Sunday, 31 August 2014

How a corporate giant caused a tiny wine producer to change its name

Lion is a leading beverage and food company with a portfolio that includes many of Australia and New Zealand’s favourite brands - the company says on its website. 
Lion was formed in October 2009 under the name Lion Nathan National Foods, when Kirin Holdings Company Limited completed its purchase of Lion Nathan and merged the business with National Foods – which it has owned since 2007.
In 2011, the business became known as Lion. 
Lion Point vineyard, now renamed Lost Buoy
Today, Lion employs close to 7,500 people across Australia and New Zealand and boasts a portfolio of household-name brands in beer, spirits, wine, milk, fresh dairy foods, juice, cheese and soy beverages.
It is a range that includes beer brands including XXXX, Tooheys, Hahn, James Boag and West End Draught, and wine brands including Croser, Knappstein, Petaluma, Preece, Smithbrook, St Hallett, Stonier, Tatachilla and Wither Hills.
But nothing that I can find called Lion that people might actually buy in Australia; although there is a range of Lion beers sold in New Zealand.
But when a small wine producer opened up in McLaren Vale, South Australia, it made the mistake of choosing the name Lion Point for its brand after a local geographical landmark. 
It is my opinion that you'd have to be a moron in a hurry to confuse a massive international conglomerate with a McLaren Vale producer with a dozen or so hectares of vines at a place called Lion Point. 
Might is right, however, and after legal action Lion Point was required to cease using the word Lion "under the purity of international trademark class 33". 
Lion Point Wines is now called Lost Buoy - a landmark they spotted from their clifftop vineyard. 
Somewhat predictably, Lost Buoy Wines are not able to comment as part of their "agreement" with Lion, although general manager Anna Watson says: "The Lost Buoy name stems from the coastal location of our home vineyard - and the independent nature of our small company."
All's well that ends well, then, but this does not bode well for an even smaller wine producer in Western Australian - Lion Mill. One has to wonder whether it, too, will be seen as an obstacle to corporate progress, even though it only produces 250 cases of wine a year. 
Oh, and Tesco supermarkets in the UK are selling a brand called Lion's Gate from South Africa. Be afraid Tesco. Be very afraid.


Friday, 29 August 2014

So which of the 12 golf courses at the resort should I play today?

First you build the world's largest and most lavish golf resort. Twelve courses, three clubhouses, two international hotel campuses and knowledgeable, well-trained staff.

Then you follow up with a second resort complex. This time with only 10 courses but including a golf school, the biggest spa facility on the planet, a massive volcanic mineral springs reserve, an array of 10 restaurants and a Movie Town amusement park with its own film studio.

Mission Hills Shenzhen clubhouse
If it all sounds like nothing succeeds like excess, or that bigger is brasher, prepare to be surprised.

Welcome to the amazing world of Mission Hills; the Chinese development company that is changing the face of golf holidays forever.

The first Mission Hills facility, between the cities of Shenzhen and Dongguan is a 90-minute drive from Hong Kong International Airport, and caters for well-heeled locals, along with international tourists.

In June, a total of 1,987 golfers made history at Mission Hills Shenzhen-Dongguan by taking part in the biggest single-day golf tournament in history.

The second resort is at Haikou on Hainan island – a one-hour flight away – in a region the Chinese government expects to be a major global tourism force within a decade.

And if you think we are talking standard golf courses; think again. All the Mission Hills courses are beautifully manicured with high-tech golf carts (and there is the possibility of night golf at both resorts); while the hotel and leisure facilities are similarly impressive.
Nick Faldo course 

Mission Hills was founded in 1992 and is today headed by Hong Kong-born Ken Chu. It developed 20+ square kilometres of waste land outside Shenzhen and Dongguan to create a complex that is accredited by the Guinness Book Of Records as the largest in the world.

The 12 courses here are named after, and in some cases designed by, golf icons from around the world of golf: Jack Nicklaus, Pete Dye, Greg Norman, Nick Faldo, Annika Sorenstam, Jose Maria Olazabal, Ernie Els, Vijay Singh, Justin Rose/Ian Poulter, David Leadbetter, Jumbo Ozaki and Zhang Lianwei (a par-3 layout). Just about every golf playing demographic covered there.

The World Cup course designed by Jack Nicklaus – the first championship course in China, where golf was frowned upon only a few years ago - and the extremely tough Greg Norman layout are considered the two stand outs.

The Faldo course finishes with a spectacular island green, while the Vijay course is known for its fearsome bunkers. You pay your money and make your choice what style of course meets your daily mood.

The campus also includes a tennis academy with 51 courts (the largest facility in Asia), three golf teaching facilities, five-star hotels at both Shenzhen and Dongguan, three spa facilities, one at each clubhouse, a new Centreville shopping complex and, of course, residential housing developments.

Mission Hills Dongguan complex 
For those travelling with their families, all the Mission Hills hotels feature specially decorated children’s' rooms, which interconnect with parents' rooms and all campuses offer childcare facilities – and to make sure everyone is comfortable dining options range from the traditional Chinese and Japanese restaurants to a Starbucks outlet and many western dishes.

Both campuses feature eco trails and eco galleries highlighting local flora and fauna and are popular with bird watchers and butterfly lovers.

With staff across all the Mission Hills facilities multinational and multilingual - the company now has over 14,000 employees - a visit to either resort is truly the golf holiday of a lifetime. And if your party includes non-golfers, wives or children then there is plenty to also keep them occupied.

And the Mission Hills group is not finished yet. Next up is a new golf resort in Yunnan.
THE FACTS

Mission Hills Shenzhen is 30 minutes from the border with Hong Kong and 15 minutes from Shenzhen city, while Mission Hills Dongguan, just a shuttle bus ride away, is 50 kilometres from Guangzhou. Both are around a 90-minute drive from Hong Kong International Airport. For details of courses and hotels visit www.missionhillschina.com.

Qantas operates 28 return services each week from Australia to Hong Kong, with daily flights from Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney. With Hong Kong a key hub for the region, customers can enjoy onward connections to cities across Asia with partner airlines. The new Qantas lounge in Hong Kong offers signature cocktails, wines, spirits and barista service and with all of Qantas’s inbound flights from Hong Kong to Australia being overnight, customers can enjoy a substantial meal in the lounge before they fly so they can maximise their sleep on board. See www.qantas.com.au

# This is an abbreviated version of a story that appeared in Golf Australia magazine. That story also features full details of Mission Hills Hainan. 
www.blitzpublications.com.au/advertise/golf-magazine 

# The author was a guest of Mission Hills. 

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

A funky and affordable new address in Adelaide

There is a new hotel option in downtown Adelaide - a very smart Ibis with comfortable rooms, excellent facilities and very professional staff at a budget price. 

The new-build Ibis, open just a couple of weeks, cost $70 million and is the largest Ibis in the country. Room prices start from under $120 per night online. 

The new hotel is on the funky side of the ledger with artwork from street graffiti artist Ghostpatrol and modern technology throughout. 

I arrived after 9.30pm on a Sunday night and the staff cheerfully kept the restaurant open, although I could also have opted for a reduced 24-hour menu. The chilli squid and spicy meatballs were both very tasty.

"The hotel represents an exciting new phase of economy hotels in Australia making the experience both fun and unexpected,” says GM Nathan Frost. 

There are still teething problems. The check-out queue was longer than acceptable and even though the room omnibus (accessed via the smart TV) points to vending machines on the 16th and 2nd floors, those machines were sadly lacking in food and beverages.

Given those issues will doubtless be addressed, the centrally-situated Ibis offers great value. Its interiors are modelled on the new Ibis global design aesthetic created by Parisian design firm Atelier Archange; think futuristic LED lit multi-coloured staircase through the floor to ceiling two-storey glass street frontage.

Overall, the feel is funky but welcoming and the restaurant dishes offer good value; including a hearty buffet breakfast. 


To the side of the lobby is a chill out zone where guests can catch up on emails using free wi-fi (although wi-fi is not free in the rooms). 

 The 311 guest rooms are similarly pared back but withe excellent bathrooms and plenty of power points. 

The Samsung Smarthub 690 Series TV in every room allows access to restaurant menus and in-room entertainment, while rooms also have a compact desk area with a Phillips LED desk lamp with USB ports and adjustable office chair.

Throw in comfortable beds and an on-site indoor/outdoor gym and you have everything you'd need for a city stay. 

An opening special bed and breakfast package for two starts at $122 per night.

Ibis Adelaide, 122 Grenfell Street, Adelaide. (08) 8159 5588. www.accorhotels.com.au

# The writer was a guest of Ibis Adelaide.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

A Clare Valley village that's a food and wine haven

It may only be a tiny speck on the map, but the hamlet of Auburn in South Australia's Clare Valley punches well above its weight in the gourmet food and wine stakes. 

Chef Dan Moss, just 30, specialises in local flavours (all ingredients are sourced within 100 miles) at his Terroir restaurant, while you'll find some of the best pub grub in the state at revamped Rising Sun Hotel next door. 

Across the road, the new Clare Valley Brewing tasting room offers a range of local beers and ciders on tap (the Miss Molly Grape cider is outstanding), as well as wines from Jeanneret and Good Catholic Girl. 

The Grosset, Mount Horrocks and Taylors cellar doors are other local attractions and there is comfortable accommodation to be found at Mellers of Auburn (formerly Cygnets), which has a lovely garden and cafe.

Considered the southern gateway to the Clare Valley, the town is on the Horrocks Highway, approximately 111 kilometres from Adelaide and 25 kilometres south of the township of Clare. It marks the start of the Riesling Trail, a popular walking and cycling trail through vineyards that uses an old railway line. 

Auburn has just been named in the Top 10 destinations for a “Foodie Weekend” in Australian Traveller Magazine. Some of Australia’s top food and travel journalists, including yours truly, nominated the country’s best new food weekends as part of their Hot List. 
You'll find the full list of Hot Weekend destinations here: http://www.australiantraveller.com/food-and-wine/the-foodie-weekend-hot-list-2014/  

For more details on the Clare Valley and what to do, see: http://www.clarevalley.com.au/ 

Monday, 18 August 2014

New luxury walking/sailing holiday launched for visitors to Tasmania

Visitors to Tasmania will soon be able to combine world-class walks around the coastline of Australia's island state with sailing on a luxury yacht. 

The new Wineglass Bay Sail Walk, which will start operating in October, will combine a new guided trekking experience exploring some of Tasmania’s most stunning east coast locations with boat travel in between the destinations. 

The experience will be the latest offering from the Tasmanian Walking Company, which also owns the award-winning Bay of Fires Lodge Walk and the Cradle Mountain Huts Walk. 

"TWC currently operates two of the seven great walks of Australia," says co-owner Brett Godfrey. "We have been looking for some time to find a new expedition to complement those existing iconic experiences. 

"We believe the Wineglass Bay Sail Walk does just that, giving walkers the perfect opportunity to discover the spectacular islands and peninsulas of Tasmania’s east coast national parks by foot and by water.” 

Over four- or six-day itineraries, walkers will be able to explore Maria Island and both the Freycinet and Tasman Peninsulas, travelling by boat from one location to another aboard the luxurious Lady Eugenie, a 23-metre ketch that also serves as their accommodation. 

The four-day Wineglass Bay Sail Walk itinerary takes in Maria Island, Schouten Island, Cooks (or Bryans) Beach and Wineglass Bay. The six-day itinerary additionally explores the Tasman Peninsula, including a section of the new Three Capes Track. Both itineraries will originate out of Hobart.

Walkers can opt to relax on some days, swapping trekking with swimming, a stroll along a deserted beach, or simply staying on board. 
Each night guests will be served drinks and canapés as the sun sets, followed by a locally sourced dinner served with a selection of Tasmanian wines.

The trip will operate with a maximum of 10 guests in five cabins, all with air-conditioning, private bathrooms and showers.

The four-day Wineglass Bay Sail Walk starts from $2,990 per person, while the six-day itinerary starts from $3,990 on a twin-share basis. 

I can't wait to try it!

For more information on The Wineglass Bay Sail Walk contact 03 6392 2211 or visit www.wineglassbaysailwalk.com.au.

Friday, 15 August 2014

The best-value lunch in Tasmania? Or simply the best lunch?

When I started this blog one of my first posts raved about the superb sushi and sashimi to be found at Masaaki's, a small hole-in-the-wall restaurant at Geeveston in southern Tasmania. 

Masaaki Koyama serves lunch on Fridays and Saturdays (bookings essential) and charges $25, or $30 if you want to splash out of some extra sashimi. He also visits the Farmers' Market in Hobart on Sunday. 

The quality at his 20-seater restaurant is extraordinary. Think dishes like miso soup using local vegetables, sea urchin sushi (from the Bay of Fires), or Japanese-spiced roast duck.  

Here are just four images of lunch this weekend which I think speak more than 1000 words. I may, however, have made a mistake including Masaaki's in a piece in the new edition of Australian Traveller magazine. It hope it doesn't make it impossible for us locals to get a table. 









Masaaki's, 20B Church St, Geeveston, Tasmania. 0408 712 340.    

RACV/RACT Hobart Apartment Hotel: functional but not much fun

I had a wine tasting to attend so a night drive home from Hobart did not appeal. Solution: Take a look at wotif.com and see what was looking affordable.
A modern but soulless place to stay 

One of the best-looking deals was the RACV/RACT Hobart Apartment Hotel for $120 a night for club members. This was designed to be a Grand Mercure or somesuch until the financial crisis hit hard, and it eventually opened under this guise after a couple of stutters. 

I don't really know what I was expecting; but I was still disappointed.

It was as if someone had said: "Let's create the most boring hotel room ever - and save ourselves some money along the way."

All the basics are in place; a decent. comfortable bed, air-conditioning, flat-screen TV, alarm clock. No iPod dock, nowhere to listen to music, two RACT/RACV magazines but no other reading material, and a minibar that was...empty. 

There was a list of minibar goodies that you could order from downstairs if you required - which rather defeats the purpose. Then there was the "free wi-fi". II couldn't get it to work but as I was only staying one night it didn't concern me too much. There was no bowl of fruit - not even some biscuits to go with you tea or coffee.  
Your room doesn't come with wine or a platter 


But I do like a nice hot shower in the morning. This one was hot, but had minimal pressure, making it more like a trickle than a shower.

And no glass in the bathroom? That's taking minimalism to the extreme.

As I was only paying $120 I didn't worry too much - but if I had paid the rack rate of $160 for non-members, or $310 as claimed by Wotif, then I would have been most unhappy.  

That said, the hotel's location is good; directly behind the far better and more atmospheric Hadley's; and it has its own restaurant Charcoal, of which I have heard good reports. There's a gym on-site and some accommodation special deals that might be worth looking at. 

If all you want is a bed then this place is fine. Just don't expect any soul, or hospitality (like someone to carry your bags or the offer of a morning newspaper). It's your "apartment" - although there were no cooking facilities or anything apartment-like about my room. It's a blank canvas. Make of it what you will. 

RACV/RACT Hobart Apartment Hotel, 154-156 Collins Street, Hobart. (03) 6270-8600.
www.racv.com.au/wps/wcm/connect/racv/resorts/racv+resorts/racv-ract-hobart-apartment-hotel/accommodation

  

     

Thursday, 14 August 2014

A new lease of life for one of Australia's greatest vineyards

The Hickinbotham Clarendon Vineyard in McLaren Vale is one of the most beautiful in the country with its spectacular contours, and has regularly provided fruit for icon wines such as Penfolds Grange, Eileen Hardy and Clarendon Hills.

Established by Alan Hickinbotham in 1971, when he planted dry-grown cabernet sauvignon and shiraz on the sloping site, the vineyard was sold in late 2011 to Jackson Family Wines of the United States. 
Jackson Family Wines has vineyard holdings in the US (including the famous Kendall-Jackson range), Chile, France and Italy as well as owning the highly-regarded Yangarra Vineyard four kilometres down the road, which produces outstanding biodynamic wines.

Jackson Family Wines is a global powerhouse and has some impressive plans for the site, including a conversion to biodynamic farming down the track. It paid a reported $10 million for the estate, which includes 83 hectares of vines and two historical homes on a total of 180 hectares but on which the vines had become a little run down.

Vines have been planted in this region since 1858 and Clarendon is at a higher altitude and is much cooler than most of McLaren Vale, which lies around 40 kilometres south of Adelaide. 

The Hickinbotham Clarendon Vineyard covers steep country from the ridgetops above the hamlet of Clarendon down to the Onkaparinga River in a gorge below. 

Jackson Family Wines launched its inaugural wines – four different 2012 premium reds under the Hickinbotham Clarendon label – from the site recently to instant acclaim. 

They are the Revivalist Merlot, Brooks Road Shiraz, The Peake Cabernet Shiraz and the outstanding Trueman Cabernet Sauvignon (my favourite and reviewed below).

The wines, more elegant and nuanced than many McLaren Vale reds, are made by a team comprising local Charlie Seppelt, a member of one of Australia's most famous vigneron families, and American Chris Carpenter, who is responsible for high-end Californian labels like Lokoya, La Jota and Cardinale and says he aims to craft “world-class wines that represent this great vineyard and speak of its unique site”.

Charlie Seppelt says: “We’re both thrilled with the 2012 wines and what the future holds for us and this vineyards legacy. It’s a remarkable site and an overwhelming opportunity to work with the quality fruit it produces.”

Hickinbotham Clarendon Vineyard 2012 Trueman Cabernet Sauvignon $75
The US-Australian winemaking combination of Chris Carpenter and Charlie Seppelt has come up trumps with this stunning cabernet sauvignon - which I put firmly in the top 20 Australian cabernets on the evidence of its first release. It's a wine that shows McLaren Vale can match Margaret River and Coonawarra when it comes to cabernets with both flavour and finesse. A blend of 95 per cent cabernet and 5 per cent merlot, this is silky, elegant, flavoursome, polished, refined, and downright delicious. 
# The writer was a guest of Jackson Family Wines at the launch of the new range. 

Monday, 11 August 2014

A magnificent jungle resort with superb new beach bungalows

The Datai has long been a byword for remote luxury on the Malaysian island on Langkawi and the resort marked its 20th birthday by opening several chic beach-front villas and a new golf course designed by Ernie Els.

This multiple award-winning complex off the north-west coast of peninsular Malaysia offers so many options for pampering, dining, adventure and sports that many guests do not leave even when staying for a week or more – and one of its selling points is that it is almost completely isolated among the ancient rainforest.
The 124 rooms, suites and villas, and 14 superb new beach-front pool villas (think personal butler and in-room wine cellars) offer luxury living in a very laid back environment. Twice I walked along the pristine beach and only saw two other people.

The resort has two swimming pools, a beach club and an award-winning spa (try the signature tugku batu hot stone treatment or maybe a lembut massage using herbal oils) with many of the villas nestled under a natural forest canopy.

Guests can enjoy a range of dining options which include The Dining Room, The Pavilion restaurant and The Gulai House, all within close proximity to the villas – but if you don't want to walk you just call up a buggy to take you wherever you want to go.

The more adventurous guests can trek through the rainforest or maybe take a culinary class and learn how to cook chicken and herbs in coconut broth. 

Variety is the key to the success of the dining options. There are no nearby alternatives other than The Andaman resort at the other end of the beach, where Datai guests can sign for meals that are added to their account.
The Dining Room offers western-style dishes; The Pavilion Thai specialities and Gulai House Malaysian and Indian dishes, 

The Pool Bar, on the water, is a superb spot to enjoy a drink at any time of day and serves beer on tap, cocktails, a selection of wines by the glass and dishes ranging from satays to hamburgers.

Here you are greeted with an iced towel, a glass of cold water and complimentary peanuts while you watch the sun set – a magnificent sight – or you can go a step more upmarket and enjoy one of the buffet evenings at the Beach Club.

Unusual in Asia, there is a well-chosen global wine list with a good selection from France, Italy and Chile, as well as names familiar to Australians in Grosset, Cape Mentelle, Leeuwin Estate, Rolf Binder and Kiwis Cloudy Bay, Neudorf and Saint Clair. 

There is a range of accommodation options from deluxe hotel rooms to those new ultra-luxe beach villas featuring their own 10-metre swimming pools, separate bedroom and living room, dining table, wine cellar, free wi-fi and all mod cons, including indoor and al fresco showers and a minibar with complimentary beers and soft drinks. Satellite TVs, free wi-fi and iPod docks are de rigueur.

Guests can also participate in nature walks, use mountain bikes, the gym, catamarans, wind surfers and kayaks, play tennis or participate in a cooking class, ensuring that any non golfers have plenty to occupy their time. Something there for every member of the family. 

Guests are given a daily newsletter listing the next day’s activities, the weather and optional activities like deep sea fishing trips, photographic safaris, bird watching or night-time nature walks. Venture off track and you may encounter anything from squirrels to goannas that appear to have been taking steroids. But keep the windows to your accommodation closed – the local monkeys can be both curious and destructive.

Locked between million-year-old rainforest and the Andaman Sea, the sparkling new Els Club Teluk Datai has been described as as one of the world's most captivating new golf courses.
The layout is unique in that it has no bunkers and the course is overlooked by the marbled limestone peaks of the Mat Cincang Mountain range and has natural streams flowing throughout the course, as well as predatory Macaque and Dusky Leaf monkeys that have been known to pilfer the odd ball. You may also see eagles, giant lizards and hornbills. 
The Datai, a member of Leading Hotels, Jalan Datai, Teluk Datai, 07000 Langkawi, Kedah, Malaysia. +60 4-959 2500. Prices start from around $450 per night. www.thedatai.com. Check out the Els Club Teluk Datai course at www.elsclubmalaysia.com/teluk-datai/the-experience/
AirAsia X, together with AirAsia, provides Australians with access to over 80 destinations across 23 countries. It flies twice daily to Kuala Lumpur International Airport's new No.2 terminal from Sydney. There are up to 11 connecting flights to Langkawi each day, a trip which takes less than an hour. For bookings or further information visit www.airasia.com

Friday, 8 August 2014

Avignon: one of Europe's most captivating small cities


The ancient French city of Avignon has to be regarded among the most attractive small cities in the world. 

Once the residence of Popes during the Middle Ages, today this city on the Rhone is a magnet for lovers of history, fine wine and food, the arts and just lovers. 


There are around 90,194 inhabitants of this city and about 12,000 live in the atmospheric old town centre, which is enclosed by medieval ramparts.

Named the European city of culture in 2000, Avignon hosts one of the word's leading theatre festivals each July and is particularly vibrant in summer. It is the gateway to the Vaucluse region, known for its beautiful hilltop towns and dramatic scenery. 

Between 1309 and 1377, seven successive popes resided in Avignon and in 1348 Pope Clement VI bought the town from the Neapolitans. It was not until 1791, during the French Revolution, that it became part of France. 

Visitors flock to visit the Palais des Papes, the famous St Bénézet bridge (Pont d'Avignon), of which only four arches remain, and many churches, museums and chapels. The historic centre has been a UNESCO World Heritage Centre since 1995. 

The Place de l’Horloge is favourite spot to enjoy a coffee or glass of wine - the town is part of the Côtes du Rhône wine region and a centre of Provencal gastronomy. 

Although it has been too long since I have stayed, Avignon is also home to one of my favourite hotels: Hotel d’Europe, housed in a 16th-century mansion and home to the gastronomic restaurant La Vielle Fontaine.

This gracious and traditional five-star hotel (below) has 39 rooms and five suites and prices start from €225. There is free wi-fi throughout. www.heurope.com.


La Mirande and Le Hotel Colbert are good alternative addresses. 


La Vielle Fontaine is one of no fewer than eight Michelin starred resaurants in and around Avignon, with others including Le Diapason, Christian Etienne and Le Prieure.

Avignon is 229km south of Lyon and 85km north-west of Marseille, making it a great base from which to explore southern France. 


The towns of ange, Nîmes, Montpellier, Arles and Salon-de-Provence are all relatively close and the wine capital of Chateaneuf du Pape is just a few kilometres down the road.

Getting there

Emirates operates 84 flights per week to Dubai from Australia, with a daily connections to Paris. Passengers in all classes can enjoy up to 1,600 channels on ice, Emirates' award-winning in-flight entertainment system, gourmet food and wine and generous luggage allowances including 30kg in economy and 40kg in business class.Call 1300 303 777 or visit www.emirates.com/au

Direct high-speed trains link Avignon to Paris (2 hrs 40 mins), Charles de Gaulle airport, Lille, Lyon, Geneva, Brussels and other major cities. There is a direct Eurostar Avignon-London link in the summer. 

Saturday, 2 August 2014

The Hunter Valley: gourmet heaven

The Hunter Valley, a two-hour-drive north of Sydney, is one of Australia's most historic – and interesting – wine regions, with roots that date back almost 190 years.

The first major grape plantings date back to 1825 when James Busby, widely considered the father of Australian wine, purchased land between the settlements of Branxton and Singleton and named it Kirkton after his Scottish birthplace.
Hunter Valley vineyards

Busby travelled extensively throughout Europe and South Africa, collecting cuttings from over 500 vineyards, including six of syrah (shiraz) from the Hermitage hill in the Rhone Valley.

Today, the most widely planted grape varieties in the Hunter are semillon, chardonnay and verdelho among the whites and shiraz among the reds with tiny plantings of cabernet sauvignon and “alternative varieties”.

Semillon is the iconic wine of the region, crisp and ultra-refreshing in its youth but a style that matures over decades into a honeyed wine with toasty/brioche notes.

Young semillon is ideally suited to summer drinking and is a magnificent match for seafood; crisp, clean, low in alcohol, unwooded and deliciously dry. No wonder the style has been dubbed “semsational” by marketing types.

Jancis Robinson, one of the world's greatest wine writers, has described Hunter semillon as “Australia’s great gift to the wine world” and the style has not been replicated anywhere else on the planet.

Hunter shiraz, meanwhile, is today almost always medium-bodied and clean as a whistle – although that has not always been the case.

Shiraz was the red wine grape of the historic Hunter Valley where the wines were so strapping, and often so lacking in focus, that they inspired that memorable tasting term 'sweaty saddle',” Jancis Robinson once wrote. “And there are still bottles hidden in ancient cellars attesting to the staying power of the wines that were then called Hunter 'Hermitage'.
Wine tasting at Hungerford Hill 

It is true that Hunter shiraz (known as Hermitage or Burgundy until the 1970s) once suffered from a reputation for “funkiness” that a new generation of winemakers has addressed and rectified.

Leading shiraz maker Andrew Thomas believes that a move away from big, alcoholic wines – as promoted by influential American wine critic Robert Parker – gives Hunter producers a chance to stake their claim as trend setters.

Fortunately most consumers have now realised that those Aussie fruit bomb wines are not all they’re cracked up to be, are now looking for wines with more style and structure, and actively seeking out more medium-bodied wines,” Thomas says.

The Hunter Valley has certainly been a beneficiary of this change in consumer preference. Personally, I feel it’s a very exciting period to be a Hunter shiraz producer, and the wines we are producing (as a region) have never been better.

There is a renewed focus within the region to bottle wines from distinguished individual vineyard sites using an attention to detail, yet minimum interventionist approach. Our wines still display that uniquely regional medium-bodied, savoury structure, but with an amazing fruit-driven vibrancy and varietal purity.

It’s true we do occasionally experience some challenging seasons with our weather, but when we get it right (which is certainly more often than not) our shiraz is absolutely world class.”

The great opportunity for Hunter shiraz is that the consumer market is moving away from the big blockbuster reds and looking for wines with more finesse,” says Andrew Margan of Margan Family Wines.
Winemaker Andrew Margan 

To drink wines with less tannins and more acidity, like in pinot noir, is a market trend and the Hunter Valley personifies this style of wine.

We need to get Hunter wine back into people’s minds, and mouths, and make them realise medium-bodied wine is not a bad thing.” 

WHERE TO EAT

Bistro Molines in Mount View, a quiet corner of the Hunter Valley, is set high in the hills with dramatic vistas of vineyard rolling hills and neighbouring farms. Chef Robbie Molines, a Hunter veteran, serves hearty French-accented food (think maybe a venison pie, or twice-roasted local duckling) and features a temptingly global wine list. www.bistromolines.com.au.

Muse Restaurant at Hungerford Hill is a top-notch winery restaurant where chef Troy Rhoades-Brown offers a stylish dining experience with innovative modern Australian dishes. There are also several wine and food matching options. Also sample the more casual Muse Kitchen at the Keith Tulloch cellar door. www.musedining.com.au.

Margan Tasting Room and Restaurant offers the chance to dine inside or out, while enjoying a menu that features dishes where modern Australian cuisine meets the Mediterranean. Here you can enjoy a long lunch with vineyard views and many of the vegetables and herbs you'll eat are grown on site. www.margan.com.au.

Restaurant Botanica is part of Spicers Vineyard Estate, a laid-back resort with just 12 rooms. Botanica is a favourite with in-the-know Hunter locals. It highlights mod Oz cuisine paired with a wine list that highlights local boutique offerings and some enticing imports. www.spicersgroup.com.au.
Restaurant Botanica is a local favouite

The Beltree is a well-kept Hunter secret, serving delicious Italian food in a rustic ambience. Think dishes like gnocchi in a duck and porcini ragu, or maybe a decadently rich suckling pig. www.beltree.com.au.

Esca Bimbadgen is a long-time Hunter favourite combining good food, friendly service and terrific views. www.bimbadgen.com.au, while Roberts Circa 1876 is another reliably good option.

Another good choice is Chez Pok at Peppers Guest House, which has been re-born with executive chef John Edwards using fresh local ingredients with a French accent and wines from traditional and new generation local winemakers.

Villa du Pays restaurant at Leogate Estate serves sophisticated food in elegant surroundings and owners Bill and Vicki Widin supply the export quality Black Angus beef direct from their herd in northern New South Wales and have their own dry-aging room on site, while chef Emerson Rodriguez, who has worked at several Hunter restaurants, has also opened his new Emerson’s eatery at Adina winery.