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Monday 29 February 2016

Why a corner of the Hunter Valley takes on an Italian accent each year

The quiet Broke-Fordwich region of the Hunter Valley will once again take on an Italian accent during April. 

Now in its eleventh year, the A Little Bit of Italy in Broke festival will once again transform the Broke-Fordwich area into a little slice of Italy Down Under from April 8-10. 

The event will celebrate all things Italian to the backdrop of the tranquil Hunter landscape.

The festival originating as an intimate Italian dinner in 2005, which was hosted by a local winery. It has boomed since and now encompasses 12 venues, providing plenty of opportunities to indulge in wood-fired pizza, antipasti, and Italian cheese. 

But visitors are advised to make sure to leave room for gelato and espresso. 

The weekend will showcase a line-up of fresh produce and local wine, along with masterclasses and demonstrations hosted by the growers, makers and owners of the venues. All events will have an Italian twist. 

Visitors are invited to relax amongst the post-vintage grape vines and olive groves while sipping on traditional Hunter Valley varietals, or to expanding their palates by sampling the many Italian varietals grown in the area.

Visitors simply pick up an event wine glass ($10) at their first stop – and can also collect passport stamps as they wander through the wineries to enter the prize draw to win a Luxury Broke Fordwich Mid-Week Escape for Two. 

There will also be a “Hop on, Hop off” shuttle bus available each day. 

To bring out your inner Italian try one of the many workshops on offer and learn how to make authentic gnocchi, olive oil pizza Nduja Sausage. 

Other highlights will include market stalls, live music, a giant Jenga game and bocce!  

The local winemaking community will be hosting a Village Dinner with an Italian flavour on
April 9 at Catherine Vale Wines, where guests will mingle with the local growers and enjoy an Italian menu designed by The Cellar Restaurant. 

Designed to be shared in true village style, a banquet will be followed by a delicious spit-roasted whole lamb and finished with dessert and an array of cheeses. At a cost of $130, the meal is paired with local wines and served to the sound of live music. 

A Little Bit of Italy’s Event Manager, Rowena Hawkins says: “For our 11th year we have 
reinvigorated the event’s format to become a festival dedicated to Italian-inspired food, wine 
and activities spread across a relaxing long weekend. We feel this year’s event will be our best one to date and are looking forward to sharing the good food, wine, music and fun that best reflects the passion of the Italian spirit.” 

For more details and the full program visit:

Sunday 28 February 2016

All change at Pipers Brook on the eve of vintage

There have been a number of changes at Pipers Brook Vineyard in Tasmania just ahead of the 2016 vintage.

René Bezemer, the chief winemaker who would have been participating in his 27th vintage, has stood down from his role due to health issues that have plagued him over the past 12 months.

Bezemer quit just weeks after Pipers Brook enjoyed great success at the 2016 Tasmanian Wine Show.
René Bezemer 
“René Bezemer’s contribution to the success of Pipers Brook Vineyard over the past three decades cannot be overstated,” said John Hosken, CEO of parent company Kreglinger.

“His story is very much one of a local boy made good. Born and raised at George Town – less than 50km from Pipers Brook Vineyard – René first stepped onto the property as a 19-year-old, then employed by his father’s building construction company.

“After completing work on a new winery here, René stayed on as a cellar hand under Pipers Brook Vineyard founder Dr Andrew Pirie. René was eventually appointed chief winemaker in 2002.

“His methodical approach to wine making brought our company a great many accolades. Recent successes included two international trophies for sparkling wine in Hong Kong in 2014, and Wine Companion over the past six editions. Pipers Brook Vineyard’s much-coveted ‘5 red stars’ winery rating in the Halliday Wine Annual.

“It didn’t matter whether it was riesling or gewürztraminer, pinot noir or sparkling wine, René
was a master craftsman and his departure due to ill-health has left big shoes to fill. We certainly wish him well for his recovery.”

Bryan Widstrand, an American who is also a talented musician, has been appointed senior winemaker and two of Tasmania's most experienced winemakers employed as consultants for vintage; Natalie Fryar and Peter Dredge.  

Natalie Fryar
Widstrand has worked alongside Bezemer since 2015 while Fryar and Dredge are consummate professionals.

“Natalie spent 14 years establishing Jansz Tasmania as one of the country’s flagship sparkling wine brands and has been making premium sparkling wine since 1996,” Hosken said. “Peter joined Bay of Fires winery in 2010 as winemaker/manager, and in 2013 was a worthy finalist in the Wine Society's Young Winemaker of the Year awards.

Peter Dredge 
“Both Natalie and Peter were so inspired by their experiences in Tasmania that they recently

decided to leave their respective employers to strike out on their own with premium brands based around Tasmanian-sourced wine grapes. We’re grateful to have them on board for this vintage.” 

# This is an edited version of a story that first appeared in the Launceston Sunday Examiner

Friday 26 February 2016

The Huon Valley: aiming for global recognition

There are many great gourmet valleys around the world. Think of the Loire Valley in France, the Napa Valley in California and the Barossa Valley in South Australia. 

Now the people of a bucolic region in southern Tasmania want to add another valley to the list of great food and wine destinations: the Huon Valley.

In a bid to have the Huon, population 16,000, recognised as "one of the great valleys of the world", the Huon Valley Council and marketing agency RedJelly has developed a new logo and marketing plan to help spread the word.

And while many people may not have heard of the Huon they have almost certainly heard of several of its gourmet products, which range from Huon Aquaculture salmon to award-winning wines from Home Hill, goat cheeses from Tongola, saffron from Tas-Saff and artisan ciders from Willie Smith's, Pagan and Franks.

You might have heard of Gourmet Farmer Matthew Evans, who is about to launch a restaurant in the Huon, or perhaps of renowned sushi chef Masaaki Koyama, or maybe the village of Cygnet and its many cafés. Or have sampled the boutique wines of Sailor Seeks Horse or Two Bud Spur, or enjoyed a Cygneture chocolate. 

Leading viticultural expert Dr Richard Smart, a world authority, says: "The climate is the ultimate determinant and the Huon should be recognised as Tasmania's finest wine region in 30 years time."

Now the Huon Valley wants to out its charms to the rest of the world. 
The new branding will be officially launched at the Taste of the Huon festival in Ranelagh on March 13 - but here is a sneak peek.

"Despite the distinctiveness of the Huon, both in name and appearance, it is a long way from being recognised in the same light as the other valleys," says the spiel. 

"Product of the Huon" is a celebration of authenticity, and dedication to craft, and pride. It is an initiative of Huon Valley Council and has wide support among growers, producers and makers

The PR campaign will include posters, cooking aprons, T-shirts, caps, a website and PR and social media activities.         

The Huon is the southernmost region of Australia and its largest town is Huonville, followed by Cygnet, Geeveston and Franklin. 

Famed for its apple growing, the Valley was first settled by British colonists in the 1840s. Today over 80% of Tasmanian apples originate in the valley, which also produces cherries, berries and stone fruit - as well as providing the milk for Bruny Island Cheeses and the local 2Cow Cheese. 

For more details visit 

# The writer is a brand ambassador for Product of the Huon Valley 

Thursday 25 February 2016

Iconic Australian resort aims to recapture its glory days

When it opened back in 1987, the Sheraton Mirage Port Douglas Resort was the greatest thing since toast - a truly luxurious Australian beach resort hotel on Four Mile Beach in Far North Queensland.

Developed by later disgraced businessman Christopher Skase at a reported cost of $100 million, it attracted beautiful people from around the globe, grabbing headlines in the days before Twitter and Instagram.

Guests have included former US President Bill Clinton and his wife, and his wife, former US Secretary of State and current presidential candidate Hilary Clinton, Hollywood stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks and John Travolta, even rock legend Mick Jagger.

A small town boy like me was blown away by the glamour back then.

But times change and the Sheraton Mirage went through a number of ownership changes and became just a little, how shall we say, shabby around the edges when I popped by a few years ago.

New Lagoon Studio Suites
Good news, then, that a major redevelopment started in May last year and the Mirage has just celebrated the first phase of its fresh new look with 146 of the resort’s 294 rooms fully refurbished, restyled, and back in inventory.

A key element of the refurbishment project is the creation and launch of 41 Lagoon Edge Rooms and 12 Lagoon Edge Studio Suites. These offer guests exquisite views and direct access to the resort’s saltwater lagoon swimming pools.

“We’re very excited to be unveiling the newly refurbished guest rooms” said GM Steve Molnar. “Taking inspiration from the original hotel designs, we have been careful to retain the rooms’ unique and distinctive features to create a modern beach side villa look that our guests will love, and identify with as a home away from home.”

When it first opened its doors, the resort was the most high-profile five-star resort in Australia. It now hopes, to quote Bruce Springsteen, to recapture "those glory days".

For more information see

Tuesday 23 February 2016

Why not open a bottle of older wine this Saturday night?

How many times have you put a potentially great bottle of wine "away in the cellar" for a few years, only to discover it decades later when it was way past its best; dusty and disappointing? 

Many wine styles benefit from cellaring; Barossa shiraz and Coonawarra cabernet among them. Just how long you want your wine to mature comes down to personal taste. 

But what is certain is that many bottles with immense promise wither and die in a warm cupboard or on the kitchen shelf. 

This Saturday night is Open that Bottle Night - and it will be celebrated around the globe. 

It is a concept that started in 2000 in the US when two columnists from the Wall Street Journal encouraged their readers to stop saving those "fine" bottles for a special occasion and to open and enjoy them while they are still at their peak. 

Momentum is now gaining in Australia, thanks to the work of marketing agency Mastermind Consulting, which believes there is no better time than the present to salute those special bottles of wine held captive in cellars or cupboards. 

Mastermind Consulting’s CEO Trish Barry says: “Wine is meant to be enjoyed and its stories shared. Open That Bottle Night provides people with the perfect excuse to raid their cellars, invite wine-loving friends to their home, gather some friends at BYO restaurants and tell the stories about the bottles brought to the table. Why do winemakers produce wine? So people can delight in its enjoyment. So let’s do what the makers intended and put the wines on centre stage for one evening.”

For those in the hospitality industry, Open That Bottle Night is an opportunity to help customers put wine on the centre stage of tables. This could emerge in the form of hosting a BYO night at a restaurant, or highlighting the venues status as BYO.

Once the wine has been opened and tasted, participants are encouraged to post thoughts and impressions on social media using #OTBN, or post their OTBN photos on the dedicated Facebook page:

More information and dedicated #OTBN creative can be downloaded at

Sunday 21 February 2016

Turning the New Zealand wine clock back 113 years

There were a dozen or so of us from around the globe gathered around the table at Brancepeth, a stately Edwardian farmhouse in New Zealand. There were wine writers, sommeliers and other experts from around the globe all sniffing and sipping.

We were gathered to make our pronouncements on what were believed to be the oldest bottles of New Zealand wine ever to be opened; 113-year-old Lansdowne reds from the Wairarapa region – one of which recently sold for $14,000 at a charity auction.

The wine was a Lansdowne Claret 1903, believed to be a blend of pinot noir, pinot meunier and shiraz, and it was grown by settler William Beetham and his French wife Hermance in a vineyard outside Masterton that was planted in 1895 only to be ripped out in 1908 due to Prohibition.

Around 150 bottles were discovered in the family cellar at Brancepeth, which is still owned by the Beetham family. Two bottles were opened, and the corks crumbled on both, but, miraculously, both wines were still alive, albeit at death's door.

The wines were brown and dotted with detritus, clearly oxidised but still magical with sherry-like rancio characters, hints of orange peel, funghi and burnt citrus, rosehip and pot pourri  and with still some tannins intact.

Beetham's Masterton vineyard was recently revived under new owner Derek Hagar, also originally from the Newcastle region in England, so we were able to sample 2009 and 2010 Lansdowne pinots with their early predecessors; a fascinating exercise.

The tasting was one of several outstanding experiences on a 16-day trip hosted by New Zealand Winegrowers. Among my fellow travellers were influencers including Oz Clarke and Robert Joseph, along with Matt Kramer from leading US magazine Wine Spectator.

We were joined by wine figures from Europe, North America and Asia. The budget for this event must have been immense as many guests went from the Pinot Noir Celebration in Queenstown, to the first Sauvignon Blanc Symposium, Sauvignon 2016, in Marlborough and on to further events in Gisborne, Hawke's Bay and Martinborough.

The key messages: New Zealand chardonnays have never been better; Kiwi pinot noir continues to blossom and sauvignon blanc producers are keen to expand into a range of different styles. More in coming weeks.

# The original version of this story appeared in the Sunday Examiner newspaper 

Saturday 20 February 2016

Tasmania's tiny gourmet hotspot gets another drawcard

The tiny hamlet of Cygnet, a 40-minute drive south of Hobart, has a reputation as one of Tasmania's gourmet hotspots. 

Two excellent local cafés, the Red Velvet Lounge and The Lotus Eaters Café, are listed among the top 500 restaurants in Australia - no mean feat for a town with a population of around 1,000.

Then there are artisan chocolates from Cygneture, ciders from Pagan Cider and wines from local vineyards including Elsewhere, Chatto, Sailor Seeks Horse, Panorama and Two Bud Spur. 

Oh, and the local markets held on the first and third Sundays of the month, great local produce, much of it organic, and a couple of good local pubs and takeaways. And the Gourmet Farmer, Matthew Evans, as well. 

Now there is another reason to make a trip to Cygnet when you are visiting Tasmania - the recently opened Port Cygnet Diner. 

Local chef Asher Gilding, fresh from a stint cooking in Morocco, opened the Port Cygnet Diner a few weeks ago, specialising in gourmet takeaway dishes. 

That means great burgers, superb flathead and hand-cut chips served with pickled vegetables, vegetarian dishes, milkshakes, artisan ice creams and other dishes depending on what is fresh and local. 

Gilding makes a habit of buying from farms in and around the Huon Valley. 

A chicken burger is a popular new addition to the blackboard menu and next week gourmet sausages, made from pork and kangaroo by Ross O'Meara on nearby Bruny Island, will make their debut. 

While the food is almost all sourced locally, and cooked with serious intent, the vibe here is casual. Take a seat in one of comfortable booths, pay $3 to BYO, sit back and enjoy. 

Port Cygnet Diner, 16 Mary St, Cygnet, TAS 7112. Open Thursday-Monday, noon-8pm.    

Friday 19 February 2016

A beginners' guide to the many delights of Rutherglen

The small town of Rutherglen in north-east Victoria has a wealth of attractions for gourmets - and visiting some of the great fortified wine producers of the region is like taking a step back in time.

Drop in to the cellars of Morris, All Saints, Bullers and Campbells and you can feel, and smell, the history among the big old barrels storing ancient fortified wines.

But while Rutherglen's reputation was built on its famous port-style wines, muscats and tokays (now known as topaques), it is also a go-ahead wine region with several producers thinking outside the square and producing innovative new styles.

This is one of Victoria's leading wine and food destinations, boasting over 20 award-winning wineries, outstanding restaurants and cafés, and world-class local produce.

It is also home to some of the most picturesque camping, fishing, cycling, swimming and boating locations in Australia and is surrounded by top-notch resort and country golf courses.

The wineries range from 150-year-old household names to newcomers like Scion, Valhalla and Simao and Co, just starting to forge their own legends.

Most are family owned, boutique operations where you'll almost certainly find sturdy reds made from shiraz and durif alongside the fortified gems.
Experimentation is alive and well with Stanton & Killeen and Campbells trialling a range of Spanish and Portuguese grape varieties, hoping they replicate the success enjoyed by the Rhone varietals of marsanne, roussanne and viognier, which have been championed by Rutherglen Estates, the region's largest producer.
Tempranillo, sangiovese and zinfandel add variety to the reds of the region, and some of the country's best sparkling reds are also found here.
There are also a variety of cellar door experiences and, for a town with a population of just 2,500, myriad options for wining and dining.
Old favourites include The Terrace at All Saints and Tuileries Restaurant and Wine Bar, but Rutherglen also has several new hotspots ranging from the Taste @ Rutherglen restaurant and its adjacent micro brewery to the new Thousand Pound wine bar and the casual lunches at Lake Moodemere Estate just out of town.
For a serious dinner prepared by chef Gavin Swalwell, Taste @ Rutherglen is a lively spot serving an al a carte selection or a degustation menu featuring dishes like house-made gnocchi with confit of duck, Wooragee mushrooms and baby spinach, or perhaps caramelised pork belly in a house-made masterstock.

Other options include the delightful Jones Winery Café and Pickled Sisters, adjacent to the Cofield cellar door at nearby Wahgunyah. This is a favourite of local winemakers, who like to share the outstanding platters of local produce. Also don't miss out on Parker Pies in the main street, something of a regional legend.
While the great fortified producers dating back to the 1800s: Chambers Rosewood, Morris, All Saints and Campbells are among the biggest drawcards, it also worthwhile seeking out smaller producers like Warrabilla, where I came across winemaker Andrew Sutherland Smith covered in soot after spending the afternoon fighting a bush fire.

Sutherland Smith has a huge following for his bold and idiosyncratic red wines.

Those with a taste for something different will enjoy Rutherglen Estates, where they can sample varieties including arneis, savagnin, viognier, fiano, tempanillo, sangiovese and zinfandel alongside the region's trademark durifs, shirazes and muscats.

Also check out Anderson Wines, where father and daughter Howard and Christobelle Anderson only release their wines when they are convinced they are at their peak and Stanton and Killeen, which has been reinvigorated by new CEO Wendy Killeen.

At Buller Wines, now owned by local couple Gerald and Mary Judd, the facilities and wines are being returned to past glories by new GM Paul Squires and winemaker David Whyte, a dynamic duo with big plans.

Other possibilities include grandiose All Saints and historic St Leonards (both with dining options and both owned by the Brown family), and boutique operations like John Gehrig Wines, Scion and Valhalla. Pfeiffer Wines has been re-energised by the arrival of winemaker Jen Pfeiffer, daughter of family patriarch Chris.

It is de rigueur, however, for visitors to visit the cellars at Morris or Campbells to savour the rich aromas of treacle, butterscotch and oak emanating from wines which have been maturing for decades in casks or giant oak barrels.

Stay for a night or two at long-time favourite Tuileries, the cosy Rutherglen Country Cottages, or at Moodemere Lake House, the latest accommodation offering.

One of the more interesting ways of exploring is the Wahgunyah to Rutherglen extension of the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail, enabling cyclists to ride the sealed path from the banks of the Murray to historic Rutherglen. The 9km trail travels through the heart of the wine region.

For those who don't want to worry about driving but would like to travel in style, Alister Chisholm from Rutherglen Country Cottages has a luxury Ford stretch limo to ferry visitors from cellar door to cellar door in rock star style.

Whichever direction you choose to travel, you’ll find terrific wines and great country food. 

Tastes of Rutherglen is the ultimate gourmet weekend, pairing award-winning wines with celebrated regional chefs and restaurants. It runs from March 12-13. For details see   

Thursday 18 February 2016

Hop on a Segway for a new view of the Seppeltsfield vineyards

It was in at Spier Estate in South Africa (the country that leads the way in wine tourism) that I first saw Segway tours of vineyards. 

The idea has now caught on in Australia with the Hunter Resort in the Hunter Valley among the pioneers. 

Most recently Seppeltsfield has partnered with local business Segway Sensation SA to bring Segway tours to the historic Barossa estate.

The partnership initially sees Segway tours offered three times daily on weekends and public holidays, where guests are guided on a one-hour trail throughout the Seppeltsfield estate grounds and vineyards.

Seppeltsfield is the first winery in South Australia to offer Segway tours to the public. The battery-operated, two-wheeled, personal transportation vehicles have become popular in recent years with tourism sites and city commuters. Users can command movement by simply shifting their weight forward or backward on a platform.

The partnership comes as a complement to the redevelopment of Seppeltsfield’s cellar door, Fino restaurant and the JamFactory Art & Design Studios.

Segway Sensation SA owners Cindy Chynoweth and Shane Camilleri, said bringing Segways to Seppeltsfield was a fantastic opportunity. 

“Having discussed the concept with several tourism bodies, we were enthused at the prospect of being based at Seppeltsfield”, said Cindy. “The estate is breathtakingly beautiful – from gorgeous gardens, palm lined roads, heritage buildings and ancient vineyard, it seems perfect for discovery by Segway.”

Guests are able to select from a Segway tour at $99 or a package which includes lunch at the estate’s picnic grounds for $127. Tours depart at 10.00am, 12:00pm and 2:00pm depending on the season. 

For more information including bookings, visit or phone 0439 223 338.

Wednesday 17 February 2016

Will Marlborough sauvignon blanc continue to grow and grow?

Patrick Materman from Bancott Estate at Sauvignon 2016
Sauvignon blanc from Marlborough has been probably the greatest global wine success story of the past 25 years, perhaps alongside Prosecco. 

The first Sauvignon Blanc Celebration, a conference held earlier this month in Blenheim, now the world capital of savvy blanc, attempted to address the future.

While there is no doubt there is a massive worldwide audience for the grassy, herbaceous and tropical fruit notes of the Marlborough version of the Loire variety, many producers are looking to produce more textural, or cerebral, if you like, styles.

When I posed the question of several producers, including Dog Point and Greywacke, of whether this ran the risk of alienating or confusing supermarket customers used to the status quo, the shuffling was uncomfortable.

There is no doubt, however, that New Zealand sauvignon blanc is at something of a crossroads with producers wary of repeating endlessly the same style that has been so widely acclaimed. Everyone wants to make something different. Boredom perhaps?

Matt Kramer, the erudite American columnist for Wine Spectator magazine, and a long-time fan of the style, told delegates: “There’s some sense of a mid-life crisis here in Marlborough… a sense that somehow you’ve missed something,” he said. 

The erudite Matt Kramer 
"Get over it – you are one of the world’s most successful wine regions, you have created a wine style that is recognised everywhere, and something that no-one else has, so what the hell do you want? Mermaids?”

Kramer suggested the region was “going from the general to the particular”, and needed to “create site-specific wines that identify a particular flavour.”

He also said there was a need to “lower yields”, and to “start looking at the land through the lens of the soil, rather than the climate”.

“I think some of you need to lower your yields: sauvignon blanc – like riesling – can handle a higher level, but can it handle 16 tonnes per hectare? We know it’s being done."

The first sauvignon blanc vines were planted in Marlborough in 1973 by Montana, now called Brancott Estate, and the style was made globally popular by Cloudy Bay, quickly followed by several others.

Savvy blancs from around the globe at Sauvignon 2016
Kramer clearly believes local producers don't know how good they have it right now.

“Sauvignon Blanc is the world’s most reliably good dry white wine – full stop. Is it the world’s greatest grape? Hell no, chardonnay scales that in Burgundy, and also here [in New Zealand], but day in, day out, country in, country out, sauvignon blanc is the most reliably good wine.” 

It is my belief that many drinkers love Marlborough sauvignon blanc because of its immediate "drink now" appeal and they know exactly what they will get when they hand over their $20. Will changing the style, even in only a small percentage of releases, alienate consumers? 

At one tasting during Sauvignon 2016 a couple of South African interlopers from Klein Zalzie and Cederberg starred - so there can be no room for complacency. 

Hold on. It might be quite a ride.

# The writer was a guest of New Zealand Winegrowers 

Air New Zealand flies from all Australian capital cities to New Zealand. For more information and to book please visit

Tuesday 16 February 2016

So you want to learn to make wine like a pro? Here's your chance

Ever thought "I would love to go grape picking and make wine with my own hands"?
Sometimes felt that you could do a better job than the professionals who make wine for a living? 

If you answered yes to either question then Raidis Estate in Coonawarra, South Australia, is offering an opportunity that might be the experience of a lifetime.

Steven and Emma Raidis, the bright young couple behind the Raidis Estate brand, are offering visitors the chance to get down and dirty in their vineyards and winery - and play a role in the production of a limited-release wine. 

The Raidis team describes the one-day Living the Dream event as "the ultimate winemaker experience" - and it costs $295 per person for members of their Billy Goat Club, or $495 for non-members.

The lucky few will have their signature on the barrel head and their name on the label as one of the winemakers. 

The experience includes grape picking with professionals, a chance to work alongside the wine making team crafting the special-release wine; and a bottle of the finished product in 12 months' time. Those involved will also get regular updates on the wine's progress in barrel - and first access to purchase.

The date on which you can turn from wine drinker to wine maker is April 23, 2016 - and the package includes Greek coffee to start the day and a traditional Greek feast to toast the end of the experience; featuring Raidis Estate wines and produce from the Raidis family gardens. 

For full details, or to book, visit or call 08 8737 2966 


Sunday 14 February 2016

Why some of Australia's icon chefs are set to descend on Tasmania

Some of the finest chefs in the country will link with leading Tasmanian wineries and work with students at TasTAFE Drysdale to host a series of degustation dinners in Launceston between April and October. 

Chefs including French legend Jacques Reymond, Mark Best from Marque and Pei Modern and culinary legend Tetsuya Wakuda are among the chefs lined up for the dinners, which will all be held at TasTAFE at 93 Paterson Street, Launceston.

Mark Best
The dinners will include Jacques Reymond paired with Goaty Hill Wines on April 15, Donovan Cooke teamed with Josef Chromy Wines on May 13, Tetsuya Wakuda working with Holm Oak on July 29 and Sydney wild child Dan Hong alongside Moores Hill on September 30. 

Goaty Hill has also just been confirmed with Best on June 24 and Red Brick Road Cider and a craft brewer will pair for a lunch with Michael Luo on October 2. 

The six-course degustation dinners with matching wines will cost $165, with Luo's traditional dim sum and yum cha banquet $99. 

The Great Chefs Series is seen as an opportunity for some of the most influential culinary minds in Australia to collaborate with some of the up-and-coming talents within the Tasmanian hospitality industry.

Tetsuya Wakuda
TasTAFE Drysdale students across events, tourism, hospitality and commercial cookery programs in Launceston will be involved in working with the chefs, all of whom have global reputations. 

Each of the courses will be complemented by a wine from the partner winery and will offer a culinary journey as the chefs impart their passion for cuisine to the next generation in the kitchen. 

For full details and bookings see:

Friday 12 February 2016

Japan: a most surprising destination for wine lovers

Just before Christmas I was lucky enough to spend two weeks exploring Japan with Tobu Top Tours; visiting everywhere from remote rural regions to the massive and impressive city of Osaka. 

The ostensible purpose of the trip was to demonstrate how much more of Japan has been opened up to tourism by the new Hokuriku Shinkansen bullet train, which rockets from Tokyo to Kanazawa, make accessible increased areas of previously undiscovered regional Japan – primarily Fukui, Ishikawa and Toyama. 

The itinerary included several fascinating artisan sake distilleries as well as two wine producers. 

Yes, wine. Not only are Japanese supermarkets full of imported wines, but there is also a fast-growing domestic wine industry. 

Chateau Mercian, outside Nagano, is probably the highest-profile producer, along with Grace Winery. 

While some winemakers use traditional wine grapes, including chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon, others concentrate on koshu, a white wine grape that is rain resistant, and the hybrid grape Muscat Bailey A. High humidity and rain during the flowering season are hurdles for many local producers.

Grapes are cultivated and wines made in several regions; we visited the new Osagida winery at Chichibu in Saitama Prefecture, run by the Chichibu Farmers group, where there are two hectares of vines and other grapes are sourced from growers. 

This small but impressive facility offers vineyard and winery tours and free tastings, and visitors can enjoy a traditional lunch next door at the Kamanoue Farm Village. I enjoyed the 2014 Muscat Bailey A Cuvée Kamanoue, which was reminiscent of Beaujolais in style.

Less rustic is the Cave d'Occi winery and restaurant, a full-scale tourism operation that is part of the Niigata Wine Coast region, which includes five wine producers and is on the hillside overlooking the Japan Sea. Winery and vineyard tours are offered here, there are three restaurants and cafés, including an up-market French eatery, and there is even vineyard accommodation.  

There are seven hectares of vines, dating back to 1992, most of them French in origin, ranging from chardonnay and riesling to cabernet sauvignon and sangiovese. The other regional wineries; Fermier, Domaine Chaud, Cantinio Zia Setto and Le Cinq are all close by. 

And for Australians looking to export; Japanese wine drinkers are increasingly open to trying new styles and countries as the country’s wine market ‘comes of age’, according to a recent report from Rabobank. 

That was certainly borne out by my visit to Boo Foo Woo, a very funky wine bar in ShinOsaka specialising in "natural" wines and where names on the list included the likes of Mount Mary, La Violetta, Ochota Barrels and other Australian boutique stars imported by Carl Robinson, Ned Goodwin and the team at Wine Diamonds in Tokyo. 

In supermarkets, the wine ranges are more mainstream, but offer a good global spread. 

Japan is a fascinating country with an intriguing wine future - and I also predict that any wine lovers visiting will develop a love affair with sake. I bought several bottles back with me. 

# The writer was a guest of Tobu Top Tours on a trip to promote the new Hokuriku Shinkansen bullet train route from Tokyo to Kanazawa, which opens up new areas of 
regional Japan to overseas visitors.

Qantas flies twice daily to Tokyo via Sydney (Sydney-Haneda) or Brisbane (Brisbane-Narita). The Brisbane-Narita flights are operated by the refurbished A330 aircraft, with lie-flat seats in Business, brand new economy seats and new in-flight entertainment. The Sydney-Haneda flights are operated by a B747, which features the refurbished A380 interior. 

Thursday 11 February 2016

Every glass of Tahbilk wine offers a sip of history

Every glass of Tahbilk wine is like a sip of Australian wine history.
Established in 1860 in the Nagambie Lakes region of Victoria, the Tahbilk winery is not only classified by the National Trust but still produces wine from shiraz vines planted 165 years ago.

Tahbilk is a founding member of Australia's First Families of Wine and is the current James Halliday Annual winery of the year.
The Purbrick family, owners of Tahbilk, tend to do things with understated style. Late last year, to mark the 150th birthday of their 1860s Vines Shiraz, they held a tasting and lunch at iconic Melbourne restaurant Vue de Monde.
With back vintages showing both how well the elegant style ages, and how the 2010 may be one of the greatest vintages of the $275-a-bottle red, current winemaker Alister Purbrick is following a tradition that began when his great-great grandfather Reginald Purbrick purchased the Tahbilk property in 1925.
Tahbilk Estate, the oldest family-owned winery in Victoria, is one of Australia's most beautiful and historic vineyard properties. Some 120km north of Melbourne, it comprises 1,214 hectares of the richest river flats in the region.
The Purbicks are straight shooters, too. When asked why recent releases are under screw cap, Alister said: “Because I hate cork; hate it with a passion for what it can do to wine.”

Three generations: John, Haley and Alister Purbrick  
The good news for wine drinkers is that in addition to icons like the 1860 Vines Shiraz, of which a maximum of 150 dozen are made each year, often less, Tahbilk also produces a range of wines, most of them featuring Rhone varietals, that are priced for everyday enjoyment.
There is a venerable block of the white grape marsanne that was planted in 1927. Now the fifth generation of the family is involved and today Tahbilk has the largest plantings of marsanne anywhere in the world. In addition to the standard release, Tahbilk also releases a wine made exclusively from the 1927 vines as an aged release.
Also check out the delicious 2014 Tahbilk Roussanne Marsanne Viognier, another astutely-judged wine.

In addition to the Rhone whites, the 200 hectares under vine include Rhone reds; shiraz, grenache and mourvedre. Also planted are more traditional varieties cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, chardonnay, riesling, semillon, sauvignon blanc and verdelho and, with a nod to the new that you'd expect from a carbon-neutral producer; tempranillo and savagnin.
For details see: