Friday, January 25, 2013

The 2013 Annual AWAS Gala Dinner

Amongst its variety of tastings, Vancouver's Australian Wine Appreciation Society hosts an annual Gala Dinner and for the last five years, it's been building on a tradition of raiding the society's cellar and creating the dinner around 10-year old wines that have been salted away by our cellar master. The evening's assortment of wines included some promising treats - despite the fact that the dinner started with a caution that 2003 was a difficult vintage for most of Australia.

2003 might have been a year of rains and short growing seasons but you wouldn't have known it from the wines that we were poured. I guess it just goes to show that the best winemakers can still pull off good wines in challenging vintages. Production levels might be down and 100-point scores might be missing, but the best wines still manage to make a statement.

The dinner was held at Tramonto Restaurant at the River Rock Casino and the evening's menu had some treats to match the wines. Plate-wise, a favourite of Boo's and mine was the parsnip velouté with duck confit and balsamic pear chutney. The '03 Rockford Semillon and Vasse Felix Chardonnay weren't my favourite pours of the night - as the whites showed a little more age than I tend to appreciate - but the soup more than made up for it. I held back from licking the bowl clean but I was sorely tempted. The Grosset Polish Hill Riesling (from an earlier course) fared a bit better for me. Even so, the minerality that showed prominently with its age made it a difficult match for the sweet shellfish that it was served with.

The reds hit a much better note for me - and they weren't even being paired with lamb. I'm not sure that I remember the last Aussie-themed dinner I attended that didn't feature a bit of lamb on the menu. Smoked sablefish and stuffed chicken leg filled in for the lamb tonight and we were none-the-worse for it (and that's coming from a great lover of lamb). Another surprise - beyond the lack of lamb - was the fact that a Samuel's Gorge Shiraz from McLaren Vale was poured. I'd never heard of Samuel's Gorge until last Spring when Boo and I spent a couple days in the region and Samuel's Gorge was the winery right down the road from where we were staying at Chapel Hill. Here, I thought we'd cottoned on to a hidden gem and AWAS has had some of their wine in the cellar for years.

The Samuel's Gorge was paired with a Shiraz from Heartland. This is a project of well known Aussie winemaker Ben Glaetzer and this Shiraz hails from the lesser known Limestone Coast and Fleurieu Peninsula that is a little further south of McLaren Vale. It was interesting that neither Shiraz was from the Barossa. Indeed, it was the Rockford Cab Sauv that hailed from the Barossa and it was matched with a Coonawarra St. Hugo's Cab from Jacob's Creek.

1249.  2003 Elderton Botrytis Semillon (Riverina - Australia)

All the reds delivered nicely and I'd be hard pressed to pick a favourite from them. The one bottle that I'm going to add to The List from the Gala, however, is an Aussie take on classic Sauternes. Tramonto's chef took the promised tropical notes and luscious richness of this Elderton treat to heart and served it with a first for me: deep fried crème brûlée and pineapple carpaccio.

Yup. Anyone. Anytime. Anywhere. If you're going to end my dinner with crème brûlée and dessert wine, you're likely sending me home a happy Bob. That was definitely the case tonight. I'm not sure how one deep fries crème brûlée but I'm more than willing to risk the additional calories to try it out again.

For the moment though, we'll just have to wait to see what surprises will be in store for next year's dinner and the selection of the 2004 vintage wines.

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