The Blocks at The Rocks

“Penfolds and renowned London-based designers Studio Toogood have collaborated to create an ambitious multi-sensory environment dedicated to wine and creativity called THE BLOCKS. Through art and design, THE BLOCKS encourages visitors to discover their palettes using sight, touch and smell before tasting some of the world’s greatest wines all matched to distinctive foods.” 

This was intriguing… One the most well-known Australian brands Penfolds and a fine design firm from London, together to create a deeper sensory experience to tasting and enjoying wine. I wondered how they would achieve this…

On entering the vast space within the long-standing historical water-front buildings of the Rocks in Sydney, I was greeted by a friendly lady who took me to the main bar and temporary Penfolds lounge, and then I met the head sommelier of the event, Joshua from the Penfolds Magill Estate restaurant in South Australia, to lead me on my wine with all-5-senses-stimulated journey…

By using art, carefully produced to reflect certain wine styles, you could explore the tactile pieces, see how you feel and what you think about the artwork, what you like about it (or dislike), what you think about the aromas of the artwork (Parisian olfactory designers added their part to the wood in the artworks) and in general which ones you’re drawn to…

When you realise which one you’re drawn to, there’s a number for it that corresponds to a matching flight/set of wines to go with the artwork. After having a good look, feel and smell of each artwork (the hearing part is the sommelier’s guidance, as well as an audio component for one of the artworks), I was drawn to a big solid artwork, made of heavy wooden blocks stacked into each other with a large base, scented with something heavy but smooth and sweet. It was artwork No. 5, which corresponded to what happened to be my favourite all time wine variety – Shiraz!! Don’t know if it was a co-incidence since nearly all my wine collection is made of Shirazes (especially being my favourite variety from the start of my wine passion), but it certainly made an interesting experience… In addition, there was also a photograph work for No. 5 that was by far my favourite of them all (pictured above) – it recorded the photosynthesis energy of vine leaves (which emit energy for up to 3 days after being picked) – I was really drawn to it and found the image so beautiful!

The other artworks corresponded to:

White Aromatics (for example like Gewurztraminer) – lots of thin, separate slabs of wood strongly scented with floral tones. It represented more fine/delicate pieces than the other artworks, whilst remaining ‘airy’ – being horizontally layered and separated, allowing air to easily move through (like how floral tones waft through the air – and you could still smell the scents from the artwork without having your nose so close to it,

Chardonnay – a tall, smooth, tapering artwork with an egg-shaped carving at the top. The tall height also represented the high altitude that Chardonnay grows well in, producing very elegant wines. The simplicity of the artwork also represents the purity and seamlessness of a well-crafted chardonnay,

Blended Wines (eg. Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre blends) – zig-zag cut heavy wood, interlocking into each other, representing how different varieties can seamlessly join all together (creating more than the sum of its parts), whilst remaining obviously retaining their own noticeable characters. The scent was a serious oak with no sweetness or light floral characteristics.

and Regional Wines – varying blocks of wood, in a vertical line, representing juxtaposition of different wines/varieties/regions. Simple, but nice to see the blocks solidly next to each other, with each having its own sense of place in the artwork.

Things actually really started to make sense, especially with the sommelier’s information and guidance.

After sitting down at the dining table I followed through with my flight of Penfolds Shirazes, which included the popular Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz and Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz, then finishing with the Penfolds St Henri Shiraz – always a classic!

Overall this was an unique experience combining different areas of interest (art, wine, food, architecture and design), and hopefully I’ll see more more innovative events like this being done in wine and in Sydney!


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