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(From left to right) Republic National Distribution Co. managers Hannah O’Donnell and John Parker, Butcher Shop owner Sal Ercolano and executive chef Brian Gist. Photo by Rico Cassoni
(From left to right) Republic National Distribution Co. managers Hannah O’Donnell and John Parker, Butcher Shop owner Sal Ercolano and executive chef Brian Gist. Photo by Rico Cassoni
ColumnsFood & WineTaste of Wine

Penfolds’ journey to world class wines at Butcher Shop

After the success of early sherries and fortified wines such as Tawny Port for medicinal purposes, Penfolds wine company was officially established in 1844 at Magill Estate in South Australia by founders Dr. Christopher and Mary Penfold.

Mary assumed responsibility for the winery following Christopher’s death in 1870, leading Penfolds to become a major player in South Australia’s wine production. By the time Mary retired in 1884, turning over management to her daughter Georgina, Penfolds was responsible for one-third of the region’s wine output.

In 1948, Max Schubert became the company’s first Chief Winemaker and introduced the iconic Penfolds Grange in the 1950s. The tradition of ‘bin wines’ started in 1959 with Kalimna Bin 28. Since 1998, Penfolds winemakers have been actively involved in California, cultivating a deep understanding of the region.

The esteemed Napa Valley AVAs, including Oakville, Diamond Mountain District and Rutherford, have played a significant role in providing exceptional grapes for Penfolds’ Quantum, Bin 149, and Bin 704 wines. Penfolds’ commitment to innovation continued with the release of 12 handcrafted ampoules of the rare 2004 Kalimna Block Cabernet Sauvignon in 2012.

Arugula salad with heirloom tomatoes, white peaches, and a citrus vinaigrette, topped with an incredible almond-crusted goat cheese puck alongside 2020 Bin 311 Chardonnay. Photo by Rico Cassoni.
Arugula salad with heirloom tomatoes, white peaches, and a citrus vinaigrette, topped with an incredible almond-crusted goat cheese puck served with 2020 Bin 311 Chardonnay. Photo by Rico Cassoni

Two years later, Penfolds celebrated a perfect 100 score for the 2008 Grange and its 170th anniversary. Today, the winery remains dedicated to its rich history and timeless philosophies.

Penfolds’ illustrious history took center stage at Sal Ercolano’s Butcher Shop restaurant during a captivating wine dinner. Led by Executive Chef Brian Gist, who crafted remarkable pairings, and accompanied by Republic National Distribution Company managers John Parker and Hannah O’Donnell, who shared the captivating story of Penfolds, the evening was a special experience of fine wines and exquisite cuisine.

Chef Brian showcased his culinary expertise with a first course of spicy octopus, complemented by a honeydew lemon yogurt sauce. This delightful dish was beautifully paired with the lime and honeydew aromas of the bone-dry 2022 Bin 51 Eden Valley Riesling.

The second course featured an arugula salad with heirloom tomatoes, white peaches, and a citrus vinaigrette, topped with an incredible almond-crusted goat cheese puck.

Accompanying this exquisite salad was the 2020 Bin 311 Chardonnay, known for its white peach notes and subtle floral tones. Despite the challenging 2020 vintage in Australia, the winemakers managed to create an exceptional 93-point James Suckling, 93-point Vinous, and 92-point Robert Parker winner.

Moroccan Spiced Lamb Chops with saffron flavored Israeli couscous and toasted garlic broccolini paired with 2019 Bin 704 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Photo by Rico Cassoni
Moroccan Spiced Lamb Chops with saffron-flavored Israeli couscous and toasted garlic broccolini paired with 2019 Bin 704 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Photo by Rico Cassoni

Chef Brian and Ercolano delighted guests with the third and fourth courses: Coco Chili Rub Pork Tenderloin and Moroccan Spiced Lamb Chops, either of which could have easily been the main course.

The pork tenderloin, served with a black currant demi and cauliflower puree, was expertly paired with the 2020 Bin 28 Shiraz (Syrah in many regions), showcasing cherries, currant, cocoa, and a touch of coconut from its 12 months of aging in new American oak.

The lamb chop plate, accompanied by saffron-flavored Israeli couscous and toasted garlic broccolini, harmonized perfectly with the dense black fruit palate, cinnamon, and spice aromas of the 2019 Bin 704 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.

The Bin 28 received high accolades, including a 94+ points rating from Robert Parker, 94 points from Wine Spectator, and 93 points from James Suckling. Meanwhile, Bin 704 was honored as a 95-point Wine Enthusiast Editor’s choice.

Delectable dark chocolate brownie topped with vanilla gelato, toffee, and salted caramel, paired harmoniously with the Club Tawny. Photo by Rico Cassoni
Delectable dark chocolate brownie topped with vanilla gelato, toffee, and salted caramel, paired harmoniously with the Club Tawny. Photo by Rico Cassoni

To conclude the evening, guests savored a delectable dark chocolate brownie topped with vanilla gelato, toffee, and salted caramel, paired harmoniously with the Club Tawny. This exquisite dessert provided a perfect ending to a remarkable dinner crafted by Chef Brian while paying homage to Penfolds’ historical roots as a medicinal wine provider.

Undoubtedly, the Club Tawny of today far surpasses the fortified wine offerings of the 1800s. See penfolds.com.

Wine Bytes

— Ercolano announced that June will feature back-to-back winemaker dinners. The Butcher Shop will host the Brandlin Estate Wine Dinner at 6 p.m. on June 22. Brandlin, situated on Napa Valley’s Mount Veeder, will showcase their 2019 THS Cabernet Sauvignon and 2019 Malbec, paired with grilled NY Steak and Braised Short Ribs. The cost is $120 per person, inclusive of tax and gratuity. To reserve your spot, please visit butchershopsandiego.com.

— The following evening at 6 p.m. on June 23, West End will host Cuvaison, a renowned winery that played a pivotal role in shaping Napa Valley. Indulge in crispy duck breast and peppercorn-crusted beef tenderloin courses, accompanied by their Estate Pinot Noir and Syrah Diablo. The price is $85 per person, plus tax and gratuity. RSVP at 858-259-5878 to secure your reservation.

— Story by Rico Cassoni

Rico Cassoni is the executive producer for Taste of Wine and Food. Founder/Advisor Frank Mangio is a renowned wine connoisseur certified by Wine Spectator. Mangio and Cassoni are two of the leading reviewers on the web. View their columns at tasteofwineandfood.com. Reach them at [email protected].