Friday 16th July Becasse Restaurant, Sydney 6.30pm and its time again for our annual Rare and Vintage Wine Dinner. This time there are 3 vintages of Penfolds Grange spanning 3 decades of wine making 67, 77 and 83. Another high light is the 3 vintages of German Spatlese 59, 64, 69 showing 5 years of separation at the 40 – 50 years of age development. Not to forget the Magnum of 2001 Giaconda Chardonnay, the very rare 1971 Saltam special bin Claret and 1976 Lindemans Limestone Ridge show reserve cellar release, 1990 Dom Perignon and 1976 Christoffel Jr Auslese. All this expertly matched by the restaurant team at Becasse to a seven course degustation menu. Surely a very memorable night is about to be had by all those in attendance with perhaps a once in a life time opportunity to try some of these wines.
To kick things off the 1990 Charles Heidseick is first up, golden yellow in colour, yeasty almost vegemite nose that leads to a big in your face palate with layers of biscuit, citrus, lemon and yeast. Lovely creamy mouth feel with a fine bead just delicious. Matched to a Canapé of Lemon Goats Curd and Olive Brioche that was just sublime with this wine. The lemon notes in the Canapé emphasizing the lemon in the Heidseick with its acid cutting right through the goat’s curd. Wow what a way to start the evening and only a hint of the culinary genius to come that is Becasse and Justin North’s restaurant team.
Next up we move to the 1990 Dom Perignon, at first this wine was quite closed and not showing much at all. This wine was a very much the chameleon of the evening, constantly changing in the glass, opening up to reveal a delicate yet acidic profile of granny smith apple and pear with a touch of bread, lemon grass and some yeast. At first I pitched the Heidseick as my preferred wine of the champagnes however by the end of my glass the seductive nature of this wine had me in its grips nudging me to change my initial opinion and yet leaving me wishing I had the opportunity to enjoy another glass of this wine over another 30 minutes minimum. This is definitely a very special wine to be savoured over a period time and not with hast. The Chilled Mediterranean Consommé that was served with these wines was just bursting with flavour and lovely match to both these 20 year old champagnes.
Now the first of what will prove to be 3 very special Spatlese wines with amazing complexity often leaving me lost at how to describe exactly what it was I was smelling and tasting. 1969 Oppenheimer Krotenbrunnen Spatlese was first, pink gold and slight hints of amber in colour, lovely balance, tight and complex, smoke, toffee, honey, citrus notes with a dash of kero and more packed so tightly into a medium length palate that just defied description in some of its personality. Closely followed by the 1964 Baron Von Gilsa which while similar in colour to the 69 the nose shot from the glass with flowers and tropical fruits covered in honey, very fragrant, an amazing nose unlike anything I have encountered before. The tropical fruit characteristics followed onto the palate with caramel honey richness, marmalade, glace pineapple and amazing soft acidity that just kept it all in balance.
Then the 1959 Karl Straub with its deep gold yellow colour, oily and unctuous in the glass, another fragrant nose that to me had hints of subtle lavender, lemon, lychee and smoke. Buttery in the mouth, coating every corner, smoky, citrus and tropical. Very complex and that presence of glace pineapple that I found in the previous wine also sneaking into this wine. Perhaps on the cusp of decline although one or two others thought that it was perhaps already beginning to slide. Personally I thought it was absolutely beautiful and brimming with character. All three wines testament to the incredible age ability of German Riesling and white wines. All three boasting their own unique personality and yet not a sign of cork taint or oxidation in sight despite the condition of these very old corks. A rare and unique experience to say the least. I would be interested to see the notes and impressions of other people present on the evening as these wines were at times difficult to describe.
All three of these wines served with a Salad of Marinated Heirloom Vegetables which incredibly matched the characteristics of these ancient Riesling blend wines very very well. Matching these wines would have been no easy fete yet Becasse managed it with ease. Delicate and fresh with hints of lemon and the sweetness of the miniature vegetables was just great.
A quick breath and the 2001 Giaconda Chardonnay was in my glass, poured from Magnum, golden yellow in colour, smokey bacon, toast, cashew, peaches and herbs with medium buttery mouth feel. Well balanced and my first Giaconda Chardonnay this was a lovely wine showing clear development even in magnum format served with a Risotto of Confit King Prawn, Peas and Shell Fish Bisque, all I can say is “What a Dish” for me one of the dishes of the night almost ethereal with the Giaconda to wash it down, a perfect match in my opinion. Yum Yum Yum!
The whites have come and gone and what an intriguing and rare experience. All outstanding and bulging with personality I find it hard to pick a favourite or top wine of the whites. The Riesling blends taking our experience in aged German whites to a completely different level again. The champagnes both fantastic and the Giaconda testament to a truly great Australian chardonnay comparable to many of the world’s best.
Now for the Reds!
1986 John Riddoch the first to be poured, lovely aged Cabernet to me this is what good Aussie Cab is all about, mint, eucalypt, cedar, cigar box spiciness, sweet capsicum and some leafy greenness. Soft and well integrated with smooth slightly dusty tannins supporting the wine and indicating that this wine may still even improve for another 5 years yet. Medium bodied, great length, outstanding structure and just delicious. The Slow Cooked Vegetables and Smoking Cedar that was served at about this point were just great. The smoking cedar pulling extra notes of complexity and smokiness out of the wines. Interesting experience.
1976 Lindeman’s Limestone Ridge Show Reserve, for me, WOW! Deep Purple in colour. Soft black currant, Plums, blackberry, a touch of spearmint and lolly shop pastilles, incredible feel and long in the mouth. For me this was a standout wine showing no sign of decline and likely at its peak. Full bodied and Just divine. A very special experience indeed.
1971 Saltram, Bright Red colour, red fruits including cherry and a little nail polish or varnish on the nose. Another special wine with great complexity Cherry and red fruits in the mouth. Unfortunately my notes are a little sparse on this wine. The caramelised Suckling Pig and Braised Pork Tail was just sensational with these well aged Cabernet, Cab / Shiraz blends. A wonderful match that will leave long lived memories for me.
3 Decades of Grange Goodness.
1967 the first up, complex and seductive, red with hints of purple, not a block buster but very enjoyable and certainly not showing any signs of fading from this bottle. Classic old Grange, grand in proportions, Dark fruits, soft tannins, earthiness, some cinnamon and spice, soft round tannins and very long. This bottle was in fantastic condition. A most enjoyable experience and arguably wine of the night, WOTN.
1977 Good good good! Still dense purple, Classic Grange nose of sweet vanilla and the ripest of blackberry fruit with chocolate and tar. In the mouth the wine was full bodied, very masculine with layers of tannin still so powerful and outstanding structure. Very long, blackberry and raspberry fruit, vanilla, dark chocolate and surely with tannins like this it will yet be long lived. Amazingly youthful for a 33yr old wine. I believe this wine sits in the shadow of the great 76 but is certainly no short coming. Very good indeed.
Now the 1983, Look out! Amazing concentration and length, packed with blackberry liqueur, boysenberry, black currant, menthol, anise, chocolate, coffee, earthiness, briar patch, tar, round tannins and well balanced acid laying underneath in a supporting role. Just entering its drinking window this is an impeccable wine. A massive wine that lingers in the mouth for minutes. Great balance and sheer brooding power. A long, long life ahead of it and should continue to improve for another decade or two. A monster of a wine that was thoroughly enjoyed.
Just to keep these wines in balance Becasse served up the most amazingly tender Roast Milk Fed Veal with perfect vegetables that was just lovely with the 67 Grange. Another brilliant dish that makes me just want to come back to Becasse again and again.
Onto dessert and a wonderful interpretation of Apple Crumble with Cheese Cake Mousse, Rhubarb and Sorbet this topped off an amazing line up food that was expertly matched with every flight of wines or wine. At this point the notes are becoming sparse and the writing a little more messy, the wines have just been mesmerising and yet again not a corked or tainted bottle amongst the lot. Next up is the 1976 Christoffel Jr Auslese, the nose full of Kero and citrus, honey suckle and richness, these flavours followed onto the palate with amazing concentration and a brilliant acid back bone which left a fresh and clean mouth feel after the oily mouth coating sweet intensity of honey, citrus and kero. Concentrated and outrageously good this wine has many years ahead of it. The 1938 Leutesdorfer Auslese from Austria was next, Amber in colour with a touch of soft orange, caramel sweetness, acid and unfortunately only a glimmer of the fading memory that was once probably great fruit. Obviously past its best but certainly not dead and a great old curio to finish the line up.
There was also a 1963? McWilliams Muscat graciously bought along by Dave that was also poured at this point. Unfortunately no notes but from memory it was fresh and packed with Christmas cake and lovely rancio characteristics, concentrated and mouth coating.
At this point I have to make special mention to the fantastic service from all of the team at restaurant Becasse. Max our sommelier for the evening handled the wines with great care and obvious knowledge in the handling and pouring of aged wines. Just as excited about each wine as we were he took part in conversation with guests without intruding. To his credit he is surely a great asset to the team at Becasse and on behalf of everyone in attendance we wish to convey our thanks. The Kitchen team on the night delivered some of the most amazing dishes with clear fine cut accuracy, great attention to detail and every dish perfect in every aspect of flavour, texture and balance. Last but not least a special thank you to Victoria whose efforts in assisting with the evening behind the scenes was fantastic. I would have no hesitation in recommending Becasse to any would be Diner. A shining example of culinary excellence on the Sydney restaurant circuit.
To finish off a big thank you to all who joined us on this magical evening for the journey into some very rare and well aged wines with some excellent food. I believe an amazing experience was had by all on this occasion. Incredibly not a bad bottle in sight. I’m looking forward to the next one already.