“Penfold’s Grange is generally recognized as Australia’s finest red wine…” or at least that’s what the label on the ’83 says. Is smugness forgivable if it is actually based in reality? In a world divided into people who love big extracted hedonistic wines and those that love terroir-driven complexity few people who have tried Grange would disagree that this is a great wine.
The Wine Workshop had a tasting of sixteen vintages of Grange at Public Wednesday night and Bear and I went. Now in theory this should be horrible for me: Grange is one of the examples the boring mass-produced wines of the world are poorly emulating, and Public is a restaurant born of a design team with a chef as an afterthought. In reality, Grange is a great wine well worth emulation and, whether or not he was designed into the place Chef Brad Farmerie is turning out some very tasty and creative food at Public.
Grange is Bear’s favorite wine and time and again he has proven to me that, at least in the ’76 and ’86 vintages, it is undeniably fantastic juice; Public, as well as being a favorite brunch stop (get the yogurt eggs, and a bloody Caesar), knocked my socks off at a StarChefs Event at which Brad served Kangaroo on falafel. The draw of these two things combined was overwhelming, so down we sat in the private space, surrounded by bottles of wine, with about eighteen other hedonists.
Cured wild boar, Woodside Edith goat’s cheese, Australian salt cured olives, and caper berries
Vintages: 1998, 1997, 1996, 1995 the cure on the boar was noticeably sweet before the wine, but turned more savory, tasting of herbs and juniper after. The cheese was simple, soft, fatty, and mild as far as goat’s milk cheeses go. The olives were meaty and the caper berries were salty and bright. Together these were well chosen flavors for these younger, bolder wines. When doing a vertical of wine it is not always the greatest wine that is the favorite, often it is just the one that shows as unique, which in some cases may be symptomatic of flaws or simply born of a lack of balance. There is also the fact that sometimes one bottle is just better or worse than its siblings. The ’96 was my favorite of this flight. While the ’98 showed chocolate, curry, and cinnamon; the ’97 kirsch, nori and herbs; the ’95 tart raspberries and toro with a decidedly linear acidity, in addition to that great crushed blackberries on leather and tobacco flavor of great Aussie Shiraz; the ’96 showed clove, charcoal and soy, with more definite tannic structure setting it apart.
Grilled Australian lamb fillets on coriander falafel, green pepper relish and lemon tahini sauce
Vintages: 1994, 1992, 1990 apparently lamb pinch-hits for kangaroo in this dish in the off-season. Except for this substitution this was the same dish I had fallen in love with at the StarChefs event and was just as good with its big, bold, assertive flavors, standing toe to toe with this big bold assertive wine. The relish was sweet and sour with notes of curry, the falafel crunch green and light and permeated with the fresh soapy flavors of coriander. The tahini was bright and smooth and the lamb was tender and juicy. In this flight, the ’92 was most pleasing, with cinnamon and fish protein notes. It was so heady it could have been vodka. The 90’s uniqueness was in its steak-juice bloodiness and ’94 showed more eucalyptus (pretty normal for grange) than any of the rest.
Mini duck burgers on miso buns with licorice pickled onions and cassava chips.
Vintages: 1988, 1986, 1983 the little slider was juicy, rare and suffused with cinnamon. The buns were nicely sweet, the licorice onions were interesting, and the cassava chips were so light and flaky you could taste the oil they were cooked in. I found the cinnamon overpowering and the catsup too sweet for the dish but not for the wine. The ’86 was showing mushrooms and minerals while the ’88 had an interesting funk of a rabbit hutch as opposed to a barnyard but the lavender notes and sweet tannins of the ’83 made it stand out of this group. On the whole I found this flight to be at an awkward phase where the balance was off in the direction of alcohol.
Vintages: 1982, 1981, 1980 seriously perfect pairings of gamey/earthy, salty/tangy, rich/ light, herbaceous/sanguine, spicy/bright there were flavors all across the spectrum, each pulling something from the wines. The ’82 was my vote for wine of the night: deeply rooted to the ground with notes of barnyard, cherries, celery, red apples and mushrooms, with crazy juicy fruit and sweet tannins on the palate. The ’80 showed mushrooms and anchovies and, sadly, the ’81 was bad, not corked but tainted by pervasive mold (I assume from the cask).
Vintages: 1977, 1976, 1971 Cheeses that ranged in degrees of salt and richness within the world of cheddar flavors. I believe the fruit was kumquat, and the oatcakes were wonderfully soft. The ’77 showed forest notes from mushrooms to detritus as well as river bank notes, the ’76 was gorgeous sweet black tea, cassis and oozy black fruit, but the ’71 was the one drinking best in this group (big cherry notes, perfectly integrated wood, kirsch, and cassis).
With the exception of the ’81, all these bottles were perfect and the food was remarkable. It is hard to imagine a better wine dinner – we got to compare great wine after great wine all teamed with food clearly made by a person familiar with the wines and their capabilities. As good as great wine and food are alone, properly paired they are each better. It’s surprising more people aren’t paying as much attention to understanding this as Chef Farmerie and the Wine Workshop obviously are.