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Wednesday 25 September 2013

There's gourmet gold to be found in Central Western NSW

The restaurants are funky, the local produce stunning, the wine lists appealing.

Welcome to Orange in the Central West of New South Wales, a former gold rush region that is building a formidable reputation for the quality of both its food and wine.

Orange, along with the neighbouring towns of Mudgee, Cowra and Canowindra, is dotted with fine restaurants showcasing local produce – many of which are recommended in the Sydney Morning Herald 2014 Good Food Guide.
That’s quite remarkable given Orange has a population of less than 40,000, and Mudgee around half that, while Cowra and Canowindra are considerably smaller.

Orange alone boasts the excellent Racine @ La Colline (below), the iconic Lolli Redini, popular Bistro Ceello and weekend favourite Tonic at nearby Millthorpe along with other good options including the funky Union Bank Wine Bar (above, and now operated by the team from Swinging Bridge Wines). 

Other choices include Sister’s Rock at Borrodell on the Mount, Sweet Sour Salt and the Rocking Horse Lounge.

Many of the eateries feature local produce like Mandagery Creek venison and Ross Hill farmed snails.

This entire area is one of New South Wales’s most beautiful food bowls. Visit the Orange Regional Farmers’ Market, held on the second Saturday of each month, to taste and buy the massive range of gourmet goodies produced locally.

The Orange region - 3 ½ hours west of Sydney - has long been known for its fruit production; apples, cherries and stone fruit all thrive but it was not until the early 1980s that wine grapes were planted commercially.

Pioneering wineries include Bloodwood and Cargo Road while other standouts are Belgravia, Canobolas-Smith, Ross Hill, Mayfield Vineyard, Patina, Word of Mouth, Printhie, Philip Shaw, Brangyane, Dindima, Angullong and Cumulus, which produces wines under both the Rolling and Climbing labels. Whites, particularly, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, tend to be standouts.

There are plenty of accommodation options in town with the de Russie Suites the most upmarket option and Cotehele a very popular B&B in the traditional style.

Like Orange, Canowindra is home to several boutique wineries – and a great weekend destination. It’s thriving at a time when many small country towns are dying.

Canowindra is the Australian capital of hot air ballooning and has several art galleries along with The Age of Fishes Museum, which celebrates one of the world’s greatest fossil discoveries. Bushranger Ben Hall reputedly once held locals hostage in the Royal Hotel - where you can still enjoy a cold beer and a feed.
Taste Canowindra is a facility in the town that offers the chance to sample up to 50 local wines from 10 local vineyards, while Swinging Bridge has a lovely tasting facility in a former general store.

While Cowra and Canowindra’s wine reputation was built on the quality of chardonnay, the new generation of wineries, including Mulyan, Windowrie, Swinging Bridge, Wallington, Rosnay, Tom’s Waterhole, Hamilton’s Bluff and Cowra Estate have received a number of national trophies and awards for varieties including shiraz, sangiovese and shiraz viognier blends. Cowra’s star eatery is long-time favourite Neila and it also home to the famous Japanese Gardens.

Mudgee, meanwhile, has been transformed over the past decade and is riding a wine-tourism-led boom.

There are chic boutique hotels and bed and breakfasts, almost 40 cellar doors in the region, and an ever-increasing number of cafes and restaurants. At weekends, Mudgee is alive with tourists, particularly the busy little downtown precinct with its sidewalk eateries and stores selling local produce.

Wine grapes have been grown in Mudgee (Aboriginal for “nest in the hills”) since 1858 but it is only in recent years that the region has blossomed; helped by a diversity of soils and climates that ensure a wide range of wine styles; from cool-climate styles at high-altitude Rylstone to the traditional hearty reds from warmer vineyards on the edge of town.

Almost 25,000 people live in Mudgee and the surrounding towns of Gulgong, Kandos and Rylstone, making for a vibrant country community.

Popular cellar doors include Bunnamagoo Estate, owned by the Paspaley family, who are among Australia’s most prominent pearl producers; di Lusso, which produces a range of Italian-accented wines, and Logan Wines, which sources fruit from both Orange and Mudgee.

Also check out Robert Stein, with attractions including an art gallery, a vintage motorcycle museum and a deck over the dam, the Lowe Wine Company, which hosts regular tastings and dinners, Huntington Estate, Burnbrae, Skimstone, Thistle Hill, Botobolar, Mongrel, Frog Rock and Robert Oatley.

Among the best places to eat are Sajo’s Restaurant and Lounge Bar, the casual Market Street Cafe (right), Wineglass Bar and Grill at the Cobb and Co Court Hotel, long-time favourite Elton’s, the Blue Wren and the Butcher Shop Cafe.

The hot newcomer is the Pipeclay Pumphouse at the Robert Stein cellar door, an eatery specialising in home-grown and locally sourced ingredients.  

For a good drink, try Roth’s Wine Bar and the beers at Mudgee Brewing Company, while the best places to rest a weary head after a long day include Evanslea on the River, The Tannery, Mudgee Homestead, Cobb & Co Court and River Lane Bed & Breakfast.

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