From a distance the Cullen Winery glowed in the fading pink sunset and beautifully dressed guests from all over the world descended through the doorway of the historic granite and timber restaurant, eagerly anticipating a night of delights. Old friends greeted each other and new ones were made as people mingled on the verandah, sipping the 2013 Mangan Vineyard Moon Opposite Saturn Harvest Semillon and sharing the beautifully prepared appetisers of Carnarvon prawn, ponzu and avocado, or ricotta and fresh vegetables which only hours before had been growing in the gardens beside them on the verandah.
Inside, wooden beams were hung with linen banners and lights, lending an elegance befitting the evening and guests took their places at long laid tables that ran the length of the room, before Melbourne’s most beloved chef, Andrew McConnell was introduced by host and winemaker Vanya Cullen.
Guests warmed to Andrew and his unassuming style as he discussed his passion for great food, and his introduction to biodynamic produce. His tour of the Cullen winery gardens had inspired his menu selection, and his wine tasting led by Vanya had ensured the pairing of food and wine was going to be perfection. Andrew owns seven establishments in Melbourne that have truly shaped the Melbourne food scene and it was heartening to hear him talk of his delight at having finally made it West to experience the fine produce here. He was deeply appreciative of the support and talents of Cullen’s own Executive Chef Iain Robertson and the Cullen Kitchen Team who worked closely alongside him all the night.
What followed was six incredible courses, commencing with White Soy Hapuka, Cullen Radish, Scampi Pearl and Endamine. The hapuka delighted with each new bite; set to the crunch of the raw or picked radish, or the pop of the tiny salty scampi pearl. Guest were served the crisp, chilled 2014 Cullen Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc Semillon.
The next plate was a thing of beauty; a whole Manjimup marron, its head brown from toasting on the coals outside in the spring air, its flesh cooked to perfection and ready to be plucked out and enjoyed with the succulent grilled cos lettuce. It was wonderful to watch guests who chose to eat with their hands, sucking delicious meat from claws and legs to enjoy every morsel. The sensational 2012 Kevin John balanced the marron flavour to perfection.
Following was the spectacular dish of Wagin Quail, Cullen Leek, Nettle and Potato Floss. Two beautiful delicate pieces of quail on the bone sat between two delicious moist quail sausages – a balance on the plate with flavours that reflected both the delicate and robust nature of their presentation. The very popular 2012 Mangan East Block was served alongside.
Between meals guests were treated to Dr Ariane Cullen (Vanya’s sister) and Clinical Professor Alan James talk on the 50th Anniversary of the Busselton Health Study, one of the world’s most famous and long running health studies, which Cullen Winery founder Dr Kevin John Cullen initiated and drove with passion and dedication.
Guests were then introduced to the dish which was to accompany flagship wine, the 2014 Diana Madeline for the evening; Margaret River Venison, Pickled Green Mulberries and Beetroot. The venison was textured and rich, the beetroot a beautiful earthy balance and the green mulberries an inspired explosion on the tongue that cut through the deeper flavours. It was perfect with the 2014 Diana Madeline, named just that day in Halliday’s Top 100 Wines of 2016.
A change of pace came with the serving of Cambray 2014 Raw Sheep’s Milk Cheese, layered generously on cracker bread and dotted with flowers sitting in pools of Cullen’s famous honey. Set off beautifully with the 2014 Amber which surprised and delighted a new group of instant fans who were trying it for the first time that evening.
Finally, after a stunning display of culinary talent, guest finished the evening with Soft Meringue, Yoghurt, Apple and Shiso Granita, served with 2013 Late Harvest Semillon to top off a wonderful evening.
Wine reviewer and Managing Editor of Wine Enthusiast from the US Joe Czerwinski was kind enough to step up and address the crowd, and giving his thoughts on the exceptional wines served during the evening. It was easily a sentiment reflected by all guests.
It is hoped after the success of Andrew’s first visit to WA that it is definitely not his last.
For a limited time, wines featured on the Gourmet Escape Menu are offered to Members at 20% off. Please visit Wines and Merchandise here to order, and make sure you log in as a member to receive your savings.