Penfolds conjures up some of the most enduring images of my romance with wine. When I think of the Barossa, I think of Penfolds, and then I think of Grange, and then I think of the Barossa. They are intertwined in a way that is unique.
Magill Estate is where it all started in 1844. However, Magill Estate is not in the Barossa and is only about twenty minutes from the Adelaide CBD. A pleasant surprise, but a surprise nonetheless. As you enter the drive you feel a long way out of the city, driving by softly lit vines, and the original homestead of Dr Penfold.
The heritage feel provides the initial impact. Entering the Penfolds Magill Estate restaurant you return to modern times with slick furnishings, well spaced tables, and a view over the vines that is breathtaking. On the table is a thick vine cutting that is like a toy to a wine enthusiast. The wine focus is obvious; judging on the interior the food is likely to be modern and pretty. Touches like the bag stool are the rule rather than the exception.
We are given a menu and explained the wine matching options. There is an exceptional, but expensive, premium matching, but I opt for the “Sommelier’s Choice” which still has great Penfolds wine offered, a little more cheaply. Catherine is driving tonight so after some advice from the sommelier, she asks to begin with a chardonnay and end with a shiraz. And what a shiraz it was!
While this is not only an oasis for wine lovers, it does help having a keen interest. The sommelier is extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic, enhancing the experience. On the other side, the rest of the floor, and especially the maitre’d, are not just experienced and professional, they are astute. There is a rhythm between them, and when a beat is skipped, the maitre’d pivots with poise. A performance worthy of a standing ovation.
The structure of the tasting menu is modern with a selection of small dishes to start, several small to medium entrée sized dishes, and a couple of desserts, before petit fours to finish. A glass of 2006 Seppelt Salinger starts us off with snacks including King Brown mushroom and wagyu tartare sided by a crisp wafer, cute jam doughnut looking puffs that are filled with goats curd with beetroot in place of jam, and pork tail. It was a nice start without an overwhelming dish, but that may have been because from the moment we entered the restaurant everything had been amazing.
One of the prettiest dishes I’ve seen came next and was served with the herbaceous 2012 Cellar Reserve Semillon. Kingfish sashimi is nothing new to fine dining, so it has to be incredible to stand out. One of my favourite fishes, the kingfish is delightfully fresh, and generously cut. Covered by radishes and turnips that are not just beautifully prepared, but excellent accompaniments, all this dish needs is a great dressing to bring it together and that is where the deep flavoured ponzu comes in. This is a wonderful dish; immaculately plated.
While the first couple of wines were both top quality, the 2010 Cellar Reserve Chardonnay steps it up a notch and we are starting to enter new territory. It is well made, and has aged well as a result, developing restrained honey notes that pair nicely with the marron. While the kingfish was superb, in line with the wine, the marron stepped up, whether on its own due to perfect technique, or with the beautiful buttermilk and horseradish sauce. The ice plant, which is new to me, but incidentally was on the menu a couple of nights later at Orana, is crisp but juicy, with a flavour of its own. It is a succulent that is named after the icy frost look that forms on its skin, and naturally is good with seafood given it grows in close proximity to the water.
When I think about my favourite pinot noir, I think about earthiness and the 2002 Cellar Reserve from the Adelaide Hills has that in balance with good fruit and elegant aged tannins. Excitement from the wine turns to intrigue with the disk of black truffle topping thinly sliced and baked celeriac, and gorgeous spit roast chicken, the broth providing a hit of decadence.
Drapped Mayura wagyu is chopped into finely formed bite sized pieces with pinenuts, macadamias and chicory that when combined together have a great impact. Not to be overshadowed, the second oldest wine we tried for the night was the 1995 Old Vine Shiraz Mourvedre Grenache which is a Southern Rhone style that is full of fruit, but naturally soft through the aging process. At this stage Catherine gets the opportunity to try a 1987 St Henri which I sneak a sip of and it is even better.
Venison does not get any tenderer than what is dished up for our final savoury course. When served with a natural accompaniment in beetroot, this dish accentuates and builds on a classic with impeccable technique. I was a little overwhelmed when firstly being poured the 2008 RWT Shiraz, and then offered a complimentary (and generous) taste of 2009 Grange to compare it to. Both wines are magnificent. Although very young, the Grange has all the layers you would hope for in such a highly regarded wine. It doesn’t eclipse the RWT though, with its different makings, the RWT would be some tasters favoured wine. I was in heaven.
Lemon curd, Jersey cream and meringue starts our entry into dessert. It is delicious; the meringue’s sweetness easily balanced by the soft cream and curd. A pear cider accompanies the first dessert, which refreshes you for the next instalment. Beautifully presented, a long slice of baked cheesecake ice cream, comes with a good amount of pickled Granny Smith apple, and muntries. A native berry, the muntries add a burst of sourness complimenting the other ingredients, and painstakingly sliced walnut provides the final touch to a dessert both incredible to eat, and look at. The sticky Viognier is a nice match.
Not to be finished with, the petit fours are a dish in themselves. We ate every single one as we reflected on a brilliant display of food and wine, served with professionalism and flair. This is a restaurant that feels at the top of its game. Outside of its proximity to internationally important wine regions, it is yet another reason to travel to Adelaide.