David English has kindly allowed us to use his report and photos of the night.
It’s not every night that you get a chance to try two iconic wines on the same night for different reasons, one for what it is and the other for who it was made by.
Without a doubt the Woodleys Treasure Chest series of wines is part of Australian Wine Folklore, alongside the Peppermint Pattie (63 Mildara), 1962 Bin 60A, 1955 Wynns Michael, 65 Lindemans Bin 3110 to name a few. These wines now approaching 60 years old are extremely rare, most people would be lucky to see a bottle let alone taste and savour one.
Maurice O’Shea is probably only behind Max Schubert in terms of his influence on the Australian Wine scene. From humble beginnings in the Hunter Valley he produced some of the most amazing wines and created a legacy that lives on today. His blending skills and palate were stuff of legend with an almost eidetic olfactory sense.
Tonight would be about the 1955 Woodleys Treasure Chest ‘The Galatea’ and the 1956 Mt Pleasant Sauternes, sadly one of the last wines Maurice was involved in before his untimely death to cancer.
The setting was a Private Room at the Steel Bar & Restaurant in Sydney. The Chef and his team were tasked with providing a matching degustation menu to suit the wines, with final tweaks on the night after tasting some small samples of the wines. They did a brilliant job with the food, keeping it simple and interesting, great ingredients and preparation and presentation and an uncanny knack of getting the matches right. So Bravo to the team at Steel. http://www.steelbarandgrill.com/
As always many thanks to Shannon and Greg of RWD for the organisation, preparation of the night, the attention to detail and the meticulous planning and sourcing is a testament to the quality of these events. Also to all the other attendees for the banter and good conversations, which ranged from Tom Hanks movies, to Game of Thrones, to cycling, exercise, and of course lots of wine chat and education from more learned souls than myself.
1988 Gosset, Celebris, Champagne, France
– Ironically the Australian Tasting starts off with a French wine. This has a beautiful nose, which for me was right in the sweet spot when moving from primary to secondary characteristics a lovely lemon and brioche with hints of yeast and caramelisation. The acid on this was amazing, I shudder to think what it would have done to the enamel on my teeth had I had this on release. Lemon Curd on the palate with great length and zing, grapefruit, with a hint of spritz and a creamy finish throughout. Impeccable balance. Very good start to the night.
Sydney Rock Oyster, cucumber and trout roe
1973 Leo Buring, Reserve Bin DW C17, Special Show Reserve
– I’ve often lamented how long Australian Riesling takes to shine, finding them often one dimensional when young. Leaving one for about 40 years would be a good case in point, tongue in cheek, as this wine was travelling brilliantly. I was greeted with sugar coated almonds and jersey caramel, it immediately took me to the wines of the Rheinghau in the early 70’s. An ethereal sweetness and more sweet caramel, orange, mandarin and an enveloping muskiness bringing it all together. A persistent acidic backbone keeping it all in check, with some lemony characteristics coming through as it sat in the glass.
South Australian Hiramasa Kingfish, coconut, tamarind, pomegranate
1976 Orlando, Gold Ribbon Selected Late Picking, Rhine Riesling Auslese
– this was unfortunately oxidized so was replaced with
1994 Tyrrells Vat 47 Chardonnay, Hunter Valley – A more than capable replacement to the Orlando, this wine was singing! The White Burg fans would have been right at home with this one. Classic rich and creamy butter and oak notes made for a lovely nose. A rich vein tropical fruit underpinned by lemon zest and a complementary strong acid streak finishing off to a good length. Who said Australian Chardonnays can’t last for 20 years?
1965 Seppelt Great Western, Sparkling Burgundy 94A, Disgorged 1983, Great Western
– One of Australia’s quirky wines, the sparkling shiraz. Made famous under the auspices of legendary winemaker Colin Preece while at Seppelt, this wine continued his legacy. Rhubuarb and blackberry jam immediately assault the senses. It takes you back to the days of Brandied Xmas Cakes, this is a very rich and decadent wine. The earthy notes and structure giving it that extra interest with some secondary characteristics of varnish completing the picture. Dark stewed plums leading to a very persistent length which went on for minutes.
Seared Hervey Bay Scallops, squid ink, black garlic, cauliflower
1976 Mildara, Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra
– The nose on this almost sprung out of the glass as if it couldn’t wait to be unleashed after spending close to 40 years in the bottle. Blind, I would have said cool climate shiraz, with lots of dark cherry, cassis and spices. As it settled down the more traditional characteristics started coming to the fore, plums, chocolate, eucalypt, menthol all interwoven with a lip smacking jubey undertone. Very good length, this is classic Mildara, the middle of the road wine made to punch above its weight given the chance with careful cellaring. Given I’ll probably never get to try the famed 63 Mildara Peppermint Patty, this is a pretty good compromise.
1978 Chateau Tahbilk, Bin 65, Cabernet Sauvignon, Goulburn Valley
– Another middle of the road winery that punches above its weight in terms of aging potential. This was textbook old Cab Sav with plums and blackberry on the nose, with enough structure remaining to keep it in balance, the tannin profile was surprising and made it all the more enjoyable. Some nice spices and raspberry coming through as it sat in the glass. This old girl still has some life in it.
1955 Woodley’s, The Galatea, Treasure Chest Claret, Coonawarra
– It was with a mixture of trepidation and excitement that I lifted and swirled the glass bringing it to my nose. Would it be tired? Would I need to be diplomatic about it? Then I just stopped, all other thoughts gone, as the most sweet and lovely fruit aroma wafted up, a purity of fruit that had me searching for superlatives. Blackberry, blackcurrant, rich chocolate and a touch of coffee bean all intertwined to create a multi-layered depth of aroma. This multi-layered nose moved to the palate to create a similar depth of flavour and complexity. To break it down into fruit descriptor components seems almost churlish in the context of a 60 year old red wine. There was a certain warmth to the wine as you rolled it around in your mouth, almost comforting. Such an amazing sense of youthfulness from its nose and palate, you could tell it was old but it was wearing it’s age so, so very well. It’s structure was just right and had great persistence. An absolute privilege to drink and something I’ll remember for a very long time.
1959 Rhinecastle, Bin 120 Burgundy, Barossa Valley
– Bit younger than the Woodleys at a spritely 54 years this was essentially a cleanskin style wine harking back to the 50’s. It opened up all poo-ey and quite, dare I say, feral. Once I got around that there was a distinct portiness and some choc mint biscuit. Which had me thinking about how sometimes they would ‘fortify’ their wines with a bit of spirit to give them a bit more body and depth on the cheaper wines. The deep consistent colour also made me think of this as well, not to mention the nice length and bit of heat it had. This actually garnered quite a bit of discussion as some people liked it and others couldn’t escape the somewhat offensive smell of it, personally I didn’t mind it.
1973 Tyrrell’s, Vat 55, Hunter River Dry Red, Polkobin
– Another classic Aussie with the Tyrrells Dry Red, this was showing remarkably well, with some tips of the hat to the classic Hunter characteristics of earthy, smokey and gamey balanced out with some dark cherry, marzipan, cherry cola although first impressions left me with a hit of asparagus which seemed to recede as it was worked in the glass. Still exhibiting some nice knockabout tannins which only enhanced the wine. This is a very nicely put together wine which is still showing very well.
Grilled Oberon pine mushrooms, Jerusalem Artichoke, confit egg yolk, truffle – the confit egg was sublime on the mushroom.
1977 Penfold’s, St Henri Claret, South Australia
– First of the Baby Granges, which for my money even today is the best bang for buck of the Penfolds premium range. This opened with a bit of iodine on the nose, with plums and blackcurrant, it certainly wasn’t as out there as the 78. A little bit more reserved and austere, although it did start to come around as it warmed up a little and there was some residual sweetness of the fruit starting to move to the fore. Still all things considered a nicely balanced wine.
1978 Penfold’s, St Henri Claret, South Australia
– This was a bit shy on the nose initially, as it opened up there was a definite increase in the depth and power of the fruit, overshadowing it’s older sibling. Tannins featuring strongly again, balanced out by some lovely dark cherry which had a real richness about it. My only quibble was the touch of heat, but make no mistake about it this was a very, very good wine with a real sense of completeness about it.
Slow Cooked Millyhill Lamb Shoulder, eggplant, pumpkin, yoghurt – This was a big hit on the night, one of those simple winter night slow cooked masterpieces which adhere to the KISS doctrines.
1990 Wendouree, Shiraz Magnum, Clare Valley
– Wendouree is a funny wine, it stirs up a lot of debate amongst the wine cognoscenti over its style, with its old school leanings and scarcity only adding to the allure. So straight up, I’m a big fan of it and was chomping at the proverbial bit to try some of this long living wine from a magnum no less. On the first swirl and sniff and I found myself in a very familiar place and settled back to enjoy it, a very spicy white pepper nose had greeted me backed up by lovely dark fruits. With the requisite sour cherry and tartness I love so much. The tannins still rule here, dusty and dry making you reach for more food which brings it all together, luckily in our case some superb Kobe Wagyu 9+. It is definitely a dinner wine otherwise you’ll be wondering why your tongue is stuck to the roof of your mouth, almost Baroloic in nature (did I just invent a new word?). I reckon this will be singing just in time for my retirement in 25 years, Tony Abbott’s plans notwithstanding.
Master Kobe Wagyu BMS 9+ Oyster Blade, beetroot and chocolate- the chocolate was a bit strange, but the Wagyu more than made up for it.
1976 Brown Brothers, Milawa Noble Riesling, Milawa
– Brown Brothers to my mind made some seriously good gear in the old days, stuff that was probably marketed to be consumed fairly quickly but was made to last much, much longer than that. I’ve had numerous examples of their old Rhine Rieslings, and Dessert style wines which have amazed me with their longevity. This displayed an attractive caramel and burnt toffee nose with a real freshness about it. Some tarted orange and marmalade counterbalanced by a nice hit of acid. Admittedly this was probably at the premium end of the range even in 1976 it still would give Noble One a run for its money any day.
Milawa Blue Cheese mousse, Witloaf, sour cherry – another very popular dish, it was essentially cheese and crackers, done in a totally unique way which worked really well.
1956 McWilliams, Mount Pleasant, Maurice O’Shea, Sauternes, Hunter Valley
– To sample an O’Shea wine is probably on every wine lovers bucket list. With his wines now at least 60 years of age the opportunity is becoming more and more rare. As noted in the Wine Hunter by Campbell Mattinson “Maurice O’Shea made some of the best wines in Australia – and sometimes in the world. But they seldom got a mention at the wine shows. Generally the quantities he made were too small to qualify for the shows. But that never worried him. So long as he was free to go ahead and make good wine – wine that he knew was good – they could keep all the prizes and medals and gew-gaws.” Meant typically there wasn’t really much to go around even from the get go making the opportunity to sample them exceedingly harder. So to have the opportunity was very special.
Straight up I’ll say the wine was slightly tainted, as disappointing as that is. The fruit was still quite powerful and was almost overpowering the taint, but it was always there hovering in the background. It had lovely rich aromas of orange marmalade and caramel. A smooth entry and softness in the mouth, which only softened further as you worked it around. You could almost compartmentalize the flavours and pull out the bits you liked and concentrate on them such was the depth of flavour. A wonderfully long lived wine, here’s to you Maurice. Not sure how McWilliams will react if the approach is made for a replacement bottle 🙂
Lindeman’s, Raisin Liqueur Muscat, Very Old Liqueur
– This is a bit of an oddity, a NV Liquer Muscat which was in Imperial sizes so pre-dating 1973. The nose is classic PX with gobs of raisins (well derr), very rich and decadent, one to be supped sparingly as you wind the night down. Unctuous and like drinking liquefied raisins made it quite hard work to drink, the ginger beer sorbet accompanying it was a masterstroke with it providing the necessary counterpoint. This stayed in your mouth for tens of minutes, leading you to go back ‘for one more sip’ before heading out in the cold and wet Sydney night – a contemplative drink for sharing with good friends in moderation.
Coconut, Pineapple, Passionfruit, Ginger Beer Sorbet, spiced crumble- really well done, and matched the wines perfectly.
Bottles pics were a bit rushed at the end of the night