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
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,
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.