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Friday 24 May 2024

Yangarra single block wine releases shine

Integrity, complexity, vitality, drinkability.

Those four words sum up the new premium single block releases from McLaren Vale organic and biodynamic trendsetter Yangarra. 

Long-serving winemakers Peter Fraser and Shelley Torresan are known for their willingness to experiment; from unusual grape varieties to ceramic eggs, to oxidative handling to use of Austrian oak. 

Yangarra makes wines that push the boundaries, but are always well considered, 

Yangarra Estate is in Blewitt Springs in the north-east of McLaren Vale, a region where Rhone Valley varietals - both white and red - shine.

There is an emphasis on old bush vine grenache - vines planted in 1946. 

Fraser and vineyard manager Michael Lane have been in charge for close to a quarter of a century, with Torresan, who led a Hobart tasting, starting in 2006. 

Wines from single blocks like High Sands, Ironheart King's Wood and Ovitelli shine in the new releases from the 2021 and 2022 vintages. 

The tasting this week arranged by distributors Mezzanine demonstrated that both red and white wines benefit from around a decade in the bottle. Museum wines from 2014 and 2016 were certainly singing, while what Torresan describes as "long, cool ferments that don't fluctuate" have clearly played a role across the board.  

The 2022 Ovitelli Blanc ($70) is a blend of grenache blanc, roussanne, grenache gris, bourboulenc and clairette with extended skin maceration adding impressive mouthfeel and complexity. 

The 2022 Roux Beaute Roussanne ($70) is a single-varietal that saw skin fermentation and time in large ceramic eggs with the blend remaining on skins for four months. This is a superb food wine. 

There are no fewer than three grenaches: the tightly coiled, very pretty 2022 Hickinbotham Clarendon Grenache ($90), the fruit-forward Ovitelli 2022 Grenache ($90) with remarkable depth of flavour, and the star of the show, the complex and immediately impressive 2021 High Sands Grenache ($325).

Torreson describes the High Sands as "the best of the best" with subtle Austrian oak playing a support role in a complex wine that I noted was "marvellous". A landmark red with style and power in equal measure. 

For me, the grenaches outshone the shirazes on this merry-go-round. 

That said, the varietal but elegant 2022 King's Wood Shiraz ($70) offers cellaring value. A single percent of viognier adds perfumed notes here. 

The 2022 Ironheart Shiraz ($130) is long, intense and delicious with hints of French oak influence and a little bit of ferrous minerality.

It's certainly well worth checking out this range. See

Refurbed Sydney hotel aims to give back to the community

Song Hotel Sydney, a newly renovated hotel on the fringe of Sydney's CBD, is a little bit different to most hotels.

As a member of the YWCA Australia family, the 156-room hotel operates on a profit-for-purpose basis, with 100% of its profits directly contributing to the work of YWCA Australia, which has been supporting women across housing, services, and leadership pathways for 140 years.

The Song recently reopened its doors following a complete refurb. It is located on Wentworth Avenue with rooms starting from $170 per night on special deals.

“Our profit-for-purpose approach means that 25 cents of every dollar spent at Song Hotel Sydney contributes to the work of YWCA Australia,” said Jon Ackary, the hotel's general manager.

“Every guest that stays with us naturally becomes part of a greater good as soon as they walk through the door.

“We're a hotel with heart and staying with us is something to feel good about.”

In 2023, YWCA Australia provided 130,000 nights of safe accommodation to women, supported 6,000 individuals through a number of programs, and provided homes for 529 people, thanks to the support of Song Hotel guests and other funding sources.

“Our commitment to social impact doesn't come at the expense of guest satisfaction," Ackary added.

"We offer a hotel stay that is, in many ways, impactful – not only does it feel good for the soul but it's also convenient, great value, warm and welcoming.”

Following its re-launch, Song Hotel Sydney offers 156 newly renovated rooms, including 62 rooms with private balconies, six larger corner rooms, six accessible rooms and eight family rooms.

The four-star hotel also features an on-site restaurant and bar, Song Kitchen.

For more info see

Thursday 23 May 2024

A by Adina to hit the heights in Austria

Australian hotel brand A by Adina is to make its debut in Europe next year.

The homegrown premium hospitality outfit will debut in the Austrian capital of Vienna.

A by Adina Vienna Danube’s infinity pool will have views overlooking St Franziskus Church and the Reichsbrücke.

TFE hotels says construction well underway on the 48-storey DANUBEFLATS - Austria's tallest residential tower, which will be 180 metres high.

A by Adina Vienna Danube will move into the precinct in early 2025, aiming to satiate demand for luxury short-term apartment style accommodation.

A by Adina will offer 108 premium apartments in the DANUBEFLATS building, with apartments ranging from 23 square metres to 64 square metres across a range of studios, one- and two-bedroom room types.

Hotel guests will also have access to that panoramic headed pool overlooking Vienna's old town, a wellness area, business lounge with meeting rooms.

In addition to the hotel, the building will house 500 privately financed residential units. A restaurant and a supermarket are planned for the ground floor and parking will be available in the underground garage. Stay tuned.

New Zealand winemaker is a very naughty boy

A leading New Zealand winemaker who smuggled vine cuttings from Australia to New Zealand in contravention of biosecurity laws has been sentenced in a Blenheim Court.

James Millton used the smuggled clippings to establish vines, the Ministry for Primary Industries said in a statement.

Millton was charged with hiding the cuttings he hid in his luggage. The judge described his actions as “utterly inexplicable” and “unfathomable”.

Millton operates Millton Vineyards and Winery, which is promoted as New Zealand’s first organic and biodynamic wine estate.

He was this week sentenced in the Blenheim District Court to five months of community detention and fined $NZ15,000 on charges linked to him knowingly importing goods with no biosecurity clearance and knowingly making a false or misleading declaration to officials at Auckland Airport.

James and his former wife Annie Millton established The Millton Vineyard on the banks of the Te Arai River near Manutuke in the Gisborne region 40 years ago.

The Ministry for Primary Industries charged Millton after a Blenheim nursery raised concerns over the provenance of cuttings he wanted grafted, which turned out to be from the illegal vines already established in Gisborne.

He admitted illegally importing the grapevine cuttings in his suitcase, failing to declare them, and later planting them in his garden and vineyard.

The court heard that Millton’s actions risked introducing a suite of pests and diseases that had the potential to cripple the New Zealand wine industry, which is also one of the country’s major export industries.

During a trip to South Australia in 2019, Millton took the two cuttings from a savagnin grapevine from a vineyard in the Adelaide Hills - a vineyard he knew to be healthy and disease-free. Savagnin is a grape variety grown mostly in the Jura region of France.

Millton was interested in the variety as it was not present in New Zealand and he wanted to cultivate it at his vineyard in Gisborne, and then later in Marlborough. Not a great plan it turned out. 

Wednesday 22 May 2024

Viva the Revolution Express: Vietnam on the right track

Two original pre-independence steam locomotives have been restored to power the Revolution Express, a new heritage tourism experience in central Vietnam that will start in late 2024 or early 2025. 

Indochina Rail Tourist Service  and Wafaifo Optimisers have signed a management agreement for Wafaifo Optimisers to manage the Revolution Express steam train, a new tourist experience in central Vietnam. 

The two original steam locomotives from the 1960s have been refurbed to prime condition and the locomotives will pull two fully appointed retro-styled carriages that can seat up to 57 passengers each, as well as a custom-made kitchen carriage and a baggage carriage.

The locomotives are the last remaining working steam ones in Vietnam, dating from the pre-independence era, both built locally in Vietnam, based on the French Mikado design. 

They have been restored over a number of years, using original parts and utilising the skills of the last remaining steam engineers working for Vietnam Railways.

The Revolution Express will make a return trip between Danang city and the former royal capital of Hue each day. Each journey will traverse the scenic Hai Van coastal mountain range and stop at Lang Co, adjacent to beautiful lagoon and beach scenery.

Served by staff  in period costume (that sounds a bit naff), passengers will be able to enjoy light food and drinks as they view one of the most picturesque coastlines and mountain passes in south-east Asia.

Indochina Rail and Wafaifo Optimisers signed the partnership agreement on May 20  represented by Indochina Rail chairman Michael Gebbie, and Wafaifo Optimisers’ managing director Pieter van der Hoeven and commercial director Mikkel Krantz.

“We are proud to bring these old dames of rail back to life and to showcase important periods in Vietnamese history from imperial through colonial rule and finally the struggle to independence,” said Gebbie.

“We seek to give visitors an interactive sense of Vietnam's history and future. Whether you enjoy learning about history or trains, or just want to ride an authentic heritage steam train over the famously scenic Hai Van Pass, the Revolution Express will offer a magical experience for young and old alike”

Highlights of the tourist experience will include themed dining at the three railway stations on the route: Kim Lien (Danang), Lang Co and Hue. Each station will have its own menus and entertainment schedules to meet the arrival of the Revolution Express.

The train stations with their restaurants and retail offerings are being designed to also attract other road and VNR (Vietnam National Rail) passengers travelling between Danang, Lang Co and Hue on the scenic coastal route.

In Hue, the original train maintenance building is being refurbished as the Station Restaurant. The venue is being themed in an imperial manner befitting the history of Hue, the last bastion of the dynastic era in Vietnam.

In Lang Co, the restaurant will be themed to mark the independence that Vietnam enjoys today. Apart from a full restaurant offering, food carts will be on the station platform offering homemade ice cream, freshly squeezed fruit juices, Vietnamese coffee, and newly pressed sugar cane. Regular VNR-run trains all stop at Lang Co station for passenger refreshments.

Potentially, the third restaurant at the station on the outskirts of Danang will also be developed. If so, it will be themed in a colonial manner to reflect a different era in Vietnam’s national journey.

Wafaifo Optimisers will be responsible for marketing, booking and catering for the Revolution Express and its stations. The company will also open its own urban resort in the heritage city of Hoi An in the third quarter of this year (see previous story).

Further announcements on the commencement of the Revolution Express and how to book will be made in the next few months.

Passing Clouds set to celebrate half a century of winemaking

Very few wineries can boast of having switched regions - but Passing Clouds has been based in two different parts of Victoria during its 50-year history.

Passing Clouds co-founders Graeme Leith and Sue MacKinnon began by planting cabernet sauvignon and shiraz grapes at their original Bendigo vineyard in Kingower, but had the prescience to later past cool-climate varieties at Musk. 

For the past 15 years Passing Clouds has been a popular destination at Musk, just outside of Daylesford in the Macedon Ranges. 

The Leith family, still custodians of the brand, will celebrate 50 years of winemaking later at a special tasting on September 10 - a business "built on story-telling, celebrations, resilience and the wine in the bottle". 

Cameron Leith, who took over from his father in 2007 after a vintage in France, today juggles making the classic Passing Clouds Bendigo wines with the cool-climate varieties - pinot noir and chardonnay - grown at Musk. 

Since 2010, the Macedon Ranges has been become Passing Clouds’ new home, although the vineyards were long established, having planted by Graeme in 1998. 

Today Cameron and Marion Leith and their three children call Musk home and the property now boasts an excellent Dining Room offering lunch, its ow train platform, extensive gardens and an architecturally designed cellar door.

Passing Clouds is at 30 Roddas Lane, Musk, Victoria, and its cellar door is open seven days a week. 

Grazing plates are available on Thursday in the cellar door 11am-3pm while the Dining Room is open for lunch Friday-Monday from noon. 

Bookings are essential for dining.