Penfolds 2020 Vintage: Sam Stephens of Penfolds

Penfolds | Penfold 2020 Release | Food For Thought

Penfolds has recently released their 2020 collection, and in addition to the BIN 387, 407 and 707, there was also a tasting of the infamous Grange, rated as one of the most consistent wines in the world. The tasting saw a side-by-side comparison within Penfolds own range, paired with a beautiful dinner at Flock, W Hotel Kuala Lumpur. We speak to Sam Stephens, Penfolds Brand Ambassador of Asia to find out a bit more about these vintages.

Penfolds 2020: Wine Pairing at Flock, W Kuala Lumpur

Penfolds is considered as one of the most well-known wines to come out of Australia, with its latest collection being ready for drinking. The wines are predominantly easy to approach, and with the BIN 389 known as the most collected wine in Australia, we got to do a side-by-side tasting. We managed to have Sam Stephens join us virtually at the dinner pairing, walking us through the new collection.

Sam Stephens Penfolds Brand Ambassador Asia | Penfold 2020 Release | Food For Thought

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I am originally from Adelaide Australia, and have over 20 years experience in the wine trade. I have held a wide variety of roles across the industry in both Australia, Europe & Asia. I have a unique combination of knowledge, enthusiasm, understanding and passion for the wines of the World. Throughout my career I have held diverse professional roles drawing on my commercial skills specialising in education and training, tastings and master classes, fine wine launch events and sales programs. I hold a WSET Diploma and have recently completed the first stage in my Masters of Wine studies.

I am a qualified WSET tutor and have conducted a huge number of successful classes and courses for the trade and consumers across the globe. I also have a keen interest in the world of oenology, having gained vintage experience in McLaren Vale, working with both viticulturists and winemakers. Having been in the industry for over 20 years, I have wine running through my veins and my passion for the industry and product is infectious. My understanding of the history, wines and philosophy of so many countries, together with the relationships I have forged with many winemakers, makes me a highly respected advocate for all wines.

Penfolds 2020 Collection | Penfold 2020 Release | Food For Thought

Can you tell us a bit about Penfolds?

Penfolds started in 1844. It has been focused on experimentation, curiosity and uncompromising quality. It’s success has been driven by many visionary winemakers. It was first started by Dr Christopher and Mary Penfold, who fortified wines made from grapes and Australian sunshine. It continued with Alf Vesey, Ray Beckwith and Max Schubert, celebrated winemaking legends who pushed our development to extraordinary, bold new heights. It is this pioneering spirit and curiosity that still rings true after nearly two centuries, it is what has helped us become one of the most celebrated winemakers in the world today. Also, we have three distinct styles under our winemaking philosophy which are the single vineyard; single region and multi-region; and multi-varietal blending to a House Style.

Sam Stephen Virtual Walkthrough | Penfold 2020 Release | Food For Thought

What would you say are the best conditions to cellar the wines? Any tips for people who want to store them at home?

A wine cellar would of course be the best, however a wine fridge works just as well. They are the most useful in warmer climates. Wine fridges are designed to store bottles at the best temperature and humidity for maturation. The best tip is to keep the conditions constant and to avoid any significant temperature fluctuations. A constant temperature of around 18 degrees Celsius (or less) is better for your wine. The cellaring conditions need to be dark, free from vibrations and from any background odours which may permeate through cork.

Cellaring Wines | Penfold 2020 Release | Food For Thought

We know that wines continue to mature as you store them. What is the ideal drinking time for wines in general?

That is really up to the particular wine and of course people’s personal tastes, but you have to remember that not all wines are designed to be cellared. If you have a fresh, fruit driven wine like a sauvignon blanc or pinot noir that was made for immediate enjoyment then it should be consumed within a few years of it being made.

If you have a more structured wine, designed for ageing like the Penfolds BIN wines or our Icon and Luxury wines then they can develop and change over many years or even decades. This is where personal taste comes in. Our wines will start off with rich fruit, sweet spice and fresh oak flavours, as they mature these flavours begin to change to more dried fruit, savoury spice and toasty oak. If you like fruit driven wines then I would suggest drinking your premium Penfolds in the first 5-10 years of their life, if you prefer the more savoury and complex flavours then the second half of their life is best and the wines will need 10-20 years to reach this point.

Cheers | Penfold 2020 Release | Food For Thought

Tell us something about Penfolds wines that not many might know.

Our top wine, Grange is not only regarded as one of the finest wines to come out of Australia but it is also one of the iconic wines of the world alongside the top wines of Europe and America. It is highly regarded by the top critics in the world and in fact if we look at the average score awarded by Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate for the last 5 released vintages, Grange outscores all the Bordeaux First Growths!

Wine Pairing | Penfold 2020 Release | Food For Thought

Which of the 2020 collection would you recommend for collecting?

It is always hard to narrow the entire Penfolds collection down to just one wine… but if I had to then the answer would be the 2018 BIN 389 Cabernet Shiraz. BIN 389, also known as Baby Grange, always offers amazing cellaring potential and value for money and is the most collected wine in Australia. This is a wine that I always buy a case of, knowing I can enjoy it immediately or cellar it for up to 20 years.

BIN 28 Shiraz 2018 vs BIN 128 Coonawarra Shiraz 2018. Your thoughts?

I always love to taste the BIN 28 and the BIN 128 side by side as they show just how different Shiraz can be from Penfolds. The BIN 28 is multi-regional and sourced from warmer areas like Barossa and McLaren Vale and matured in American Oak whereas the BIN 128 is a single region Coonawarra Shiraz, which is a cool region and is matured in French Oak. The result is that the BIN 28 has a richer, smoother, riper & more black fruit driven style versus the BIN 128 which has more blue fruit, eucalypt, tannin and oak. The BIN 28 is a more classic, powerful expression of South Australian Shiraz and the BIN 128 is a more elegant and complex style, maybe even like a Rhone Syrah.

BIN 389 Cabernet Shiraz 2018 vs BIN 389 Cabernet Shiraz 2004. We known that this style of wine is also called the Baby Grange, and when we compare these 2 wines in the same style, but at different levels of maturity, what can we expect to find?

The great thing about trying these two wines side by side is that the older vintage acts like a window to the future for the younger vintage, we get to see the 2018 in a primary, youthful state and the 2004 at a more complex point of maturity. The 2018 explodes with rich black fruit, peppery spice, cassis and vanilla while the 2004 is more restrained with prune, plum, liquorice, tobacco and cedar. The 2004 shows how BIN 389 matures wonderfully, developing more dried fruit and savoury oak notes while the 2018 is testament to how enjoyable the wine is in its’ youth. As to which is better, that is purely down to personal taste.

BIN 407 Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 vs BIN 707 Cabernet Sauvignon 2018. Can you enlighten us a bit about these two expressions?

Tasting these two wines side by side allows us to really see their individual character. The BIN 407 is sourced mainly from the cooler regions of Coonawarra and Wrattonbully while the 707 come mainly from the warmer Barossa regions. This means the 407 has a more elegant expression of Cabernet Sauvignon with fresh black currant, mint and eucalyptus notes that are complimented by predominantly French Oak maturation. The BIN 707 is all about power and opulence and delivers intense cassis, plum and sweet spice which is supported by the sweeter American Oak.

Grange | Penfold 2020 Release | Food For Thought

The star of the wine pairing dinner, can you tell us what makes the 2016 Grange so special?

The 2016 Grange is the most powerful expression of Penfolds multi-vineyard, multi-district blending philosophy. It is crafted using fully-ripe, intensely-flavoured and structured shiraz grapes. It is now recognized as one of the most consistent wines in the world. With an unbroken line of vintages from the experimental 1951, Grange does demonstrate the synergy between shiraz and the soils and climates of South Australia.

For more information about Penfolds wines, see Penfolds.

W Hotel Kuala Lumpur,
121, Jalan Ampang,
50450 Kuala Lumpur
+6012 347 9088
Opening Hours:
Monday to Sundays, 6.30 am to 10.30 pm; 12.00 pm to 2.30 pm and 5.30 pm to 10.30 pm


Nicholas Ng

Nicholas Ng is a restaurant critic and drinks writer and is the editor of independent publication Food For Thought. He has been a freelance journalist for the 15 years and has previously worked as a lawyer and in digital marketing. He currently is the Principal Consultant of A Thought Full Consultancy, a food and beverage marketing consultancy.

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