Fortunes come and go, especially in these most recent years of economic uncertainty. As the GFC continued in 2012, unsurprisingly champagne sales plummeted in the UK & US. While Australia toasted, sipped and guzzled more than 5.4 million bottles of champagne in 2012, moving the wide brown land to the 7th biggest market on the planet for fine French bubbles. Non-vintage makes up 96% of sales but vintage champagne is dramatically increasing its share of sales.
Fittingly, Australia was one of the first to toast World Champagne Day, an annual celebration of the finest of French bubbles. The day encourages enthusiasts of the effervescent to enjoy champagne not just on special occasions but at any time of year with fine food. The occasion was designed to highlight the versatility of classic sparklings with a menu that ventured from briny caviar to crispy pork crackling and lip-smacking berries.
With the race that stops the nation just days away what better way to kick off the silly season than with glasses raised at qualia, one of the world’s most exclusive resorts. On the northernmost tip of Hamilton Island in the wondrous Whitsundays, qualia has perfected combined effortless chic with laid-back style. The world-class setting of qualia regularly showcases Australia’s stellar chefs at events like the Great Barrier Feast and Audi Hamilton Island Race Week.
In collaboration with the Champagne Bureau in Australia, Vogue Living, Riedel and qualia presented this four-course extravaganza with a breathtaking backdrop: pale periwinkle sky, silvery Coral Sea and golden sand. The menu from qualia Executive Chef Alastair Waddell was matched with select pairings from the finest champagne houses. And Riedel fine glassware challenged the guests by serving each cuvee in wine glasses not flutes to best showcase these exceptional wines.
Billecart Salmon Brut NV was served in Riedel Heart to Heart Riesling glasses on arrival with mouth-watering canapés served beside the glittering infinity pool. The first course of two Yarra Valley caviars with crème fraîche and brioche was also accompanied with the Billecart Salmon Brut. The toasty notes of a Bollinger Le Grande Année 2004 in a Vinum XL Pinot Noir glass was structured enough to match the Fraser Isle spanner crab with a leek sabayon and foie gras.
Next up the delectable main course of Byron Bay Berkshire pork belly with gold and cerise baby beetroot. To match the correct champagne must have proved a challenge with the multiple textures and flavours of crispy crackling, unctuous pork and cauliflower puree adorned with baby beets. But the challenge set by Alastair Waddell was met with an inspired choice of a deep golden Charles Heidsieck Brut Millesime 2000 also in a Vinum XL pinot noir glass.
To finish – a poached plum served with spherified raspberry ganache, spiced milk chocolate logs and mulberry icecream was served with a confection of raspberry deliciousness: Piper Hiedsieck Rosé Sauvage NV. As befitting the Gatsby themed occasion this flamboyant and juicy scarlet champagne with a nose of Gariguette strawberry, blackcurrant, blackberry and cherry was a showstopper.
As the evening drew to an all-too-soon close, guests busily discussed if they might make it back soon to this island wonder for the Australian Ballet’s ‘pas de deux in paradise’ on November 23. But many were content to just reflect on this flawless evening under a brilliant star-lit sky. www.qualia.com.au