When it comes to visualising a city that embodies the meaning of bijou, French for “jewel”, it is not hard to see why Bordeaux comes to mind. Set on the banks of the Garonne River in France’s southwest, the capital of the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region — whose other famous towns include Bayonne, Limoges and Poitiers — Bordeaux is an undisputed gem when it comes to history, architecture and, of course, wine.
In 2007, Unesco saw it fit to designate the city as a World Heritage Site and, with its restored-to-magnificence array of 18th-century limestone buildings, each ornately architectured, and elegant riverfront promenade, Bordeaux offered the perfect setting to celebrate the 60th anniversary of one of the greatest wines in modern winemaking history — Penfolds’ Bin 60A Coonawarra Cabernet Kalimna Shiraz.
The wine’s maker is, of course, the iconic Max Schubert, who also crafted what must surely be the other contender for Australia’s “greatest wine” title — the sublime and sensational Bordeaux-inspired Penfolds Grange, or what wine writer Hugh Johnson termed “the First Growth of the southern hemisphere”.
The Bin 60A is also Penfolds’ star performer at wine shows and has a staggering number of trophies and gold medals to its name. For context, if wine were competitive swimming, the Bin 60A would have trounced Michael Phelps. But what sets the Bin 60A apart is that, unlike Grange, whose chain has been unbroken since it was first produced in 1951, it is incredibly rare. Only 5,100 bottles of the 1962 were made by Schubert and there has been only one other Bin 60A vintage made since then — the 2004.
For such a legendary and unique wine, it made sense to host its 60th birthday party in a venue that celebrated these very qualities. Magill Estate, Penfolds’ spiritual home, would have been too obvious a choice and so the team decided to look much farther afield — all the way to Bordeaux, France.
It was at the spectacular Palais de la Bourse, part of the Ange-Jacques Gabriel-designed Place de la Bourse in the city’s historic heart, that an unforgettable dinner was thrown in the Bin 60A’s honour.
To give an idea of the location’s magnificence, the monumental square and its surrounding buildings, which date back to 1730, are separated from the Garonne by the Miroir d’Eau (Water Mirror), a most favourite spot among locals and visitors alike, especially given the recent heat wave.
Designed by Michel Corajoud, the sprawling shallow granite pool alternates between misting and a mirror effect in an extraordinary way. The square of the Place de la Bourse is also punctuated by the spectacular Louis Visconti-designed and Charles Gumery-sculpted fountain of the Three Graces.
Over a sumptuous wine-pairing banquet that, as Australian wine writer Nick Ryan put it, read like “a Penfolds Greatest Hits album”, the evening began to unfold in the manner of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No 1 in B-Flat Minor — powerfully from the start, with the 2008 Yattarna Chardonnay (ignore all the bad press you have ever read about Aussie Yellows, for this is no mere Chardonnay, but the Yattarna) serving as the opening unison horn notes, followed by — to the undisguised delight of the room — the 1990 Grange Shiraz in tandem with the original 1962 vintage of the Bin 60A Coonawarra Cabernet Kalimna Shiraz. The 2008 Bin 620 Coonawarra Cabernet Shiraz was then presented with the main course while the 2004 Block 42 Kalimna Cabernet Sauvignon accompanied the cheese. As an added treat, the 50 Year Old Rare Tawny and 1962 Bin 414 Show Sauternes brought the evening sweetly to a close.
It was indeed a night of rare flavours, given that the 1962 Bin 60A fetched A$28,000 a bottle recently at auction. Together with the Grange, both proved — beyond a shadow of a doubt — how New World Australian wines could stun a room of French cognoscenti, including Cristallerie Royale de Saint-Louis (Saint-Louis Crystal) CEO Jérôme de Lavergnolle, whose revered glassware was used for the event.
Despite being 60 years old, the Bin 60A lived up to its reputation, showing lively notes of powerful fruit and subtle leather but interspersed with all the complexity, elegance and finesse that only the best grapes, masterful winemaking, and careful and conscientious ageing can give. Even the divinely conceptualised human body would find it hard to shine so after six decades of life.
Considering there is still a whiff of Platinum Jubilee brouhaha lingering in the air, royalists might find it interesting to note that the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall were served some 1962 Bin 60A by Penfolds chief winemaker Peter Gago (only the fourth chief winemaker to be appointed since Schubert’s time) when they visited Australia in 2012 as part of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
The 1962 Bin 60A is also the only New World wine to have been listed in Decanter’s 2004 Top 10 Greatest Wines of All Time while industry legend states that André Tchelistcheff, widely called the “Maestro” and hailed as the founding father of Californian wine, had once asked a room of startled Napa Valley vignerons to stand up in the presence of this wine. Sadly, only a handful of cases remain (remember, only 5,100 bottles have ever been made, minus what was drunk over the course of the evening) and serious, deep-pocketed collectors would already be hunting what little is left of them down.
Alternatively, for a more attainable wine that honours the Barossa-Bordeaux connection equally splendidly, seek out the 2018 Penfolds Bin 169, the winery’s first expression to be listed on the historic fine wine trading platform La Place de Bordeaux in September 2021.
AT A GLANCE
A quick look at the evening’s elements
The Palais de la Bourse, part of the Unesco World Heritage Listed site of Place de la Bourse, Bordeaux, France.
2008 Yattarna Chardonnay; 1990 Grange Shiraz; 1962 Bin 60A Coonawarra Cabernet Kalimna Shiraz; 2008 Bin 620 Coonawarra Cabernet Shiraz; 2004 Block 42 Kalimna Cabernet Sauvignon; 50 Year Old Rare Tawny; and 1962 Bin 414 Show Sauternes.
French lobster, carrots with forest honey and Calvi jelly; risotto verde with mushrooms and parmesan crisp; saddle of lamb with berlingot of peas and green asparagus; selection of 56-months aged Comté, matured mimolette and Tomme des Pyrénées cheeses with dried apricot, fig and quince paste; chocolate entremets, chocolate biscuit and white chocolate Chantilly cream; and passion fruit petit delice.
Arrangements, including roses, hydrangeas and peonies, in signature Penfolds red.
Pianist and guitarist Alexia Gredy, whose hit songs include Vertigo and Un peu plus souvent, from the album Hors saison; and Mon rêveur and Paradis from L’habitude².
This article first appeared on June 27, 2022 in The Edge Malaysia.