Bests’ Wine Dinner

I had a sense of déjà-vu as I walked in the entrance to Nomad restaurant. There are a couple of big old oak vats, exactly like the ones that fill the timeless 148-year-old cellars of Best’s Great Western (tastings) winery.

They certainly set the scene for a dinner that night, hosted by Bests’ winemaker Justin Purser. I got to know those old vats of 500 to 1,000-gallon capacity well, as I had my first experience of working the vintage at Best’s in 1981. We had to slide into those things through a tiny door and scrub their insides clean every time one was emptied. The vats at Nomad didn’t come from Best’s, though, but Paul Osicka winery. Nomad owners Al Yazbek and Rebecca Littlemore and wine adviser Rob Geddes are contemplating making their own tap wine and storing it in these leviathans.

As well as current Best’s Great Western releases, Purser opened some seriously old bottles, such as a 31-year-old riesling and a 39 year-old pinot meunier, both superb. The 1983 riesling – labeled Rhine Riesling Hock, as was the habit of the day, was a wondrous drink: deep golden coloured and smelling of a multitude of lovely aromas including beeswax, it was soft and rich and full in the mouth, its texture enhanced by a barely detectable touch of sweetness.

The 2013 ($25) (tasting), exactly 30 years its junior, was fragrant, delicious and just off-dry, and I felt that the older wine gave us a glimpse into this wine’s future. Of course, not every bottle of 31-year-old white wine sealed with cork would be so good. Purser brought six bottles from Best’s cellar, and rejected three of them. One was superb, two were good, one was cork-tainted and the other two simply over the hill.

Introducing the two pinot meuniers, the 1975 and the 2012 Old Vine bottling ($60), Purser mentioned that Best’s has the oldest pinot meunier vines in the world. The biggest plantings are of course in Champagne, France, where it is one of the three commonly used varieties for sparkling wine. He guessed there are only about six wineries in the world making a red wine out of it*.

Best’s has had pinot meunier since its establishment in 1866. Of these two, the 1975 was very mature but remarkably deep-coloured, and loaded with old earthy, mushroom, foresty aromas and flavours; the ’12 was delightfully bright, fresh and fragrant, with intensity and delicacy, not dissimilar to a very good young pinot noir.

But the best value wine of the night was the new release of Bin No 1 Shiraz ($25) (tastings). Made in Purser’s first vintage at Best’s, it is jam-packed with floral, spicy and blueberry aromas and is soft and fleshy, generously flavoured and simply lovely to drink – now, or any time in the next 15 to 20 years.

Nomad’s food was outstanding, and the dish served with the pinot meuniers was a surprise that worked beautifully: scallops with lardo, anchovy and celeriac.

Nomad has an all-Australian wine list and champions the smaller, family-owned wineries. Geddes is hosting a series of winemaker dinners on the last Tuesday of each month. Montalto is next, then Tyrrell’s. Check the web-site:

Nomad is at 16 Foster St, Surry Hills NSW 2010. Tel 02 9280 3395.

*One of them, in Oregon, is WillaKenzie Estate. 

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