Saturday, 26 September 2020

Do you know your Alsace from your elbow?

Impress your friends by knowing your Bordeaux from your Beaujolais, and your Alsace from your elbow. Here's my beginners' guide.

The wines of Champagne, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Alsace, the Loire and Rhône valleys remain the ones that winemakers around the world are keen to emulate.

“France supplies the benchmarks by which almost all wines are judged,” says wine educator and writer Jancis Robinson. 

“This perfectly temperate and varied climate and landscape can supply wines of virtually every style. Its finest red Bordeaux sets a standard for the world's cabernet sauvignons, while the millions and millions of chardonnay vines planted around the globe owe their existence to white Burgundy.”

While the labelling of French wines can be confusing – the French tend to use regions and villages rather than grape varieties on their labels – Australians are increasingly enjoying not only French bubbles, but also French table wines.

The sparkling wines of Champagne are unrivalled, while Bordeaux produces complex, long-lived reds, savoury whites and the great sweet wines of Sauternes.

In Burgundy, the whites can be minerally, while the best reds tend towards elegance. The wines from the Rhône are more generally a bit more macho – probably the closest in style to Australian reds.

Beaujolais, south of Burgundy, makes wines using the lighter gamay grape that can be chilled on a warm Australian afternoon, and then there are the easy quaffing wines from the warmer south-west of the country, which may be labelled Languedoc.

The “yellow wines” from the mountainous Jura region were the precursors of today’s popular “natural” or oxidative wines, while France even makes its own answer to port (Banyuls).

The classics

A little outpost of Burgundy, the pretty village of Chablis is just two hours south-east of Paris, with Burgundy proper beginning a further hour south.

The best wines are made from 100% chardonnay or 100% pinot noir. The greatest wines of the region from producers like Domaine de la Romanee-Conti won’t come cheap, but even if you’re sticking to a budget there are plenty of other rewarding wines to try.

Chablis produces dry, intense chardonnays known for their minerality. The Cote d’Or strip, on the other hand, produces the world’s finest pinots and some intriguingly complex chardonnays from villages including Meursault, Chassagne-Montrachet and Puligny-Montrachet.

Pinot noir lovers are spoilt for choice with producers in communes including Pommard, Volnay, Nuits St George and Chambolle-Musigny all outstanding.

In Champagne, usually even cooler and wetter than Burgundy, chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier grapes are used to produce sparkling wines of rare intensity, such as the classics like Pol Roger and Bollinger, or smaller producers like Jacquart.

Red centre

Bordeaux and its surrounds are home to the most sought-after red wines in the world. The wines from the left bank villages are made primarily from cabernet sauvignon, while those on the right bank (St Emilion/Pomerol) tend to be made mainly from merlot and are generally softer and smoother.

The area south-west of the city is home to the semillon and sauvignon blanc blends of Pessac-Leognan and world-class sweet wines from Sauternes and Barsac.

Bordeaux is a region where the wines are typically designed for cellaring – and sometimes extremely expensive – but for wines that offer value-for-money, the Canon-Fronsac, Fronsac and Cotes de Castillon appellations are worth investigating.

Diversity rules

The great wine-producing villages of Sancerre and Pouilly are just 90 minutes from Paris in the picturesque Loire Valley that stretches all the way west to Nantes, home of the bone-dry Muscadet style.

The range of wines here is immense including dry, flinty sauvignon blanc designed for early consumption like Pouilly Fume and Sancerre, both dry and sweet chenin blanc (Saumur, Vouvray); intense but lighter reds made from cabernet franc (Borgueil and Chinon) and fine rosés (Anjou).

Alsace is a north-easterly region of France perched on the border with Germany that produces aromatic white wines, including riesling, gewürztraminer, pinot gris and pinot blanc. Hugel is a label to look out for, while wines labelled Vendage Tardive (Late Harvest) tend to be on the sweeter side.

The Rhône Valley, in southern France near Lyon, has divided into the Northern Rhône and the Southern Rhône – both of which produce wines the closest to Australia in style; reds that are medium-bodied and often spicy.

The northern region makes red wines from the shiraz grape - known as syrah in France -  sometimes blended with white wine grapes, and white wines from viognier grapes. Famous names include Cote Rotie, Crozes-Hermitage and Cornas.

The southern Rhone produces a variety of both red and white wines. The reds usually feature grenache and shiraz or are blends of several grapes such as in the rocky soils of Chateauneuf-du-Pape (below).

The nearby region of Provence offers great value and some terrific dry dry rosés, while the Languedoc and south-west used to be known for cheap and cheerful wines but can now produce some cracking value. Check out Domaines Mas. 

For grunty malbecs head to Cahors; for affordable bubbles check out Limoux; and for value white Burgundies seek out wines from Mâcon or Saint-Veran.   

Five phrases to know:

cave: cellar or winery

château: French for castle but also a wine-producing property

grand cru: one of the very finest vineyards

négociant: wholesale wine merchant or blender

vigneron: wine grape grower/maker

# This is an edited version of a story that first appeared on The Upsider website.  

Friday, 25 September 2020

Norwegian deals aim to lure back cruise fans

There are plenty of tough jobs in the world right now, but promoting luxury cruises has be among the toughest. 

Most mornings my email inbox contains several upbeat story ideas; all ignoring the fact that cruising is a little on the nose right now. 

Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL), with a 53-year history, is hoping to gain some traction with the forthcoming arrival of Norwegian Spirit to local waters for the first time. 

The ship has recently undergone the most extensive bow-to-stern modernisation in the history of the line’s fleet and is designed with the adult cruiser in mind. 

Her inaugural 2021-2022 local summer sailing season sees Norwegian Spirit offering a collection of eight-, 10- and 12-day port intensive itineraries departing from Sydney and Auckland. 

The ship has fresh staterooms (above) and 14 new venues. Updated elements include the second 
Onda by Scarpetta restaurant at sea, a doubled-in-size Mandara Spa, an expanded Pulse Fitness Centre and the adult-only retreat Spice H2O

Norwegian Spirit boasts 10 bars and lounges and 14 dining options - so has the gourmet clout to woo back any wavering cruisers. 

As a further incentive, from now until September 30 (basically just the next few days), NCL is giving holidaymakers the chance to save up to $500 off their cabin fare on any of Norwegian Spirit’s Australia and New Zealand itineraries.


Along with the discount, and for a limited time, guests will also receive all five choices from NCL’s ‘Free at Sea’ offer, including a free beverage package, free shore excursion credit, free specialty dining package, free wifi package and access to NCL’s ‘discounted groups deals. 

For more information or to book a cruise call NCL in Australia on 1300 255 200 or in New Zealand on 0800 969 283; or visit


Chiswick at the Gallery: Where visual arts meet culinary artistry

The Archibald Prize judging is done and dusted - and Chiswick at the Gallery at the Art Gallery of New South Wales has reopened its doors and reintroduced its Archibald Dining Package.

Chiswick at the Gallery has collaborated with three Archibald finalists - Jonathan Dalton, Tianli Zu and Jane Guthleben - to create dishes inspired by their experiences during lockdown.

Uber culinary artist Matt Moran and head chef Tim Brindley have selected the best in-season produce from the Chiswick kitchen garden to create dishes inspired by what the finalists were eating, cooking and looking forward to eating post-lockdown, as well as dishes inspired by their favourite food memories. 

"After a rollercoaster year for both hospitality and the arts, this year’s Archibald Dining Package feels particularly significant for us," says Moran.

"After months of constant setbacks, it’s been heartening to flip things on their head for a moment and try to find some inspiration out of such a difficult time. 

"We feel fortunate to be able to offer up an experience that draws on the sense of camaraderie we’ve found over the last few months, and create an experience that allows the community to go out and really ‘make a day of it’ - lunch and a show all in the one place, celebrating one of Sydney’s most-loved moment in the arts calendar.”

Jonathan Dalton became a new dad during lockdown, and spent a lot of time baking with his family. Inspired by this, Matt and Tim have created a house-made focaccia with Jonathon’s favourite cooking ingredient - garlic.

Tianli Zu reflected on fond memories of her grandmother cooking seafood when she was a child. Chiswick has created a dish featuring barramundi paired with the best vegetables spring has to offer - zucchini and broad beans.

Jane Guthleben, meanwhile, grew up on a farm with fond memories of chocolate in her childhood. Now that she calls Sydney home, her fond memories of chocolate remain and so the menu features a Valhrona chocolate mousse with almond and orange.

Two courses are available for $64 (Main + Dessert + Ticket to the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes 2020 exhibition), with three courses costing $72 (Nibbles + Main + Dessert + Ticket to the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes 2020 exhibition).

Chiswick at the Gallery will be open every Thursday-Sunday from noon to 3pm and The Archibald Dining Package will be available until January 10, 2021.

Tickets are available here

Thursday, 24 September 2020

New premium wine range gives growers recognition for quality grapes

Celebrity helps to sell wine. Just ask Greg Norman, Kylie Minogue or Graham Norton. 

All have enjoyed success adding their names to wine brands. Actor Sam Neill actually makes his own wines. 

Now chef Matt Moran is joining in, partnering with a grower-owned collective to be known as The Group. 

The wines in the range aim to showcase the collective skills, quality and expertise of around 100 grape growers and their families to deliver a range of premium wines from regions including McLaren Vale and the Adelaide Hills. 

By working with the collective, The Group helps to maintain the collective’s initial goal; to support the livelihood of the growers, and to facilitate the sharing of knowledge and expertise. 

On sale now at Liquorland and First Choice Liquor Market stores nationally, the range includes four core varietals; The Murder 2017 McLaren Vale Shiraz;  The Shadow 2019 Adelaide Hills Pinot Noir; The Quiver 2019 McLaren Vale Grenache and The Fever 2018 McLaren Vale Grower Blend. A limited-edition The Siege 2019 McLaren Vale Shiraz will follow. 

The core range will sell for $34, with The Siege at $70. Half bottles will soon be available for $22. 

Matt Moran (above) says the reason for his involvement - which includes offering food matches for each of the wines - is quite simple. 

“I grew up on the farm and I’ve always had a passion for sourcing great quality produce to create great tasting food," he said. "Like paddock-to-plate, Grower Wines by The Group represent an exciting movement in the Australian wine industry.

"The Group’s collaboration with a Grower-Owned Collective paves the way for the hard-working growers and supports the local, real people behind the label. Establishing these connections is how you create honest, authentic and quality produce – whether its food or wine.” 

The wines are made by the very talented Marnie Roberts (ex Claymore, now Matriarch and Rogue), herself the daughter of a grape grower. 

“The collective knowledge, passion and experience that’s passed down through generations of growers is really special," she said. "These growers are experts on the fruit they grow, and what grapes make the finest wines possible." 

I tried The Murder and The Quiver, with the perky, vibrant and smooth grenache a clear favourite. The grapes for this wine are grown on Dave and Jen Wright’s Wlypena Vineyard in McLaren Flat. The site, which they also call home, is managed by Jen’s son Fred and wife Sarah, making thisa real family affair. 

For details on the range see 

Meet the $20 cup of coffee

Inflation affects all of us, but paying $20 for a single cup of coffee seems beyond the pale. 

This, however, is no ordinary coffee with Sydney-based Single O inviting caffeine heads to celebrate International Coffee Day with a history-making, splurge-worthy sip or two. 

The Sydney coffee pioneers will be sharing a record-breaking coffee from Ethiopia - on International Coffee Day: October 1. 

The Rumudamo coffee was the number two winning lot from the first ever Ethiopian Cup of Excellence earlier this year, and Single O picked up a few kilos of the beans to bring home and roast for Aussies to try.

The coffee will be released a splurge-worthy $20 per cup at Single O Surry Hills and at 19 of their partner cafes and restaurants around the country including Cutler & Co in Melbourne, The Spot Specialty Coffee in Brisbane, Bread and Butter in Launceston, Tasmania. 

The Rumudamo coffee was purchased at auction by Single O and a few other buyers globally at the first Cup of Excellence (the “Oscars of coffee”) competition held in Ethiopia. 

Single O head of coffee Wendy De Jong says: “We are pinching ourselves that we were able to participate in this historic Ethiopia auction and bring Winning Lot #2, out of 1,459 total entries, to coffee fans in Australia. 

"This coffee was awarded an incredible 90 points by the international jury, and blew us all away at our staff cupping with its incredibly sweet and dynamic fruit flavours. It was our unanimous favourite."

There are only about 3,000 cups to be served around Australia, with 396 numbered bags, and those who order Rumudamo will receive a special coaster to keep as a memento. 

“Our hard work has paid off and we are so happy and grateful,” said Rumudamo manager Bogale Woldehana. 

For details see

Farewell Fantauzzo; hello Crystalbook

Change is in the air in Brisbane with Crystalbrook Collection, one of Australia's leading sustainable hospitality companies, announcing plans to expand its luxury east coast hotel portfolio with the acquisition of boutique Brisbane property The Fantauzzo.

Situated beneath Brisbane's iconic Story Bridge overlooking the Howard Smith Wharves, the contemporary hotel features 166 rooms and suites, the Polpetta kitchen and bar, the elevated Fiume bar along with a rooftop pool, fitness centre and meeting spaces.

The property celebrates photo-realist painter Vincent Fantauzzo, with 300 of his works and digital prints on display throughout the hotel.

The purchase from the Deague Group marks Crystalbrook's entry into the vibrant Brisbane market, and adds to its operations in Sydney, Byron Bay, Cairns, Newcastle and Port Douglas.

The group's portfolio includes Little Albion in Sydney; Byron at Byron in Byron Bay; Riley, Bailey and Flynn in Cairns and Kingsley in Newcastle.

Crystalbrook also owns and operates Crystalbrook Superyacht Marina in Port Douglas.

“Australia's east coast is unlike anything else in the world, and as a company we are pleased to be able to invest in and support the Australian tourism industry," said Crystalbrook owner Ghassan Aboud. "Brisbane was the next logical step for us.”

The official handover will occur in the first half of 2021.

The hotel will trade as part of the Crystalbrook Collection with the official new name to be announced in the coming months.

Until the acquisition is complete, the hotel will continue normal trading under the management of Art Series Hotels (part of the Accor group).

Wednesday, 23 September 2020

Every bottle of this wine you drink will do the planet some good

In these difficult days it is good to see wine producers trying to do some good for the planet. 

South Australian wine brand Hidden Sea, for instance, has distinguished itself by pledging to remove the equivalent of 10 plastic bottles from the ocean for every bottle sold - using a completely trackable process. 

With more than 8 million tonnes of plastics entering our oceans each year, and an already estimated 150 million tonnes already in the ocean - wine drinkers can help turn the tide. 

Hidden Sea's PR company, Modern Currency, sent me six-pack, so I have apparently helped remove a kilogram of plastic from the ocean. 

Pat on the back for me! 

Hidden Sea is working with the to remove the equivalent of 60 plastic bottles from the oceans for each six-pack of wine sold. 

By 2030, the winery hopes to have removed a billion plastic bottles for recycling. 

Now to the wines. They are made at the former Stonehaven winery by Oliver Crawford (once of Devil's Lair and Vasse Felix in Margaret River) using fruit from South Australia's Limestone Coast, which 26 million years ago was submerged by a vast ocean system. 

When the oceans receded they left the area rich with deep limestone deposits containing marine fossils. 

Those deposits add to the rich, fertile soils of the region, which produce the grapes that make the wine. 

The range comprises a 2019 Chardonnay, a 2019 Shiraz (with a dash of pinot gris and riesling in the blend) and a 2019 Rosé. I just tried the shiraz with some fellow tasters and found it very drinkable. Certainly good value for $98 a six-pack with free delivery. I'll update when I try the other wines.

For details see