A toast to fine wine and dine with top winemaker

By Smriti Daniel

They stare into each other’s eyes across the crowded room. On one wall Sir Thomas Maitland, the one time British Governor General of Ceylon, looks somewhat forbidding in his red uniform. Across the room from him, also immortalized on canvas, is his complete anti-thesis, the lovely and sensual dancer Lovina. We enjoy their company tonight, as we sit feasting in the Maitland State Room at the Mt. Lavinia Hotel – and here’s hoping they’ll forgive our invasion of what was once their bedroom.

We are at the hotel’s 6th Winemakers Dinner and this one is with Paul Boulden, Chief Winemaker of the Sandalford Winery in Margaret River, Western Australia. “Our philosophy on winemakers dinners is elegant dining, top quality grape and minimal interference in pairing the perfect wine with fine food. The result is truly outstanding and delicious,” MLH General Manager Anura Dewapura had said earlier, and now he took the time to welcome everyone to the evening. This was the second time the hotel had brought Sandalford down to Sri Lanka, Mr. Dewapura explained, pointing out that the Winemaker’s Dinner is a concept unique to the Mt. Lavinia Hotel.

Ahead of us is a night of exquisite wines and beautiful contemporary food, paired to perfection. I’ve been looking forward to hearing from Paul Boulden himself. The Chief Winemaker at one of the oldest and largest vineyards in Margaret River, Paul is a rockstar among winemakers. He’s been named Winemaker of the Year and under him Sandalford have won multiple trophies and gold medals, Best Red Wine at the National Wine Show of Australia in 2009. Paul doesn’t disappoint, talking about Sandalford’s wine with passion and offering us insight into how Australia has begun to come into its own as a winemaking country. Winemakers like Paul are helping the industry shake off its fusty image, creating wines that are light and lovely, and a pleasure to drink even for the uninitiated.

Paul has brought along not just some of Sandalford’s finest wines for us to sample, but some of Australia’s finest produce as well. Prakash Mirchandani is Managing Director of Favourite International Pvt. Ltd., the company responsible for importing and distributing Sandalford Wines in Sri Lanka. He points out that Sandalford has its own award winning restaurant, and adds that since the food and wine experiences at MLH are “unparalleled,” the event fitted in well with the “fantastic direction that MLH has taken in bringing gourmet experiences to Colombo!” Handling the menu that night was Executive Chef Indika Jayawardena who created a gorgeous five course menu for our delectation, ensuring each dish was presented with real artistry and élan.

Each course is served by liveried staff in perfect unison. We begin with a pink tomato rotolo served with crunchy pine nuts, a light fennel foam and topped with glistening confit tomato. The dish is subtly sweet and I enjoy alternating between it and sips from my glass of Sandalford Estate Reserve, Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2011. The evening is off to a fine start. Next is a roasted wild fillet of barramundi served with a creamy pumpkin puree, a sprinkling of glittering beads of black caviar and lemon foam. The dish is piquant and delectable and is served with Sandalford Estate Reserve, Chardonnay 2009. I’ve never eaten pork belly or scallops before and I’m pleased to find both in the next dish, served with apple and chillie. The former is rich with fat and flavour, its skin golden brown and crunchy. The scallops are lovely and yielding, charred lightly on the surface, and they’re served with a Sandalford Margaret River Shiraz 2010.

A green apple vodka sorbet cleanses our palates and we’re on to our final savoury dish – a duo of tender seared farm quail breast and succulent Victorian lamb served with braised puy lentil, sweet roasted garlic and spiced grape jus. Accompanying it is one of the stars of the night – the Sandalford Prendiville Reserve Cabernet Sauvingnon 2008. The red wine which is made only in good years from handpicked fruit, matured in only the best French oak casks, and is limited to 500 cases has conquered the heart of more than one critic, including Jancis Robinson. She tasted it in Sri Lanka and reportedly considered it one of the highlights of her trip. Our evening ends on a sweet note – we’ve been plied with such abundance that I leave most of my dessert untouched, content instead to take small sips of the Sandalford Element Late Harvest 2011. Coming at the end of a truly memorable meal, the dessert wine is sweet and clear and the perfect note on which to take our leave of Sir Maitland and Lovina.

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