Sunday, 31 January 2016

The perfect base from which to explore Queenstown and Central Otago

When you throw open your curtains at the St Moritz Hotel in Queenstown, you are greeted by the most marvellous views of azure blue Lake Wakatipu and the distant mountain range of the Southern Alps. 

If you are lucky, the glorious old steamship MSS Earnslaw may be passing your window. 

But it is not just the views that make the hotel such a great base; it is the staff - a multi-national force of smiling and efficient young people from France, England, Brazil, Canada, Japan, Argentina and even a few New Zealanders.



Formerly the Grand Mercure, now the M Gallery St Moritz and soon to be re-branded the M Gallery by Sofitel St Moritz, the hotel is modelled on a European-style ski chalet, and is perched on a hill just a very short stroll from downtown Queenstown and a quick drive from the closest of vineyards; Amisfield and Chard Farm among them.

It is a boutique-style five-star property in the lodge style; there are porters to help you carry your bags and park your car; a concierge to help organise your itinerary and extremely comfortable rooms (if a little stuffy when you enter).

There are all those little five-star touches; an onsite So Spa for pampering; an excellent restaurant in Lombardi that serves everything from fine dining al a carte choices to gourmet pizzas and an adjacent bar that specialises in flights of Central Otago pinots.

The bar serves light lunches and tapas in the afternoon and some mighty cocktails. I like the nice touch of home-baked cookies in the room after check-in. 



There are just 134 rooms and suites here, and with them being spread over four floors, it feels like far less. 

Guests can choose between standards rooms with satellite TV, iPad docking stationsa, tea and coffee-making facilities, minibar, and ultra-comfortable beds, or apartment-style alpine suites with kitchenettes, large lounge and dining areas and sofa beds. There are also 27 two-bedroom apartments. If you want those views, you need to book in advance, and possibly pay a supplement. 

Like just about everything else here, it is worth it. 

St Moritz, 10-18 Brunswick Street, Queenstown, Central Otago, New Zealand. 
+64 3 442 4990. www.stmoritz.co.nz

# The writer was a guest of Central Otago Pinot Noir    

Saturday, 30 January 2016

The most idiosyncratic pinot noir tasting ever?

Stephen Tanzer, the erudite and widely respected wine critic from the United States, called it "the most idiosyncratic pinot noir tasting ever". 

Paul Pujol, the polyglot winemaker at Prophet's Rock winery in Central Otago, decided to line up seven pinots noir from different regions of France as part of a fascinating formal tasting at the Central Otago Pinot Noir celebration. 


Pujol, who has worked in Alsace, Oregon, Sancerre, the Languedoc and Marlborough, as well as in Central Otago, sourced wines through the US merchant Kermit Lynch and his network of friends - and they ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous. 

A panel comprised of Pujol, Tanzer, erudite funster Oz Clarke and Burgundy winemaking consultant Francois Millet led delegates through wines from Champagne, the Moselle, Alsace, Jura, Savoie, the Loire and, of course, Burgundy. There was not, surprisingly, an entry from the Aude. The Le Chat Noir would have shone on what was a fascinating vinous roller-coaster ride through various regions and vintages - and bottle variation. 

The wines had but one thing in common, the limestone energy of pinot noir. The Gilbert Felletig 2013 Chambolle Musigny was the undoubted star, as one would expect; a Burgundy wine of beautiful balance and allure. 

The remainder divided the room; with the JF Ganevat "Julien en Billat" 2014 Cotes du Jura - a natural wine right on the edge - understandably the most divisive. The witty Clarke called it "fantastically interesting" while Tanzer expected it would appeal largely to "bearded sommeliers in Australia and Auckland". 


Here my brief rundown of the seven (but you really had to be there - and these are my opinions only): 

Paul Bara 2006 Bouzy Rouge (Coteaux Champenoise Grand Cru)
A quite impressive aged wine with powerful ripe fruit, hints of chalkiness. Nicely varietal, but faded quickly in my glass. 

Chateau de Vaux 2013 Molozay "Les Clos"
Nearly all the pinot noir in this Moselle region, south of Metz, has been ripped out. This producer is trying to revive the tradition but this was very light, tart and overoaked. 

Albert Mann 2012 "Grand H"
Very dark, almost inky, dense with dark fruits, some whole bunch, hints of salinity; the closest wine to village Burgundy and one for the cellar right now. 

JF Ganevat 2014 "Julien en Billat" Cotes du Jura
The simplest possible winemaking; it spends a year on skins and is then bottled. The end result is pale and spritzy; oxidised and a wine I'd cross the road to avoid. Others loved it for its idiosyncratic style. 

Andre et Michel Quenard 2013 Chignin
A very taut and tight wine from the Savoie, high in acid, lacking in fruit but full of intrusive charry oak. Probably using under-ripe fruit. 

Daniel Chotard 2012 "Le Chant de l'Archer" Sancerre Rouge
The primary character I found here was warm plastic; light red primary fruits, chunky tannins, reductive character. Unappealing. 

Gilbert Felletig 2013 Chambolle-Musigny
The complete package; a wine that sung sweet music; delightful fruit characters, elegance, delicacy and structure all combine. 

The verdict: On the evidence of this one tasting, cool-climate regions of Australia and New Zealand; Central Otago, Martinborough, Tasmania, the Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula produce pinots of excellent quality on a more reliable basis; the regional French offerings appear more dependent on both producer and vintage. As, of course, is the case with Burgundy.   
  

   

Friday, 29 January 2016

Australia's longest-running gourmet weekend is worth the trip

Ever wondered which event is Australia’s longest-running food and wine festival?

It is the Clare Valley Gourmet Weekend in South Australia, which will run this year from Friday, May 13 to Sunday, May 15. 

Four days showcasing the region’s delicious food, award winning wine and country hospitality will entice an estimated 5,000 visitors two hours north of Adelaide for a jam-packed program. 



Around 25 wineries and restaurants will be involved, highlighting fresh, seasonal produce with new and previous old vintage wine releases at venues from Auburn to Clare. Perfect for lovers of rieslings and beautifully balanced reds.

The festival will see the return of the popular ‘Gourmet Hub’, located at the Clare Valley Wine Food & Tourism Centre throughout the weekend, plus the Clare Valley Cuisine’s annual Gourmet Market on the Saturday 14 May. 

Matthew Lawson, chair of Clare Valley Winemakers Incorporated, said the 2016 Clare Valley Gourmet Weekend will be a highlight on the calendar for many locals and tourists alike. 

Highlights include Skillogalee’s Long Table Dinner by the Vines, an eight-course degustation accompanied by matched Skillogalee wines.

“The Clare Valley Gourmet Weekend is an iconic regional celebration,” Lawson said. “As the oldest consecutive running food and wine festival in Australia, the weekend celebrates the very best that the Clare Valley has to offer. Many visitors enjoy the popular winery festivities, quality wines and regional food.

“There are a number of new and exciting additions to the 2016 program, and we can’t wait to showcase the region to travellers and visitors over the weekend in autumn - the perfect time to visit the Clare Valley.” he said.

The first Clare Valley Gourmet Weekend was held in 1984, well before such events started be popular. 

For full details visit www.clarevalley.com.au.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

A new guide to the best of the best

Whenever I am travelling in Europe, and if my budget permits it, there is one group that I trust implicitly to offer luxury and great service. 

The elite Relais & Chateaux group features exclusive properties and restaurants across all continents but is still under-exposed in Australia. 

Award-winning Barossa Valley winery restaurant Hentley Farm (below) recently became the latest member of the elite Relais & Chateaux hospitality network.



 
The genre-hopping vineyard dining room is only the second member chosen from South Australia. The other is Appellation restaurant at The Louise, another Barossan culinary superstar. 

Established in 1954, Relais & Chateaux consists of 530 of the world's finest hotels and restaurants. 

The association's international president, Philippe Gombert, praised the youthful team at Hentley Farm for "creating a leading example of contemporary regional dining" in South Australia and said executive chef Lachlan Colwill's sophisticated menus "meld surprise with a delicious sense of place". 

Hentley Farm, which is open for lunch Thursday to Sunday and dinner on Friday and Saturday nights, is one of just a dozen Relais & Châteaux properties in Australia, New Zealand & South Pacific region, nine of which I am lucky enough to have visited. 

The association’s Oceania delegation of members recently announced the publication of Taste of Australia, New Zealand & South Pacific, a guide to travel and culinary excellence across the region. 

The 12 Relais & Châteaux members in the region are: Tetsuya’s Restaurant, Guillaume Restaurant, Jonah’s Restaurant & Boutique Hotel, Hentley Farm Restaurant and The Louise Barossa Valley/Appellation in Australia; The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs, Huka Lodge (below), The Farm at Cape Kidnappers, Otahuna Lodge and Matakauri Lodge in New Zealand; Dolphin Island in Fiji and Le Taha’a Island Resort & Spa in Fiji.



 

Talking about the new guide, Relais & Châteaux delegate for the region, Jim Carreker of The Louise, said: "It seems that a tour ‘down under’ is on every traveller’s wish list. Our chefs have always naturally sourced locally and evolved their menus to highlight ingredients at the peak of seasonal freshness. Whether it’s seafood from the crystal clear Southern Ocean, vegetables straight from the on-site kitchen garden or beef, fowl and game from a nearby paddock, our restaurants exemplify the vision of Relais & Châteaux to make the world a better place through cuisine and hospitality."

The 52-page guide is available by contacting Relais & Châteaux directly by calling 1300 121 341 in Australia or 0800 540 008 from New Zealand.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

How about a round of golf and a gourmet feast?

Fancy combining a few rounds of golf with a gourmet food experience? Iconic Malaysian resort The Datai Langkawi will host internationally renowned Michel Roux OBE, as guest chef for three special nights – on February 18-20.


Datai guests will indulge in a five-course set menu prepared by the man described as “the godfather of modern restaurant cuisine in the UK” in the tropical rainforest resort overlooking the Andaman Sea.

On each of the evenings, pre-dinner cocktails and Michel Roux Champagne will be served by the main pool followed by dinner in The Dining Room.

A well-curated wine list will accompany the dinner menu. Master sommelier Pierre Bat from negociant Veyret-Latour in Bordeaux will be in attendance, advising on wines and sharing his knowledge.

French-born Roux will also conduct a Masterclass cooking demonstration at The Datai. He opened London restaurant Le Gavroche in 1967, which later became the first Michelin three-starred restaurant in Britain.

His restaurant in the village of Bray, The Waterside Inn, has held three Michelin stars for a period of 31 years.

Datai guests may book for just one, or all three nights for dinner with Michel Roux.



Leisure facilities at the resort include two swimming pools, an award-winning spa and the Els Club Teluk Datai (above) – one of the most scenic golf courses in south-east Asia, designed by Ernie Els.


For reservations at The Datai Langkawi visit www.thedatai.com or phone (+60 4) 959 2500.

A race against time to complete a wooden masterpiece



Hidden away in a shed in the Huon Valley, in Tasmania's deep south, are two remarkable pieces of art.

The first is what is believed to be the longest table made from Huon Pine in the world - with a river running through it and capable of seating 50 people for dinner.

The other is an organically-shaped building designed to float on the Huon River that has been a labour of love for local carpenter and boatbuilder Robert Sweeney for the past three years.

The amazing design was part of a five-year plan but Rob was recently diagnosed with liver cancer and has only a short time to live. He may not see the completion of his "floating wooden masterpiece".




He tells the story: "Two months ago l was feeling ill and saw my doctor, he ordered some tests (MRI) which lead to the detection of cancer of the liver, which is terminal and my time on this planet has been severely shortened, so time is precious.

"My present condition has meant I’ve had to stop all commercial work which was been funding the project; my life expectancy has been severely reduced so I'm unable to earn the money to continue the task.

"Fortunately, my wonderful and dedicated sons and grandsons are also amazing carpenters so with their loving help it will be feasible to launch this project onto the Huon River within my life."

Friends of Rob Sweeney, an eccentric and much-loved character in both Cygnet and the Huon Valley, are seeking financial assistance to make his dream a reality as soon as possible.


So far the building, which is designed to float on a barge at Woodstock and Petcheys Bay, has consumed 10 tonnes of hand-crafted ancient Huon Pine. The structure is magnificent, finely detailed and beautifully hand-crafted with finesse.

This extraordinary project, which I saw for the first time this week, has captured the imagination of all who have seen it. 

There will be an open day at the shed on Lymington Road, Cygnet, on Sunday, January 31, from 1-5pm. For further info or donations contact Zara Creative on 0432082631 or see www.gofundme.com/2nj5fg3b

It just became a whole lot easier to fly between Tasmania and Singapore

Travelling to and from Singapore just became a lot easier for Tasmanians. 

Tasmania Premier and Tourism Minister Will Hodgman has lauched a new interline arrangement between budget airline Scoot and Virgin Australia, which will extend to all Virgin Australia flights into Hobart and Launceston.



Scoot, the low-cost, medium-haul arm of the Singapore Airlines Group, operates the world’s first all 787 Dreamliner fleet to 18 destinations in eight countries/regions, including non-stop services from Singapore to Sydney, Gold Coast, Perth and Melbourne.  

Through its partnership with Virgin Australia, Scoot will now be able to connect its Singapore-Melbourne service to Virgin Australia services operating between Melbourne, Hobart and Launceston.

The interline arrangement means that guests will now be able to book flights all the way from Singapore through to Tasmania via Melbourne on a single ticket. Tasmanians and visitors leaving the state can also book flights departing Hobart or Launceston to Singapore via Melbourne on a single ticket.

The new interline arrangement enhances connectivity between Tasmania and Singapore, complementing Scoot’s existing Singapore-Sydney connection to Virgin Australia’s services operating between Sydney, Hobart and Launceston.

The extension of Scoot’s interline partnership with Virgin Australia acknowledges Tasmania’s growing popularity amongst Asian visitors, and provides a great opportunity to attract more visitors from Singapore to the state for leisure, education and business. 

Scoot Chief Executive Officer Campbell Wilson said: “Since Scoot commenced flights between Singapore and Melbourne last November, the response has been amazing. Our fantastic value airfares, plentiful choices and service with Scootitude have clearly proved a hit, so we’re delighted to making them even more accessible to Tasmanians and overseas visitors though the extension of our partnership with Virgin Australia.”

The Tasmanian Government’s Access 2020 Plan also shows that total air capacity will need to increase by 700,000 seats over the next five years or around 140,000 extra seats a year to achieve a 1.5 million visitor target.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Make sure you avoid being ripped off when booking online


Occasional travellers or visitors to Australia booking domestic flights need to pay close attention when they are making their flight selections online.

Consumer advocacy group CHOICE this week warned unwary consumers looking for cheap last-minute airline fares to watch out for pre-selected extra costs that can add up to 40% to the advertised price of tickets.

A CHOICE investigation found that "sneaky pre-selected extras" including luggage ($34 for 20kg), travel insurance ($12.95), seat selection ($10) and a charity donation ($2) can bump up the cost of a $148 return flight by $58.95 – a jump of 40% on the advertised price.

“Pre-ticked extras are sneaky, costly and in most cases completely unnecessary,” said CHOICE spokesperson Tom Godfrey.

“In much the same way that a supermarket wouldn’t get away with handing you a trolley full of groceries you don’t want every time you arrived at the checkout, an airline shouldn’t be able to opt you in for products you don’t want or need.

“Signing you up for these extras is little more than marketing trickery. It’s particularly concerning that the airline tries to push its one-size-fits-all travel insurance, which is unlikely to meet to needs of all consumers."

Qantas and Virgin Australia no longer use the opt-in system but CHOICE is calling on Jetstar Australia and New Zealand’s CEO David Hall to ditch the pre-ticked optional extras.

“Jetstar is far and away the worst offender when it comes to sneaky pricing tricks and that’s why we are calling on Jetstar customers to send the airline a message. It’s time we sent pre-ticked optional extras packing,” Godfrey said.

“Ultimately, we don’t think the airlines should be pre-selecting extras for customers. Let people chose any extra costs and don’t try and trick them into paying more.” 


So make sure you untick any of those pre-selected extras you don't want and you'll be fine. 

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Tetsuya Wakuda: culinary innovator and ambassador

When I was in Japan recently there were two words that just about everyone I met understood: Tetsuya Wakuda, the Japanese chef who hit the big time in Australia.

 
In Sydney, he's a culinary icon, a survivor for over a quarter of a century in one of the most competitive restaurant markets in the world.

In Singapore, he is the relative newcomer whose tiny eatery keeps garnering award after award.
And in Tasmania, he is just Tets, the gourmet ambassador who can't stay away.
The story of superstar chef Tetsuya Wakuda is a remarkable one by any measure; the tale of a young migrant from Japan who became recognised as one of the best chefs on the globe.
His Sydney restaurant, known simply as Tetsuya's, has been a regular in world top 100 restaurant lists since soon after it opened in 1989.
Waku Ghin, his Singapore outpost at the glitzy Marina Bay Sands resort, is ranked among the top 10 restaurants in Asia and a staff of 32 has catered for just 30 diners each night since it opened in 2010.
Two years ago, he earned the unprecedented honour of being named by the Japanese government as the first overseas-based chef to be recognised as a Master of Cuisine.
The late Charlie Trotter, the legendary American chef, described him as “one of an elite group of international chefs who have influenced other chefs through their personal styles and unique approaches to food”.


These are quite extraordinary achievements for someone who arrived in Australia at the age of 22 with very limited English language skills and sought work as a kitchen hand in a country where he expected to see kangaroos and koalas.
Along the way this quietly-spoken, humble man has devised a culinary philosophy centering on pure, clean fusion flavours that has been much copied but rarely bettered. Think dishes like scampi tail with scampi oil and chicken liver parfait (Sydney's up-market surf and turf), or marinated botan shrimp with sea urchin and Oscietra caviar at Waku Ghin, where a 10-course degustation menu is served at two sittings each night.
"I made up quite a few things along the way, and luckily for me, people like the way they tasted," Testsuya admits.
When he was presented with a Diner's Club Lifetime Achievement award – Asia earlier this year, he described his two restaurant businesses as “something that I believe in, and something that I love to do. But it is actually not my talent, but … everybody together, so this award is for the team.
“This kind of award is usually given to someone who has put in many years and is ready to retire. But I am not ready to retire yet.”
His humble attitude has made him one of the few superstar chefs about whom no one in the sometimes bitchy industry has a bad word to say – and he also freely admits discovering ideas every time he eats out, which is often.
“You have to have a passion for eating first – and from that comes a passion for cooking,” he says.
Born in Hamamatsu in Shizuoka prefecture, he arrived in Australia in 1982 with a small suitcase and big dreams.
He found work as a kitchen hand and then working for Tony Bilson, the chef superstar of his day, at Kinselas. It was here that he learned the classic French techniques that would help him create his own culinary style.
After several short stints at other eateries and a spell as part owner of a small restaurant called Ultimo's, where he cooked Asian-French fusion dishes and his star began to rise.
In 1989 he opened Tetsuya's in a small terraced house in the inner city suburb of Rozelle, and booking were soon hard to come by and waiting lists the norm.
A move to larger, classier premises in the city followed – along with international recognition.
Back home, his success was being noted and in 2006, he was named as the first Sake Ambassador outside of Japan.




S
ince 2003 he has been the international food and beverage ambassador for Tasmania, a state he visits regularly and for which he has great affection.
A couple of years ago he had a “wooden fishing boat” built from local timbers, which he uses on his frequent trips to the island state. He treated hundreds of locals in Franklin, where the $800,000 motor cruiser Belle was built, to a slap-up breakfast to celebrate the launch.
In November, he was the star attraction at Effervescence, the annual celebration of Tasmania sparkling wine, at which he will cooked on the opening night.
In addition to his ambassadorial role, he has supported many small producers on the island; and his signature dish is a confit of Petuna ocean trout from Tasmania.
A fiercely private man with a broken marriage behind him, he says his staff are his family.
"To be honest, I think it's amazing that other people find time to be a father, a chef and a restaurateur,” he told me a few years ago. I may not have family here but I have people I can call family – some very dear friends - so I am very fortunate.
"Like most chefs I only ever wanted to cook my own food, in my own way and I am thankful that people continue to enjoy that.”
As for the future, he has considered opening a small Japanese-style tavern in Tasmania when he retires. 


I caught up with him at Effervescence and asked how those plans were progressing. 

"I'm looking," he said with an enigmatic smile. Tasmanians can only keep their fingers crossed. 

# This is an edited version of a story that first appeared in Crown Lounge magazine 

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Meet the cute vineyard cottage that used to house POWs

Andrew and Prue O'Shanesy, the couple behind the Wines For Joanie label, haven't missed a beat since arriving In Tasmania's Tamar Valley from Queensland in 2012.


Now the go-ahead pair has launched a vineyard getaway that's perfect for couples looking to get away from the city for a day or two.

The Wines for Joanie Farm Cottage is a newly renovated, one bedroom 1940s cottage on 140 acres of vineyard and grazing land at Sidmouth, a short drive north of Launceston. 

Located on a working farm and vineyard, the cottage enjoys bucolic rural views just five minutes' drive from the small towns of Exeter and Beaconsfield.


Wines for Joanie Farm Cottage is perfect for two people or a small family and has an antique queen bed, with an electric blanket for winter, a bathroom with shower and Grown Alchemist toiletries, a kitchenette with microwave, toaster, kettle, small fridge and all crockery and cutlery, lounge room with antique leather wing-back couch, wood fire, verandah and barbecue.

A breakfast hamper is provided each day and gourmet pre-packaged meals made by chef Daniel Alps are available if ordered in advance. Guests are also welcome to raid the veggie patch if there’s anything edible there at the time. For babies or small children, a port-a-cot, high chair and books and toys are available.


The Wines for Joanie farm/vineyard was originally a successful apple orchard with apples marketed and sold under the Glendale Extra Fancy Apples label.

During World War II, Italian Prisoners of War were allocated to Glendale Orchard, working on the orchard and planting trees. The cottage was originally built to house the POWs.

All of the furniture is either from the O'Shanesy home in Queensland or has been sourced locally. There are plenty of books and magazines, a TV – and, of course, sourcing wine is not a problem.


For details see www.winesforjoanie.com.au

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Hit the park for Tasmania's best food and wine festival


Held annually over three days in Launceston's delightful City Park, Festivale is Tasmania's best food and wine festival by some considerable margin. 

Unlike the recent Taste in Hobart, where you can struggle to find a table, where the costs are too expensive for many boutique producers, where the lines can be long and the payment system is unreliable at best, Festivale offers the chance to spread out on the grass while enjoying gourmet food, local wines, ciders and beers and live entertainment from the likes of Kate Ceberano and Wendy Matthews. 

More than 30,000 people are expected to flock to Festivale to enjoy the offerings of over 70 stall-holders, ranging from boutique wine producers like Wines For Joanie, Hillwood Estate, Barringwood Vineyard and Gala Estate to big names like Josef Chromy, Jansz, Pipers Brook, Tamar Ridge and Bay of Fires, as well as regular award winners Goaty Hill and Moores Hill. 

Ciders from Pagan, Little Rivers, Willie Smith's and Red Brick Road and craft beers from Seven Sheds, T-Bone, Morrison, Two-Metre Tall and Van Dieman Brewing will be on offers and food purveyors range from Jahan Paterson-Were's Mahasti tapas to Fingal Valley Bratwurst, Mount Ghomon Farm's porky delights, Ashgrove Cheese and delicious Flamecakes (try one if you haven't already).



Festivale’s outdoor theatre will feature a non-stop local and interstate entertainment line-up from two stages around the park throughout the weekend. Ceberano will headline on the Friday night. Wendy Matthews will bring Saturday night alive and also be singing jazz on Sunday. 

Roving acts and internationally renowned buskers will be on hand to keep the crowd entertained, including The Tiny Top Circus Tent for younger attendees

While entry to the Taste is free, you pay to attend Festivale, which keeps out the hooligan element and assures a family atmosphere. 

This year's Festivale runs from Friday, February 12 to Sunday, February 14, and visitors can choose between paying for daily entry or being season passes. 

Chef Greg Malouf is this year's special guest and Greg will talk about his passion for cooking, knowledge and experience at the Festivale Lunch at Stillwater on the Friday. Working with head chef Craig Will, Malouf will showcase his Middle Eastern cuisine using Tasmanian produce. 

It might pay to book early for both Malouf's lunch and some of the masterclasses to be held over the final two days of Launceston's favourite gourmet event.


The Tamar Valley Wine Route Experience tastings will be held at Design Tasmania, just outside City Park and tickets are on sale now.

Classes include a look at colour in Tasmanian rosé sparkling wines with Dr Andrew Pirie from Apogee and Fran Austin from Delamere and an examination of the difference between pinot gris and pinot grigio with Penny Jones from Bay of Fires and Stewart Burns from Josef Chromy.

Also look out for beer and cheese matching class presented by Nathan Calman, head brewer at James Boags and veteran cheesemaker Uli Berger, and a look at wine and chocolate with Natasha Nieuwhof from Goaty Hill and Theresa Streefland of Cocobean Chocolate.

On Sunday, the highlights include a tasting of the Festivale Awards winners with
James Welsh, Curly Haslam Coates and wine writer Jane Faulkner, who has taken over my judging role at the event.

Also consider a cider workshop with Karina Dambergs of Red Brick Road Cider and Tim Jones of Willie Smiths, and a look at whether to age Tasmanian pinot noir with Tom Wallace from Tamar Ridge and Pete Caldwell from Dalrymple Vineyards.

Entry prices are $20 for Friday night, $25 on Saturday and $15 on Sunday. Three-day passes cost $48 (pre-sale only). 

For full details see www.festivale.com.au 

Monday, 11 January 2016

Tasmanian town goes French for a weekend

The tiny southern Tasmanian town of Cygnet will take on a French accent next month - but only for one weekend. 


Cygnet, with a population around 1,000 and counting, last weekend held its 34th annual folk festival, which drew a crowd of 6,000. 

On the weekend of February 13-14, it will host the first Le Weekend, two days devoted to celebrating all things French and celebrating the region's many links with France.

The bay on which Cygnet sits, some 45 minutes' drive south of Hobart, was named Port des Cygnes (Port of Swans) by French navigator Bruni D'Entrecasteaux in 1793, because he observed a large number of black swans in the area. 

The Huon Valley region, along with its local government authority, several towns, the HHuon River, and the Huon Pine, were named after French explorer Jean-Michel Huon de Kermadec. 


Cygnet’s 150th anniversary in 1984 was marked by Cygnet twinning with Entrecasteaux in France and a visit of the French Frigate “Jacques de Cartier”.

Today, Cygnet is a local mecca for artists, musicians, craftspeople and creative types, including many journalists, TV types, and Gourmet Farmer Matthew Evans, among others. It hosts a hugely popular fortnightly market. 

The inaugural Le Weekend will include the first Tour de Cygnet cycle race, over either 17km or 38km, along with dozens of other events celebrating French history, culture and romance.


Following the opening ceremony on February 13, there will be market stalls with a French flavour, petanque, a French dinner banquet with chicken liver pate and bouef bourguignon and some great cheeses. There will be some terrific French wines and I will be giving a talk on the differences between French and Tasmanian wine. 

There will also be live music, a parade of classic French cars, an En Plein Air art competition, live music and French film festival. 

The market stalls and petanque will be back on the Sunday, along with a Valentine's Day French breakfast, the cycling, French cooking classes with Steve Sakell, the chef at Villa Howdenand more movies and cars.  

On both days, visitors and locals will be able to explore the local waters first mapped by French navigators on board the Lady Nelson sailing vessel. 

Tickets and more information at www.cygnet.org.au 





Saturday, 9 January 2016

So you think you have what it takes to be a winemaker?

So you think you've got the palate to make wine like the professionals do? Here is your chance to prove it. 


MOJO Wine: Baptism of Fire for 2016 is looking for amateur/would-be winemakers to be a part of a competition program that offers wine lovers the chance to have loads of fun while raising money for their nominated charity. 


For the first time, the competition is national and has an Australian wine brand behind it as the sponsor.  

There is $10,000 up for grabs for the winners and the call has gone out for prospective contestants who may have always dreamt of making wine but never got there. 

It is a state of origin event aimed at  encouraging  the next generation of Australian winemaking talent.

Teams of two will combine in an attempt to prove themselves the best. 

Jess Ho and Wiremu Andrews were part of Wine Baptism of Fire 2014, restricted to Victoria, and said: “Having the opportunity to e part of Baptism of Fire was a great way to understand the winemaking process rather than just the romantic story when the bottle is in front of you.

"As a bunch of rookies, not only was it fun,  but it demystified the issues that wineries and winemakers face when getting the product out there.”

Contestants are encouraged to apply and those selected will be guided through the process by mentors from the wine industry.

Following the selection process, contestants will need to be available throughout the year to manage the whole process – from choosing which grapes to pick, through to the design of the brand and the launch of the end result.

Each team will align with charity partners of their choice and MOJO will award a $10,000 prize to the winning team. Proceeds from the sales of the finished wines will go to the winning team’s nominated charity.

The competition will be documented in a web-based reality series and applicants can register at www.winebof.com before January 22.

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Are a lot of airport security measures a waste of time?

We've all seen it happen time after time. Someone is stopped at the airport security checkpoint and has a tiny pair of nail clippers removed from their hand baggage.

Or maybe a pair of knitting needles intended to help fill several hours of flying time are deemed too sharp; taken away never to be seen again.



The security measures brought in after 9/11 were, in many cases a knee-jerk reaction with absolutely no basis in fact, or safety. It would make far more sense, for example, for everyone to undergo an explosives check before boarding. 

With which could you do more damage? A pair of nail clippers or a magnum of Champagne? A super weapon and very sharp once broken. And what threat does a bottle of water pose on an international flight, other than to airport profits?

Robin Darroch, a training captain for a large Australian regional airline, was reported in the Sydney Moring Herald as telling a recent inquiry that many aviation security regulations "tend towards the wasteful and pointlessly obstructive" and distract security staff from identifying genuine threats.

He asked why pocket knives, screwdrivers, metal cutlery, and small scissors were prohibited from flights when they were "considerably less threatening than makeshift weapons someone could make by breaking a laptop computer screen, or even by sharpening a credit card"?

He said some regulations should potentially be repealed. 

All the security measures over the past 15 years were not necessarily brought in to make people safe, but to make them feel safe. There is a very real difference. 

Darroch questioned why he, as a pilot, was sometimes screened for weapons and other objects before entering his aircraft, despite having access to a "sizeable axe" on the flight deck used for emergency escapes.

It is also blatantly obvious that a heavy walking stick is a potentially dangerous weapon and that many brooches worn by old ladies are sharper and potentially more dangerous than a Swiss Army knife. Yet they are allowed on board with no questions asked. 

There is no logic. And the reality is that there is a lot of money to be made from selling booze at airports; so anyone can carry a potentially menacing magnum of Bollinger on board. 

Making money is apparently far more important than passenger safety. Time for a look at the rules maybe? 

Saturday, 2 January 2016

What a luxury: cruising the waterways of Bordeaux

Cruising is synonymous with weight gain. All those buffet meals. Far more cocktails that you'd consume on dry land and lots of time lazing around on the deck taking in the sun.

Recent research has suggested that the average person puts on half a kilo a day during a cruise holiday – understandable when all the food served on board is included in the price, meaning you can over-indulge without opening your wallet.


And then there is that complimentary in-suite mini bar that's replenished every day.

But weight gain can easily be avoided if you have the willpower.

Imagine a cruise where long, invigorating walks were part of the itinerary, where bicycles were at your command to explore the local sights when you dock, and where healthy and vegetarian eating options are always available.

On my recent Scenic river cruise on board the Scenic Diamond through the vineyards of Bordeaux salads, low-calorie dressings, "healthy" lunch options and round-the-clock fruit were the norm, along with all the usual gourmet options.

While the main Crystal Dining restaurant offered buffets for breakfast and lunch (and a la carte dining in the evenings), rewarding treats and salads were available in the River Café from early morning until late afternoon every day.


Think dishes like quinoa salad, stuffed vine leaves, millet salad and fresh fruit platters at a little nook called “Vitality Corner”.

Herbal teas (green tea, peppermint, rooibos) are always available, while fresh juices (multi-vitamin, grapefruit, orange or apple) can be delivered to your cabin at any time and enjoyed on your private deck.

The dinner menus feature several choices each night; the likes of pan-fried fillet of John Dory with artichokes and rice on port wine jus; or crispy duck leg confit with savoy cabbage and potatoes Lyonnaise.

Each night there is, at least, one vegetarian option; perhaps green lentil soup followed by polenta with roasted beets; asparagus with sauce Hollandaise, eggplant compote with toasted baguette and tomato fondue, or perhaps char with caramelised endive, walnuts and sultanas followed by stuffed mushrooms with tomato and basil ragout.

If pavlovas and rhum babas are not your scene, a fresh fruit platter is always available for dessert.

And for working off any excesses (in case a breakfast special of waffles with berry sauce proves too tempting) how about a walk up the hills of Loupiac, through the vineyards, with the reward of fantastic views? Or maybe a 30-kilometre bike ride between the wine villages of Blaye and Bourg and back, or a shorter trip from Cadillac to taste wine? 


And if the cycling does become too much like hard work, all the bikes are equipped with electric engines to help you conquer that last hill. Numb bum? There are on-board massage facilities as well, along with exercise areas and a walking track.

Bordeaux is, of course, a region synonymous with fine food and wine, so no one is expecting guests to be completely abstemious. Wine has been made here since Roman times, and in French culture red wine is much prized for its health-giving properties.

Scenic cruises take in several of the key vineyard regions; the Medoc, Sauternes, Saint-Emilion, Bourg, Blaye and Pomerol among them as the Scenic Diamond traverses the Garonne and Dordogne rivers and the Gironde Estuary. And sea sickness is not a problem. 

Possible excursions include tasting fresh oysters in the Arcachon Basin and the chance to explore the world-famous city of Cognac. Those wanting to know more about French cuisine can take a “Shop with the Chef” excursion to a local market.


The Scenic Diamond offers 11-day luxury all-inclusive river cruises (including flights from Australia) with time spent docked in Bordeaux, the wine villages of Pauillac, Blaye, Cadillac and in the town of Libourne.

The deal includes free beverages, all meals on board with choices of dining venue, free wifi, and a range of daily tours (usually with three options from which to choose).

What I most enjoyed was the freedom to do as many or as few of the tours as you like, although there are plenty of options to please gourmets and wine lovers alike.

The pace is leisurely with no overnight cruising, which means the chance to dine on shore if you are so inclined. We took the opportunity to eat at legendary Bordeaux restaurant La Tupina and at the impressive (and very traditional) Chez Servais in Libourne.


The on-board wine list featured a mainly Bordeaux selection with names like Haut Faugeres, Vieux Maillet and Chateau Balignan, along with Moet & Chandon and Nicolas Feuillatte Champagne and burgundies from Chateau de la Greffiere, along with a Pouilly-Fumé and a Sancerre from Henri Bourgeois. There was also a good range of top-shelf spirits and cocktails, along with artisan ciders.

Among my personal highlights of the cruise were a fascinating visit and tasting at the Sauternes estate of Chateau Guiraud during vintage; the visit to the Remy Martin distillery in Cognac, followed by a fascinating sampling, and a tour of some of the best of the Médoc châteaux, including a tasting at Chateau Gruaud-Larose (below).


Cruise passengers can choose between guided tours or using their headphones to listen to Tailormade devices, linked to GPS, to plot their own course through villages like Cadillac or Blaye. English is the lingua franca on board and most guests seem to be from England, Australia or New Zealand. TV channels on offer include the BBC and ITV.

There is also plenty of time moored in Bordeaux to enjoy the city, which is noted for its 18th-century architecture. The city is a UNESCO World Heritage site and has been reinvigorated thanks to an urban restoration program instigated by mayor (and ex French Prime Minister) Alain Juppe in
1996.

The scheme re-energised the quays along the Garonne river and cleaned up Bordeaux, which has more than 350 buildings listed as historic monuments.

It is here you'll discover the Marché de Quais, a gourmet producers' market, held every Sunday along the Quai de Chartrons.


The market 
offers a feast for the senses; with locals sniffing and prodding at everything from artisan breads, pastries and cakes to cooked chickens, paella and other hot delights.

Farmers from around the south-west of France sell their seasonal cheeses, fruits and vegetables (see radishes piled high, or tonnes of fresh berries). Locals flock to buy fresh seafood, along with their red meat for the week and local beers, wines and ciders.

The whole scene is a hive of activity with many patrons sampling fresh oysters from nearby waters along with a glass of Bordeaux Blanc, or maybe chomping on a plump fresh fig.

It is fair to say that no gourmet or wine lover will leave disappointed, but excess is easily avoidable.

Scenic offers 11-day Breathtaking Bordeaux river cruises on the Scenic Diamond starting from $7,295 including return flights to France and airport transfers. See www.scenic.com.au/tour/bordeaux-river-cruise/1909 or call 138 128.

Etihad Airways and partner airline Virgin Australia offer daily one-stop flights from Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney to 20 destinations in Europe, via Abu Dhabi, including flights to Bordeaux via Paris. For bookings visit www.etihad.com or call 1300 532 215. 

# This is an edited version of a story that first appeared in Nourish magazine.