Tuesday, 13 November 2018

The cool Baltic region is so hot for 2019

The Baltic is shaping up to be one of the hottest travel destinations for 2019, with Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania on a whole lot of tourism "must do" lists.

Visiting picturesque Helsinki (below) and taking the ferry over to Tallinn is one of my first diary items for the new year.

Oceania Cruises is seeing a surge in bookings to the region with a raft (that's pun, I hope) of stunning 2019 itineraries to the Baltic on offer featuring picturesque ports, immersive culinary tours, overnight stays and fine cuisine.
“Oceania Cruises offers guests the chance to discover exquisite cities along the shores of the Baltic Sea, where they can absorb the region’s rich history and colossal castles," says Steve Odell, SVP & Managing Director Asia Pacific, Oceania Cruises.

"Travellers will love traversing UNESCO World Heritage sites and experiencing the beauty of the Baltic region from the comfort of our mid-sized ships.

“Whether exploring boutique Baltic ports inaccessible to larger vessels such as the mountainous Bodo in Norway (is Norway actually part of the Baltic?), discovering ancient Viking settlements, enjoying a night at the Russian ballet, or exploring the fjords, farms and fishing villages of the Nordic isles, there are many reasons this is the most sought-after region of Europe for savvy travellers right now."
Oceania Cruises offers 18 Baltic and Scandinavian itineraries on board three vessels, ranging from seven to 20 days. Oceania’s port-intensive Baltic voyages feature more extended and overnight stays in ports than most other cruise lines.

Itinerary highlights include a seven-day Baltic Marvels cruise from Stockholm to Copenhagen, with departures in both July and September, visiting ports including Helsinki, St Petersburg, Tallinn and Berlin, and the fortnight-long Opulent Reflections departs Copenhagen in September for Amsterdam, via Helsinki, Tallinn, Stockholm, Poland, Berlin, Sweden and Norway – as well an extended overnight stay in spectacular St Petersburg (one of the world's greatest cities).

Early bird fares are available, together with Oceania Cruises’ packages giving guests free on-board internet as well as a choice of either free shore excursions, a house beverage package, or free shipboard credit.

For details call Oceania Cruises on 1300 355 200  or 0800 625 691 (NZ), visit www.OceaniaCruises.com or contact your travel agent.

Positive outlook for Australian winemakers

Australian winemakers can enter 2018-209 with a positive attitude, Winemakers’ Federation of Australia (WFA) chairman Sandy Clark (below) told the WFA Annual General Meeting.

He said the Australian wine sector should continue to perform well over the coming year, building on a strong performance in 2017-18.

"I have just returned from Shanghai, where we saw wholehearted support for Australian wine," Clark said. "We are hoping for a strong performance in the United States over the coming year, with both markets remaining as a focus of the $50 million Export and Regional Wine Support Package.

"The WFA is working tirelessly to improve the business and regulatory environment for Australian winemakers, through strong advocacy. Notably, at this AGM we have seen an historic agreement to amalgamate WFA and the grape grower representative body, Australian Vignerons, to form a single united body.
"The new body, Australian Grape and Wine Incorporated, will deliver on behalf of winemakers and grapegrowers of all sizes and business needs."

Clark also announced a number of new board members: Matt Stanton from Accolade Wines, Luke Edwards from Casella Family Brands, Leeanne Puglisi-Gangemi from Ballandean Estate, Rollo Crittenden from Crittenden Estate, Jeff McWilliam from McWilliam’s Wines Group Ltd and Robert Hill Smith from Yalumba Wine Company.

"I would also like to thank our outgoing Board members, Libby Nutt, Julie Ryan, Mitchell Taylor, Corrina Wright and David O’Leary for their hard work over the past year," Clark said. "In the case of Mitchell Taylor, he has had over a decade of service on the WFA board and has now moved onto the Wine Australia Board."

Sunday, 11 November 2018

Something special to mark a Bundaberg milestone

There is something quintessentially Australian about enjoying a glass or two of Bundy and Coke on a summer day.

Now drinkers can enjoy Bundy with a twist. Bundaberg Rum has just released new Small Batch Spiced release that celebrates 13 decades of rum craftsmanship by combining 13 specially selected spices with locally made world-class premium rum.

Bundaberg Rum is one of the few single-estate distilleries in the world using all locally sourced ingredients from Bundaberg, Queensland, and has won 144 awards in its 130 years of rum creation!

This month, Bundaberg Rum celebrates 130 years with a new release has been crafted by blending aged reserves with rum mellowed in heavily charred American oak barrels, before being infused with notes of 13 different spices, fruit nectars and citrus zest to produce an intricately complex spiced rum.

This is the fourth release in the Bundaberg Rum Small Batch series.

“Small Batch Spiced is one of our best rums yet," says marketing manager Karl Roche (who would probably be fired if he said anything else).

"It celebrates 13 decades of craftsmanship by combining 13 specially selected spices with world-class premium rum. Those spics include cinnamon, cocoa, black pepper, orange zest and vanlla bean.

"Bundaberg Rum is an Australian-born craft distiller, and we’re so excited to release new Small Batch Spiced as a thank you to our fans in Australia for their support over the years.”

Bundaberg Rum Small Batch Spiced (700ml, 40% ABV, RRP $69.95) is available to purchase at the Bundaberg Distillery Store, online and nationwide including selected duty-free outlets now.

Here's the recipe for a mixologist-style Dark & Stormy:

Add ice to highball glass; squeeze of lime; top up with ginger beer; 30ml Small Batch Spiced Rum; garnish with lime and mix.

Roses are red, rosé is pink.

Cast your mind back a few years. OK, a couple of decades - and remember sitting around the barbie on a stinking hot summer day. Cheap sausages, lamb chops, bucket hats, blokes who should really keep their shirts ON, Auntie Dot’s potato salad and fruit curry salad. The cicadas are kicking up a din and the magpies are crying out for their scraps.

What were we drinking? Of course, there was an Esky full of awful beer - in cans - for the gents and Chateau Carte d’Bourde for the ladies. Then along came Helen - that woman who always wore her diaphanous swirling frocks too short, pale lipstick and the oversize floppy hats with matching scarves. Oh, and who was she bringing today? A new chap apparently, but he had a buttonless shirt, a cricketer’s moustache and a shiny red MG.

Helen would bring her wine in bottles because she was a bit posh. And what was that pink stuff? ‘Mate’s’?

“Hello darlings, who’d like a rosé?”

Well, back when Dennis Lillee was bowling overs and Evonne Goolagong was winning Wimbledon, that’s all we knew. And it was MATEUS, from Portugal by the way. Note spelling.

It was a decent drop back then, as it is now. But today Aussies are producing plenty of the fine, delicate wine too, and just this week I had the opportunity for a bit of a history lesson at the recent ‘Taste of Sydney’ event.

Matt Dunne, head sommelier for the Solotel group (RE)
The charming Matt Dunne, head sommelier for the Solotel group (read: Aria, Quay Bar, Opera Bar and 27 others) was at hand to guide me a little with this lesser-known wine style.

“First of all, you should know that rosé is probably the fastest growing wine style in Australia right now,” Matt says in his quiet, authoritative voice, “one and a half million bottles were exported to Australia (from France) last year, up some 50% from 2016.”

Vins De Provence Rosé. Just a few of the premium French brands. (RE)
And why shouldn’t it be? It’s agreeable to both men and women, who drink it in equal measure and it’s perfectly suited to the foods Australians love to eat.

“Rosé is the ideal accompaniment to Thai green chicken curry,” Matt says.

And where does the best rosé come from? Well, it’s easy to be biased under these circumstances, but the 3000 hours of sunlight every year in Provence makes this region pretty hard to go past. 

Unusual varietals such as mataro, tibouren, cinsault and rolle (aka vermentino) all make for very interesting tasting indeed. Australian rosé tends to be confined to our more familiar grape types such as grenache and cabernet sauvignon.

How to drink rosé? Chilled of course, in a standard red or white wine glass and ideally suited to a wide variety of foods, particularly cheeses, cold salads and seafood. It’s very easy to drink thanks to its simplicity, even palate and low acids.

Rosé is the perfect summer drinking wine
“How do you tell a good rosé?” we asked Matt.

“Balance, length, intensity and concentration. Colour should be a pale salmon or 'onion skin'.”

But don’t get all caught up in the technicals. Wine is for drinking and rosé has to be one of the easiest and most enjoyable wines at any time. Posh Helen was right all along!

A guest blog from Roderick Eime, who was a guest of Vins de Provence Rosé #provencewinesaustralia

Saturday, 10 November 2018

American-accented meat treats in the Swan Valley

The Swan Valley, just a short drive from downtown Perth, has a new gourmet attraction in the Swan Valley Collective.

Comprising a smokehouse barbecue, chocolateria and ice-creamery, coffee and tea company and honey company, the collective specialises in slow-cooked meats and offers hearty breakfasts and meaty lunches.

Freshly-made ice cream and locally sourced honey are other drawcards, along with tea, coffee and sweet treats.

Low and slow is a term used to describe traditional southern-style barbecue cooking, where the meat is slow-cooked on a low heat, resulting in juicy, tender and flavoursome meat cuts.

From hearty breakfasts (think doorstop bacon sandwiches, pancakes and more) and meaty lunches (slow-smoked brisket with slaw and corn bread, a variety of pulled meat burgers on brioche buns) to salads and vegetarian options, this place in unashmedly American-influenced.

The Collective is open daily.

The Swan Valley is Western Australia' oldest wine growing region, located a 25-minute drive from Perth city.

For details see: www.swanvalleycollective.com.au/

Friday, 9 November 2018

England set to rival Champagne for sparkling wine production

Champagne and Tasmania may soon have a new rival for quality sparkling wine production: England.

Research from the University of East Anglia has identified areas of England that it is hoped will rival those in Champagne and other cool-climate sparkling wine regions.

Climate and viticulture experts have identified nearly 35,000 hectares of prime viticultural land for new and expanding vineyards - much of it in Kent, Sussex and East Anglia.

The Flint Vineyard on the Suffolk-Norfolk border

Professor Steve Dorling, from UEA’s School of Environmental Sciences, said: “English and Welsh vineyards are booming, and their wine is winning international acclaim.

“This summer’s heatwave has led to a record grape harvest and a vintage year for English and Welsh wine, prompting great interest in investment and land opportunities.

“But despite a trend of warming grape-growing seasons, this season has been quite unusual in terms of weather. English and Welsh grape yields are generally quite low and variable by international standards, so we wanted to identify the best places to plant vineyards and improve the sector’s resilience to the UK’s often-fickle weather.”

The research team, with help from wine producers, used new geographical analysis techniques to assess and grade land in England and Wales for suitability.

Lead author Dr Alistair Nesbitt said: “Interestingly, some of the best areas that we found are where relatively few vineyards currently exist such as in Essex and Suffolk - parts of the country that are drier, warmer and more stable year-to-year than some more established vineyard locations.

“The techniques we used enabled us to identify areas ripe for future vineyard investments, but they also showed that many existing vineyards are not that well located; so there is definitely room for improvement and we hope our model can help boost future productivity.

“Entering into viticulture and wine production in England and Wales isn’t for the faint-hearted - the investment required is high and risks are significant.

“But as climate change drives warmer growing season temperatures in England and Wales, this new viticulture suitability model allows, for the first time, an objective and informed rapid assessment of land at local, regional and national scales.”

The research was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

Summer hotel deals in Sydney look enticing

Sydney hotel rooms can be absurdly expensive - particularly when there is a major event on. 

I wrote recently about the Metro Aspire Hotel in Ultimo offering particularly good value for money, and now the same hotel group has announced some Sydney deals over the summer holidays that are well worth snapping up. 

Prices at Metro Apartments on Darling Harbour (above) start from $144 per night for a standard Apartment. 

Stay two nights and save up to 20% and stay three nights and save up to 25%. Tariffs include free wifi, guaranteed early check in (from 1pm) and late check out (up to 11am). 

Book by 14 December 2018. Valid for stays December 1, 2018 - January 31, 2019. 

At the Metro Aspire Hotel Sydney rates begin from $129 per night night for a premium room. The same two- and three-night deals apply and room rates include free wifi, and a free drink voucher at Gumtree Restaurant & Bar. 

Metro Hotel Miranda is offering balcony rooms from $122 per night with complimentary wifi and car parking, as well as 11am check outs and free entry to Body Fit Gym entry

Check out these offers and book online at www.metrohotels.com.au. There are also deals in other major Australian cities.