September 18, 2012

Penfolds Single Bottle Dinner with winemaker Peter Gago

You may recall the tale of my first taste of Penfolds Grange [read 'I can see my house from here!'].  The 1995 Grange will forever hold a place on my top10 list of memorable wine moments.  Yet in my continuous quest for vinous fascination, I strive to surpass each of these occasions with the next opportunity.  Though I’ll level with you, the ante is awfully high and the expectation even more so. 

Enter opportunity extraordinaire…

I was immersed in four lanes of traffic when an email from WineAlign advertising a Penfolds Single Bottle Dinner flashed across my iPhone screen.  You’d be amazed (or appalled) at how fast I was able to traverse the other three lanes and stop on the shoulder to read said message.  Some things just cannot wait!  I am also well aware of the time frame in which these events sell out.

Join WineAlign and legendary winemaker Peter Gago on Sept 17th‘ the message said, ‘for an exclusive opportunity to share a bottle from your collection together with the wine that your fellow collectors bring.  The wines will be served during the course of the evening with a specially prepared meal.’ 

I've watched video footage of the same event held in other cities, but to now have the famous winemaker here in Toronto  sign me up!

The Penfolds dinner was held at the House of Moments in Toronto, a Asian themed restaurant/lounge/art gallery.  I’ll admit to a certain degree of concern over the thought of pairing luxury wine with 'eastern fusion cuisine', but the chef, I understand, modified the menu to reflect a more mainstream and wine friendly style of food than the establishment normally boasts.   
I won’t drown you with multiple tasting notes attempting to differentiate the minute degree of greatness that might separate one wine from the next over the course of this evening.  That, in my opinion will only detract from the imagination needed to comprehend the magnitude of this event.  Instead, I’ll simply outline a few of the more captivating labels to fill my cup. 

You’ll need to imagine six tables, each with seating for 10 guests in a dimly lit room filled with traditional Asian artifacts and colourful paintings on the surrounding walls. Modern lighting accents the Asian décor in what was once an old factory of some description.  Admittance to the event involves handing over your prized bottle - in my case a 1998 Grange.  That bottle along with the other donations are labelled with the guest’s name and designated table.  You will rendezvous with your wine alongside that of the others seated at your table once the dinner begins.  

On arrival, Jacquie and I meet Peter Gago on the street as we both park our vehicles.  Peter is to Penfolds as Phil Collins is to Genesis; he may not be the original front man, but his individuality, obvious passion and quest for perfection have taken this subject to the next level – the highest possible.  Peter is animated, courteous, and seemingly down to earth; he is also a beehive of activity who manages to co-ordinate his team and wines back home in Australia while jet setting around the world to host dinners and re-corking sessions for what is undoubtedly the greatest expression of Shiraz on the planet. 

Outside the restaurant, Peter introduces himself and kindly compliments the bottle we have in tow.  He highlights that each bottle will be double decanted (poured out, bottle rinsed, and re-poured back into the original flask before serving).  I am relieved -- and to think that in my cellar the night before I silently questioned the degree of care the staff would take when presenting these wines… I kept that thought to myself.  Who better to serve my Grange than the man who nurtured these grapes to perfection?  I was humbled.   

Dinner began with a lobster appetizer paired with the 2009 Yattarna Chardonnay, a wine that in terms of popularity and recognition here in Ontario slides just under the radar.  This is Penfolds top white label and they proudly place it alongside Grange as the second of their two ‘Iconic wines’.  The lobster and the delicate balance between oak and citrus freshness of the Yatterna could not have tasted any better together. 

As we enjoyed our first course, the now ready to drink donated bottles were placed on our table.  We marvelled at the selection amongst our group alone:  1982 and 1998 Grange, ’94 and ’98 Bin 707, plus an ’03 RWT.  If that was not overwhelming enough, just as our lamb entrées arrived, a glass of ’72 Grange was placed before me by a friend seated at the adjacent table.  During Peter’s introduction, WineAlign’s own David Lawrason highlighted that one of the tables had a 50 year-old bottle for sample.  I somehow scored a sample of that one too - somebody pinch me! 

In terms of my ability to recall and prioritize aroma and taste sensations relating to the tidal wave of fine wine to stain my palate this evening, it was the ’72 Grange that would impart the greatest wow factor.  The colour of this wine falls appropriately into the brick hue spectrum that one would expect for the age; aromas of cedar and leather abound, but there is still a great deal of fruit and spice character that were obviously so prevalent in its youth.  I would have guessed this wine to be much younger than it is.  With age, a sourness eventually develops in the taste profile, but the 1972 Grange displayed no indication of that inevitable downward trend and once again, I am marvelled that a 40-year bottle of wine can still project this degree of character and finesse.  Two years ago I opened a bottle of 1970 Chateau Latour for a special occasion.  That bottle while unquestionably fine could not hold a candle to the ’72 Grange this evening – simply stunning. 

A bottle of 1994 Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon dazzled our group with a somewhat surprising degree of restraint and perhaps a slightly more elegant personality than its powerfully spice driven Shiraz cousin.  I expected something much more aggressive but was pleasantly surprised but the velvety smooth texture and underlying dark fruit structure.  

As for my 1998 Grange, it is a massive wine, still youthful and full of Aussie vigour. The ‘98 is certainly enjoyable now with proper decanting, but this wine will also continue to improve for at least another decade in the bottle gaining both complexity and character with time.  The other bottles of ’98 in our cellar will be dressed to impress a few years down the road. 

If I am to make only one constructive observation of this otherwise flawlessly organized event, it would be via the following analogy:  Each February, Toronto hosts the Canadian International Autoshow at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre where automotive companies present their latest creations to enthusiastic buyers and would-be exotic car hopefuls.  After spending the entire afternoon wandering around the floor of the venue, I find myself passing by the Lamborghini display for the eighth time and without so much as a second glance.  I have to wonder, is the presentation too much of a good thing?  Luxury car overload perhaps or possibly Grange saturation?  

I’d like to thank Penfolds and WineAlign for organizing and assembling this truly breathtaking wine tasting event. 


~> Dan Trcka from WineAlign was also in attendance at this luxurious Penfolds dinner. Do take a moment to read his thoughts on the evening at


  1. I feel though I know exactly how you feel :-)

  2. All I can say is WOW!! What a great event and opportunity. Thanks for sharing your experience of the evening, I can almost pretend I was there. Cheers.

  3. Wow, this sounds like a great experience! I'm jealous. I have been looking for a place that has fine wines other than north lima oh so thank you for posting this. What are the prices like? Thank you for your help.


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Tyler is a member of the Wine Writers' Circle of Canada and the Guild of Sommeliers. He writes about and reviews wine both online and via a variety of circulating publications. In 2009 Tyler founded North of 9 Fine Wine, a free public wine education resource where he publishes his Thoughts, Theory, and Recommendations. For additional vinous related information and learning, follow on Twitter @TylerOnWine