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Penley Estate: An evening with Kym Tolley

August 29, 2012

I’ve long been an admirer of Kym Tolley and the wines he makes at Penley Estate, Coonawarra, South Australia, having visited the estate on three different occasions since 2003 and being privileged enough to have had several bottles of the outstanding 1998 Penley Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, in addition to the 2002 and 2004 vintages. When the opportunity arose to meet him in person at a tasting of the wines of Penley Estate at The Marriott, Singapore, 28 Aug 2012, organised by Ponti Wine Cellars, I had no hesitation in showing up. Kym turned out to be highly affable, relating how his mother was related to the Penfolds family, which provided Kym the opportunity to helm the estate’s famous Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon before he eventually left to found Penley, the name being a hybrid of PEN (from Penfolds) and LEY (the suffix of Tolley).

2009 Penley Estate Arcadia Chardonnay. Lovely bouquet of melons, white flowers, green apples and fresh citrus, rich on the mid-palate with loads of chalky minerality that was a tad overwhelming, laced with fresh acidity at the sides. Very agreeable and I’d be happy to pair this with a succulent Alaskan crab or any of my favorite Asian dish.

2009 Penley Estate Phoenix cabernet sauvignon. Dark impenetrable red, loaded with ripe cabernet with notes of dark cherries, wild berries, bitter chocolate and a hint of forest floor, coated at this stage by a sheen of vanilla and a trace of emulsion from the new oak – tight, concentrated and weighty on the palate, slightly peppery at the finish. However, one is struck by the immaculate balance, structure and restraint in spite of its youth, surely the result of Kym’s expert craftsmanship. It may not be the estate’s flagship cabernet, but this wine has enormous potential.

2010 Penley Estate Hyland Shiraz. Dark impenetrable red with dollops of racy red fruits and dark currants, with shiraz that is undeniably ripe yet cool in temperament (a hallmark that I’ve noted in Coonawarra shiraz, as opposed to the warm  and plummy Barossa shiraz), slightly spicy towards the finish, resulting in a wine that is full-bodied yet elegant without any of the alcoholic heat that tends to accompany shiraz. I don’t usually pay attention to this line, but I must say I’m suitably impressed. Good stuff.

2009 Penley Estate Condor Shiraz Cabernet. This is probably the least satisfactory in the evening’s line-up. There’s nothing wrong technically, the warmer shiraz framed within a discernible cabernet structure, but it just doesn’t gel. Far better to stick with either the straight cabernet or shiraz above.

2005 Penley Estate Special Select Shiraz. Deep purple. In spite of all the relative heavyweights that had coated the palate earlier in the evening, one is immediately struck by the predominant red fruits, bright cherries and rosy fragrance on the bouquet, producing a powerful aromatic lift that carried the deep vein of fruit with it on the palate, medium to full-bodied, structured and elegant, finishing with a controlled mix of mint and other medicinal aromas. Will be quite stunning after another 5-8 years in bottle.

Although the estate’s flagship Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon was missing from the line-up, this was a good opportunity to acquaint oneself with Penley’s other wines. I must say I came away with a great deal of newfound respect for the excellent work and philosophy of Kym and his team, for one is struck time and again by the balance,  elegance, restraint and ageing potential, which I feel is the most attractive aspect of the wines, and I’ll be sure to catch up with him at Penley on my next trip to Coonawarra.

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