Tuesday, 30 September 2014

So is the new Penfolds Grange as good as you've heard?

Sometimes I love my job. 

Once a year the Penfolds team invites wine writers and critics from around Australia and New Zealand to sample its new-release premium wines – including the iconic Grange.

It is invariably a swish affair. meticulously organised and attended by the great and good of wine writing (somehow I managed to snag an invite). 

So there we all were last week, sitting in reverent silence at a very swish Melbourne function space, tasting wines that most people would dream of having access to. It was an exercise in extreme indulgence - and a privilege.  

This year, for reasons I will explain, there were two Grange releases; the 2009 earlier this year and the much-vaunted 2010 – which will hit the stores on October 16.

And to help us tune our palates there were three Granges for us to taste on this occasion, the 2008, 2009 and 2010. 

The Grange is the undoubted star of the new Penfolds Collection, which is the umbrella name for the Bin Series, previously released each March, and the Luxury Collection, which used to be released each May. 

The date change, says Penfolds chief winemaker Peter Gago, frees up winemakers during what was a clash between vintage and the previous release dates, means the wines are more readily available to be shipped in cooler weather and will be available to consumers in the run-up to key festive periods including Christmas. And winemakers will not be diverted away from making wine to host launches around the world. 

“It is a better calendar from both a winemaking point of view and for commercial reasons, so we are delighted,” Gago says.

Leading the release is the 60th release of Grange, along with eight red wines from the stellar 2012 vintage – noted for its concentrated flavours – which is very welcome after some key wines were not released from the disappointing 2011 South Australian vintage.

Gago describes the new Grange, with his customary hyperbole, as “a kaleidoscopic sensorial unfolding” from a year “in which absolutely nothing went wrong”.

And it is undoubtedly a star: 

Penfolds 2010 Grange $785

If you've ever been tempted to splash out on a bottle of Grange as a present for someone special, or wanted to get a few mates together in a syndicate then you won't go wrong with the stunning 2010 – a wine that is quite simply spectacular, even in its youth. It is intense but marvellously balanced with a stylish dark flavour profile with blue and black fruits to the fore, beautifully integrated American oak and that superb track record for cellaring. A blend of 96 per cent shiraz and 4 per cent cabernet from five different regions in South Australia. I scored it 99/100. or maybe 99.5 on a good day.

But there are plenty of other shining light among the Bin releases – including a stunning new Yattarna Chardonnay from 2012. 

Many underline the mastery of Gago and his team in blending components from many different regions and multiple vineyards; and not all are expensive; the 2014 Bin 51 Eden Valley Riesling ($30) is perfumed and has lime juice and lemon curd notes, while the Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz ($40) is a big, brooding beast, meaty, oaky and chocolatey.

The 2012 Yattarna, a blend of Tasmanian, Henty and Adelaide Hills fruit, is certainly a thing of beauty; immaculately composed with great length and depth and pristine cool-climate fruit, as you'd expect for $150.
Also check out the 2010 Bin 389 Shiraz Cabernet ($95), one that shows immense promise but needs decanting and cellaring for a decade or more. 

Other red highlights include a juicy, blackberry fruity but complex 2012 Bin 150 Marananga Shiraz ($80), a dark, intense 2012 Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon ($80) and the chic and elegant 30th vintage of Magill Estate, which is a single vineyard wine made from just 5.2 hectares of shiraz vines and is eminently cellar worthy ($150). “If only we could make more!” says Gago. 

A very special collection, then, although there was one wine that disappointed me; the Penfolds 2011 St Henri Shiraz ($80), a rather thin and weedy wine that was a reflection of its very difficult vintage. 

Concentrate on the 10s and 12s and you won't go wrong. 


An exciting new market for Hobart

Hobart has a formidable number of high-quality markets; including the iconic Salamanca Markets every Saturday, the hugely popular Farm Gate Market on Sundays, and the MONA Market during summer. 

Now market lovers (and visitors to Tasmania's capital) can add a new market to the list; the Hobart Twilight Market kicks off this Friday at Sandy Bay. 

Nick Haddow's Bruny Island Cheeses are a major drawcard 
Stallholders will include food operators, cider and wine makers along with arts and crafts.

The market will be launched at 3pm on Friday at Long Beach Reserve, Sandy Bay, after several months of preparation. It will run until 7pm. 

Hobart Twilight Market co-founder Justin Davies said: “We want to give small business an opportunity to engage with the public and act as a springboard for artisan producers. We hope everyone comes out to enjoy the evening and support all the stall holders.” 

The market will showcase over 50 stalls featuring iconic names like Lark Distillery, Franks and Lost Pippin cider and Thalia and Bianca’s paté that was a hit on My Kitchen Rules

Think also Bruny Island cheeses, d'Entrecasteaux oysters, sweet treats from Fudgey and wines from Gerald Ellis's Ticklebelly label, along with a large range of gourmet fast foods perfect for a post-work snack.
 
Gerald Ellis of Ticklebelly in his vineyard
Arts and crafts lovers can check out Richard Martin's metal sculptures and Difilia by Design while there will be several artisan designers in attendance. 

Market patrons are encouraged to bring along a picnic rug and soak up the atmosphere as the sun sets over the sea. Locals can stop by on an evening stroll or make use of new bicycle lanes on Sandy Bay Road.

The market schedule is: 
Friday 3 October, 
Friday 17 October, 
Friday 31 October, 
Friday 14 November, 
Friday 28 November, 
Friday 12 December, 
Friday 19 December. 
After daylight saving returns the market will run from 48pm 

See the full register of market stallholders attached or view online at www.facebook.com/HobartTwilightMarket

Saturday, 27 September 2014

A totally private Tasmanian getaway

Far be it from me to suggest an illicit liaison, but anyone looking for a beautiful - and completely private - place to stay in Launceston, Tasmania, would be well advised to check out the two new Hatherley Birrell Collection pavilions. 

Tucked away overlooking a beautiful and stylish garden, the Magnolia and Muse pavilions are delightfully quiet and very well equipped. 

This pair of eco-friendly retreats have an Asian feel, having been inspired by Chinese lanterns. but overlook a classically European jardin folie based on 17th-18th century landscape design. 
Enjoy your own private outdoor bath


I stayed in Muse this weekend and loved the art-filled studio space with massive windows and a private deck with a large outdoor bath carved from volcanic stone. 

And for those guests looking for complete privacy and discretion you do not have to see another person for the duration of your stay. 

There is a keyless entry system so you are given passcodes for entry to the car park, your pavilion and the code for the free wi-fi (hallelujah!) in advance.

And rather than a communal breakfast, some local breakfast provisions are left in your fridge; hand-made fruit compote, yoghurt, muesli, bread for fruit toast, along with juices, milk, tea and coffee. 

This is a bonus in my view, meaning you can eat as early or as late as you wish.

The pavilions are furnished with sublimely comfortable beds, a library of in-house movies; a nicely provisioned minibar, modern bathrooms with luxury amenities (although I would have liked the bath towels to have been a little bit bigger - something that can be easily addressed).  

Both pavilions have kitchenettes, flat-screen TVs, private outdoor areas, contemporary artworks, hairdryers, free and secure off-street parking and, a nice touch, complimentary port for a pre-sleep treat. Prices are around $340 per night per couple. 
The Pavilions both overlook a delightful garden

There are two other apartments in the main building of Hatherley House, a grand 1830s mansion listed on the National Estate register; The Ballroom spa apartment and La Petite Chambre Matisse - both art influenced and also designed for couples but a little cheaper. 

The Hatherley Birrell collection also comprises another apartment in Tamar Street, close to the downtown core and hosts Rebecca and Jack Birrell, a graphic designer and architect team, have the art of hospitality down pat without having to intrude on guests' privacy.

Hatherley House proper, and its pavilions, are set high on a hill overlooking Launceston and are around a 10-minute downhill walk to the cafe and restaurant precinct. The vineyards of the Tamar Valley are just a short drive away.

The Hatherley Birrell Collection. 0458 947 727. www.hatherley.com.au.  

# I was a guest of Tourism Tasmania and the Hatherley Birrell Collection   
    





Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Dubrovnik; a delightful Adriatic playground

A palatial motor yacht, complete with two helicopters, belonging to Russian multi-billionaire Roman Abramovich was moored just off shore. Sir Roger Moore was in town for a few days and Austrian violin maestro Julian Rachlin was giving a series of concerts.

It was a couple of years ago now, but my memories are still vivid. Dubrovnik is somewhere I can't wait to return to. 

The streets of the Stari Grad (Old Town) were alive; French, German, Russian and Italian being spoken in the cafes and restaurants that dot the main pedestrian thoroughfare, Stradun, and nearby Prijeko.

Just another summer day in the Croatian resort town that in just a decade transformed itself from a war zone to the new Nice or Monte Carlo – a haven for water babes, pleasure seekers and jet-setters.

Dubrovnik, which is on the UNESCO World Heritage list, is known as the “Pearl of the Adriatic” and dubs itself the “city of style”.

The entire Dalmatian coast, with its dramatic vistas and untouched outposts, is rapidly becoming the new French Riviera – but for now, at least, it is still the preserve of those in the know.

It is hard to believe that 25 years ago this chic place was on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain. That until 1995 it was at the heart of bloody fighting as the former Yugoslavia ripped itself apart.

Today many Croat expats have returned, largely from the US and Australia, as they sense huge economic possibilities. Croatia joined the European Union in 2013.

The Old Town of Dubrovnik looks much as it has looked for centuries with its gracious old buildings and winding, narrow streets that are largely barred to traffic.
The climbs can be intimidating for anyone who is not fit – some of the steps are steep and hard work, but the views of the red tile roofs of the old quarter and the Adriatic make a climb well worthwhile.

While you’ll still find old ladies dressed in black dresses and shawls and grizzled old fishermen with three-day growths, young Croatians are very much in tune with their western European counterparts. Internet cafes abound, wine bars are all over the place.

In peak summer season, when the cruise ships disgorge their loads, the Stari Grad throbs with activity. The light is amazing, chamber music can be heard coming from old churches, rock from interlopers; a couple of Irish pubs.

The area within the 800-year-old city walls, which are just 2 kilometres long, is relatively small – and unspoilt. There are two main gates to the centre, Pile and Ploce.

The restoration work after the war has been accomplished effectively – it’s hard to believe there was conflict here so recently.

There’s a distinctly Mediterranean feel and the service is friendly – understandable as Dubrovnik is still a small town with a population of less than 50,000.

Most of the residents do not live within the walls, but rather in the port area of Gruz or the residential sector of Lapad – both of which are easily reached by buses that leave from Pile gate.

If you want to get a feel for Dubrovnik, grab a simple fish meal at Lokanda Peskarija, overlooking the port, or sip a coffee in one of the many pavement cafes on Luza Square.

One of the most chic (and most expensive) places to eat is the Restaurant Club Nautika, on the rocks just outside the Pile gate. The views of the Adriatic, and the Bolkar and Lovrijenac fortresses, are extraordinary, the service superb and multilingual, and the seafood sublime. Reserve a spot on the outdoor terrace.

If you simply want a drink with a view, climb to the top of the southern walls of the Old Town and settle in at the appropriately named Café Buza, which offers dramatic ocean views and the chance to check out all the craft coming in and out of the harbour.

There’s plenty to interest history buffs, too, with the Old Town dotted with Gothic, renaissance and baroque churches, and, tucked away in a quiet corner off Stradun, a 15th-century synagogue.

Even if time is short, it is worth taking a short ferry ride to the fishing village of Cavtat (offered in many excursion packages). So peaceful and charming, it is as if time here has stood still.

The best beach in Dubrovnik is the half pebbles/half sand stretch just outside the Ploce gate.

If you want to pick up a souvenir, Aqua Shop on Stradun sells a wide range of local glassware, or you can pick up some lacework from the local craftswomen sitting on the sea wall overlooking the old harbour.

Dubrovnik is at its busiest in August, during the annual summer festival, but probably at its best in September, when some of the hordes have departed.

Friday, 19 September 2014

How Hunter shiraz lost its way - and then rediscovered its mojo

Hunter Valley shiraz is a unique style of red wine that has long been an Australian benchmark. It is savoury and medium-bodied with sensible alcohol levels.

But is is not so long ago that Hunter shiraz lost its way; many of the wines were overblown and faulty.

Talking to three of the Hunter's style gurus this week; Andrew Thomas, Mike de Iuliis and Gwyn Olsen (who were in Melbourne to show off some of the trophy winners from the 40th Hunter Valley Wine Show),I was surprised at how readily they recognised the errors of the past.

Today's winemakers are not shy about blaming their predecessors and re-iterated what they said to me for a recent print article.

“The Hunter has only itself to blame for our shiraz not enjoying more popularity,” says outspoken Andrew Thomas from Thomas Wines (pictured below).


This is because the ‘old fashioned’ style of Hunter shiraz (sweaty saddle/barnyard characters etc.) was not actually a regional character, but a result of sloppy wine making in the past (read brettanomyces).

“The good news is that in recent years the Hunter has taken a focused, collaborative regional approach to eliminating this problem in our reds, and today we are producing wines with much more fruit purity and vibrancy, and those ‘faulty’ wines are definitely a thing of the past.

“Unfortunately, those who have not revisited Hunter shiraz in recent years may still have an old-fashioned perception of what our wines are like, but in my experience, the younger ‘new generation’ of wine drinkers (who have probably never been exposed to the older styles) are loving what they are seeing.

“Certainly, the younger generation of buyers in the retail and restaurant trade are lapping it up and it could be argued that new age Hunter shiraz is sexy again.”

De Iuliis (below) agrees, saying: “I think Hunter wineries/winemakers can take a bit of the blame for what happened in the past. I really think we took our eye off the ball here. We probably spent too much time trying to chase what we thought consumers wanted, rather than sticking to our guns and making wines in the true Hunter style. Too much time was spent chasing alcohol, oak and time in wood, producing lacklustre wines that were porty/oxidised and microbial.”

So just how OTT were some of those older Hunter shirazes?

Leading British wine critic Jancis Robinson once wrote: “The wines were so strapping, and often so lacking in focus, that they inspired that memorable tasting term 'sweaty saddle'. But there are still bottles hidden in ancient cellars attesting to the staying power of the wines that were then called Hunter 'Hermitage'.”

De Iuliis believes vintage differences may count against Hunter shiraz in a marketplace where so many wines are made to a formula and do not change from year to year.

“While knowledgeable wine consumers view this is a great strength, to be able to clearly see the effect of vineyard and vintage in a wine, to Joe Punter it can be confusing,” de Iuliis says.

“They want to know exactly what they are going to get every time they pick up a bottle off the shelf – what vintage it’s from or which vineyard is the least of their concerns. I think that there is still a sense of 'bigger is better' in the consumers' eyes, but this is slowly changing.”

So if Hunter shiraz is a thinking man's tipple, how to get that message across?

“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 from Margan Wines (below).
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.”

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 once again 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 uniqueness of Hunter shiraz is its, savoury, subtle and textural qualities," says de Iuliis, who has just released a spectacular 2013 Shiraz Touriga blend that may also signal a future diversion for this long-established style.



Saturday, 13 September 2014

Country comforts in Warrnambool; an ideal base for Great Ocean Road exploration

Staying in country towns in Australia can be fraught with danger if you have not done your research. You can find yourself in bed and breakfasts with eccentric hosts who insist you eat breakfast between 8.30 and 8.45; rustic cabins with nowhere nearby to eat and heating that doesn't work; or hotels where rowdy pub patrons keep you awake half the night. 

There are no such problems, thankfully, at the Quest Apartments in Warrnambool, a medium-sized town that is often used as a base by tourists exploring Victoria's popular and spectacular Great Ocean Road. 
The apartments are situated on the main street of town, a block away from the major hustle and bustle. You can easily walk to pubs including The Whaler and Seanchai (The Storyteller), and popular eateries like Piccolo and Nonna Casalinga, as well as to the railway station, should you be arriving by train. 

A slightly longer walk away are Lake Pertobe and Lady Bay, with a fine swimming beach

Apartment accommodation can frequently be soulless, but again, Quest Warrnambool steps up to the mark with friendly reception staff and rooms that ticked all my key boxes: comfortable beds, windows that open to let in fresh air; cooking facilities and a fridge, TVs with Foxtel channels and free wi-fi.

Other facilities include free car parking, a solar heated swimming pool and a barbecue area. 

My one-bedroom apartment was up a level of stairs, which meant dragging a suitcase uphill; otherwise I could find nothing to complain about. And for those staying more than a day or two there are washing machines in the modern and well-equipped bathrooms (nice big towels, too).   
Because I was staying early in the week, and many of the restaurants were closed, the team at Piccolo (pictured below) delivered a meal to my room; six delicious (and giant) scallops on the half shell with a lemon and tarragon crust, a mammoth chicken schnitzel with prosciutto and Jarlsberg cheese, and a decadent chocolate brownie & honeycomb ice cream sandwich with salted caramel sauce (not for those on a diet). 

Throw in a bottle of local Newton's Ridge 2012 Pinot Noir and it was an outstanding meal for a weary traveller. 

Breakfast packs can be provided by Quest but with several cafes within strolling distance there are many options for those who do not wish to self cater. The locals also assured me that for lunch you can't go past a hamburger at local icon Kermonds. 

There are 42 apartments here overall, ranging from studios to three-bedroom family facilities - and I can warmly recommend them. The in-house magazine is also pretty good. I am a regular contributor!

Quest Warrnambool Apartments, 15 Liebig Street, Warrnambool. (03) 5564 1200. www.questwarrnambool.com.au. Studio apartments start from $129 with one-bedroom apartments from $169. 

Piccolo Restaurant, 73a Liebig Street, Warrnambool. (03) 5562 2888. www.piccolowarrnambool.com.au

# The writer was a guest of Great Ocean Road Tourism and Quest Warrnambool.  

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Has Australia forgotten how to do hospitality?

Australia has been an international "flavour of the month" destination for some time now but several recent experiences make me wonder whether we've lost our way.

In comparison to many other enviable gourmet destinations, Australia is expensive - and the quality of service leaves a lot to be desired. 

Until now Australia has got by on its brilliant natural resources, cheeky charm and rising food and wine culture.

Is it now resting on its laurels? 

Example 1: 


Checking-in to the InterContinental Hotel in Sydney - one of the city's premier five-star addresses. Several of us arrived around 1pm (as the hotel had been advised) to be told that we would not be allowed access to our rooms until 3pm. As a member of the hotel group's regular guest scheme, I was miffed. I know the hotel might have been busy (so busy that one of the first questions I was asked was what time I would be checking out) but when a couple of us complained long and loud "hey presto", some rooms were suddenly found. There was a total lack of grace about the whole process, however, and a complete lack of interest that we might want to wash and brush our teeth prior to a corporate meeting the hotel knew ran from 3-5pm (and from which it was making thousands of dollars). 

The room, too, was hardly five-star with a note saying you needed to ring down if you were so demanding as to want a turn-down service, and an old-fashioned bathroom with one of those supremely nasty shower curtains that flop around. 

And that wasn't all. When a group of us returned to the hotel bar at 11pm after a function we were brusquely told that we could only order one round as the bar was about to close. Yes, here was a five-star hotel in a major international city declining to serve around 20 in-house guests.

Fortunately a couple of our later arrivals were well-known faces and the staff agreed to keep serving for another hour. But it was ungracious, cheap and the sort of attitude that would stagger guests used to luxury hotels in Barcelona or Bangkok. 

This is a hotel with more "couldn't give a Continental" attitude than InterContinental. 

Example 2: 


This "we'll do what we want and don't really care about our customers" attitude extends right down to small country stores. 

I recently needed to fill my car at Lavers Hill on the Great Ocean Road, so pulled in to Yatzies, a cafe/service station outside Apollo Bay. 

Now Yatzies is extremely popular with buses carrying foreign tourists but had apparently decided that having only one person serving behind the counter was plenty. That person was taking food orders from an entire bus load of Indian tourists so I waited patiently to pay my $40. After standing for 10 minutes, and with a plane to catch, I was less patient. 

I asked if there was someone I could pay when another fellow came out from the kitchen area. When I told him the service was pathetic, he told me I could leave because I was being rude.

I'd been trying to leave for 15 minutes and two other apparent staff members had entered the building during that time, ignored people trying to pay and gone about their business. And this is in a region that is Australia's No.2 tourist attraction. 

Imagine what tourists used to the smart, quick service at German or Italian service stations would have thought? 

Example 3: 

I picked up an Avis hire car at the shambles that is known as Melbourne Airport. After walking over a kilometre to the "mezzanine" level to get to it I noticed the paperwork said there was "no damage other than regular wear and tear". 

That was a surprise because there was a definite gouge down one side panel and two other dents and scratches. For which I would no doubt have been held responsible had I not noticed these blemishes. 

I dutifully filled in the damage on the form provided - only to be chastised on exiting the car park by a jobsworth who said I had filled the form in incorrectly. 

When I pointed out I would not have needed to fill in the form had Avis been efficient and honest, he became incandescent with rage. 

Returning the car was equally shambolic. Because I was so demanding that I needed a receipt, I had to wait 15 minutes for someone able to perform the task of checking the car, and then to go the office for a piece of paper to be issued. 

Now I know a lot of you reading this will say these are "first world problems" and that I am a "difficult-to-please whinger". And you may be right. 

But one of the few industries in Australia that is not shedding jobs right now is tourism. And if Australia continues to dispense with being hospitable then we will eventually be seeing a lot less tourists. And given our current economy that will be of concern to all of us. 

     

           

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Local heroes: the rise and rise of Tasmanian wine

Tasmania may account for less than half of one percent of Australian wine production (an average of 7,800 tonnes annually against 1,530,000 tonnes), but it punches well above its weight when it comes to quality.

And at a time when many segments of the wine industry are doing it tough, Tasmania is booming, albeit from a very small base.

Best known for its sparkling wines, the island state has been described as “the new Champagne” and with cool-climate wines very much in vogue, it doesn’t get much cooler than Australia’s southernmost state.
Dalrymple Vineyards Tamar Valley 

The cooler the climate the better the grapes for sparkling wine, so that’s why we focus on Tasmania,” says Ed Carr of Accolade Wines, the man behind House of Arras, Australia's most expensive sparkling wine range.

While getting the grapes ripe is important, it’s also about not getting grapes too exposed to the sun. You have to protect the finest fruit characters during ripening and that can be done in Tasmania.”

While it is wines made from pinot noir and chardonnay that have made the wine world sit up and take notice, other varieties including unlikely candidates shiraz and cabernet sauvignon, have also been successful.

Today there are around 1,400 hectares of vines planted in the state (56% white, 44% red) with pinot noir (44%) leading the way from chardonnay (23%), sauvignon blanc (12%), pinot gris (11%) and riesling (5%).

Tasmania has for several years now been the one Australian wine region where demand for grapes exceeds supply – and prices are high given the state's isolation and lack of cheap labour.

While 93% of all wine produced in Australia sells for over $15 a bottle, Tasmania has no cheap wine and 100% of production sells for over that $15 price point.

Options for expansion do exist, but are limited, with much of the state cold, wet and windy and unsuitable for viticulture.

There is so much in the Tasmanian wine sector that is positive – and that has been the case for several years now,” says wine industry veteran Sheralee Davies (left), chief executive of the industry umbrella body Wine Tasmania.

There have been years of slow steady growth across vineyards, quality, investment and global interest – which was boosted by hosting the Cool-Climate Wine Symposium in 2013.”

Tasmania is, in fact, the one state in Australia where demand almost always outstrips supply.

The vast majority of the Tasmanian producers are small family-owned companies (some producing just a few hundred cases a year). Of the 160 within the state only around 60 export to the mainland and less than half of that have overseas markets.

The major companies, however, are here in force.

Treasury Wine Estates has the Heemskerk and Abel's Tempest ranges and recently purchased one of the state's largest vineyards, at White Hills outside Launceston, to provide additional fruit for the Abel's Tempest range.

Accolade Wines has enjoyed immense success with its House of Arras sparkling wines, regular wine show winners, and the Bay of Fires range, and recently added the new mid-price Eddystone Point range to its portfolio.

Brown Brothers owns labels including Devil's Corner, Pirie and Tamar Ridge while the Hill-Smith family, owner of Yalumba, controls Jansz and Dalrymple.

Shaw + Smith bought into Tasmania by purchasing the Tolpuddle Vineyard in the Coal River Valley and released its first wines, a chardonnay and pinot noir, late last year while Derwent Estate sells chardonnay to Penfolds for its iconic Yattarna and many mainland companies, including Domaine Chandon, covet the sparkling base material grown in both the north and south of the island.

Leading sparkling wine producers include the Arras, Jansz, Clover Hill (owned by Taltarni) and Kreglinger, controlled by the Belgian conglomerate that also has the Pipers Brook and Ninth Island labels.

Davies says the only blot on the landscape is the 2014 vintage, in which total production dropped from a record 11,000 tonnes in 2013 to around 5,500 tonnes.

The only thing you can't control is production variability and by its very definition making wine in a cool-climate region is high-risk, high-reward viticulture,” she says. “The quality is great – and is just about every year – but you have no control over volume.

People may love the end result, but there is nothing easy about making wine in Tasmania.”

The majority of grapes are grown in the north of this dramatically beautiful island, much of which remains wilderness and the Tamar Valley, an unofficial sub-region as the entire island is one appellation, takes in Pipers River to the east, and Relbia to the south, almost on the fringes of Launceston Airport.

Among the pre-eminent locally-owned producers are Josef Chromy, Delamere, Holm Oak, Stoney Rise, Moores Hill, Goaty Hill and Velo.

Hobart, the capital and largest city, is in the south of Tasmania, and is surrounded by three wine regions; the Derwent Valley to the north, Coal River Valley to the east and the sleepy Huon Valley to the south.

All three wine regions are within a 30-40 minute drive; albeit in different directions. Key names to look out for include Pooley, Clemens Hill, Frogmore Creek, Domaine A, Coal Valley Vineyard, Home Hill, Hartzview, Panorama, Stefano Lubiana, Derwent Estate, Moorilla Estate, Pressing Matters, Puddleduck and Two Bud Spur.

Moorilla is part of the $A175 million Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) complex built by local gambling multi-millionaire David Walsh – and recently launched a trio of premium wines adorned with the cloth labels that the winery used 50 years earlier.

Tamar Valley vineyards
Shiraz is very site-specific in Tasmania with Moorilla and Glaetzer-Dixon the two major producers at around 500 cases each annually. Cabernet sauvignon is even more problematic, although Peter Althaus at Domaine A has proved very successful with Bordeaux red varieties, albeit in very small quantities.

There are also several smaller wine regions: The road to the historic settlement of Port Arthur boasts a handful of wineries, including Bream Creek, Australia’s major producer of the German grape variety schönburger, and Cape Bernier. North of Hobart, just off the main road to Launceston, you’ll discover pinot noir specialist Winstead in the hamlet of Bagdad, while the East Coast’s most prominent producers include Spring Vale, Freycinet and Milton.

There is no shortage of alternative varieties, either, with Joe Holyman at Stoney Rise tinkering with gruner veltliner and White Rock in the north-west of the state enjoying success with the German red variety dornfelder.

# This is an abbreviated version of a story that first appeared in Drinks Trade magazine

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Just a short drive from Adelaide: one of Australia's best vineyard restaurants

The Lane Vineyard cellar door and restaurant at Hahndorf in the Adelaide Hills - just a short drive from downtown Adelaide - is a great choice for anyone who enjoys going gourmet while taking in great views.
The elevated dining area offers stunning views across the vineyards to Mount Lofty and Mount Torrens and you can eat on the veranda in summer or in front of a log fire in winter. 

The Lane is the brainchild of jovial winemaker John Edwards, his wife Helen and their children Ben Tolstoshev and Marty Edwards.

The family are all bon vivants who will encourage visitors to try just a little of this and a smidgen of that, and there are some delicious morsels to try on a menu that ranges from snacks to a five-course degustation meal. 

In my opinion this is one of Australia's best gourmet experiences - a chic but never stuffy spot that’s busy even during the middle of the week, which is always a good sign. 
The wines are excellent across the board, there is a keen young team and changes are on the way. 
I remember attending the opening of the facility five or so years ago but when I popped by unannounced a couple of weeks ago Ben and Marty were bubbling with news about the new, enlarged kitchen and a tasting facility directly overlooking the winery where guests will pay $20 for a flight of four wines and four gourmet morsels; and get their money back if they purchase wines. 
Executive chef James Brinklow's menus touch all bases, and feature local seasonal produce when possible. 

The brilliant freshly shucked oysters are a must, and then think tasters and starters ranging from Waygu bresaola with celeriac remoulade and peppers; spiced whitebait with vanilla aioli and blue swimmer crab ravioli with basil and black pepper. 

Mains may include confit pork belly, artichoke, roasted chestnuts and golden raisins; grilled kangaroo striploin with beetroot, curd, lardo and tarragon or a vegetarian risotto verde with buffalo curd. Whatever your order a side of crunchy hand-cut fries is a must. 
All the dishes on the menu are matched with one of The Lane's wines; with the Gathering Sauvignon Blanc, the Beginning Chardonnay and the Block 5 Shiraz all food friendly. 

The kitchen also offers some delightful little surprises, including croquettes, while sweet tooths are catered for with dishes like caramel peanut popcorn; vanilla ice cream, honey brittle, honeycomb and oats and passionfruit curd-filled madeleines. 

There is a selection of cheeses, too, and The Lane is open seven days for lunch, making it a great destination early in the week, when a lot of the other local restaurants are closed. It pays to book at all times, however. 

The Lane, Ravenswood Lane, Hahndorf  5245. (08) 8388 1250. www.thelane.com.au