Festive Season Kicks Off in Townsville

2.04pm, later the same Saturday 11th December, Brisbane Airport, Queensland, Australia
So, now to our 36 hours of adventures in Steamtown-ville. We have a top ambassador for Yalumba up there in Jason Smith, and for the last couple of years, Townsville has been included into the domestic Australian circuit that I work during the year. With Jason on the ground in town, we’ve really been able to build our business with the events we’ve done, and again it’s all about old school business out in the regional areas – once you do the right thing by the Far North Queenslanders and they like the wines – it’s harder than a divorce to break up the relationship!

Lovely stuff.

This trip we had a couple of jobs to do. First up was The Brothers Leagues Club Christmas Wine Dinner. Craig and Angela at Brothers Leagues (famous up this way for constantly winning the A Grade Rugby League comp for the region) had been keen on the wines and listed them in the dining room at the club. They came to the two lunches that we did this year and last year at A Touch of Salt on the river. We all got on like a house on fire, and they got me up to town to host the Christmas Wine Dinner on Thursday night in the new dining room – for about 100 people. They went all out with bon bons, candy canes and a requirement that I perform several of the charades that were on the jokes in the bon bons – the things you have to do on behalf of the company! I had no drama with ‘My Fair Lady’, but you try doing ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’!

The starters

Any rate, the evening started with canapes and either the 2009 Y Viognier or the Jansz NV sparkling. I took a photo of the three tastes with the Christmassy feel, then promptly got so tangled up in making sure I spoke to each table individually that I didn’t get to another photo of the rest of the courses! So, from left to right is the slow-cooked pork belly with star anise honey, the baby tomatoes filled with pesto and goats cheese, and the Coffin Bay oysters with soy mirin and salmon pearls.

What a night! I think it’s fair to say that folks have had a pretty tough year, and that this Festive Season they’re going to have a bit of a party! I gave a quick thumbnail sketch of each wine as it was served – just for the record, this was the rest of the menu:

2009 Y series Viognier & 2009 Hill Smith Estate Sauvignon Blanc with an entree of smoked Tasmanian ocean trout with pickled cucumber, coriander, enoki mushrooms (two nights in a row! – who said that regional Queensland didn’t use exotic produce?) with a wasabi and ponzu dressing.

Then the big guns came out: a solid red treble of the 2007 Menzies Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2005 Octavius Old Vine Shiraz & the 2005 Signature Cabernet Shiraz that was tailor made for the main course of grilled beef fillet with buttered leeks, an oxtail wild mushroom and parsnip tartlet, with a port wine jus.

Interestingly, the 2005 Signature was the popular choice as the stellar wine with the beef on this night. A big rap for the great Australian blend yet again.

Finally, we finished with the Jansz NV Rose sparkling and the chilled to frosty 2009 FSW8B Botrytis Viognier, which was served with the dessert – vanilla bean panacotta with fresh raspberries. Being on a diet at this point in time, I only had the raspberries, which were velvety sweet and sensational with that chilled shot of Botrytis Viognier honey apricot. My fruit finish for the night. But folks the panacotta were spot on. When you jiggle the plate, they’re supposed to sit and ‘shiver’ without splitting … and I can report mission accomplished – the Brothers Leagues chefs know exactly what they’re doing.

So we got around to every table, answered a stack of questions on the Barossa, Yalumba, the usual suspects of stelvin cap vs corks, how the Australian wines are going overseas, how the drought affected the vines, now how the rain is working out for us, as well as quite a few new topics. I caught up again with Marty from The Sun Hotel, which is another staunch Yalumba house, and had to pretend we had other things to do Friday lunchtime instead of attending his birthday lunch at their dining room. Which we did on Friday, and presented him with not only a bottle of the 2004 Signature, but a copy of the new book just released on the First Families of Australian Wine. Happy Birthday Marty – and thanks for the support. With all the silver and red balloons around, it was no time at all before everyone had a personalised one – that’s why I always carry a texta pen with me – and I reckon it is safe to say that a good night was had by all. There’s a rumour that it may very well become an annual event, so I’d better get immune to the steamy weather this time of the year, as I wouldn’t miss the Brothers Xmas Wine Dinner for anything. So thanks Craig Thomas, Angela Burling, the board members (you know who you are on table 1!), Barrett and the harem of fangirls, all the floor and bar staff, the kitchen, Angela with the walking frame – thanks for the lend, it made it easy getting to all the tables, Yvonne and Ray for all the advice, Andy the Weatherman for just being there – watch out for Mel from Defence!, the folks from The Butcher on Bundock for supplying all the meat, the folks from Simon George for supplying all the fruit & veg (top raspberries), Cheeks and Marty and the gals who keep them on the straight and narrow, and not forgetting Jason, who makes these great things happen for us. Happy Festive Season to you all, and I’ll see you when it’s 2011.

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