Australian Wines: Forest Hill Vineyard Dinner at Buen Ayre in Taipei, Taiwan

After just finishing a nearly three month travel stint, I am finally back in Taipei and ready to start catching up on all the overdue posts I have.  But first, we got invited to a wine dinner event the day after arriving back home.  Put on by Adelaide Fine Wines in Taipei, the event featured Forest Hill Vineyard, the oldest cool climate winery in Western Australia.

The James Halliday 5* winery produces all the usual suspects you’d expect to find from a cool climate vineyard, including Riesling, Chardonnay, Shiraz, and of course, Cabernet Sauvignon.  Seeing as how the winery and the restaurant were both new to us, we decided to check things out.

All in the name of culinary research, right?

Turns out Buen Ayre is a very quaint Argentine restaurant that’s relatively new onto the Taipei food scene.  Open for only six months so far, chef Fernando and his wife, Yko, have done wonders with the place already.  As we learned after dinner, there is no menu available — it changes daily based on ingredients that the chef gets.

In attendance were Paul Byron, the General Sales Manager from Forest Hill, and a special surprise was Australia’s Ambassador to Taiwan and his wife.  The wines are designated by “block” or “estate” with the block wines commanding higher prices.  For those unfamiliar with wine designations, the block wines are picked from the specific noted blocks on the vineyard property whereas the estate wines can come from different blocks within the same vineyard.

Paul talking about Forest Hill Vineyard (the Australian Ambassador's face is visible at the end of the table).

The block wines represent the very best parcels in the vineyard and are hand-picked, carefully selected fruit that will result in wines that can be cellared up to 20 years.  In pretty much every case, the wines we tried were a vintage older than what current releases are — which means we are likely to purchase everything since you can’t get it at the winery anymore!

Forest Hill Vineyard Wines

First Course: Seafood Consomme
Wine Pairing: Forest Hill Block 1 Riesling 2008 (James Halliday 96)

The consomme was served with a prawn, mussel, and piece of squid.  The broth was poured table side – a definite plus. It was a very mild, almost buttery flavor that complimented the richness of the seafood, without overpowering the wine.

The seafood consomme...minus the consomme

Broth for consomme is poured table side

Beautiful seafood consomme

The 96 point Riesling was a dream.  It is said to exemplify the best of what the Mount Barker region is capable of.  And one great note for those who like to cellar –it is a white you can age..for up to 8-10 years.  One of the pairings Paul suggested was oysters.  The richness of the oysters combined with the wine make for a nice meld.  I could definitely see that based on the way the flavors dance on my tongue with the fleshy mussel.  Definite floral and citrus aromas with strong floral on the palate with a lingering mineral finish.

Coming from learning about Riesling from Old World offerings in Germany and France, I’m pleasantly surprised to find I like more and more New World offerings like this one.

Second Course: Scallop with Lobster Sauce
Wine Pairing: Forest Hill Block 8 Chardonnay 2007 (James Halliday 95)

A perfectly cooked scallop surrounded by a rich lobster sauce with a little surprise on the side — caviar on a piece of sliced grape.  The scallop was perfectly cooked — one of my biggest complaints (and regular issues I encounter at dinner events).  I was expecting the lobster sauce to be overpowering based on some other Taipei experiences, but it wasn’t in the least.

Scallop with Lobster Sauce

Another view of the Scallop with Lobster Sauce

Paired with the Block 8 Chardonnay, the wine softened the richness of the lobster sauce even more.  The combination of the silkiness of the sauce with the silky texture of the Chardonnay was a nice surprise.  I found the wine to be a bit oaky (in a good way) and a bit similar to some California offerings — don’t worry, it’s not an oak bomb!

Nutty and fruit tones on the nose with spicy vanilla on the palate with a lingering nutty finish.  Pretty impressive Chardonnay that can easily stand up to some of the more renowned wines from California.

Third Course: Foie Gras with Red Wine Pear
Wine Pairings: Forest Hill Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (James Halliday 97) and Forest Hill Estate Shiraz 2005 (James Halliday 94)

Hello heaven on a plate!

This was definitely my sweet spot of the evening (technically, anything with foie gras probably would be, but add an alcohol-soaked fruit and I’m completely in love).

The red wine pair had a beautiful piece of foie gras inside and on the side of the plate was a surprising treat — wine soaked cherries that packed some serious punch.  We thought they were soaked in something stronger than wine based on the taste, but apparently not.  We did learn they were imported from France.

Foie Gras with Red Wine Pear

Isn't it amazing looking?

After two strong white wine offerings, we were excited to sample the reds.  I will be the first to admit as I have in the past, I am very partial to California Cabernet Sauvignons to the point of being called a Napa wine snob.  I grew up with some of the greats and I’ve just been very loyal over the years, finding that many other regions’ Cabs fall short.  I like dirt, I like pepper, and I love fruit…I want to chew my wine, not have it immediately die on the tongue.

Especially at the price points (about $60 US for the Cab and $45 US for the Shiraz) these were good wines.  I think some additional time in the decanter and perhaps another couple years in the cellar these could be even better.  It was a little easy to figure out the Cab would likely be nice based on its 97 point rating, and it did not disappoint. The Bordeaux style Cab featured dark berries and a hint of tobacco with some dusty tannins on the finish.  Everything I love in a good Cabernet Sauvignon.

The Estate Shiraz is a Rhone style wine that had some great pepper notes, chewy tannins, and some toasted vanilla and Burgundian oak flavors as well.  One of my favorites — will probably be even better in 2-5 years.

Fourth Course: Roast of Veal
Wine Pairing: Forest Hill Block 5 Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (James Halliday 93)

I was figuring this would be my least favorite course given my less than enthusiastic love of veal, but I was wrong.  I admit I picked it up and pulled a less than ladylike maneuver of nibbling right off the bone.  The meat was so tender and flavorful on its own, but the addition of truffle salt on the side makes anything better.

Roast of Veal

Delicate flavor on the veal course

Here was our first introduction to the big “Block” reds.  While it was an impressive wine, it really needs some cellar time and decanting.  I think in 5-7 years, this will be a great wine, but for now, it’s a good wine.  At around $100 US a bottle, it didn’t stand up to the $100 Napa Cabs…yet.  Don’t get me wrong, it was a wonderful wine, but the tannins need to soften a little more.  I did love the earthy and tobacco notes so I think once the tannins soften a little, it will be a really well-balanced wine.

Palate Cleanser

Love palate cleansers! We were served a pear sorbet/granita.

Pear sorbet for the palate cleanser

Fifth Course: U.S. Prime Wet Aged Short Ribs
Wine Pairing: Forest Hill Block 9 Shiraz 2007 (James Halliday 96)

This course was definitely going to be a test of the chef’s talents given beef is the center of Argentine cuisine.  I was a bit worried after hearing so many horror stories from my friend, Zac, the “Wine Guy” from The Langham Place, Mongkok Hotel in Hong Kong.  He recently returned from a trip to Argentina’s wine country and it seemed that many of the steaks he tried were not up to par.  I was worried that perhaps this was a trend of restaurants now, but thankfully, my fears were put to rest as soon as the plate appeared.

U.S. Prime Wet Aged Short Ribs

Beautiful plating on the short ribs

The beef was wet-aged to retain its moisture and it did just that.  It was one of the juiciest and most delicate pieces of meat I’ve had.  The consistency and silkiness were on par with some of my Wagyu experiences.  Brett found the beef to be a little bland on its own, but with the addition of truffle salt on the side, it was fine.  While I used some truffle salt, I found the meat to be perfect without any additional seasoning.

The peppery notes of the Block Shiraz more than made up for any spice that the meat might’ve been missing. I loved this wine — lots of rich berries, notable spice, but with a delicate tannin profile already.  This one can easily be aged another 8-10 years and will probably become more developed and balanced after a few more years in the bottle.

Dessert and Hot Drink Course

To finish off, we had a plate with three small desserts.  While two were made by hand on site, the French Macaron was imported from France.

Plate of desserts

French Macaron

Hot drinks offered were from Argentina — I tried the yerba mate while Brett tried the coffee.  Yerba mate is like a tea, made from leaves from the mate plant, which is like a shrub from the holly family.  It’s native to the subtropical part of South America, especially Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, southern Brazil, and Uruguay.

Yerba Mate

Coffee

Overall, a successful evening and quite a charming venue Adelaide chose to hold this event in.  I’m excited to go back and try Fernando’s regular set menu.  We were told reservations are necessary – 1-2 days, but I’d err on the side of caution with Taipei restaurants and recommend 5 days.  I’m not sure how many people it seats normally, but our small group of 20 or so filled the place up.

For wine lovers in Taiwan, Adelaide Fine Wines in Taipei carries Forest Hill’s full product line right now.  To purchase online, shipping is limited to Australia.  Please contact them to find out distribution in your area (if available).

We are often asked how much wine we typically buy at these type of events — usually at least a case and this one was no exception.  We bought two bottles of each of the wines we sampled — all of which were delivered to our door today!  Thanks Adelaide who provides free delivery within Taipei if you order a case or more!

If you are interested in visiting the winery during your Australia travels, they are open daily from 10am – 4pm.  For more information, be sure to visit their website, Forest Hill Vineyard.

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