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Wednesday 30 September 2020

Taste some wines the Wallabies made for you

Former Australian rugby internationals Adam Ashley-Cooper, Matt Giteau and Drew Mitchell are getting serious having joined the likes of Greg Norman and Ricky Ponting in the wine business. 

The trio recently launched a wine range that plays tribute to their time in the Wallabies’ backline - with each wine being crafted based on a memory from the game or life outside rugby. 

Their newest drop, a McLaren Vale Shiraz dubbed ‘295’ after the number of games they collectively played for the Wallabies, is made by renowned McLaren Vale winemaker Ben Riggs, who also works with former Australian cricket captain Ponting. 

The 295 McLaren Vale Shiraz is a limited-run release with only 1063 bottles produced - the exact number of points scored by the trio in tests for the Wallabies.

Drew Mitchell said the new addition to the range is a tribute to the trio’s rugby career together in the Wallabies’ backline.

“Gits, AAC and I have collectively played 295 games in the Wallabies’ backline," he said. "You form an incredible mateship, on and off the field, when playing in the backline, and this wine captures this perfectly; alongside our commitment to excellence and our love for a laugh. It’s a wine that is full of character and is the ultimate expression of a McLaren Vale shiraz.”

The bottle is a talking point in itself, finished with an embossed bronzed label and wax-sealed by hand. 

The 295 McLaren Vale Shiraz ($295 per six pack, of course ) joins Backline’s existing line-up of the Backline Block Raider’ - a 2018 Langhorne Creek Shiraz, 2018, the name paying homage to one of the boys’ favourite plays at $139 per case of six and the “Je Fais” Langhorne Creek Cabernet blend; “Je Fais” meaning ‘I do’. This also retails for $139 per case of six. 

The range also includes the Pilou Pilou Fleurieu Peninsula Rosé 2020, named after the famous war cry of the famous Toulon club, where both Giteau and Mitchell played. This is $114 for a six pack. 

For more details see

Get ready to fly Rex between major Australian cities

Flyers will be able to choose between Qantas, Virgin Australia and Regional Express when they fly between Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane next year.

Regional Express (Rex) said today it has has signed letters of intent to lease six Boeing 737-800 NG aircraft, which will operate its soon-to-be-launched operations on Australia's east coast. 

The first 737 jet will be delivered on November 1 , with the remaining five aircraft to be phased in over the following four months.

“Three of these aircraft will be deployed in the first phase of our launch on March 1 on the Sydney to Melbourne route, with another two aircraft beginning service before Easter,” said Rex deputy chairman John Sharp.

Rex is already advertising for staff and tickets for the new routes are expected to go on sale in December.

Executive Traveller reported the first five routes Rex plans to tackle from its Sydney hub would be Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Canberra and Adelaide.

"These 737 aircraft are well received by passengers and have proven to be very suitable for operations in Australia," Sharp said.

Can you guess the four Australlian wineries named among the top 100 in the world?

Four Australian wineries have been named among a list of the top 100 in the world by US-based Wine & Spirits Magazine.

The quartet includes South Australian producers Penfolds and d'Arenberg, both with high profiles in North America, alongside tiny Victorian pair Bindi Wines and Chambers Rosewood Vineyard.

“It’s been a challenging year for wine retailers to keep up with demand," said magazine editor Joshua Greene. 

"We were pleased to be able to shepherd 9,200 wines through our blind tasting process, focusing on the categories important to our readers and finding a host of great new releases to share. 

"There is a lot of delicious and compelling wine from the producers in our Top 100.

"For the Australian wineries on the list, this is a bright spot in an incredibly tough year, and shows they are doing Australian wine proud on a global scale."

Penfolds was named on the list for the 28th time and only the US, France, Italy and Spain and more than four producers listed. 

Bindi specialises in cool-climate pinot noir and chardonnay in the Macedon ranges in Victoria, while Chambers Rosewood is based in Rutherglen in north-east Victoria. 

It is worth noting the list only covers wines that are available in the US market and that were tasted by the magazine's panel.  

Tuesday 29 September 2020

Time to dream: Five top European destinations

Even if you’ve visited the great European capitals, there are some delightful travel discoveries to be made by taking roads less travelled.

You’ve shopped until you dropped in Paris, you’ve done Rome, walked the canal tow paths in Amsterdam and explored the Greek islands.

Here are five other delightful historic and gourmet destinations that are easy to get to using the excellent European rail network and a money-saving Eurail pass.

Ljubljana: Slovenia’s under-rated capital is one of Europe's prettiest and most accessible cities. Home to just under 300,000 people, nearly all its major attractions are found along the banks of the delightful Ljubljanica River. Over 2,000 years old, Ljubljana is reminiscent of Prague before it was discovered by the masses and is dotted with cafés, riverside eateries and markets. It is home to museums, galleries, theatres and some excellent value bars and restaurants. Much easier to get to than you might imagine, Ljubljana is just a 2 1/2-hour train ride from Trieste.

Where to stay: The chic Hotel Vander Urbani has just 20 rooms, a rooftop pool and is tucked away on a cobbled side street.

What to try: Pair sweet and spicy Tolminc cow cheese with a glass of Union Lager.

A fishing village that’s popular as a weekend destination for Lisbon residents, Ericeira has undergone recent development although the waterfront area retains its rustic charm with traditional blue and white-painted cottages overlooking the Atlantic ocean and the fishing fleet. The town is known for its surf beaches – surfing is a popular pastime - and eateries, where you can feast on local sardines and bottles of crisp Vinho Verde. Ericeira is just a 30-minute drive from Lisbon and even closer to the National Place in Mafra and the scenic village of Sintra. 

Where to stay:
Hotel Vila Gale:

What to try: Sample some grilled, fresh-caught local sardines with a glass or two of Vinho Verde.

Milan: Terribly stylish and very expensive, Milan is the fashion capital of Italy and full of interesting buildings and churches. Take Tram No.1 for a budget tour through the old quarter and make sure to visit the dramatic Milan Duomo (cathedral) with its 135 spires and 3,200 statues. Take a walk through the elegant Galleria Vittorio Emanuelle II shopping precinct and try to snag a ticket to the La Scala opera house. Make sure to catch a football game featuring either AC Milan or Inter Milan.

Where to stay: The elegant boutique Chateau Hotel Monfort is brilliantly situated within walking distance of most of the highlights.

What to try: The local classic risotto alla Milanese with a glass of red from nearby Valtellina.

Lausanne: The fourth-largest city in Switzerland sits across Lake Geneva from the French town of Evian les Bains and is home to the International Olympic Committee. A large student population makes for lively nightlife and arts communities centred on the Flon district. The city traces its history back to Roman times and there are trains daily from Gare de Lyon in Paris. Cross-lake ferries serve Evian, Montreux, Geneva and other interesting lakeside communities.

Where to stay: Why not treat yourself to a night or two in one of the grandest hotels in Europe: the Lausanne Palace?

What to try: You can't visit Lausanne without partaking in a delicious Swiss cheese fondue. Also try kirsch, a strong brandy made from cherries. 

Bruges: One of the most under-rated cities in Europe, this city in north-west Belgium is known for its many lovely canals, classic cobbled streets and medieval buildings. Small enough to wander around on foot, visitors will love the towering Gothic buildings and the ultra-chic Canal St Martin district. Enjoy some moules/frites in the Markt, the pretty Market Square.

Where to stay: The luxurious Hotel Van Cleef is in the historic old part of the city and is a member of the Hip Hotels group.

What to try: Classic moules marinières with frites and a local brew.

# The writer was a guest of Eurail before Covid-19


Monday 28 September 2020

Tiny Tasmanian distillery makes its mark

I like to think I am pretty up to date with what is happening with food and booze in Tasmania but Taylor & Smith slipped right under my radar.

Taylor and Smith's Dry Gin was just named the winner of 2020’s Best Small Batch Spirit Award at the Tasting Australia Spirit Awards.

Sponsored by Mastercask, the South Australian awards recognise ingenuity and energy in Australia’s distilling industry.

The Taylor & Smith Dry Gin ($85) also won gold in the London Dry Gin category, and the Taylor & Smith Gin ($85) won bronze in the Best Contemporary Spirit section.

Taylor & Smith’s Dry Gin is billed as "a beautifully aromatic gin with a unique character as an array of striking botanicals and other ingredients, including abalone shell, are paired with a quintessentially Tasmanian ingredient: the needles of the native Huon Pine tree".

“We love experimenting,” says Natalie Smith, one half of team Taylor & Smith. “Huon Pine always makes me think of being in the Tasmanian landscape - of rivers and crisp clean air. It’s an icon of Tasmanian flora and Tasmanian timber, too - so it just made sense to try it in the Dry Gin.”

The water that feeds directly to the distillery comes from a lake of snow melt at Mount Field National Park.

Taylor & Smith Distilling Co. is an artisan distillery based in the Hobart suburb of Moonah that is owned and run by Smith and Ben Taylor.

All ingredients are as local as possible, even the abalone shells are sourced from family dives on the East Coast of Tasmania. “Abalone shell is used in Chinese medicine and the calcium carbonate neutralises acids while adding a slight salinity,” says Taylor.

Visit for more information.

Hotel chain opens its doors for furry friends

If you've often wished that your canine companions could join you in your hotel room there is good news today from QT Hotels and Resorts.

QT has introduced fur-friendly stays at its properties across Australia and New Zealand.

The new Pup Yeah! program offers guests the chance to get away with their canine best friend and share in a night of luxury. 

Guests checking in with their pooch will be met with features including an in-room doggy dinner menu by QT Hotels Australia’s Head of Treats, Nic Wood and New Zealand’s Head of Treats, Jiwon Do. 

Menu highlights include steak tartare with raw beef, mushrooms and egg yolk; risotto with bone marrow, bone broth, parsley and crispy pigs ears; livers and toast with chicken livers, pork neck, chicken gravy on whole meal toast and an ice cream sandwich with bacon ice cream, dried liver and oat biscuit.

For discerning dogs with dietary requirements QT Bondi has an approved vegan menu. 

Each Pup Yeah! room comes with a pooch appeal mini bar and designer bedding. 

Across Australia, furry guests will find bespoke treats by boutique pet bakery, Woof Gateaux and sleep set by Nice Digs

In New Zealand’s dog-friendly mini bars, canines will find colour-coordinated bow ties and bandanas from Wolves of Wellington, plus designer bedding, bowls and nightly turndown service provided by Wellington dog bakery and specialty shop Smack Bang.

For pups in need of a little therapeutic kudos, selected QT Hotels have partnered with local groomers to extend a bespoke pupQ treatment menu. 

Pup Yeah! Rooms start from $450 inclusive of bedding, water bowl, and a complimentary dish from the in-room dog dining menu.

For more information or to book:

Sunday 27 September 2020

All change for MONA FOMA in 2021

While many Tasmanian summer festivals have already been cancelled for the summer of 2020-21, much-loved MONA FOMA is bucking the trend.

MONA FOMA is an annual music and arts festival held in January in Tasmania, curated by Violent Femmes member Brian Ritchie and backed by multi-millionaire philanthropist David Walsh.

"Mona Foma thrives on reinvention and we are compelled to do that big time in January 2021." says Ritchie.

The vent began in Hobart, then switched to Launceston. In January 2021, it will comprise one weekend in Launceston, and one weekend in Hobart "to spread the love".

Organisers promise a new look post Covid-19: "Great Tasmanian artists, unusual venues, and an irrepressible creativity."

The Festival of Music and Art will be held in Launceston from January 16-17 and Hobart from January 23-24.

"Mona Foma showcases Tasmania's fine creative industries, contributes to our state's cultural fabric and provides a massive economic boost into the local economy," said Premier Peter Gutwein.

Ritchie promised: "There will be a lot of unique things in each city, but some artists, especially the performing musicians may appear in both cities." 

The star attractions will be announced later in 2020.

For more information and program updates visit  

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, and also those from nearby 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  

Tuesday 22 September 2020

If the Carbibbean and Med are off the agenda, how about cruising Tasmania?

Can't make it to the Med? The Caribbean out of the question? How about a luxury yachting experience around the coast of Tasmania. 

Tasmanian Yacht Charters is offering private expeditions into Tasmania’s remote south-west from January to May, 2021. 

And groups of six or more get a discount when booking out the vessel. 

The cruises visit Port Davey and Bathurst Harbour; a  region characterized by rugged, mountainous landscapes, white sandy beaches and panoramic views.

The Odalisque (above), billed as "a floating hotel", offers fresh Tasmanian produce and fine wines as a highlight of the journey, prepared by an onboard guest chef. 

Guests can enjoy four-, five- or seven-day guided expeditions into Port Davey, exploring the untouched World Heritage Area aboard their floating home, which accommodates up to 10 guests. 

All tours include flights to and from Hobart’s Cambridge Aerodrome to Melaleuca’s white quartzite airstrip. 

From May-January Odalisque offers overnight charters in other areas of Tasmania including the East Coast, Bruny Island and the Tasman Peninsula.

Odalisque is also available to entertain groups up to 40 people on a tailored day charter, ideal for functions. 

Odalisque is a 20-metre, purpose-built aluminium cruise vessel, constructed for optimum comfort and stability at sea.

The open plan saloon area allows panoramic views, has plenty of lounging capacity and a large dining area for a leisurely dining experience. Outside, Odalisque has three decks: a fly bridge with seating, an upper deck, and an incredibly spacious lower deck with barbecue facilities, sink and outside bathroom.

For details see

The lazy man's way to explore Kangaroo Island

Kangaroo Island is bouncing back and a new tour tour offers the chance to indulge your taste buds and get up close to the local wildlife. 

SeaLink's new Kangaroo Island Sip & See Day Tour will operate every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday until March 2021 for $256 per person, twin share.

It can be experienced as a day tour - departing by coach from Adelaide - or guests can meet the ferry at Cape Jervis as an Escape one-day, one-night package or as part of a two-day tour. 

All tours include return ferry transfers and air-conditioned coach touring with a local Kangaroo Island driver/guide who will provide commentary throughout the day.

The Kangaroo Island Sip & See Day Tour kicks off with a Birds of Prey presentation at Raptor Domain featuring wedge-tailed eagles and barn owls.

Then it is off to Emu Ridge Eucalyptus Distillery for a two-course lunch followed by a history talk and a guided tour of the oil distillery. Enjoy free time to discover an assortment of eucalyptus products and a great range of gifts in the souvenir shop.

Next stop is Clifford's Honey Farm shop to learn about Ligurian honeybees, see a working beehive, taste different varieties of pure Kangaroo Island Ligurian honey, sample honey beauty products and honey ice-cream.

Kangaroo Island Spirits offers the opportunity to taste some award-winning gins

This boutique distillery specialises in hand-crafted premium Australian spirits made using native Australian botanicals and locally grown or sourced ingredients. 

False Cape Wines serves premium Kangaroo Island wines overlooking the idyllic bushland and vineyard surrounds before visitors back to the mainland.

The one-night, one-day Kangaroo Island Sip & See Escape includes the one-day tour plus pre-tour overnight accommodation and a buffet breakfast at Kangaroo Island Seafront Hotel Penneshaw. 

In addition to visiting the attractions on the Sip & See day tour, the Ultimate Kangaroo Island two-day visits the Seal Bay Conservation Park for a guided beach walk among a colony of rare, wild Australian sea lions; Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park - which was used as a koala hospital and animal refuge during and after the devastating bushfires in December 2019 and January 2020 - and the Flinders Chase National Park. 

The tour also includes enjoy a two-course pub lunch in the soldier settlement township of Parndana and overnight accommodation and full breakfast at a variety of Kangaroo Island hotels.

The Kangaroo Island Sip & See Day tour operates every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday and departing Cape Jervis is priced from $256 per adult and $169 per child. 

The Kangaroo Island Sip & See Day Tour departing Adelaide is $304 per adult and $194 per child and includes return travel to Kangaroo Island by coach and selected pick-up and set down from Adelaide or Glenelg hotels.

The Kangaroo Island Sip & See Escape Tour and two-day Ultimate tour departs Adelaide every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday.

The Kangaroo Island Sip & See Escape Tour is priced from $458 per person twin share, while the two-day Ultimate Kangaroo Island Tour is priced from $644 per person twin share. 

For further information visit

Monday 21 September 2020

Meet the Australian red that is the culmination of 30 years of effort

Jim Barry's The Armagh is is one of Australia's greatest red wines; a Clare Valley shiraz of both style and substance. 

So when family patriarch Peter Barry says: “This is the Armagh we’ve been waiting 30 years to make” you know you can expect something special from the new-release Armagh from the 2016 vintage.

Barry explains: "Back in 1985, when my brother Mark and I set about creating a great Australian shiraz, this was the wine we envisaged. It has taken 30 years of persistence and input from three generations, to craft what I believe is the best Armagh we have ever made.

"It is with satisfaction that I look back on the journey that has brought us to this point, a journey that began in 1968 when my father, Jim Barry, planted eight acres of shiraz vines near a village called Armagh. 

"As a child, I remember hand watering the vines during the drought of 1969, from a 44-gallon drum on the back of a Holden FX ute.

"Dad always encouraged us to carve out our own path and swim against the tide, saying 'if everyone is going one way, don’t follow'.'

"In 1985 we did just that. When many in the Clare Valley were bulldozing and burning wonderful old shiraz vines, we took a risk and created The Armagh.

"It is my greatest pleasure to share this special vintage with my own sons, Tom and Sam, and continue the journey with them. Tom, as winemaker, has shown tremendous respect for the past in making this wine, while also capturing his own style.

"The 2016 Armagh Shiraz is something that we will treasure and enjoy for years to come. It is a wonderful reflection of all we have achieved over six decades."

The name Armagh was bestowed by the original Irish settlers who arrived in 1849 and named the lush, rolling hills of the Clare after their homeland. The 2016 will set you back $350.

My verdict: A very serious red wine; with intensity and complexity. Think dark berries, ripe plums, black olives, well-integrated oak. A wine of power and structure that deserves to spend at least a decade in a dark cellar.    


Sunday 20 September 2020

Why you can't believe everything you read about wine

There is an awful lot of nonsense written about wine in the mainstream media.

The latest came today in the The Daily Mail online, which breathlessly exclaimed: "A $23.99 bottle of shiraz has been crowned the best red wine in Australia after beating more than 400 rivals at a prestigious awards show."

The Mail, which usually concentrates its efforts on soap stars and celebs many of us have never heard of, was excited that The Cat Amongst the Pigeons Fat Cat Barossa Shiraz 2018 took home three awards, including Most Outstanding Barossa Wine. 

It was was also named Best Shiraz and the Most Outstanding Barossa Red Table Wine. 

So this wine beat Penfolds Grange, Henschke Hill of Grace and Yalumba The Caley? Well, no, because wines of that calibre and price point are rarely entered in shows.

The Cat Amongst the Pigeons Fat Cat Barossa Shiraz 2018 is sold exclusively through selected BWS and Dan Murphy's stores from $23.99. Which almost certainly makes it a bargain. Chief judge Nick Ryan was certainly enthused.


Wines entered in this show must be made in the Barossa from a minimum of 95% Barossa grapes. Wines from every other region in Australia were not eligible to enter. No Margaret River or Coonawarra cabernet, no Tasmanian pinot.

The judges, too, in this Covid-19 year, were all South Australians.

I have no doubt the winning wine offers excellent value - but to proclaim the winner of one regional show "the best in Australia" is just idiocy. 

Wine shows are designed as ways to sell wines using little gold stickers. 

There are also several other issues. 

Judging panel chairs may instruct judges to look for certain characteristics, perhaps ruling out very good, but heavily oaked wines. 

And some judges are able to identify wines from their winery - or even region - at 20 paces, giving them high scores and arguing their merits.

Also, no judge's palate can hope to be as sharp on shiraz No.80 in a line-up as it was on No.1.

Check out this surprise winner by all means - but it is not the best red in Australia. 

Even if the Daily Mail, Kiss FM and the Daily Wine News tell you otherwise.

Saturday 19 September 2020

Welcome to Quincy: the latest hotel brand to debut in Australia

Meet Quincy - the latest hotel brand to launch in Australia. 

Signature dining destinations and a quirky approach to room service are among the promises being made for the brand-new Quincy Hotel Melbourne, when it opens later this year. 

TFE (Toga Far East) Hotel's CEO Antony Ritch said his team was excited to introduce the "colourful"  brand - which started in Singapore - into Australia.

“With Quincy we are bringing the sights, sounds and, most importantly, flavours of South-East Asia to Australia," he said. 

“And, while we have a way to go before opening, our team are busy setting the benchmark for Quincy Hotels Australia and putting the finishing touches on what we think is Australia's most exciting new hotel brand.”

The 241-room hotel will "immerse our guests in a colourful and contemporary experience unlike anything that's currently available in Australia” Ritch said.

Positioned in the upper mid-scale category, Quincy is aimed at social urbanites. The hotel will feature distinctive building and interior design, three food experiences, a rooftop pool with views of Melbourne CBD, and exclusive club levels and lounge access.

“And we've got a street address to match,” he said. “Right in the middle in one of Australia's best lifestyle precincts at the top of Flinders Lane (across the road from the Rialto and five minutes from the Crown Casino complex).”

Friday 18 September 2020

West Coast attraction back on the rails

One of Tasmania's biggest tourism attractions is back on the rails.

The West Coast Wilderness Railway ran two preview trips this week ahead of re-starting journeys for visitors to Queenstown from Tuesday, September 22. 

“We are excited to be running these journeys this week and be joined by the minister and fellow tourism industry operators on board as we prepare to welcome back visitors next week” Anthony Brown, West Coast Wilderness Railway general manager said.

The railway was forced to suspend operating railway journeys in April 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

In the months since the suspension, the railway has maintained its core staff of year-round employees despite not qualifying for JobKeeper subsidies due to Government ownership. 

The team have completed a number of projects, such as scheduled and unscheduled maintenance on the track and rolling stock, station improvements across four remote stations along the line, upgrading on-board audio and visual delivery and adding an augmented reality experience.

“The shutdown has been hard on the team and we are very excited to be able to get back to doing what we do best," Brown said. 

"We’re really proud of the effort the entire team have put in over the last six months and especially in the last few weeks to get us ready.” 

The West Coast Wilderness Railway will run journeys from Queenstown from September 22.  Strahan journeys are due to resume in January 2021 on the completion of a planned track replacement project that was delayed due to the pandemic.

Major cruise line throws in the towel on 2020

P&O Cruises has again pushed back its planned restart date, with all sailings now cancelled until 2021.

All Caribbean cruises are cancelled until the end of January 2021 and cruises from and to Southampton are cancelled through February.

The cruise line had hoped to resume operations at the end of November, but said coronavirus restrictions have meant further changes to the planned schedule, Travel Mole reported.

P&O has already announced cruises on Arcadia and Aurora have been cancelled through to the end of their spring world cruises next year.

P&O Cruises president Paul Ludlow said: "With evolving restrictions on travel from the UK, unfortunately it is necessary to cancel these itineraries.

"These further cancellations vary according to ship as well as complexity and length of itineraries, advice and guidance regarding ports of call and current air availability for fly/cruises.

"We are continuing to monitor the overall situation closely and will certainly reintroduce cruises should the opportunity arise and it is feasible to do so."

Ludlow said the company is working with several of the "'most brilliant minds in science as well as government at the highest level" on approved and enhanced health protocols, which will be in place once the company resumes sailing.

"Whilst adherence to the protocols on board and ongoing vigilance will be critical, this will always be coupled with providing the well-deserved and memorable holidays for which we are known, with all the standout moments on board and experiences on shore. This is what we have always done and will continue to do.

"We cannot wait for restrictions to ease, borders to open and for us to once again be able to set sail for a new beginning."

All guests with bookings on a cancelled cruise will be notified and will automatically receive an enhanced 125% Future Cruise Credit or alternatively a 100% refund by filling out a web form.

Criminal investigation into pilots who flew without valid licences

Pakistan International Airlines is currently banned from flying to both Europe and the United States after a scandal involving dozens of pilots who had fake licences.

Now Pakistan has started a criminal probe into dozens of pilots and at least five aviation officials over the fake pilot licence scandal.

It comes after numerous pilots were grounded after bogus credentials were used to get their licenses.

The criminal investigation by the Pakistan Federal Investigation Agency is targeting up to 50 pilots and aviation officials who allegedly facilitated the scam. 

It aims to prove 'alleged corruption, violations, malpractices in issuance of flight crew licences'.

"The Cabinet was told that FIA has opened proceedings into the pilots whose licences were revoked, and the civil aviation officials who connived with them," according to the Reuters news agency

The scandal came to light after officials opened an audit into Pakistan International Airlines following an air crash.

It found dozens of pilots received their licences even though they paid others to take pilot exams on their behalf.

The Express Tribune reported that 82 pilots had been using fake licences but the remaining 180 pilots under investigation had been cleared. 

The pilots investigated included 141 at state-run Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), which employs 450 pilots. The remaining pilots worked for private airlines and charter services. 

Thursday 17 September 2020

Fly direct from Hobart to Flinders and King islands

The Tasmanian Government has announced new direct flights from Hobart to King and Flinders islands - which will be a boon for golf enthusiasts.

Sharp Airlines will be operating three services per week to each island on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday on its 18-seat aircraft. 

It will be the first time flights have been offered as a regular passenger transport service to the islands direct from Hobart.  

There will be early arrival times on Wednesdays and Fridays and a later departure from King Island on Sundays – maximising the opportunities for golfers.

King Island has two new golf courses in Ocean Dunes and Cape Wickham (above) which are ranked among the best in the world.

King Island is also famous for food exports with a range of produce being sought by the world’s top chefs. Succulent beef, rich gourmet cheese and crayfish plucked from the Island’s crystal clear waters

Flights from Hobart to King Island will start at $460 return with Hobart to Flinders Island starting at $478 return. The first flights start on September 30, ahead of the school holiday period.

The Tasmanian Government is supporting the services for an initial 18-week trial period. If the demand remains then the services could be offered on regular basis.

Tourism Tasmania will be promoting the flights through the Make Yourself at Home campaign with print ads, content and a special lift-out booklet on Tasmania's island experiences in newspapers statewide. 

Flights can be booked now via