Bin 389: Good buy in 2000
If there's one widely available wine that says "Australia" to me, it's Penfolds Bin 389, a bottling that I've followed, enjoyed and even cellared since I first got interested in fine wine.
Made every year from a varying blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz grapes from McLaren Vale, Barossa and other South Australian wine regions, Bin 389 derives extra cachet from being aged, in part, in the small American oak barrels that had housed the previous year's vintage of Penfolds' storied Grange.
The 2000 vintage recently arrived, and I find it impressive. In fact, Australian friends tell me - although Penfolds has not formally acknowledged this - that the winery did not produce a 2000 vintage of its pricey Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon because there wasn't enough quality fruit, so the grapes normally destined for Bin 707 may have gone into the midrange Bin 389 instead.
If you're fortunate enough to live in a region where price-cutting is going on, this vintage may offer unusual value. In my last Bin 389 report, I unleashed a rant about its price having risen from $13 for the 1992 vintage purchased in 1995 to a cool $24 for the 1998 vintage purchased in 2001.
Imagine my surprise, then, to find the 2000 vintage being sold locally this year for $17.79. A quick online comparison found significant regional price variation, with Bin 389 prices in the U.S. ranging from less than $20 at some vendors in California, Texas, New Jersey and Kentucky to the upper $20s in other regions, especially in the Northeast. Prices in Australia appear to track U.S. prices but in Australian dollars, with a comparable range in the U.K., while Canadians are reporting high prices (over CDN$30) in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia.
In fact, the listed wholesale price of 2000 Bin 389 in Kentucky is $21.42 (significantly more than I paid at retail), which would normally yield a retail shelf price in the $25-$28 range.
The lesson here is to shop around, and even try to negotiate in places where the law allows. Personally, I'm taking advantage of this local price break to stock up on a few more bottles.
ABOUT THE BIN: For those curious about the Australian "bin numbering" concept, which is actually simply an arbitrary designation that varies from winery to winery, see my May 2001 article, "What's in the Bin,"
If you would like to join in an international online discussion about Bin 398 pricing and related issues, click to the Wine Lovers' Discussion Group topic, "Why did Bin 389 price drop?" at
Penfolds 2000 Bin 389 South Australia Cabernet Shiraz ($17.79)
Inky dark purple, almost black, with garnet glints showing when you hold it to a bright light. Black fruit, delicately fragrant pepper and a whiff of fresh dill (a signal of American oak barrels) show in the aroma. The flavor offers a blend of juicy black fruits and sweet oak, a hint of anise, soft tannins and tangy acidity. It seems a bit more austere than some past vintages at first. But with time in the glass it opens up in layers, suggesting that age will serve this one well, as it has in past vintages. U.S. importer: PWG Vintners USA Inc., Napa, Calif. (March 12, 2003)
FOOD MATCH: Beef would be perfect, but it demonstrated its versatility at our table by making a fine match with a simple Italian-American-style dish of sausage in a spicy tomato sauce over penne pasta.
VALUE: Selling internationally at a wide range of prices, it's a remarkable bargain if you can find it under US$20, and a good value up to the upper $20s.
WHEN TO DRINK: Fruit and well-handled oak carry it now, especially given time to breathe in the glass. Cellared with care, it should mature and improve for at least a decade.
WEB LINK: Penfolds offers a short Bin 389 fact sheet at
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Friday, March 14, 2003