As soon as this one came out of the purveyor’s bag, we started to chuckle.  It was part of a new line from Penfolds, a winery that, through their armada of “bin” designated wines, would seem to already have every conceivable wine scenario covered with plenty left over.   Yet here was something dressed in an ‘artsy’ composite coating, the inaugural release it states, of a line dedicated to the memory of Max Schubert, Penfold’s historic winemaker who would have been 100 years old in 2015.

Even the most creative of corporate spin doctors would be challenged to generate a viable yarn about how a (literally) red bottle that sells for under $20 commemorates the guy that created Grange and put Penfolds on the map. But we have seen some pretty far-fetched approaches over the years for ‘stimulating’ interest in a new line of wines.  We were ready to bag on this one as yet another soulless corporate effort in a gimmicky package trying to push its way into the market…that is until we tasted it.

The Penfolds Max’s Shiraz Cabernet South Australia 2015 is legit juice, boysenberry and black cherry with flecks of spice, iron and vanilla, engaging supple texture, well tucked away acidity and ripe tannins.  It brought back memories of some of our early experience with their now coveted (and priced at nearly $60) Bin 389.  The blend on the ‘Max’ is 77% Shiraz and 23% Cabernet Sauvignon (there’s more Cab in the Bin 389) and mostly neutral oak in the process.  The fruit feels a little ‘redder’, but this is a delicious drink that offers quite the pleasing tipple both texturally and flavor-wise for its modest fare, serving much the same purpose as those early Bin 389s.

Sure there are a lot of questions, not the least of which is how will this wine play moving forward over future vintages (‘corporates’ are notorious for over-delivering on brand rollouts, and slacking off later).  As to this wine specifically, there are no concerns thus far.  This wine is one of the tasty surprises of the year thus far. It was good enough to overcome our doubts and then some, even bringing us to endorsing it.  Max Shiraz/Cabernet 2015 is a perfectly engaging and honest red. James Suckling seems to agree with a 92 point review and comments, “Perfumed and delicious with blackberry, blueberry and orange peel character. Medium to full body, firm and silky tannins and a flavorful finish. I like the acid energy to this that gives the wine clarity and tension…”   As to the next vintage, we’ll worry about that when the time comes.



Have you checked out our Youtube channel, The Extract? It’s a weekly video series dedicated to wine geeks and cork dorks from novice to expert. We talk shop with wine producers, growers, and makers from all over to bring you candid discussions about wine philosophy, technique, and most of all…passion.

Here’s our most recent interview with Australian winemaker Troy Kalleske of Kalleske Wines. Troy’s family has been around the Barossa block growing grapes for over 160 years but somehow Troy is the first generation to actually make wine with them!




The ‘Land Down Under’ is still a ‘place of wonder’ when it comes to intriguing value reds. You just have to know where to look. Besides all of the widely distributed corporate beverages (Penfolds, Hardys, etc.), there are a number of small, passionate, under the radar producers with old vines and long histories that are doing some exceptional work for pretty easy-to-swallow prices. We sold some of the first Kalleske wines to come into the country back in the mid-00s and have been a fan of Troy Kalleske’s rich-but-sleek style ever since.

The Kalleske Clary’s GSM was a little later to the party but is the best we have tasted from them (though they weren’t in the market for a while). ‘Clarry’, for whom the cuvee is named, was Troy’s grandfather who tended these old vineyards (established in 1838…no that’s not a misprint). Clarry’s is a blend of Grenache, Shiraz and Mataro with old vine Grenache from the 1940s and 1960s. The wine is fermented in open-top fermenters and basket pressed. To preserve the superb fresh fruit flavors, it only sees one year in very old oak hogsheads (300 liter barrels) .

Who uses grapes from 40-60 year old vines for an under-$20 go-to red? Well, it’s a short list but that’s the deal here. A 91 from the sometimes stingy Lisa Perotti-Brown with commentary, “…redolent of baked raspberries, kirsch and red currant jelly (we’d add boysenberry, too, but we grew up SoCal… Knotts Berry Farm) with Indian spices, dried oregano and peppercorn hints. Full-bodied, ripe and opulent in the mouth, it coats the palate with plush, velvety tannins and spicy flavors, finishing long.” Does that sound like something that could be had for under a Jackson? We think not…$19.98