Tag Archives: Red Wine

1970 Penfolds Bin 128 Coonawarra Claret … and a T-Bone!

7 May

1970 Penfolds Bin 128

1970 Penfolds Bin 128

I always feel a certain sense of history heading to the cellar to dust off a genuinely old bottle of Filthy Good Vino.

The entertainment starts, before you’ve even opened the bottle. Enter the 1970’s wine label. No flowery, food matching mumbo jumbo on this one!

You know a wine’s old when the label uses Imperial measurements, there’s no mention of the Alcohol % and it is described as a Claret.  I love the details of the District:  “Coonawarra, South Australia (The most southerly vineyards in Australia.”  Apparently Tasmania didn’t even have a legit wine industry when this baby was bottled.

This label certainly beats some of the dribble that’s was pushed out for the 2nd release of Penfolds Bin 620 in 2011.  Whoever wrote it was on the money! Classic old school description: “The dry finish and Tannins make this wine a real Claret of high quality, with the distinctive Coonawarra character prominent. Will improve with bottle age.” With 42 years under its belt they got that one right!

Penfolds have smashed out a lot of wine over the years. The wines of the 1960’s and 1970’s have been some of my favourites. I’ve got a real soft spot for the St Henri’s, aged in big old wood they show more elegance than their big brother, Grange.  I will be forever grateful to my old man, Cudos Eddie Son, for collecting an array of Penfolds Bin wines: 28, 128, 389, 620 (the original), St Henri’s and Grange.  More important than collecting them, he’s shared them! A 1972 St Henri won me the approval of the now officially sanctioned outlaws.

There’s been a massive evolution for Penfolds over the years. The wines of the 1960’s and 1970’s were perhaps more elegant, refined and balanced. There’s a level of sophistication to them that seemed to have been lost in some of their modern siblings.   I’ll leave my ramblings on the evolution and revolution(s) of Australian wine to another day.

Back to the subject at hand: the 1970 Bin 128 Claret made from Coonawarra Shiraz.  Some times when you open bottles this old they actually “sigh”. Bare with me for a moment before writing me off as a lunatic, there is a scientific explanation.  Over time liquid makes its way out through the cork and the gas in the bottle is placed under negative pressure. When the seal is finally broken you can actually hear the bottle suck in a breath of fresh air. One day I’ll capture it on film, stay tuned!

After four bites at the cherry I finally got the cork out of this little baby and with a quick decanting, the beast was unleashed. The 1970 is a classic gobsmacking, spicey, rich bottle of yumminess. There’s no doubt that it’s more of a masculine style and has the fruit weight to hold it. A slight bricky hue suggested a little oxidation, confirmed by a quick wiff, revealing an Amontillado Sherry twist. The passing of time has mellowed an explosive wine that still packs a punch. Incredibly complex: truffle, leather, earthiness and spicey fruit aromas meld together enticing you to wack your honker in the glass and smell it again and again. It starts slow on the tip of your tongue and explodes with ripe, bordering on jammy fruit that fills out in the middle palate. A line of acid refreshes your taste buds as it slides down your throat.  The flavours lingers long after being swallowed.  As a stand alone drink it finishes hard, dusty and slightly sappy, kinda screaming out like a Hawaiian Shirt at a Black Tie event. This is definitely a food wine, a 1kg T-Bone helps to silence the screams.

Yumminess = Yes.  Lamb Chop Wine = Nope, not far from it though.

Food = Perfect with a 1kg T-Bone!  Where to Buy = Check out the Auctions!

Filthy Good Vino, Marketing Hype, Both, Neither? Is Penfolds Bin 620 worth $1000 a bottle or is it just BS?

8 Jan


Interesting to see Penfolds choosing to launch, or relaunch a wine at $1,000 a bottle. More, interesting, was that they chose China to launch the wine.

I happened to have just 1 bottle of the original 1966 Bin 620 sitting in a safe place.



My bottle of the Original Bin 620 – Yes, it was $8.95 back in the day.

A debate has been raging about this wine sinces it’s auspicious launch in Shanghai in November of 2011. The challenge is to look at such a release from all perspectives, which could probably be broken down to three groups: 1. Winemakers  2. Consumer & 3. Marketers.

THE DISCLAIMER: I have not tasted the 2008 Bin 620 and will not make any assertions regarding its quality.

The Winemaker

Having made vino for 13 vintages, I can justifiably say I can look at it from a Winemakers’ perspective. I can definitely say that I am a lover of Authetic, Genuine wine that is representative of both the place from which the grapes came and the time or vintage when they were grown. I spent my time as a winemaker chasing excellence. Making super premium to icon wine and looking to push the boundaries. Working hard in the vineyards, being solely a custodian for the yumminess expressed by the land in the form of grapes. Making wines of a non-interventionalist style, just giving them a nudge here and there as they developed into what I hoped would be a vinous pleasure shared at the table, with a plate and a conversation.  Wines that are fresh, balanced, layered with complexity, texturally awesome, definitely not boring, wines that say DRINK ME and go beautifully with a lamb chop.

What this did require was incredible attention to detail, looking at everything we did to see if we could do it better, even in some miniscuale way. Some times ending up with only a single barrel or about 20 cases of a wine.

I think that is why, I felt, somewhat incredulous and then bored as, during the proceedings of the 1998 Victorian Cool Climate Winemaking and Viticulture Conference, I listened to a young Penfolds’ Winemaker describing the challenges of making the very first vintage of Yattarna, Penfolds’ so called White Grange.  I recall comments around the challenges of barrel selection and attention to detail and how difficult it was.  I think the presenter forgot to switch from Marketing Spin to Making Spin, for the audience of largely Grapegrowers and Winemakers.  The clincher was the fact that a considerable portion of the wine was from a Great Western vineyard that had yielded 5T/acre. And, yep, back in ’98 they were asking $100 a bottle, when the rest of us were pushing to get $35 for some pretty Filthy Good Vino and putting in just us much effort with fruit from vines yielding more like 2.5T/acres or less. Yes, I have tasted the wine, and no it didn’t set my world on fire.

I hope that the Bin 620 is an Authentic wine, that hasn’t simply been trumped up as a marketing ploy.  It’s comforting to read James Halliday’s reflection upon tasting the wine “When I say this is one of the greatest red wines Penfolds has made in the last 50 years …”. You can read the full article here http://www.winecompanion.com.au/sitecore/content/wine-companion/articles/news-articles/2011/november/penfolds-releases-bin-620-coonawarra-cabernet-shiraz-2008

How does this differ from Guigal releasing the super cuvee 2001 Ex-Voto Hermitage in 2005 to compliment it’s suite of Cote Rotie’s: La Ladone, La Mouline and La Turque? All retail for around $600 a bottle with the Guigal’s standard Hermitage retailing for about $150 a bottle.  Hopefully it doesn’t, hopefully the hard yards have been done in both Guigal’s and Penfolds’ vineyards, with careful selection from old vines grown on established terroirs, yielding exceptional quality fruit and the resultant wine.


Guigal’s Super Cuvees from Cote Rotie: La Ladone, La Mouline and La Turque – That was a great day!

What does confuse me is how a few existing blocks have gone from being good one year to great the next, vintage variation accounted for, and have all of a sudden become capable of making a wine selling for $1,000 a bottle.  With a production of 1,000 cases or 40 barrels from, I’m guessing, 16 tonnes of fruit and perhaps 8 acres of vineyard, they have, in the past, either been, knowingly, blending away some exceptional fruit, have only just got the vineyard to the quality required for the Bin 620 project, have after 60 years+ only just identified some unique parcels of high quality fruit, or have thrown an extravagent price tag on a wine that is simple not worth that much.  Time will tell. I’d love to know more about the vineyards and how they are tended.

The Consumer … The Punter

I haven’t tasted the 2008 Bin 620, it may well be an exceptional wine, but, from a winemakers’ perspective, I know as a certainty, that there are a bounty of wines for less than a 10th of the price that will be right up there in quality and have had just as much blood sweat and tears poured into nurturing them from the vine into a bottle.

From a consumer perspective, I say this: First, if you can afford it, you can prize it from the cellars of collectors, where it’s probably gathering dust,and, more importantly, you like it, well then what the hey drink it … let me know when to drop around.  Second, don’t get lost in the hype, there is so much AWESOME wine on the market and for the price of one bottle of Bin 620 you could get half a case of exceptional yummy vino from Australia and around the World or even a couple of bottles of extraordinary wine.

You’ve heard the old saying “I’ll try anything once” I prefer twice personally.  Tastes change and wines definitely change over time. That’s why we cellar them. I bought a heap of wine earlier in my own wine journey, which I have since sold. My tastes have changed and I just didn’t enjoy drinking it.  But seriously, look for things you’ve never tried before, be guided by one of the great wine merchants or sommeliers and have some fun.  When I was a kid I hated prawns and oysters, I’m sure white truffles would have done my head in, now I can’t get enough.  Even the dreaded brussel sprout is a favourite now, all be it caramelised in butter with lardons, roast chestnuts, salt pepper and little sour cream.

The Marketer

It was no accident that the 2008 Bin 620 was launched in Shanghai.  Clearly the launch was showing a commitment to the Asian Market, particularly the new rich in China. The Chinese have been drinking increasing volumes of wine and are known as collectors and culturally love to show off .. or maintain face with broadly recognised luxury brands. The drink of choice used to be XO Cognac. I once served a customer, who bought 3 bottles of Remy Martin XO and 8L of Coke to go with it. He resufed my suggestion of buying VSOP at less than 1/3 the price is he was simply going to mix it. He would have lost face if he had done so.  If Penfolds have their way the new drink of choice, and, best way to demonstrate status, will be Grange, underpinned by the 2008 Bin 620.

The promo video for Bin 620 seems to have been inspired by a Jerry Brukheimer movie, maybe, “The Rock”.  The language is so over the top I thought maybe they were selling insurance or some sort of abdominal exerciser . The line at 1:45 “Already Hailed a Classic” beats the Champenois claiming every vintage as the vintage of the decade and every third to be vintage of the century.  Surely, we need to see how the wine performs over at least a few years before such a bold claim can be made.

Watch on Posterous


When Dr  Bailley Carrodus, of Yarra Yering fame, released a 100% Merlot wine at $100 a bottle in the early ‘90’s, with a production of 240 bottles, people were forced to take note. At the time it cost as much as Grange. With a price tag of $1,000 for the Bin 620, people have again been force to take note, no matter what the quality of the wine.

From a purely business perspective, targeting the Chinese market makes sense.  You get, numbers, money and volume. I just hope that the relationship between Maker & Consumer is genuine and that the wine proves itself worthy of the price tag.  Just as much as the Chinese love to show off, demonstrate status and save face, they hate being ripped-off and have long memories. In a world where the punters BS Meters are getting more a more finely tuned, it would be a shame for the Australian Wine Industry to be tarnished, should this be the case. Particularly, at a time when there are so many Aussie wineries pushing to make wines that show real identity, with personalities to match, that are an expression of unique terroirs and represent great value for money.

I hope that, one day, Bin 620 is included in a blind tasting of the worlds, including Australia’s, most exceptional wines, THAT I AM THERE, and we can truly see if the Bin 620 hold its head high in such esteemed company.

Until I get an invite to such a tasting, I’ll be playing a game of “Would you rather”, starting with “Would you rather by a bottler of 2008 Bin 620 or a 6 pack of Clonakilla Shiraz Vigonier , maybe a 6 pack of Wendouree Shiraz Mataro, to be drunk with half a dozen mates and a big hunk of cow.”


Maybe the Tasting could Kick-Off with these little numbers from Aldo Conterno, Clonakilla,Guigal, Rousseau and Wendouree.

You haven’t lived until you’ve swum through a vat of vino! BUCKET LIST!

12 Nov



If swimming through a vat of vino isn’t on your bucket list, stop reading this now. Go and write it down … RIGHT NOW!

The story has a special place in my heart for a couple of reasons. 1st I got to swim through a vat of wine and 2nd it’s one of the reasons I hooked up with the Mrs … more on that after Andy’s story.

The following story was originaly published in “Assemblage” the Yering Station Newsletter in Autumn 1999.


The Dirt on the Dig Out by Andrew Matthews

Well it’s that time of year again when a years work comes to a head. Yes folk’s it’s vintage time. For the guys in the winery it means a constant slog of longs days and sometimes even longer nights.  However there is one thing that keeps insanity at bay. The dig out!  For the uninitiated, the dig out involves shovelling all the grape skins from the open vat fermentors into the press. In order to make it interesting Tom Carson our Chief Winemaker, decided that we should have a competition to determine the fastest digger.  Tom has one the last two dig out competitions, but this year there will be no repeat.  The guys want their revenge.  Now there are two things needed for a successful dig out.

1. The all important “gusher” this is when we can’t drain off most of the juice, so when the trapdoor opense the juice takes half the skins with it.  Tom always seems to get the gushers.  It’s probably due to the fact he gets to choose who digs out the vats.  I know it sounds like sour grapes (pardon the pun) but you have to admit it’s all a little but suspicious.

2. Technique.  There are two types of techniques used in digging out.  The first type involves the methodical approach of ensuring that your shovelling rhythm doesn’t change from the first to the last stroke.  The other type is to shovel like “a bull in a China shop” and get out as many skins as possible before you become intoxicated by the alcohol fumes.  I prefer this method.

There was an experiment by technique last year which we call the snow plough.  This involves using the whole body like a snow plough and forcing the grape skins out that way.  Needless to say the results indicated it was a complete waste of time although it did get a lot of laughs.


So, if you ever come to Yering Station during vintage and see one of the guys covered in grape skins and passed out from exhaustion, no he hasn’t gone completely mad, he has just done the dig out!



Getting back to the two reasons this story holds a special place in my heart. One day the valve that let’s us drain all the liquid from the Vat was blocked, sure we could have solved this problem in a number of less pleasurable ways, but, I would have missed the opportunity to tick one off the bucket list. So the solution, yes, it’s true, I got to swim through a vat of vino … yes it did feel AWESOME, all warm and fizzy … oh yes, it put a massive smile on my dial.

But, bigger and better than that, one fine day M, came down to the winery and was the only person outside the vintage crew to do the dig out for the year. Not only, did she borrow a pair of my shorts, which showed an ample amount of leg, but she dug with style and finished the dig out, solo, winning the non-vintage crew prize for fastest dig out and a little piece of my heart at the same time.  It’s true we’re now hitched and have another little wine lover on the way!

Oh, and by the way the prize for winning the digout is a Magnum of FilthyGoodVino = Grand Cru Burgundy. And, yes, it is shared with the entire vintage crew.

Vietti Rocks Out with their Perbacco AGAIN – Awesome Langhe Nebbiolo .. Filthy Good Vino

10 Nov


Yumminess Factor = OH YES! Lamb Chops = 2 very succulent ones.

Knocked back this 2006 Neb with a home made hamburger with the lot (more Heston than Macca’s). It’s a stunner, the wine that is.  Vietti is one of the great wine producers of the world. Their Barolo’s are incredible.

I had the great fortune of experiencing the hospitality of the Currado family and visiting the Vietti winery in 2005. It’s an incredible structure incorporating an old Fort on the top of Castiglione Falletto.  They’ve filled in the escape tunnel that lead to the distant fields and was used in the event of a siege. Although the winery has been modernised all that has been ancient has been respected and the slit windows for archers still remain.

Check out the old v new in the pic’s below.  Big old school oak, the traditional vessel for maturing Barolo, with new small wood in the old and new building.  The incredible hills of Barolo are a spectacular site.


Vietti’s been a favourite of mine for a long time. Back in 2003 at the Australian Wine Institute’s Advanced Wine Assesment Course (AWAC), both the Perbacco, Vietti’s basic Nebbiolo and their Rocche, an awesome single vineyard Barolo were included in a line up of a dozen Neb’s.  Both were great wines.  In the blind tasting I scored the Perbacco 17.5 and the Rocche 18.5 of 20 along with Tim White and Peter Godden, other than a couple of Bronze medals, we were the only ones in a room of 30 winemakers and wine pro’s to rate the Rocche giving it a gold medal.  Boy did it deserve it and perhaps more, the wine had an incredible core of fruit, amazing layered, spicey, earthy, yummy complexity and a hardcore texture of amazing tannin with incredible length. A 3 Lambchop wine to be sure. I think we were at about wine 100 for the day but there was no way I was spitting the Rocche or the Perbacco for that matter.

These are wines of real character.  They’re wines that it took me a while to find and understand, they’re so different from most Aussie wines. The flavours and textures are unique, less primary fruit, more secondary characters … often described as Burgundy’s big brother on Steroids. If you get a chance grab a Perbacco and drink it over 3 or 4 days with something delicious.  For new comers to the variety, the wines can be hard to get your head around, the AWAC scores illustrates how hard. When it clicks and you get it, boy you’ll been onto something great.  If you don’t get it the first time go back for a second and drink it with someone who can help explain it … hell give me a bell, if Vietti is on the table I’ll be there. Remember these are food wines … maybe a decent burger? For about $50 the Perbacco is great value.  The Rocche at around $200+ if you can find and then give some one your first born for a bottle or two is well worth it.

I’ve got just one bottle of Vietti’s top wine the Riserva Villero from 1996 … when to open it is the tough question!  I’m not being a wanker, but the day I knock this one back it’s going to have to be with someone very special and some awesome tucker maybe a 1kg T-Bone!



Chateau L’Arrosee 1995 with Lamb Shanks

10 Oct



Chateau L’Arrossee 1995 – Great Wine, fresh acidity, linear, a couple of bumps in the structure. Good core of juicy vibrant  fruit. Perhaps falling a bit short.  Still needs more time. Definitely a food wine. Cooking Lamb Shanks to go with this baby.

Mostly Merlot with about 20% Cab Franc & 20% Cab Sauv.

Fun Grand Cru wine from St Emillion, Bordeaux, South West France.

Yummy equals Yes, Lambchop equals No, maybe 1 in a few more years.