It’s been a very interesting week. I finished up my last job on Friday (a solid 9.5 years of service) and have this week off before taking up my new, exciting role.
Here I was thinking that I would relax lots, catch up on some reading, spring clean the house and maybe even get out on the bike, despite the nasty weather. Instead I have been running around like a mad-man trying to tick off a long list of “to do’s”. Happily, I’ve managed most.
I was invited to a dinner on Tuesday by Armadale Cellars to look at a new-ish wine label out of the Yarra Valley.
The guys who set up Cabrolin Estate have real jobs and enough cash behind them to do it well. Only small plantings, about 5 acres, means the three of them do most of the viticulture, but most importantly, they have recognised they know nothing about making wine. So, what to do? Simple, engage Mac Forbes, a Yarra Valley guru for many years and the right hand man to the late Dr John Middleton of Mount Mary. In case you haven’t come across Mount Mary, their chardonnay and their cabernet driven Quintet’s are simply brilliant.
So, an interesting philosophy of Cabrolin is to have Mac assist them with every step and not focus on the selling price of their wines. The result? Well, they are only making Cabernet and Shiraz, with some blends, but I have to admit, the booze is really very good. The pricing is far from what you’d pay for a Quintet (>$100, if you can get your hands on some), hovering about $40/bottle-ish. Yes, I may have bought a little. Remind me when you are next here to drag out a bottle.
Another interesting aspect of Tuesday was the restaurant chosen. I’ve never been to Steer Bar & Grill before. After all, how often do I head to a steak house?! Sure, the beef was exquisite (I had a Sher 9+ Wagyu skirt steak done medium rare), but it was the conversation with chef Paul Wilson at the end of the evening that was MOST interesting.
I am now a lot less naïve about Wagyu . We discussed my beef (pardon the pun) about Wagyu burgers. Paul shook his head in dismay and explained how it works. There are only 4 producers of pure bred (9+) Waygu cows in Australia. This means their genetic make up is 95%+ of the pure breds in Japan. But, and here is the rub (pardon the pun), even if the animal is 45% Wagyu, some producers still call it Wagyu. There are any number of growers with “mutts”. Paul agreed that there is no point grinding good beef, Wagyu or not.
Something else I learned from Paul was that the better the grade of Wagyu, the more subtle the flavour. So, despite the hype, those looking for a steak are better off with a dry aged, grass fed Black Angus steak. Bring it!
Given the Sher “tomahawk” steak (2.2kg rib eye) at a lazy $270 which graces his menu from time to time and that he buys almost all of the prime cuts from all the pure bred producers in Australia, it makes me wonder what Wagyu is served by other dining establishments?
This reminds me of the hoopla around beef raised on a well regarded Australian island many years ago. Is it ok to call it “from a certain island” if the animal grew up on the mainland and only lived its last 6 weeks on the island? Is that enough time to change the character of the beef? Or…well, most disturbingly, when the milking cows go off their milk, turning them into beef? Milking cows are not bred for their beef. I understand this practice has long since stopped, but with the hype around the source of the beef nowadays, it makes me wonder.
In the interim, I can heartily recommend Steer. Word of advice, ask your waiter for help choosing a steak, don’t automatically head for the Wagyu. It might not blow your hair back.
Off to Mt Buller tomorrow. Lots of snow, so some skiing, red wine and work, not necessarily in that order.