release it in 2014 in Penfolds’ 170th year?” Now, that’s very Australian – there’s no strategic planning in there. It was a simple as that – the best things happen naturally.

When I took the cork out of this bottle, there was this dark, staining sludge on it showing the fact the wines haven’t been fined or filtered… (You won’t see any egg white or isinglass anywhere near a Penfolds red.) The reason why the tannins are as they are is beacuse the wine finished its fermentation in the barrel: that colour and that flavour came about with four-and-a-half days skin contact only during the primary fermentation, no time whatever on skins post ferment. The barrels were all hogsheads, 300-litres, and – as mentioned – all French wood, 55 percent new.

We should taste the wine: it’s so tightly bound at the moment, and that’s a good thing; a swirl, a vigorous double decant helps and it will unfurl but this wine really needs time; it’s still embryonic. How good is it? Only time will tell – it will be very interesting to track Bin 170 in the future. Later, some 2010 Grange will make a lovely comparison.

There’s no lack of tannin – that’s why we get the wine off skins pretty quickly by barrel ferment. At the moment, as a four-year-old, it’s still a bit ungainly, it’s still coming to terms with what it is. However, we know what it is: we see these wines and know how they evolve so we have no lack of confidence in where this is going but its best days are well and truly ahead. There won’t be too many people opening it quickly and pouring it – yet at the same time, should they wish to do so with a big meal, you could drink it.

So what about a drinking window? I’d like to think people will still be pouring Bin 170 in 50, 100, 150 years time. If they can resist opening it before, of course.

For more about Bin 170 and Penfolds latest fine wine releases, go to

Bin 170