14th March: I'm reposting this article again purely as the Penfolds Bin releases episode has continued to unfold over the past week.
Now I'm relying on updates from reputable people close to the source, but these are still just allegations and should be treated as such...
So firstly, allegedly, Treasury Wine Estates are angry. No surprises there, but it's their response that is of interest, including the allegation that they refused to resupply Woolworths and Coles (with the Penfolds Bin products) once the wines were publically advertised so far below cost. This sounds highly unusual (and a legal minefield), but short supplies last weekend in many chain stores adds veracity to these claims.
Further, it seems that Treasury Wine Estates (TWE) staff were also allegedly seen filling up their cars with all the 389 they could purchase from one of the main antagonists in this saga, Coles discount store 1st Choice, last weekend too.
Given that the store was selling the 2008 Bin 389 for just $36 a bottle (which places it at almost half the RRP of $65 and 25% off the normal wholesale cost price) this is actually a reasonably smart move, as it's only striking a blow back against Coles in the long run, as Coles are running this as a loss leader to drag people into the stores, which thus fails if those people are TWE staff buying back stock below cost...
Penfolds Coonawarra Claret Shiraz Cabernet (Magnum) 2009 (Coonawarra, SA)
14.5%, Cork, $notforsale
Source: Retail sample
Penfolds Coonawarra 'Claret' Shiraz Cabernet (Magnum) 2009
It's something of a special wine this - or at least it's not actually available for commercial sale - with the wine offered as a 'value add' to those who purchase Penfolds Bin wines through independent Australian wine retailers.
From where I sit the purpose of a product like this appears to be twofold: Firstly, it keeps independent retailers happy, for it gives them a point of difference over the supermarket backed chains, with whom the indies can't compete on price. Secondly, by offering something 'not for sale', that is so limited in number, they are gently nudging consumers into filling their wine fridges with Penfolds wines sooner rather than later.
In many ways it's actually very clever marketing, particularly as the Bin range has taken something of a reputation hiding in recent years, with the supermarket-led discounting rendering the Penfolds RRPs as a running joke, even whilst these same RRPs jump significantly every year. What I'm guessing Penfolds are attempting to do is to reinject some value into the range again, perhaps by effectively moving the focus away from a straight, race-to-the-bottom, price driven annual release scenario and into a 'what goodies will come up this year'.
What is interesting is the way that these magnums (for they are released only as magnums) are actually being supplied. Of particular note is that the magnums are not actually dispensed by retailers, with a particularly laborious claims process utilised instead. By doing this I'm assuming that Penfolds are attempting to stop retailers onselling the magnums, whilst also regulating the supply (which again is fair thinking, if overly controlling).
What is slightly grating about this method though is that not only are the magnums restricted to just one per household, but the delivery price is an erm, 'fully priced' $22 per magnum, with it all rubbed in by the fact that you'll be lucky to actually see them delivered before mid June.
Regardless of the process however, it already appears that the whole, carefully controlled deal has allegedly blown up in Penfolds face, with both Dan Murphys and Vintage Cellars allegedly responding the best way they know how - by putting the Bin wines out at prices that are almost half of the (now almost mythical) RRPs. I'm only speculating that this is their motivation of course, but VC are even throwing in a Cellar Share and some free Riedel glasses just to rub it in.....
These prices are actually serious loss leaders even for the supermarkets, which just goes to show that they are being offered just to make a statement, particularly given that they are considerably lower even than said independents wholesale (so excluding tax) prices are and lower than last year. In my view this sort of pricing policy is really only serving to show who, allegedly, controls who in the liquor business.
To be completely honest it's actually a pretty sad state of affairs, and really shows just how dangerous the supermarket duopoly is for wine businesses. With several friends working for Treasury Wine Estates as sales reps I feel sorry for them too, stuck in the middle of what is just a business power play. I also feel for the hardworking winemakers/vitis/cellar hands etc whom are still making good to great wines (particularly the Chardonnays), even though the wines are now just political (wine politics that is) footballs.
Speaking of good wines though, it's time to talk about the wine itself, for out of all this messy business it's actually really heartening to see that what is in the (attractively retro packaged) magnums is actually genuinely good booze. I think it might even be my favourite wine of the 2011 Penfolds Bin releases.
In the glass it pours rich, dark blood red, looking every bit a Penfolds wine. It smells like one too, with a pure, rich and generous nose of chocolate oak and purple fruit, carrying quite a bit of oak sweetness but also a cheeky brambly peppery edge (which looked properly Coonawarran). It's still a very rich and ripe nose for Coonawarra though and noticeably riper than the 128 of the same vintage.
That follows on the palate too which is more Penfolds than it is Coonawarra, with that very rich, solid and hearty firmness that Pennies is all about. It's a fraction too vanillan and sweet for real love right now, but with some nice fine tannins on the finish it's probably going to be a pretty srmart wine in another 2-3 years time.
Speaking of those tannins, they're actually quite a bit lighter than the 08 389 (also in this 2011 release), which suggests that this isn't going to live as long. But what this wine lacks in outright power it makes up for in freshness, which I think actually led me to ultimately like this over the 389, and even after 24 hours in the glass it still looked pretty damn good, boding particularly well for the future.
To wrap it all up then I'm calling this a rather smart wine that anyone with a penchant for Penfolds wines will enjoy. Strictly speaking I'm not the biggest fan of the chunky, oaky and Penfolds brand® tannin finished style but I can absolutely appreciate the inherent quality on hand. The politics behind this wine though are far less clear and attractive.........18.2/93