Does the thought of poached Packham pear lying alongside a cinnamon and vanilla donut, blackcurrant mousse and a dollop of butterscotch foam make your mouth water? How about veal tenderloin bathed in a cream of cauliflower soup with black truffle shavings?
How about this?
These gourmet creations were just some of the meals served up at the 2012 Tastings at the Top event at Peppers Cradle Mountain Lodge in June. Braving freezing temperatures, I waved goodbye to my pedestrian palette and told my diet to “go-to-hell” while tasting the best of Tasmania’s food and wine. Hey. Someone had to do it…
Deep inside Tasmania’s north-west, Tastings at the Top is held annually at the Peppers Cradle Mountain Lodge, a 4.5 star wilderness retreat where the only distractions are what’s on the menu.
Running for an enormous 18 years, the event is hosted by Peter ‘the wine man’ Bourne and Nick Haddow from Bruny Island Cheese Company. As two of the most fanatical and excited men in the building, Nick and Peter took us on a journey of the finest food and wine in the state. Over the course of the three days we tasted and talked wines with local producers, learning how to distinguish a Pinot Gris from Grigio, Semillion from Sauvignon and Schönburger from your Gewürztraminer. Don’t worry, I didn’t know what these were either.
Arriving at the Lodge, I checked into my spa cabin and happily glossed over the itinerary while sifting through the welcome basket. Eucalyptus honey, Chardonnay and chilli jam were just some of the goodies inside.
At 2.30pm, the event kicked off at the tavern where we were invited to meet the suppliers and purchase some of the produce featured. Armed with a toothpick and napkin, I stopped to taste-test everything like a mini buffet around the room. Laid out market style was a generous spread of freshly shucked oysters, assorted cheeses, jams, sauces and a whole swag of yummy bevies! The 666 Vodka, mint and ginger beer cocktails had everyone raving about its smooth and delicious flavour, so I quickly grabbed a glass. Who said this weekend was all about wine?
That evening, still buzzing from the marketplace, we met in the Weindorfer Lounge for a Sauvignon Blanc tasting which lead into the first, six course (that’s right, six!) degustation dinner. Showcasing the marketplace wines, our meals were matched perfectly. Check out the menu below- it was amazing!
My favourite meal of the night was the Bavarian cream with rhubarb and strawberry compote. Washed down with a dark hot chocolate shot, it was the best way to warm up freezing fingers!
A cold, bleary, alcohol-affected awakening was quickly forgotten as I pulled the curtains open on the morning of day two. There it was, falling from the sky in flutters – SNOW! Tripping over my luggage to get dressed, I ran outside and did what any grown adult would do in a sporadic snow shower.
After blow-drying the snow out of my hair, it was time to board the bus and head off to the beautiful Barringwood Park Vineyard.
The owners, Judy and Ian welcomed us out on the wooden deck and we sipped their sparkling classic ‘Jessica’ while seeking solace in the sunshine. Lunch was served with a selection of Barringwood Park wines including the ‘Mill Block’ and ‘Forest Raven’ Pinot Noirs. Pinot Noir and traditional sparkling blends are Tasmania’s pride and joys. Being a colder climate, the Pinot grapes grow extremely well and outside of France, Tasmania is quickly becoming the next best sparkling wine producer in the world. How awesome is that!?
Well fed and well wined, we took a walk around the vineyard and learned how to prune and tend to the vines for next season.
Pre dinner tastings for the evening were supplied from Lubiano Wines, a small, organic vineyard in Southern Tasmania. With a head full of bubbles, we moved into the restaurant for yet another marathon meal. On the menu tonight was a buffet offering everything from sashimi that demanded multiple servings, to oysters, juicy Longford rib-eye and for dessert- chocolate fountains!
Day three was upon us sooner than I would have liked. I awoke with a killer headache induced from major overindulgence. Having the morning off, I decided to treat myself with some time in the Waldheim Alpine Spa.
After sweating out some of the toxins I had picked up from the last two nights of drinking, it was time to replace them all with the final lunch. Waiting for us in the Highland Restaurant was a three course Korean style lunch.
Check out the main course – Tasmanian blue eye trevalla on top of a mixed seafood pancake, lotus root with baby bok choi smothered in soy and sesame dressing. Mmm!
Straight after our Korean lunch, it was upstairs to the tasting room where fromager Nick Haddow hosted a ‘Washed Rinds and Whisky’ tasting. On the tables, a plate of fine looking cheeses lay on white platters – no plastic cheddar here! In an effort to move away from wine focussed tastings, Nick explained each of the Lark Distillery whiskies and the history of each cheese. The washed rinds mean literally washed – every day of their life.
After all that whisky, I walked/stumbled (it was my heels I swear!) into the Highlands Restaurant for the Gala Dinner. In the air, glass baubles hung suspended with twinkling tea lights inside. It was magical!
Sitting down at the table, we succumbed to an eight course dinner! The highlight was an extraordinary Skelbrook rack of lamb with purple Congo potato gnocchi, pumpkin mousse, truffle cream and parsley essence. The best meal of the event!
Tastings at the Top is a celebration of food, wine and the relationships they create together. During my three days of degustation, I’ve learned there is more to drinking vino than just matching your wine to your meat. It’s very much a technical art form and when it’s right, man it’s so brilliantly sweet! I’ve trudged back to life with a more discriminative palette and while I have reacquainted with my diet, I will be eagerly waiting to taste more of Tasmania, next year.
Tastings at the Top is held every year in June at Peppers Cradle Mountain Lodge.
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