Australian wine label Penfolds introduces new range for casual drinkers

Iconic Australian wine label Penfolds is synonymous with its flagship red wine, the Grange, a full-bodied shiraz and cabernet sauvignon blend that connoisseurs have no qualms shelling out top dollar for. It costs $750 for a 750ml bottle here.

The 172-year-old wine-maker, which is based in the Barossa Valley in Adelaide, Australia, makes more than 40 types of wines, including its Bin series, named according to cellar bins, and fortified wines.

Most of the wines are made for long-term cellaring - up to 30 years - for the flavours to develop.

To cater to the trend of more young people drinking wines on casual occasions, Penfolds added a mass-market label, Max's, last year to commemorate the 100th birthday of its first chief wine-maker, Mr Max Schubert, who died in 1994.

He had created the Grange in the 1950s in secret as the idea of a robust red wine did not sit well with the company's management. The wine eventually gained popularity in the 1960s.

The Max's label offers four classic varietals: shiraz, cabernet sauvignon, the quintessential Australian blend shiraz cabernet and chardonnay.

Mr Adam Clay, 38, who makes red wines for Penfolds, says the Max's range of wines simplifies the wine-drinking experience for younger drinkers, who may be intimidated by the confusing list of wine bin numbers.

The Australian says: "Wine has been gaining popularity around the world so it is important to create wines that are approachable."

He was in town recently to introduce the Max's label here. The three red wines from the 2014 vintage are available now at $40 for a 750ml bottle, while the chardonnay from the 2015 vintage ($40) will be here later this month.

The wines are sold at all Cold Storage and Market Place by Jason's supermarkets.

One of the more popular wines in the series is the Max's Shiraz Cabernet, a dark crimson-hued blend of berried fruits and spices with an oak finish. It has a complex nose of dark sour cherries coupled with savoury sage and bay leaf.

The grapes are sourced from vineyards across South Australia such as Padthaway and McLaren Vale - following the legacy of the late Mr Schubert, who spearheaded multi- regional blending of grapes in Penfolds by combining the best grapes from different vineyards.

According to Mr Clay, the Max's wines have a "more accessible" flavour profile that is less tannic and has vibrant fruit-driven qualities.

The softer tannins are the result of a gentler fruit extraction process and a shorter maturation period of one year, as compared to 19 months for the intensely flavoured Grange wine.

Instead of being wholly matured in new American oak barrels after fermentation, as with the Grange series, only 5 per cent of the wine is matured in the casks. This is balanced with wine matured in seasoned American and French oak hogsheads.

It is this science behind blending wines that made Mr Clay, who majored in biotechnology in the University of Adelaide, turn to winemaking.

Another reason is his wife, Marie who read oenology, or the study of wine, in the same university. She now works as a wine-maker at Wolf Blass, another Australian winery in Barossa Valley. The couple have two boys, aged six and three.

Mr Clay says: "Wine-making is such a fascinating career as you go from checking on grapes in the vineyards during summer to blending wines during winter.

"It also uses science, such as the chemistry-based concepts of fermentation and the biology behind growing plants and irrigation to develop unique wine flavours."

Mr Clay, who has been with Penfolds for 10 years, relishes living with a fellow wine-maker.

The couple bounce ideas on wine-growing conditions off each other and build their wine collection together at home.

He says: "You can drink more wines and it is more fun to appreciate good wines together. Being able to find someone who shares your wine-making interest makes work feel like the best hobby in the world."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 04, 2016, with the headline 'Making wines simple '. Subscribe