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The Classic Wines of Australia at Pinot Brasserie, Las Vegas, Nevada, tasted on October 22, 2004 — Wine is a funny thing. Once you really start to taste it, and I mean smell it, savor it, and recognize that it can taste wildly different at (at least) three distinct points in your mouth, you will one day remember that all these various flavors and aromas all come from grapes. Just grapes. All the more reason to admit that I'm embarrassed about my general lack of breadth and depth when it comes to wine. It's not that you need to be super educated. After all, I began to enjoy wine by just tasting them and writing down which ones I enjoyed. I didn't understand the difference between the varietals. I didn't understand how much difference various vintages would make. But it didn't matter, I just found wine I really liked. Even though Alex has been a good tutor on the topic of wine, and Eric has provided me with CellarTracker - great software to manage my collection, it's Jon Rimmerman and his crew at Garagiste that I've come to depend on most. Basically, through dedication and passion Jon has built a business by passing on recommendations and offers for some of the worlds best undiscovered artisanal wines to his mailing list. And if you hadn't surmised, Jon travels the world finding these producers himself. He is a passionate advocate for these small winemakers. He is eloquent in his descriptions of the wine. And he passes on these wines that are almost always below what you would pay after the  mainstream finds out about them. Frankly, I've had doubts about whether to publicize them because the selfish side of me doesn't want the competition for the best wine Jon finds. The truth of course is that Garagiste's loyal following grows consistently because of their high standards and consistency. Once in awhile Garagiste hosts special wine dinners. Sometimes they are previews of a new vintage from a particular region, and sometimes they host a wine featuring a special collection of famous and spectacular wines from decades past. This was one of the latter featuring the "Classic Wines of Australia" at the Pinot Brasserie in Las Vegas.

You may be surprised that Australia has classic wines. I'm no expert but I'll share with you what little I know. Wine has been made for decades in Australia. And its isolation means that some of the older vines survived the phylloxera epidemic of the late 1800's that destroyed huge numbers of vines in Europe and North America. These were vines that were brought from France and other locations to start a winemaking industry in Australia. Additionally, even though Australia's wine has become very popular over the last decade or two in North America, the wine being made there in previous decades was of a much more traditional style - not the Shiraz-based high alcohol fruit bombs that are in many ways the iconic representation of popular wine from Australia today (which by the way, I happen to enjoy). What follows below is a description of this dinner and the many many wines that we were fortunate enough to taste. Again, since my wine knowledge and appreciation are both shallow, and also because of my low tolerance for alcohol, my descriptions are more anemic than I'd like (especially towards the later part of the meal). That said, hopefully they will give you a sense of this great experience I was lucky enough to enjoy.

Dinner started with Chestnut Celery Root Soup, Smoked Trout Rillettes and Caviar. It had a beautiful aroma (chickeny savory), almost a veloute (which was warm). The fish had a very pure trout flavor (which was cold). The contrasting temperatures were great. I thought the caviar was mild... too mild for me. (Walter and Leslie disagreed on the caviar being too mild.)

Our first wine was 1992 Leo Buring Watervale Leonay Riesling. Hint of sauternes quality on the nose. Bright but monotonal flavor. That was followed by the 1981 Leeuwin Estate Artist Series Chardonnay. It had an aroma of slightly burnt toast and ocean/nori. It was also nutty. The wine had a light body with medium to large fruit and the pepper on the finish showed up on the sides of my tongue.

Next up was Seared Foie Gras, Petit Apricot French Toast, and Orange Vanilla Butter and Micro Greens. The french toast combined golden crispiness with toasty/buttery perfection. There was also a little sour apricot sunshine in the center. This was accompanied by a cherry-like fig. The foie gras had a great thick seared 'skin' and its center coated the tongue with extra 'butter'. This was accompanied by a 1991 Mount Mary Lilydale Chardonnay. The aroma was thick and sweet with some sherry on the nose and in the finish. The smell and the flavor were identical. It's odd to me why this is such a rare occurrence.

Then we tried the 1976 Penfold's Koonunga Hill Shiraz Cabernet. A deep aroma with lots of alcohol. Additional alcohol and raisins on the tongue. I particularly enjoyed the 1977 Yarra Yering Dry Red #2. Prune on the nose. Raspberry/blackberry on the tongue. Very nice acidity. Amazing fruit for a 27 year old wine.

The next dish was Crispy Seared Pancetta Wrapped Halibut with 'Clam Chowder' Sauce. The halibut was a subtler dish. It may have been a victim of all the red wine we drank, but it felt like it didn't have enough flavor. Though, after the wine taste settled, the broth was creamy, sweet, super light, and delicious.

After the halibut we tried the 1982 Jasper Hill Georgia's Paddock. The Jasper Hill had a round aroma. The flavor was a little light in the center but had warm and round flavor around the edges. This was followed by the Baby Lamb Rack, Miniature Provencal Vegetables, with Panisse and Black Olive Lamb Jus. The lamb was dressed with olive oil, and was a slice of tangy/savory goodness. My lamb came a touch cold. That was a bummer, but not as much as the croquette which (according to Walter and Leslie) had a rancid whole wheat flavor. Yucky.

Then we had the 1984 Mount Mary Quintet.  This wine had nice acidity and decent fruit. After that was the 1989 Mount Langi Ghiran, Langi Shiraz. This wine had nice tannins and also some decent fruit, but there was a touch of alcohol on the finish. Things really started to get going with the 1980 Penfolds Coonawara Cabernet Kalimna Shiraz Bin 80A. We started off with a brilliant ruby color and a chocolate aroma. On tasting there was spice and pepper at first and light fruit ont he finish which went on and on and on!

After those three wines we were served the Pan Roasted Duck Breast served over Duck Confit Ravioli, Poached Figs, and Foie Gras Sauce. The duck had great flavor, especially the crust which had an excellent salty quality.  The meat was a bit too chewy however. Figs aren't typically my thing (at least in this incarnation.) The ravioli was good and the confit flavor was deep.

To complement the duck we tried the 1990 Brokenwood Graveyard Shiraz. Some molasses on the nose and the sweetness in the taste mirrored the nose. This was followed by the Cured Pork Shank with a Ragoût of French Lentils and Brunoise Vegetables. When the dish arrived we were greeted by a gorgeous bacony and lentily smell. The dish had really warm and balanced flavors. That said, there was a little too much fat for my taste and the roasted garlic was somewhat bitter. Next up was a 1988 Virgin Hills Cabernet. It had a tiny lemon aroma at its core with light fruit and fine tannins.

Perhaps the two most exciting wines of the evening were the next two. First was the 1966 Penfold's Grange Hermitage Bin 95. The Grange had a brownish color, with sherry, dark leather, and tobacco flavors. Second was the 1966 McWilliams Mount Pleasant. A leather aroma on the McWilliams as well and it had an almost neon color. The flavor was sherry-like to me. These two wines were very impressive and just had a round almost syrupy aged flavor that really was special.

We were still hungry of course, so the kitchen sent out Braised Prime Short Ribs, Chanterelles, and Israeli Couscous. These were super soft and couscous is always yummy. As was the Brie de Meaux, Walnut Raisin Bread and Apricot Pecan Compote. The combination of its deliciousness and my drunken stupor means that all I captured in the picture were the few remnants of the compote left when I finally remembered to photograph the dish. Oops!

A few more wines before dessert: 1986 Wendouree Shiraz Estate. Hard to taste the flavor as it was mostly minerals on the tongue. 1990 Yarra Yering Dry Red #1. Quite enjoyable with nice fruit, light tannins, and clean flavors. 1994 Plantagenet Mount Baker Cabernet Sauvignon. This had a sherry aroma with a dark flavor that had a touch of fire on the finish. 1996 Houghton Jack Mann Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz. Nice tannins, but no blueberries on the tongue.  And finally the 1994 Bannockburn Geelong Pinot Noir Estate. I honestly don't remember this one. The wine was really affecting me by now. But not enough to ignore dessert - Chocolate Soufflé with Vanilla Ice Cream and Strawberry. Light, puffy, and a tiny hint of cinnamon. Nice. 

This was a really enjoyable evening. The meal was good in a Vegas way. The wine and expert annotation from Jon Rimmerman was really over the pale. Often I wondered whether I really had the depth to truly appreciate the wines we were getting to taste. But in the end I was just glad I had the experience.











Tastingmenu is focused on superlative restaurant experiences from two perspectives: behind the plate and behind the stove. Tastingmenu is written by Hillel (professional eater) and Dana (up-and-coming professional chef) in Seattle, Washington.

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  Garlic has long been credited with providing and prolonging physical strength and was fed to Egyptian slaves building the giant pyramids. Throughout the centuries, its medicinal claims have included cures for toothaches, consumption, open wounds and evil demons. A member of the lily family, garlic is a cousin to leeks, chives, onions and shallots. The edible bulb or "head" grows beneath the ground. This bulb is made up of sections called cloves, each encased in its own parchmentlike membrane. Today's major garlic suppliers include the United States (mainly California, Texas and Louisiana), France, Spain, Italy and Mexico. There are three major types of garlic available in the United States: the white-skinned, strongly flavored American garlic; the Mexican and Italian garlic, both of which have mauve-colored skins and a somewhat milder flavor; and the Paul Bunyanesque, white-skinned elephant garlic (which is not a true garlic, but a relative of the leek), the most mildly flavored of the three. Depending on the variety, cloves of American, Mexican and Italian garlic can range from 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches in length. Elephant garlic (grown mainly in California) has bulbs the size of a small grapefruit, with huge cloves averaging 1 ounce each. It can be purchased through mail order and in some gourmet markets. Green garlic, available occasionally in specialty produce markets, is young garlic before it begins to form cloves. It resembles a baby leek, with a long green top and white bulb, sometimes tinged with pink. The flavor of a baby plant is much softer than that of mature garlic. Fresh garlic is available year-round. Purchase firm, plump bulbs with dry skins. Avoid heads with soft or shriveled cloves, and those stored in the refrigerated section of the produce department. Store fresh garlic in an open container (away from other foods) in a cool, dark place. Properly stored, unbroken bulbs can be kept up to 8 weeks, though they will begin to dry out toward the end of that time. Once broken from the bulb, individual cloves will keep from 3 to 10 days. Garlic is usually peeled before use in recipes. Among the exceptions are roasted garlic bulbs and the famous dish, "chicken with 40 cloves of garlic," in which unpeeled garlic cloves are baked with chicken in a broth until they become sweet and butter-soft. Crushing, chopping, pressing or pureeing garlic releases more of its essential oils and provides a sharper, more assertive flavor than slicing or leaving it whole. Garlic is readily available in forms other than fresh. Dehydrated garlic flakes (sometimes referred to as instant garlic) are slices or bits of garlic that must be reconstituted before using (unless added to a liquid-based dish, such as soup or stew). When dehydrated garlic flakes are ground, the result is garlic powder. Garlic salt is garlic powder blended with salt and a moisture-absorbing agent. Garlic extract and garlic juice are derived from pressed garlic cloves. Though all of these products are convenient, they're a poor flavor substitute for the less expensive, readily available and easy-to-store fresh garlic. One unfortunate side effect of garlic is that, because its essential oils permeate the lung tissue, it remains with the body long after it's been consumed, affecting breath and even skin odor. Chewing chlorophyll tablets or fresh parsley is helpful but, unfortunately, modern-day science has yet to find the perfect antidote for residual garlic odor.  

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