Saturday, 24 July 2021

When too much sport is not enough: Birmingham is calling

With the Covid Olympics well underway in Tokyo, there is good news for fans anxious  about their next multi sports fix. 

The 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England, are just 12 months away. 

Birmingham, for those not familiar with the West Midlands city, is the second-largest conurbation in Britain - ahead of both Glasgow and Manchester.

Sports-wise it is known for under-achieving football teams like Aston Villa, West Bromwich Albion and Birmingham City, so locals in the Black Country are probably already looking forward to a gold medal or two. 

The multi-million-dollar construction of Alexander Stadium (above) is on track, thanks for the pun Visit Britain, and visitors will get to see first-hand a city that has been transformed from industrial hub to a "futuristic city". 

Locals highlights include  the dramatic Library of Birmingham and gleaming Bullring & Grand Central, which is described as (raising of eyebrows here) as "one of the most stylish shopping centres in the world". 

There is the revamped Grand Hotel (which has hosted everyone from Charlie Chaplin to Winston Churchill), and the restored Roundhouse, with a 19th-century curved building converted into a spectacular tourist destination.

For those so inclined (and I am definitely not) there is something called Bear Grylls Adeventure, an activities venue opened by someone who appears ion TV. Far more appeling is a Cadbury Factory Tour (the chocolate brand was born and bred in Birmingham). 

While Birmingham became famous for a tangled road network nicknamed Spaghetti Junction, the city harbours (another pun from Visit Britain) more kilometres of canals than Venice, with 56 kilometres of waterways. 

You can walk or cycle along the canal paths, or take a narrowboat tour. Or maybe check out some Peaky Blinders locations.

Birmingham has always seemed a little bleak when I've visited, but it does have a remarkable music history. 

Think of bands including The Move, Spencer Davis Group, The Moody Blues, Traffic, ELO, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Steel Pulse, UB40, Duran Duran, Fine Young Cannibals and Joan Armatrading - and half of Led Zeppelin (Plant and Bonham).

Non-musical regional highlights within easy distance from Brum include Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwick, Worcester and more. 

For day trippers, Birmingham is just an hour and a half train ride from London. 

The Cotswolds are just down the road, and Oxford is nearby for those who don't give a jot about sport. 

Rev heads might like the British Motor Museum, the National Motorcycle Museum or a Jaguar factory tour a Castle Bromwich. 

Here is Visit Britain's Guide to 48 hours in Birmingham: 

Friday, 23 July 2021

Flying gender bender tries to fool authorities

A Covid-positive Indonesian man tried to fool authorities - and put hundreds of people at risk - by pretending to be a woman.

The man dressed up as his wife - carrying her ID and her negative PCR test result and vaccine card - and boarded a flight from the capital, Jakarta.

The covidiot ruse initially worked as he wore a Muslim niqab full face covering but he made a misjudgement by changing clothes in the bathroom during the flight, Travel Mole reported.

The sudden change of gender was noticed by flight attendants aboard the Citilink plane and the man was arrested when the plane landed in Ternate, Eastern Indonesia.

"He bought the plane ticket with his wife's name and brought the identity card, the PCR test result and the vaccination card with his wife's name," Ternate police chief Aditya Laksimada said.

"All documents are under his wife's name."

Police took the man for a Covid-19 test - which was still positive. But no charges against him have been filed yet, which seems absurd.

Indonesia now requires passengers to have undergone at least one Covid jab to fly domestically and strengthened restrictions during this week's Eid al-Adha holiday to permit only essential travel.

The newest spot for wine lovers to sleep in McLaren Vale

Looking for somewhere to stay in McLaren Vale? 

On the rugged hillside of Kangarilla property Hillenvale, The Coach House is the latest addition to the Fleurieu Peninsula’s collection of boutique accommodation. 

The stone cottage is being managed by the team behind McLaren Vale winery Hither & Yon, who also run the vineyards and grazing land on the site.

“The Coach House is an all-inclusive and exclusive couples retreat, housing a fully equipped country kitchen, cosy lounge, luxurious bedroom, and outdoor drinks deck with beautiful views across the property, while Kuitpo forest is nearby as well,” says Hither & Yon director Malcolm Leask.

“We want our guests to immerse themselves in the beauty of the regions and really unwind. The Coach House is close to everything you want, yet a million miles away from anything you don’t.” 

Located between two wining and dining regions in McLaren Vale and the Adelaide Hills, and with an array of attractions easy reach, The Coach House is billed as "an idyllic getaway".

The property’s refurbishment has been overseen by Adelaide-based interior and design studio, Fabrikate, along with local builder G-Force, and retains 19th-century sandstone cottage charm. 

“We used a dreamy palette of blues and greens to sit gently against the landscape of rolling hills, while rich deep tones are used as a contemporary nod to the heritage of the house” says Fabrikate designer Kate Harry.

The 100-acre Hillenvale property is home to vineyards which span across the valley to include both McLaren Vale and Adelaide Hills regions, with Hither & Yon set to soon release their first pinot noir from the property. 

The Coach House is now open to guests with bookings available directly through the Hillenvale website.

To book a stay at The Coach House, visit

Hillenvale is located at 194 Cut Hill Road, Kangarilla, South Australia. Hither & Yon is a family-run winery with vineyards across McLaren Vale and a cosy cellar door in Willunga.

Thursday, 22 July 2021

Major crackdown on Covid vaccination recalcitrants

France is getting tough on vaccination recalcitrants with a new Covid-19 health pass being rolled out.

From this week, people in France wanting to visit cinemas, museums, sports events and other cultural venues will be required to show proof of vaccination, a negative test, or recent recovery from the virus.

The health pass will be extended in August to cover patrons of restaurants, cafés and shopping centres.

The certification scheme forms part of new measures imposed by President Emmanuel Macron to curtail the transmission of coronavirus.

Macron’s move will also see vaccinations become mandatory for healthcare workers from September 15.

Health Minister Olivier Veran has this week warned the virus is spreading rapidly just as France prepares for its month-long August holidays, which will see many French people travelling south to holiday destinations.

The government’s strong response to the crisis has annoyed some sections of French society, some saying Macron’s plan infringes on the freedom of choice of those who do not want to be vaccinated against Covid-19.

Lock 'em up, I say. 

If only New South Wales' alleged premier Gladrags Binchicken (as she is affectionately - or not so affectionately - known) had acted with similar vigour in Australia.

Binchicken is the dithering state leader who until last week allowed her subjects to frequent luxury stores to buy expensive handbags and visit hardware stores to buy tap washers. Both of which she deemed "essential" activities, apparently on the advice of Prime Minister Scott Moribund From Marketing.   

French government spokesman Gabriel Attal has described the Delta variant-driven surge as “stratospheric”; the national week-on-week infection rate has jumped 125% to 86 per 100,000, well above the national alert threshold of 50.

Image: Romeo Ninov - Scopio 

The five best-value wines in the 2021 release of the Penfolds Collection

Most of my wine writing colleagues will today be dissecting in minute detail the new-release 2017 Penfolds Grange - Australia's flagship red wine - which will be released on August 5. 

Today sees the lifting of the embargo on global tastings held last month of the new Penfolds releases. 

With the new Grange very much a special occasion wine at $950 a bottle, I thought you might be more interested in the best value wines among the new releases: wines ordinary folk can enjoy, or cellar, without taking out as second mortgage. 

The Australia Collection 2021 includes 2017 Grange $950.00; 2019 Yattarna Chardonnay $175.00; 2019 Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon $650.00; 2019 RWT Bin 798 Barossa Valley Shiraz $200.00; 2019 Magill Estate Shiraz $150.00; 2018 St Henri Shiraz $135.00; 2020 Reserve Bin A Adelaide Hills Chardonnay $125.00;  2019 Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz $100.00; 2019 Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon $110.00; 2019 Bin 150 Marananga Shiraz $100.00; 2019 Bin 28 Shiraz $50.00; 2019 Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz $60.00; 2019 Bin 138 Barossa Valley Shiraz Grenache Mataro $60.00; 2020 Bin 23 Pinot Noir $50.00; 2020 Bin 311 Chardonnay $50.00 and 2021 Bin 51 Eden Valley Riesling $40.00. 

That is a collection spanning five white and red wine vintages.

First of all, some notes about the new releases and some thoughts from Penfolds chief winemaker Peter Gago (above) on the "house style" that has been a hallmark for 177 years as the flagship Grange celebrates its 70th anniversary (1951 experimental – 2021). 

"Adored for its aromatic complexity, intensely rich fruit and ripe tannins of shiraz, Grange’s style and winemaking techniques have not altered since the first experimental vintages in the early 50s," says Gago. 

"After 70 years of unbroken vintage releases, the South Australian heritage icon is renowned by collector’s the world over for its unique Australian identity, consistency, and proven aging potential. 

“The original aspiration for Grange was to create a red wine ‘capable of staying alive for a minimum of 20 years’. Tell that to sexagenarian vintages such as ’52, ’53, ’55 & ’62! Stunningly drinkable in 2021! In modern parlance - under-promise, over-deliver! Long may it continue … and modern Grange vintages such as ’08, ’10 & ’16 patiently await judgement in 2071!” 

My verdict on the 2017 Grange: Made from 100% shiraz, a wine that combines richness and stylishness; powerful but elegant with layers of soft and smooth flavours ranging from racy to umami to dusty. 97/100. 

Like most Penfolds wines, the new vintage red and white wines will continue to develop and improve for many years after release - how long they should be kept depends on whether you enjoy your wine with some youthfulness or fully matured. 

Adding to this year’s Collection, Penfolds will launch two limited-edition wines made from parcels destined for Penfolds flagships: Superblend 802.A and 802.B Cabernet Shiraz (both $900). 

Essentially siblings raised in different environments, the wines represent two very different interpretations of the classic Australian blend of cabernet sauvignon and shiraz. The price of both is high for me, but they will doubtless be snapped up by collectors.

My top five value wines from the new releases: 

Penfolds 2018 St Henri: Made from 100% shiraz, it's all about the fruit here; dark and delicious and immediately accessible. Soft and supple and seductive. 99 points. $135. 

Penfolds 2021 Bin 51 Eden Valley Riesling: Perhaps the best-ever Bin 51. High-altitude and cool-climate fruit with finesse and elegance that can be enjoyed now with its bright acidity, lemon sherbet notes and crispness, or be cellared. 97 points. $40. 

Penfolds Bin 407 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon: Beautifully balanced, impeccably composed with berries, cassis and chocolate notes and impressive tannin structure. Drinkable now but with decades to go. 97 points. $125. 

Penfolds Bin 128 2019 Coonawarra Shiraz: A really delicious cool-climate shiraz with dark fruits, pepper and spice notes duelling on your tongue. 12 months in French oak hogshead. 96 points. $60.

Penfolds RWT Bin 798 Barossa Valley Shiraz: The initials RWT stand for ‘Red Winemaking Trial’ but now a stalwart of the range. Made from Barossa Valley fruit selected for aromatic qualities and lush texture. This is bright and vibrant. 96 points. $200.  

For more information visit

Wednesday, 21 July 2021

Queensland wine pioneers celebrate shiraz success

Imagine the reaction 50 years ago when Angelo and Mary Puglisi decided they wanted to make fine wine in Queensland. 

The Puglisi family, pioneers of viticulture on the Granite Belt, will celebrate 50 years of making shiraz on July 22 - the second annual Shiraz Wine Day in Australia. 

Ballandean Estate’s single vineyard premium shiraz is sourced from the Opera Block’s oldest vines, planted in 1968 - testament to the pioneering Puglisis. 

“Our cool-climate shiraz is a family jewel," says Angelo Puglisi. "Many shiraz vines in Australia are under 15 years old - and the older the vines, the lower the yield and more luscious the fruit.

We’ve come a long way since the sixties, when the naysayers told us the vineyard would fail — because only wogs drink wine in Queensland!

“Our expression of terroir begins in the vineyard, our hands and in our hearts.  We work the soil, we tend the grapes — every bottle tells a story, the people, the place, the passion.

"Fifty years on, these vines are bearing incredible fruit.” 

Queensland’s oldest family-owned and -operated winery future-proofed its reputation for quality shiraz by planting 5000 shiraz plants next to the Opera Block vineyard in early 2021.

Look out for social media posts using the hashtag #shirazwineday 

On the trail of mighty fine molluscs

There are plenty of gourmet trails across Australia; dozens of wine trails, too, but the folks from Destination New South Wales want to lift awareness of their state's oysters trails.

August is apparently the prime time to sample the much-loved mollusc, with Sydney rock and Pacific oysters both at their peak at this time.

Sydney rock oysters are native to Australia and have been cultivated since the late 1800s. They can now be found across the state's coastline.

Pacific oysters, in contrast, are a relative newcomer to Australia's waters, introduced from Japan in the 1940s. They are now the country's most common farmed variety and can be found at Port Stephens, north of Sydney, and Shoalhaven, south of Sydney.

Also native to Australia is the rare Angasi oyster.

The trail: North of Sydney

Around 400km north of Sydney on the state's mid-North Coast, Port Macquarie sits at the mouth of the Hastings River. Start your oyster adventure just to the south in the laid-back town of Laurieton. Savour freshly-shucked oysters overlooking the Camden Haven waters, or from the farm gate at Rockin' Oysters. If you're visiting Port Macquarie in December, be sure to attend Oysters in the Vines at Cassegrain Wines, the event uniting local drops with mountains of oysters.

Just 80 kilometres south of Port Macquarie lies Taree, where Stones Oysters & Seafood is a good place to stock up on fresh oysters, plus prawns, lobsters, crabs and fresh-caught fish. It's another 40km on to Forster, where you can discover these molluscs at Graham Barclay Oysters, the state's largest supplier of Sydney rocks. This is part of the Great Lakes area (which includes Myall Lakes National Park).

Further along the coast, the Soldiers Point peninsula juts from the southern shore of Port Stephens. It's here you'll find family-owned Holberts Oyster Farm, where you can enjoy a dozen or so at a waterside table with a bottle of wine.

The Hawkesbury River is 200km south; the oyster industry here dates back to the 1870s. In the town of Mooney Mooney, the Hawkesbury River Oyster Shed shucks while you wait. Nearby, the Central Coast waterside hamlet of Ettalong Beach hosts the Brisbane Water Oyster Festival every November.


There are dozens of places to sample oysters in Sydney, but you can't go past the perennially bustling Sydney Fish Market (above) for a selection of the state's finest (alongside everything else from the sea). Pick up a dozen and head for a bench to enjoy them overlooking the water.

South of Sydney

Shuckers don't get any faster than the owner of Jim Wild's Oysters, occupying a shack at Greenwell Point near Nowra (160km south of Sydney). The estuary of the Crookhaven and Shoalhaven rivers is the breeding ground for Jim's distinctive Greenwell Point rock and Pacific oysters.

Travel south 115km to discover the Oyster Shed and Pearly Oyster Bar on the banks of the Clyde River at Batemans Bay. Order shucked Sydney rocks as well as native Angasi oysters while soaking up the views.

From here south to Tathra (160km) is oyster heaven, the coastline characterised by oyster sheds, wharves, markets and restaurants where you can sample freshly shucked produce. At Tathra Oysters try Sydney rocks grown in the waters of Nelson's Lake in Mimosa Rocks National Park, also known for its sea caves and rock stacks.

It's a 30km drive on to Wheelers seafood restaurant in Pambula, where you can take a guided tour of the oyster factory. If you've ever wanted to learn how to shuck your own oysters (then enjoy with a squeeze of lemon), this is the place.

This part of the NSW Sapphire Coast is home to a number of other oyster farms, including Broadwater Oysters, Hazelgrove Oysters and JJ Oysters, all selling produce from Pambula Lake.

For further details visit