Thunder from down under

The Westin’s Southern Hemisphere dinner gave Executive Chef Jason Koppinger and his team the perfect opportunity to showcase their many culinary talents, with a slew of exotic ingredients from downunder on the menu exciting the palate. Wines from Chile, Argentina and New Zealand made a magical partnership. Business Editor Lindsey Turnbull reports.

With such a big menu full of heavyweight flavours and textures, Chef Jason’s choice of day boat seared scallop carpaccio with frizzled ginger, citrus marinated jicama and salsa chilena was a sensible gentle start to the proceedings.

“We treated the scallops very carefully, simply searing them in the blend of spices – we just let them speak for themselves. The citrus jicama is there to refresh the palate,” he confirms.

An El Portillo Sauvignon Blanc 2007 from Chile’s Mendoza region paid a fine compliment to the scallops for this delicate and delectable appetiser. The El Portillo winery is situated on a high plateau and uses a state-of-the-art gravity-flow system over its three levels, each 16 feet deep, with much of the facility concealed below ground. This system minimises handling of grapes and helps protect the integrity of the fruit. The facility’s ingenious design, which takes careful advantage of the gentle slopes on which it is built, is thought to be unique in South America.

Grapes are 100 per cent Sauvignon Blanc, resulting in a lovely freshness and crisp acidity to the wine.

Showing great versatility the chefs then presented empanada de queso with a lentil and chorizo stew and chicharron (fried pork skin – pork scratchings for those of you from the UK). The empanadas, filled with cheese and spinach, were declared as authentic as those from South America. A judicious helping of a cilantro dressing only enhanced the great flavours.

Chef Jason says, “I was thinking of everyone’s cholesterol levels so we baked the empanadas rather than deep-fried them!”

A Chardonnay Reserva from Viña MontGras, situated in Chile’s Colchagua Valley was then duly poured. Established in 1992, the MontGras estate today encompasses over 200 hectares planted to vine in the heart of Chile’s wine-producing region. Since the first harvest in the early 1990s, MontGras wines have earned over 200 medals and awards worldwide, garnering international critical acclaim.

The grapes are 100 per cent Chardonnay and just under half of the wine is aged for 11 months in French oak barrels. The wine displays aromas of pear and pineapple, mingling with hints of vanilla.

Aaron Jay, wine educator with Palm Bay Imports says, “This is an elegant Chardonnay that is well balanced.”

Chef Jason explained that the lentil and chorizo stew contained tamarillo peppers and tomatoes yet the stewing process took the acidity out of these ingredients. The Chardonnay therefore was a lovely pairing with the flavourful stew.

Heading off to Australia for the fish course, diners enjoyed a wonderful pan seared wild Barramundi in a mushroom and caper glaze with roasted fingerling potatoes and a Stilton parcel.

Intriga’s Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile’s Maipo Valley was then poured alongside the Barramundi, a 100 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon that has been oaked for 14 months.

Aaron noted the wine’s deep ruby with purple notes and ripe currants, bittersweet chocolate, mint and vanilla on the nose. A rich and powerful wine, the Cabernet Sauvignon also went extremely well with the following intriguing course – pepper flecked kangaroo loin with a balsamic tamarillo glaze, sweet pea puree and braised rhubarb, its leather, tobacco and red fruit flavours and aromas working in sweet tandem with the dish.

Describing the Malbec grape as the “prince to Cabernet Sauvignon’s king” Aaron said that Malbec was “sometimes aggressive and always exciting, adventurous and inviting and definitely unpredictable.”

Diners therefore were then able to enjoy two Malbecs – a Malbec Reserve 2006 and a Primum Malbec from 2004, both from Bodegas Salentein in the remote upper reaches of Argentina’s Uco Valley on the eastern slopes of the Andes. Salentein wines are created from grapes that are located at some of the highest elevations in the world, 65 miles south of Mendoza.

The reserve is made from 100 per cent hand-harvested Malbec grapes which are barrel-aged for 12 to 14 months.

Ripe plums, cherries and spice and a hint of tobacco are noticeable on the nose, while ripe red berries follow through on the palate, along with a nicely balanced acidity and sweet tannins.

The Primum Malbec is again made from 100 per cent hand-harvested Malbec grapes, from the Finca El Portillo vineyards, aged in the barrel for 14 months with a further 12 months in the bottle. The wine is deep purple with rich aromas of ripe plums and blackberries along with vanilla and tobacco – it’s a powerful and elegant wine.

Enjoying keeping diners on their toes, Chef Jason then served up a surprise course of a foie gras custard inside an eggshell, a tantalising morsel of intense flavour and delicate texture, before hitting guests with the main course – an Argentinian beef ‘asado’ (open-grilled – an Argentine tradition) con chimichurri with purple potato tamale, queso fresca salentein and vegetables al paniolo. This magnificent main course was a star of the dinner and really embraced the “monster Malbecs” that Aaron had chosen for the pairing.

As if all this was not enough, the pastry chefs at the Westin excelled themselves with an incredibly artistic vanilla caramel flan, an Aussi kingfisher pavlova and some sweet dulce de leche for dessert. A New Zealand Redcliff Riesling from 2007 was a fruity floral elegant wine with just a hint of sweetness to complete an excellent menu from downunder.