Saturday, January 22, 2011

AUSTRALIAN WINE DINNER AND TASTING, LOS ANGELES


Set for tasting

The Australian wine industry has seen more than its share of troubles recently.  Wildfires, floods and overproduction have been aggravating at best, tragic at worst.  Thursday January 20, 2011 at Twist Restaurant in the Renaissance Hotel in Hollywood, it was "no worries, mate" at least for a few hours.

A dinner showcasing fine Australian wine and cuisine was hosted by Chris De Cure, the Australian Consul-General in Los Angeles on behalf of the G'Day USA Australia Week Committee.

The purpose of the event was to feature some of the culinary facets of the land down under which often take a backseat in an American media happy to portray Australia as all koala bears, shrimp on the barbie and supermarket-level wines.  This event showed just how much Australia has to offer in fine wine and dining.

Mr. De Cure had many good things to say about Australian food and wine, and was so affable that when he slipped up and referred to Champagne, he quickly covered by stating that, "Australian sparkling wine is better than Champagne."  He offered that comment as a humorous aside, but it's not hard to believe that it was heartfelt.  Australia could not ask for a better proponent than the Consul-General.

The wines of the evening were, of course, all Australian.  The food, too, was flown in especially for this event.

Dinner was prepared by two of Australia's best chefs, Mark Best and Peter Gilmore.  Gilmore'sQuay Restaurant is a Sydney showcase, while Best's Marque Restaurant takes a quieter profile in the Sydney suburb of Surry Hills.  The dishes served by these two men were exquisite, and the wines paired with them matched almost perfectly.

I had the good fortune to be seated next to Best's wife, Valerie, who compared and contrasted both restaurants while acting as a one-woman public relations team for her husband.  She explained that Quay is an opulent restaurant where diners face outward to a beautiful view, while Marque is more reserved and inward-facing.  She said many people refer to Marque as "Melbournian" in atmosphere.

The description of the two restaurants fit the cuisine presented by each chef.  Best's compact, Asian-influenced dishes contrasted with Gilmore's more sumptuous European-styled fare.  The two chefs alternated menu items and gave diners a taste of the best of both worlds.  There was no problem with too many chefs in the kitchen - I was told the collaboration was easy, as the pair are friends and hold each other in high esteem.

They aren't the only celebrities looking to upgrade Australia's image in the eyes of the American public.  Australian television personality Jamie Durie - host of HGTV's The Outdoor Room - is working with YouDontKnowOz.com on a campaign to educate Americans on all things Australian in hopes of debunking stereotypes.  Wine education is the focus of the campaign, with wineries like Wolf Blass, Rosemount, Lindemans, Greg Norman Estates and Penfolds working together to capitalize on Australia's wine tourism cachet.

The wines showcased during the dinner event - during a mixer/tasting beforehand and with the dinner itself - showcased Australia's ample winemaking talent.  The country has been producing wines since the 1820s, and boasts a number of well respected wine regions.

Tablemate Gavin Speight of Old Bridge Cellars was there promoting several of the wines on the dinner menu.  He broke out a small map of Australia's wine regions to show me some of the wineries of South Australia, New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania.  Great wine also is produced in Western Australia.  When I asked how much time I should allow for an Australian wine vacation, he told me to "imagine that you are in Los Angeles and Napa Valley is in New York - that's how far it is from Sydney to Perth.  Coupla weeks ought to do it."

Although Perth native Speight has been in the States for ten years, he says, "I haven't lost my accent.  I want people to see Australia's diversity and terroir, and know that they haven't lost their accent, either."

The Menu, and The Wines
CanapésPrepared by Chefs Mark Best and Peter GilmoreBeetroot & Foie Gras MacaroonsTomato & Parmesan MarshmallowTuna Sashimi, Shiso and LimeTart of fresh Goat's Curd, Pickled Beetroot, Radish, Olive Crumbs, Chard, Pine Infused Balsamicpaired with
DB Family Selection Sparkling Brut
Emeri De Bortoli Pink MoscatoClover Hill Vintage Brut 2004

First Course
Prepared by Chef Peter Gilmore
Smoked Eel and Eggwhite Pearl, Sashimi Kingfish, Pickled Kohlrabi, Horseradish Cream, Octopus Tapioca
paired with
d'Arenberg The Last Ditch Viognier 2008
Second CoursePrepared by Chef Mark BestPetuna Ocean Trout with Lemon & Dill Jelly, Burnt Vanilla
paired with
Kilikanoon Mort's Block Riesling 2009
Third CoursePrepared by Chef Peter GilmorePoached Lobster, Lobster Custard, Lobster Consommé
paired with
Giant Steps Sexton Vineyard Chardonnay 2008
Fourth CoursePrepared by Chef Mark BestRoast St Helens Oyster with Mustard & Abalone
paired with
De Bortoli Yarra Valley Estate Grown Pinot Noir 2008
Fifth CoursePrepared by Mark BestAll Natural Free Range Roast Lamb with Licorice, Eggplant & Burnt Leek
paired with
Penfolds Bin 407 2006
Sixth CoursePrepared by Chef Peter GilmorePoached Fillet of Angus Beef with Truffle Infused Potato Puree, Baby Spinach,
Bitter Chocolate Black Pudding Crumbs
paired with
Yarra Yering Dry Red No. 1 2005
DessertPrepared by Chef Mark BestSauternes Custard
paired with
De Bortoli Noble One 2007