Peter Gago, chief winemaker of Penfolds, was in town again, this time to conduct the first ever full vertical tasting of Penfolds RWT from the first vintage 1997 to the latest 2012, a total of 16 years.
RWT stands for ‘Red Winemaking Trial’, the code name given to the wine when it was developed in 1995 by then winemaker John Duval to complement Grange, or in Peter’s words, to protect Grange. Penfolds’ belief is that as time goes, customers’ tastes and preferences change but instead of changing the style of wine, Penfolds develop a new style for the customers’ changing palate: Grange is Shiraz made from grapes sourced from multiple vineyards and aged in 100% American oak; St Henri is also from various vineyards but aged only in old French oak while RWT is a single vineyard wine aged in partial new French oak.
RWT is not trying to be French, but rather, it is a modern wine that combines the power of Barossa Shiraz with Penfolds’ winemaking philosophy and the old style European structure. The vines are old with average age around 70 years (the oldest ones are over 100 years). The fruits are therefore concentrated thus the wine does not require too much extraction. Like Grange, the wine finishes fermentation barrel, meaning than it is pressed off skin and transferred to barrels when there is still some sugar, and does not have any post-fermentation maceration to extract more tannins. This makes the wine accessible even in youth but also has the potential to age a long period because of its concentration.
Vertical tasting of single vineyard wine is compelling because not only can one taste the evolution of wine over time, one can also taste the weather. It is true that Barossa’s weather is much more consistent than wine regions in Europe so vintage variation is not as marked. Still, a couple of wines did stand out: 2008 has more sweet fruits and caramel aromas suggesting it was a warmer vintage; while 2011 has the pronounced violet and perfume that reflects the cooler weather. For me, I was most impressed by the ageability of the wine. The 18 year old 1997 vintage has a long length and is drinking well now with a mix of sweet berries and savoury notes.
In the case of RWT, you may also taste the winemakers’ fingerprint. The first six vintages from 1997 to 2002 were overseen by John Duval while Peter Gago took over since 2003. Annette Lee, fellow wine writer, insisted there was a stylistic difference between 2002 and 2003, that the former was elegant but in a sad way whereas the latter was more vibrant. Hmmm, perhaps the young Peter did inject some energy to the wine?
Penfolds is available from Jebsen.