Penfolds' new Champagnes make a sparkling debut

By James Atkinson, May 10 2019

With a cheeky 'coals to Newcastle' pitch, Penfolds chose Paris for the overnight international launch of a trio of Champagnes.

And yes, these are Champagnes – not just sparkling whites – produced in France's Champagne region using grapes grown from local vineyards under a collaboration with Champagne House Thiénot.

Garance Thienot, Peter Gago and Stanislas Thienot celebrate Penfolds' return to sparkling wines, but this time as a proper world-class Champagne.

Three Champagnes have been created from the 2012 vintage: a Chardonnay Pinot Noir Cuvée, and the single vineyard Blanc de Blancs and Blanc de Noirs.

This bold venture may raise eyebrows given Penfolds is best known for its iconic reds, with flagship Grange considered Australia's most famous wine.

Penfolds Chardonnay Pinot Noir Cuvée

This $280 debut draws from Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyards to reveal a complex array of nutty, spicy and floral characters. Vibrant acidity brings freshness, and suggests a long life in the cellar.

But chief winemaker Peter Gago is quick to recount the brand's long association with sparkling wine as operator of Sydney's Minchinbury Winery from 1912 until its closure in 1978.

"This is not Penfolds starting off making sparkling, this is Penfolds returning to sparkling," Gago says with a smile, adding that these three Champagnes represent "our toe in the water, the start of the project where we've identified a house style."

"If we were to start by going there and buying vineyards, it'd be a 20 or 30-year project. A week in the wine industry now is like a decade. You can't wait."

Yet Gago has been waiting for some time to put the fizz back into Penfold's sparkling history, having first joined the company in 1989 to work under Ed Carr, widely regarded as Australia's pre-eminent sparkling winemaker.

Clearly that experience was instrumental for Gago, a regular visitor to the Champagne region ever since.

He says, not altogether in jest, that he has never stopped lobbying Penfolds' executives for a return to sparkling wine since the brand exited the category in 1993.

And while the Champenois remain largely preoccupied with selling through their celebrated 2008 wines, Gago selected the 2012 vintage, which he holds is currently flying somewhat under the radar.

"I had choices of 2008s, which everyone raves about, but we've settled on three '12s. These were head and shoulders above, I thought," he says.

Penfolds' Peter Gago selected the 2012 vintage from Champagne House Thiénot's lush vineyards.

The debut Chardonnay Pinot Noir Cuvée ($280) is available now, showcasing Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyards with a complex array of nutty, spicy and floral characters. Vibrant acidity brings freshness, and suggests a long life in the cellar.

Gago predicts peak drinking anywhere from now until 2040, under "the Penfolds philosophy of drink now, or you can put these wines away for a long time."

The two single vineyard champagnes will be released in 2020, with pricing in the ballpark of the $280 Chardonnay Pinot Noir Cuvée.

"We could charge a lot more than that for these single vineyard wines. There's a lot of grower Champagne selling very expensively now," Gago says.

Gago, seen here with Champagne Thienot winemaker Nicolas Uriel, says these first three Champagnes are just "a toe in the water" – expect high tides to follow.

While Gago took control of production downstream for these initial releases, he expects to have a greater hand in years to come as the connection between Penfolds and champagne deepens – hopefully by way of the company purchasing some of its own vineyards in the region.

"If they don't, I might buy one or two vineyards," he declares.

James Atkinson
James Atkinson

James Atkinson

James is a journalist whose career took a turn for the better when he began specialising in what he enjoys most: Travel, food and drink. Whether at home in Sydney or on the road, he's especially diligent at roadtesting bars and restaurants and hunting down some special bottles to bring home.



05 Dec 2018

Total posts 107

Thanks for sharing I want to get a bottle when released.



Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Jan 2011

Total posts 19

The Thienot vintage (2012 IIRC), without the Penfolds branding, is currently being served in the CX F lounges at HKG. It is pretty good stuff.



Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

02 Jul 2011

Total posts 1373

So is this just Thienot trying to use the Penfolds brand to get a premium into Asia?

Otherwise seems very expensive for a first release.



26 Apr 2018

Total posts 10

DOM vs Penfolds for the same price?

DOM for me

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