January 18, 2019

The best of Penfolds

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Tonight I was lucky enough to be invited to a dinner hosted by Sotheby's just ahead of their wine auction tomorrow.  Part of the auction includes a consignment of wines made by Penfolds, including many old vintages and even rarer bottlings.  The consignor had very kindly offered up some of his collection to Sotheby's for a very special dinner tonight.  The Specialist knows I am a fan of Aussie wines, and asked me to bring along a date.  I knew that among my wino friends, the one person who probably would enjoy this most would be the Film Buff - who was, of course, only too happy to tag along.

We also had the privilege of having Peter Gago with us.  He is, of course, the current Chief Winemaker at Penfolds - and the fourth person to occupy that position.  Apparently he took time out from his holiday to join us for the event, as a favor to the consignor.  It certainly made a huge difference for me, listening to him discuss the history behind some of these wines.

The dinner tonight was catered by AMMO - a restaurant nearby which I have not had the pleasure of dining in.

2006 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs - nice and toasty nose, lovely, with flinty, mineral, and lemon notes.  Nice and ripe on the palate with some acidity upfront.

Maine lobster with shiso cress and yuzu vinaigrette - this was fine.  The "salsa" on the side featured diced apple and lobster, and there was some shellfish oil which delivered lots of umami.

2010 Penfolds Yattarna - initially the nose was a little weird, but pretty flinty and mineral, kinda toasty.  A little flatter on the palate than expected, with low acidity.  Soft and gentle.  Preferred this over the 2012.

2012 Penfolds Yattarna - more acidity, leaner, more length.  Toastier on the nose.  Worked better with food.

The word 'yattarna' in the Aboriginal language roughly translates to 'gradually, little by little'... and it's been labeled as Bin 144 - meaning that it was finally released after 144 trials before the winemakers felt they got the wine right.  I bought a few bottles more than a decade ago, and fell in love with it when I popped open the first bottle back in 2010.  It's probably my favorite Australian chardonnay, and I was glad to taste these younger vintages tonight.

Truffle and mushroom risotto with Parmigiano and hazelnuts - this was never gonna be any good.  The risotto clearly wasn't cooked at the on-premise pantry, so it was always going to come out soggy.

1990 Penfolds Bin 389 - coconut butter, vanilla, minty, smoky, grilled meats.  Beautiful!  Incredibly there was still a hint of tannins, but otherwise found some acidity on the palate.  Incredibly classic and straightforward - arguably the least "Aussie" wine of the evening.

1996 Penfolds Bin 389 - more stewed fruit, more exotic spices, definitely more 'sexy'... but perhaps 'alluring' is a more suitable description.  It really was something.

I had always heard this wine being called "baby Grange" but never took it seriously, as it was readily available at a very pedestrian price at many neighborhood stores - including supermarkets - when I first started drinking wine 2 decades ago.  I'd always regarded it as a quaffing wine, and would never dream of cellaring any.  I was really flabbergasted at how well these wines have aged.

1996 Penfolds St. Henri - plastic notes upfront, really exotic nose with potpourri and herbs.  Very rounded and elegant.

2004 Penfolds St. Henri - minty, some potpourri, with some ripe fruit, but more closed and not showing much.

Interesting to find out that this wine - first made in the 1890s, long before the property was acquired by Penfolds - doesn't see any new oak at all... as the oak vats they are matured in are at least 50 years old.  I've known for a long time from Aussie friends that this wine has a certain reputation, although I myself never found it to be special.  I now have a newfound respect for it after this evening.

Braised pork collar with fennel puree - basically, what we have on the plate were two large pieces of char siu (叉燒)... Not quite 豬頸肉 perhaps close to 脢頭肉, and very tender. The marinade was definitely on the sweet side.  Some romanesco broccoli on the side.

1996 Penfolds Bin 707 - very smoky, toasty, peppery, pencil lead.  A bit leaner than expected.  About 2 hours later showed green capsicum notes.

1998 Penfolds Bin 707 - big, smoky nose.  Riper, with lots of pencil lead.  More concentration here compared to 1996.

I have always enjoyed this wine - the best cab from Penfolds. A friend in Tokyo actually generously shared a bottle of the 1996 with me last month, and I was pretty surprised at the current market price of that vintage... as I'm still stuck in the age where 707s cost around USD 100...  Film Buff and I were completely floored when Peter Gago told us that the retail price of the current vintage now lists for AUD 600.  Even taking the 29% Wine Equalisation Tax into account, that's still a big jump from where it used to be.

French duck breast with potato dauphinoise and caramelized figs - the duck breast was fine, although I seemed to have some trouble cutting the skin with the Laguiole knife I was given...

1991 Penfolds Grange - still too young, alcoholic, almost like paint thinner, with some forest notes.

2004 Penfolds Grange - nose really not open as this was much too young.  Eucalyptus notes with some pencil lead, along with some cool fruit.  Very alcoholic.

I have been telling a lot of my friends that one cannot begin to enjoy a bottle of Grange until it is at least 20 years old. In fact I was enjoying bottles from the early eighties during the early noughties. My current go-to vintage for Grange is 1981, which is drinking fantastically well.  The two vintages we tasted tonight were, incredibly, still too young.  Which is amazing given that the 1991 is almost three decades old!

Apricot and walnut crumble with vanilla sauce - pretty decent.

Penfolds Grandfather Rare Tawny - obviously a little sharp and alcoholic on the nose, with a nice touch of nuttiness.  Very nice.  The average age of wines in this solera system is about 25 years old.

This was such an educational evening!  Many thanks to Sotheby's for the opportunity to taste these wines, and of course I must express my gratitude to the consignor for generously offering the bottles in the first place.  Let's hope that I'm successful in bidding for some of the wines in tomorrow's auction.

But... the night is still young! A few days ago I had been invited to join a party thrown by a few Latin chefs in town - namely Goldfinger and Ricardo, as Virgilio Martinez is in town with his wife Pia León for an event.  I told the guys that I would be late and show up a little drunk, and I was certainly buzzed when I arrived at KI Cubus...

There was a huge spread of food put on by the chefs, but I was simply too full to enjoy much of it.  I ended up nibbling on a couple of empanadas - there were two different types, and I preferred the ones with black beans.

But the best thing at the party?  The alfajores, and that 4kg tub of dulce de leche next to it.  The Great One was handing out alfajores to people after spread more dulce de leche on top of them, but I decided that the only way to go was just to take a spoon to the tub and just lick it off the spoon...

While most people were busy sipping on Champagne provided by our hosts, I chose to bring some bongwater to share with a few people.

2011 Jean-Michel Stephan Côte-Rôtie Vieille Vigne en Coteaux - pretty pungent nose, reductive, animal, leather, potpourri, and highly aromatic.  From vines planted in 1896 and 1902.

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