Like the family owned Jetwing Hotel group, the percentage of female GMs verses spectacular female wine makers is on the increase, but inviting Sri Lankas top bankers, lawyers and business gurus to a Mistress Class instead of a wine Master Class at Jetwing Lighthouse Hotel would have been a little risqué even for Jetwing group’s ground breaking chairman, Hiran Cooray.
Opening with bubbles under a starlit sky overlooking the Indian Ocean could not have been more spectacular, with the four hundred year old Galle Fort lit up by the rotating fully operational working lighthouse. It was a superb way to start a 90-minute Master Class in wine tasting. So once the ‘meet and great’ had taken place at the Coat Of Arms Bar we were escorted to our white table clothed tasting tables in the Galle Room, where we had the spectacular 9 Gran Cru Classe 2005 vintage wine from France explained to us in turn on the wine’s 10th Birthday. Eric Hosteins of Chateau Cissac, the wine maker, passionately told us great wine “is a question of tradition in France, a history of using the best oak for our barrels that adds a unique kind of subtly to our wines and, equally importantly, stories handed down from my ancestors about the secrets that set us apart from the new world wine makers.”
During this exciting interactive presentation we learn to our amazement that France now exports over 60 per cent of its wines to Asia. Eric whose family has been making wine for three generations explains that old world wines are as much about the location and the wine maker, in contrast to New World Wines, which are all about making the wine taking grapes from all over, to keep the markets well stocked, something the French would never do. Interestingly even today all the new world wine makers are still sent to train in France, because it is not only one of the oldest wine producing regions in Europe, but also the world’s largest producer by value of the sales price (not volume however) and everyone still wants to know why technology still can’t match real farming gut instinct and skill passed from one generation to the next.
Interestingly in the 1800s the people in Bordeaux drank Bordeaux, those in Burgundy drank Burgundy, and none of them could ever have imagined that it would be sipped in China, let alone at the highest levels of Sri Lankan society. Although it has to be said that a lot of the new world drinkers still prefer beer on a really hot day as illustrated by an extremely amusing Fosters advert with Crocodile Dundee walking into a room with people quaffing wine and as they all spit it out he says “wine it must be worse than I think.” Despite having a spittoon available to us during the tasting of 9 Gran Cru Classe 2005 Vintage most people were loath to spit any of it out, as each one had its merits in aroma/bouquet, taste, and after taste. To clear our palettes between one chateau to the next, delicious fresh bread was brought to our tasting tables.
In 1855 in preparation for the Great International Exposition in Paris, a regional appellation system was developed and has been used to this day. The Grands Crus (Great Growths) classification system is still used to help the drinker pick the right wine for their event and in the case of the gastronomic dinner that followed, to perfectly match the style of food being prepared, they could not have been a better match. Superb wine combined with an outstanding master chef 6-course meal was an unbeatable combination and finale to a fascinating evening. Chef Nihal, Jetwing Lighthouse hotel’s creator of the feast, outdid himself by spending a whole day creating 34 bottles carved out of blocks of ice to put the sorbet palette cleanser in, as a mark of celebration for the 10th birthday of the Grand Cru Classe 2005.
The smoking ice bottles perfectly set off the lamb one of many stunning dishes served during the grand extravaganza set against the elegant candle lit Cinnamon Room. Each course perfectly complemented the wine tasting that preceded it from the smoked duck on cinnamon sticks still smoking as it was brought to our table, to the rich asparagus and blue cheese soup that reminded me of Cornwall, where asparagus has just come into season.
At the end of the meal I understood why the French wine makers are in a league of their own. Eric says “ We like to make our lives very difficult in France, wine like oysters is very tough to get right.” We are told Chateau Mouton however is in a league of its own – “Rothschild does not change, Mouton is always Mouton” and one could say the same of the Jetwing group that take great pride in combining the best of everything summed up in their staffs smiling, always happy welcome Ayubowan! May you live long! and that is something worth always lifting ones glass to.