At this time of year – and especially so for our Victorian friends – one of the most popular events on the social calendar is the spring racing carnival. Even if you don’t know your fillies from your fascinators or form guide, it’s a great excuse to dress up, dust off your Champagne glasses and get your friends together to enjoy an entertaining spread worthy of a winner’s trophy.
Whether you’re hosting a trackside picnic or watching the Melbourne Cup at home, spring racing parties are all about dressing to impress – and that includes your table setting. So, before you don your favourite fascinator or silk cravat, it’s time to create a showstopping drink station and lunch table so your guests can sip and graze like racing royalty.
This year, take your styling cues from nature with fresh linen tablecloths and accessories in hues of pastel peach and green, reminiscent of the blushing blossoms now emerging in gardens. Top this with floral centrepieces plucked straight from the garden (or your nearest florist) – try winding flowers and foliage into rustic garlands for a contemporary twist. Continue the spring theme by transforming garden planters or retro wheelbarrows into ice buckets, and fill a glass drink dispenser with a pretty-in-in-pink punch made with sparkling wine, Pimm’s, fresh strawberries, ice and a dash of lime juice.
When it comes to Derby Day (widely regarded as the event for ‘racing purists’), it’s traditional to stick with a black and white theme. So, go for a monochromatic table setting using white, cream and charcoal accessories and sophisticated styling: think modern stemware, minimalist carafes and sculptural botanicals. Keep the theme going with monochrome food, such as ash-coated goat’s cheese, charcoal crackers, caviar, oysters, kingfish crudo, kalamata olives and grilled halloumi. Subtle pops of colour or metallics are acceptable (just) but why not leave this to the drinks and serve bottles of bright golden bubbles, food-friendly chardonnay and pretty blush rosé.
Champagne is as synonymous with horse racing as Phar Lap; it’s the drink of choice for pre-race breakfasts or when you back the winner. It is estimated Melbourne Cup racegoers drink up to 45,000 bottles of champers at Flemington. Try Champagne Charpentier Tradition Brut NV, which offers the fine bubbles and finesse you expect from French fizz. Perfect for drinking now, it is an elegant, fruit-forward Champagne from the Marne Valley.
Freshly shucked oysters are the obvious food pairing for Champagne – even better when topped with a Champagne sauce made with Champagne, chopped shallot, cream and white pepper. A brie baked with garlic and thyme is divine served with crispbreads, or spread goat’s cheese and avocado over smoked salmon slices and sprinkle with chives before rolling and cutting into bite-sized pieces.
Horses often perform better on home turf and wines are just the same. Mumm Tasmania is a thoroughbred product of its environment. Created from pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier grapes sourced predominantly from Northern Tasmania and the Pipers River area, it has lingering flavours of citrus and nougat with aromas of honeysuckle, apple blossom and warm spices.
Sparkling wine is another stable mate for oysters, but also pairs well with tuna crudo (sliced raw fish) drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice, then sprinkled with chilli flakes and capers. It can also make a deliciously simple dessert: macerate sliced strawberries in sparkling wine, orange juice and icing sugar (to taste), then top with cream whipped with icing sugar and vanilla bean paste and you’ll be more popular than a bookmaker with the best odds.
The Melbourne Cup is the ‘race that stops the nation’, but it also gains attention across the ditch, which has claimed its fair share of winners. In fact, the legendary Phar Lap and consecutive Cup winner Think Big both hail from New Zealand, so it makes sense to include a Kiwi in your spring racing repertoire.
From the Marlborough region, Babich Family Estates SV Organic Rosé has a pretty pink hue matched by a creamy mix of orchard fruit, redcurrant and Braeburn apple flavours. It’s the perfect partner to classic picnic foods – from baby spinach quiches to smoked salmon blinis and chicken and tarragon finger sandwiches (crusts removed, of course!). A generous platter prosciutto, salami, olives, melon slices, figs and wedges of cheese will also ensure you’re first past the post in the entertaining stakes.
A good jockey knows how to run a race to suit their horse’s strengths. The same goes for winemakers; deciding the right time to pick the grapes and creating the best blend can make the difference between a winning tipple and an also-ran.
It also helps if the horse – or grapes – come from reputable stock. Created by the winery founded by James Halliday, Coldstream Hills The Hills Chardonnay hails from enviable breeding grounds in the Yarra Valley and offers palate-pleasing stone-fruit and citrus flavours. It’s the perfect drop to enjoy with fresh prawns, cold chicken and a lemony potato salad. But since racing is the sport of kings, why not eat like you’re Charles III with mini beef Wellingtons and bread rolls stuffed with a decadent filling of lobster, mayo, lemon juice, celery and chives. Giddy up!
Products featured are available from 11/10/23 to 14/11/23, while stocks last. Some products or varieties featured may not be available in all stores.