Penfolds’ Chardonnays, from Koonunga Hill to Yattarna

australia chardonnay

Penfolds’ Chardonnays, from Koonunga Hill to Yattarna


Penfolds are famous for their Bin Series reds, a range led by the world famous Grange. But back in the mid-1990s they decided to try their hand at whites, and chose Chardonnay as their target. Yattarna was launched as the white Grange, but the project also launched a number of other impressive Chardonnays. These were the focus of this tasting, led by chief white winemaker Kym Schroeter. He’s now celebrating his 28th year with Penfolds after starting in 1987. His father was a winemaker, and there’s been a Schroeter in the company for over 60 years. ‘I was brought up with Penfolds since I was a kid,’ he says. ‘It’s a passion thing for me to work at Penfolds. I’ve got a daughter who’s almost 3. Hopefully she will be a winemaker too.’

Kym Schroeter
Kym Schroeter

Kym started off in the laboratory and was there for 3 years. ‘It was as boring as batshit,’ he recalls. The next job was wine show preparation, and this was followed by the first rung on the winemaking ladder. ‘I started off at the bottom with flagon and cask clarets, and friendly reds,’ he says. In 2002 he moved to whites. ‘They dragged me kicking and screaming,’ says Kym, ‘but I have been there ever since.’ Initially he worked under Oliver Crawford, but in 2008 he took over the role as the only senior white winemaker in the company. Penfolds have five red winemakers to the one white.

Interesting observation: Kym has never seen snow in his life!! How can that happen? They should let him out of the cellar occasionally.

Kym says that there was an uncomfortable time when there was the reverse take-over by Rosemount in 2001. They made some changes and a couple of vintages of Koonunga Hill suffered. ‘Since then we have been very traditional,’ he says. ‘Peter [Gago] is very one-eyed Penfolds and he won’t let change happen.’

penfolds chardonnays

Penfolds Koonunga Hill Chardonnay 2014 South Australia
40% inner stave, 20% stainless steel, 40% small old oak. ‘I’m a bit of an acid junkie,’ says winemaker Kim Shroeter. ‘Even in the Koonunga Hill there is a nice backbone.’ This has peach and pear fruit with nice texture and a bit of citrus, as well as some lemon and nutty notes on the finish. 87/100 (£8.75 Corking Wines)

Penfolds Bin 311 Chardonnay 2009 Tumbarumba, Australia
First made in 2005, this is a cool climate Chardonnay that’s usually from Tumbarumba. But in 2001 there was botrytis, so it was made from Henty. And in 2007 it was from Orange. But Tumbarumba, at 700-800 m in the base of the Snowy Mountains in New South Wales really suits the style. Complex, taut, spicy and fresh with a lovely lemony edge to the fruit. There’s also a bit of flinty matchstick here. Lovely precision and freshness. 94/100

Penfolds Bin 311 Chardonnay 2013 Tumbarumba, Australia
Fresh and lemony with lovely precision and purity. Very linear and fruity with fresh pure fruit and a subtle spiciness. Very fine. 92/100 (£18 Berry Bros & Rudd)

Penfolds Cellar Reserve Chardonnay 2012 Adelaide Hills, Australia
This is always a single vineyard from the Adelaide Hills, made first in 2007, then 2010, then 12, 13, 14 and 15. Around 40% new oak, all French. Taut, toasty and spicy with a limey core and good acidity, showing white peach and grapefruit, as well as some nectarine. Rich and fresh at the same time with good acidity and some mealy notes. 93/100 (£42 Voyageurs du Vin)

Penfolds Reserve Bin 09A Chardonnay 2009 Adelaide Hills, Australia
Since 2003 this has always been from Adelaide Hills; it started off as a spin-off of the Yattarna project in 1994. 62% new oak. Amazingly complex nose of matchstick, spice, flint, citrus and fine herbs. The palate is fresh and linear with a spicy, flinty edge to the linear white peach and lemon fruit. Superb complexity and precision here. 95/100 (£45 Hailsham Cellars)

Penfolds Reserve Bin 10A Chardonnay 2010 Adelaide Hills, Australia
This is ph 3.16 (very low) even thought the acidity is 5.7 g/l (not especially high). Fine, taut and lemony nose with hints of mealiness and some minerals. The palate is lively, spicy and quite pure with a smooth sweet, toasty edge to the pear fruit. Nice mouthfeel. 93/100 (£60 Majestic)

Penfolds Reserve Bin 12A Chardonnay 2012 Adelaide Hills, Australia
Fresh, pure, linear and lemony. Very tight and pure with keen acidity. Compact and concentrated This is so pure and primary with lovely pure citrus fruits. 92/100 (£245 per 6, Corney & Barrow)

Penfolds Yattarna Chardonnay 2008 Soith Australia
1995 was the first release of Yattarna. It wasn’t great and fell over within about 2 years. It has evolved over time to include mainly three regions: Tasmania, Adelaide Hills and Henty. Tasmania was 37% in 2006 (first year it was included), then it went up to 47% and the 87% in this 2008. ‘Tasmania really suits what I am looking for in this style,’ says winemaker Kim Schroeter. ‘This wine is refined, restrained, tight and linear. It’s all about purity of fruit with power.’ Fresh, linear and pure with white peac, lemons, spice and some minerals. Very spicy and crisp with good acidity. Lean and expressive with good concentration and some mineral flintiness. 95/100 (£62 Excel Wines, £65 Great Eastern Fine Wines, £113 Lay & Wheeler)

Penfolds Yattarna Chardonnay 2012 South Australia
A third each Tasmania, Henty and Adelaide Hills; 45% new oak. Has some spice and toast notes complementing the pure, linear citrus fruit. Really good acidity. Has great concentration with lovely tightness but also a bit of sweet peachy richness, all wrapped around a keen acidic core. 94/100 (£105 Laithwaites)

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