A Taste of the Penfolds Australian Wine Dinner at Steak 954

The theme of Steak 954’s 2015 wine dinner series is “iconic,” according to Beverage Director Maurice Roisman. And, iconic was surely a fitting description for the Australian wine dinner that took place Thurs., Oct. 22 at Stephen Starr’s posh oceanside eatery on Fort Lauderdale Beach.

“The idea is, there are some iconic wines, iconic grapes, iconic regions and iconic styles from wineries around the world we want to draw attention to,” Roisman shared as guests mingled with a welcome glass of Penfolds 2014 Bin 51 Eden Valley Riesling. The 171-year-old winery had a thoughtful presence at the private dinner party, which was attended by local foodies and oenophiles that were tempted—to say the least—at the chance to wine and dine at the helm of Chef Nicolay Adinaguev, who crafted an impeccable menu of items unique to the event. Along with a few refills of the dry and light Riesling (most popular in the Asian and English markets, and retailing for $40 per bottle) came a slew of seaside tastes, including a spoon of tender fluke crudo crusted with rock salt and a sinful dynamite scallop atop a crunchy crisp.

Once seated, the dozen guests were treated to different tidbits of Penfolds history. We learned of founder Dr. Christopher Rawson Penfold (and his wife Mary Penfold), who strongly believed in the medicinal purposes of fortified wine, which back in the 19th Century was known as the best form of medicine. Often, the good doctor prescribed vino as his treatment of choice, which majorly influenced the family decision to enter the business. As the popularity of port-style and sherry wines grew, Mary took care of the vineyards at the start, and eventually retired, leaving the Penfolds’ daughter, Georgina and her husband, Christopher Hyland, in charge of the operation through the 1970s.

Of course, the history lesson was that much richer accompanied by a duo of Shirazes (both retailing at around $30 per bottle), the 2012 Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz—a warm-climate wine made with American oak, and the 2012 Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz—a cool-climate pour made with 100 percent French oak and darker, dried-fruits. Salivary glands sparked to life when the first course, the applewood-smoked duck salad graced the table. Surprisingly, preferences changed when each Shiraz was paired with the fare, which was a mix of refreshing frisee, hints of pear, crunchy Marcona almonds and outstandingly delicate duck.

Our favorite sip of the night followed in the form of the 2011 RWT Barossa Valley Shiraz. The bottle of “Red Winemaking Trial” began as an experiment from four vines that joined forces to create this sophisticated pour, retailing for $150 per bottle, with its French oak and 16 months of age. One bite of the stunning wild boar and porcini ragout was pure bliss with the ripe pour. The gaminess of the boar and the earthy mushrooms were complemented by the depth of the RWT, which left a lingering impression.

Just when we thought Chef Adinaguev had outdone himself, along came a cacao-braised wagyu beef cheek with a brown butter butternut squash puree that completely trumped our wildest short rib dreams. The tender cut was melt-in-your-mouth perfection, which was only furthered with a few elongated swills of the $800 bottle of 2009 Grange, South Australia, the “iconic” wine from the Penfolds house, which took the dinner full-circle. Luckily, we were able to enjoy an extra pour from the Grange carafe, one of just over 2,000 bottles distributed to the US this year.

A sip of port to seal the deal, along with a spoonful of sweetness from poached baby pear, malted chocolate custard and almond toffee with vanilla bean sponge cake was a lighthearted way to end a serious tasting.

Image courtesy of Steak 954 Sous Chef Rashaad Abdool