Botanical – South Yarra – Wednesday 19 March 2014 – Dinner

Big, huge, massive work dinners are complex beasts.

If I wasn’t a regular diner the magic might have worn off long before I made a jump from professional practice to industry. It could seem stiff and proper; highly intimidating. It is anything but the case.

One of the amazing things about getting comfortable with wine is that one of life’s most difficult social conventions in a dining sense – picking one – is no longer challenging, and is actually fun. While I didn’t choose the wine on this night, the same example goes for the act of dining in a group where you know almost everyone, but not at the degree you know your close friends and family.

This was easily the most amazing work dinner I’ve ever been to. Places like Cutler & Co and The Point had better food, but they didn’t have several wines that I feel privileged just to take a sip of.

Having worked with almost everyone in the room at some stage, and enjoying all of their company meant that Catherine and I were always going to have a great night at Botanical, which is almost as great place to dine as people watch.  But the highlight was the 2008 Leeuwin Estate “Art Series” Chardonnay that is a treasure of any wine lovers collection. I have one and it was a wedding gift.

When you are drinking wine this good, eating is secondary. Leeuwin was brilliant during, before and after the rise and fall and rise of chardonnay. It is crafted with the finest chardonnay at Leeuwin’s vineyard in Margaret River, married with the highest quality new French oak, and is always beautifully balanced. I have not tried, and I am not a talented blind taster, but I think I could pick it out of the best French and Australian chardonnays. It is unique.

I should mention the food though. There were mixed reviews around the table, but I liked what I ate. A duck terrine came for entrée and was very nice –what I would expect from The European or a similar specialist of French bistro. The pork loin was perfectly cooked and the anise sauce and apple puree accompanying were complimentary. The main criticism was the pickled vegetables belonged on the terrine, not matched with the pork. They may have been there to offset the strength of the black pudding (which I enjoyed), but they were not needed. It made for an odd combination. Lastly, the crème caramel with orange tuile was simple and sweet, finishing the dinner of nicely with a sauternes selected as the dessert wine by our host who had outdone himself.

I tried the “Combination” pinot noir from Bindi, and the Georgia’s Paddock shiraz from Jasper Hill, and they were exceptional, maybe better than exceptional. However, I grew up with Leeuwin (in a sense – I’ve barely had half a glass here and there!) and can do it a little more justice.  From memory the Bindi was quite fruit driven with elegance, not the earthy pinot I love but nevertheless a terrific pinot. Being from Heathcote, the shiraz was still young and restrained, with more complexity and quality delivered with each sip.

It was a memorable night for all the right reasons.

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