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Friday 30 April 2021

The remarkable renaissance of the viognier grape

Viognier is a once-obscure and threatened white wine grape from one region of France that is now making a global impact.

It is the only permitted grape for the Condrieu appellation n the Rhône Valley but is now also grown in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Israel, as well as North America.

In some wine regions, the variety is co-fermented with shiraz (syrah) and other red grapes.

In Australia, Yalumba produces five different wines made from viognier each vintage and other leading wineries using the variety include Clonakilla (whose shiraz viognier is a benchmark), Henschke, Tahbilk and By Farr. 

It also often blended with two other white Rhône grapes; marsanne and roussanne.   

Today is International Viognier Day - the perfect chance to try a variety that produces full-bodied whites that can be both aromatic and textural, often with apricot fruit notes to the fore.

The grape requires a long, warm growing season to fully ripen and thrives in the Eden Valley, It is believes the grape originated in what is today Croatia, and was brought to the Rhône by the Romans. 

In 1965, the grape was almost extinct with only eight Northern Rhône producers using the variety.

Since the early 1990s, the variety has found new favour around the world.

Louisa Rose, chief winemaker at family-owned Yalumba, is one of the cheerleaders for the variety.

Yalumba, which dates back to 1849, planted 1.2 hectares of viognier in the Eden Valley back in 1980 - well ahead of the curve. There are now 16 different parcels across five Yalumba vineyards in the Eden Valley, Riverland and Limestone Coast.

"Viognier is exciting to talk about; something new and different and that goes with our-food-based lifestyle," says Rose. "There is still a long way to go to make the variety known to all drinkers - still a lot of spreading the word."

The Yalumba range includes the flagship The 2018 Virgilius ($50ish), which is luscious and complex; the savoury and stylish Eden Valley 2019 Viognier ($28) and two terrific entry level wines; the fresh and vibrant 2020 Y Series Viognier ($15ish) and the exotically perfumed Yalumba 2019 Organic Viognier ($22)  - both of which shine when chilled well and paired with spicy Thai dishes. There is also a botrytis version. 



Thursday 29 April 2021

Dark times for leading Asian airline

It is not that long ago that Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific Airways was one of the leading global carriers and a figurehead in the Asian market. 

Today, Cathay Pacific announced that it is planning to downsize again, local media reported. 

The struggling carrier has established a voluntary redundancy scheme for front-line staff - including local flight attendants and pilots - to take redundancy with compensation of up to six months' salary. 

Cathay told staff that a forecast of “no discernible improvement” in the short- to medium-term had prompted the company to ask them if they would leave voluntarily. 

The airline said it would continue to operate a skeleton passenger flight schedule for “some considerable time”.

The voluntary redundancies are tied to the near-total collapse of the passenger flight market. 

"We expect that we will continue to operate a very limited schedule in the near term," said director of people (or maybe that should be director of getting rid of people) Patricia Hwang. 

"We must continue to manage our business prudently, balancing the need to manage costs and preserve cash with the need to prepare for the eventual recovery." 

Volunteers opting to leave would be paid between two and six months' salary depending on length of service.

The airline is already a much smaller business than before the pandemic, having slashed almost 6,000 jobs last year.

Cathay Pacific was saved last June by a bailout from the Government.

Australian wine exports remain resilient

Image: Dea Andrea/

Australian wine exports remained resilient over the 12 months to March 2021 despite the negative impact of high Chinese tariffs.

Exports declined by 4% in value to $2.77 billion in the 12 months compared with the previous year, stats in Wine Australia’s latest Export Report released today.

Export volume declined by 1% to 724 million litres (80 million 9-litre case equivalents) while the average price per litre for wine exports declined by 3%.

Wine Australia chief executive Officer Andreas Clark said the decline in exports was due principally to a steep decline in exports to mainland China as well as the cumulative effects of three consecutive lower vintages in Australia, leading to less volume available to export.

"Notwithstanding the impact of China’s tariffs, we were still looking at a potential downturn in exports over this period simply due to the supply situation," Clark said.

He said exports to China for the December 2020 to March 2021 period were just $12 million compared to $325 million in the comparable period a year ago.

"As the tariffs apply to product in bottles under two litres, the decline in exports to China was mainly in bottled exports," he said.

Clark said on a more positive note there had been significant growth in exports to Europe (including the UK), which was up 23% to $710 million, the highest value in a decade.

‘There was also growth to North America, up 5% to $628 million, and Oceania, up 7% to $112 million.’

The top five markets by value were: China, UK, US, Canada, Hong Kong.

Wednesday 28 April 2021

Peppers opens up in the Yarra Valley foothills

First it was the Cumberland Guest House - destroyed after most of the town was destroyed in the Black Saturday bushfires of February 2009 - then it was rebuilt as Vibe Marysville and now it has been transformed into Peppers Marysville. 

The 101-room property, designed by architecture firm Metier3, was built from local timber and stone in 2015. 

Now Accor, the largest hotel operator in Australia, has opened its first hotel in Victoria's picturesque Yarra Valley with the opening of Peppers Marysville.

The property has five suites, a conference centre with five meeting and conferencing spaces catering for up to 350 guests, a restaurant and bar, gymnasium, tennis court, heated outdoor swimming pool, sauna, wellness centre and day spa.

“Peppers Marysville is a unique addition to our collection of hotels, resorts and apartments across Australia," said Accor Pacific CEO Simon McGrath. 

"It is fitting that one of Australia's finest examples of boutique accommodation is now associated with Peppers, a brand synonymous with providing bespoke hotel experiences to guests for over 35 years. 

"We're seeing strong visitor numbers at our regional properties, especially those located within easy driving distance of major cities, and we're forecasting greater growth with travellers now able to travel freely across all Australian states and territories and the introduction of the trans-Tasman bubble.”

The hotel has joined the Accor portfolio following its sale to new owners The Shakespeare Property Group.

Shakespeare Property Group CEO and managing director Yak Yong Quek, said: “We are delighted to partner with Accor on this premier regional tourism asset and we're confident it will operate with great success under Accor. Partnering Peppers with this property is a natural association. 

"We believe the Peppers brand perfectly captures the essence of this boutique hotel, which is a welcome addition to the established reputation the hotel already enjoys. Regional tourism is vital to the Australian economy and key to the sustainability and vibrancy of communities and we are proud to invest in it.”

Peppers Marysville is the fourth hotel that The Shakespeare Property Group has partnered with Accor on in Australia, following the Novotel Sunshine Coast Resort, Pullman Cairns International and Novotel Cairns Oasis Resort.

Located just 90 minutes from Melbourne and tucked away in the forested foothills of Victoria's Great Dividing Range, Marysville has long been a favourite getaway destination thanks to its tranquil riverside location, culinary delights, wonderful scenery and outdoor adventures.

Marysville is also minutes from Lake Mountain, a popular snow field. The new Peppers property joins a network of more than 20 Peppers retreats, resorts and CBD hotels across Australia and New Zealand. 

Opening rates starts from $219 per room per night. To book, call 03 5957 7777.

Australians prefer "real" beers to reduced-alcohol offerings

While brewers have been pushing mid-strength and low-alcohol beers it comes as no surprise to find research shows most Australian beer drinkers still prefer full-strength brews.

New data from Roy Morgan's Alcohol Consumption Report shows shows full-strength beer is the still the preferred ‘amber fluid’ for Australians who drink beer.

Over a third of all Australians aged 18+ (34.6%), drink beer in an average four weeks including at least one of the three varieties of full strength, mid strength and low alcohol beer – second only to wine as the alcoholic drink of choice for Australians.

Nearly a third of Australians aged 18+ (30.2%) consumed full-strength beer in an average four weeks in 2020, down 3.1% points from 2019 (33.3%).

This is not surprising as the pandemic hit the hospitality industry heavily and kept many pubs, clubs, bars and restaurants closed for an extended period.

In comparison, only 8.6% of Australians consumed mid-strength beer (down 2.2% points on 2019) and just 2.8% (down 1.1% points) had low- alcohol beer in an average four weeks during 2020.

Not surprising as most faux beers taste dreadful.

Men are three times as likely to drink beer (and full-strength beer) as women. They are the main consumers of beer with over half (52.4%) consuming beer in 2020 compared to only 17.5% of women.

Fewer than than one-in-seven men (13.9%) drink mid-strength beer and only 4.6% drink low-alcohol beer. Even fewer women (3.5%) drink mid-strength beer and just 1.1% of women drink low-alcohol beer.

The findings are from the Roy Morgan Single Source survey, derived from in-depth interviews with 50,000 Australians each year.

And although there has been a great deal of media attention on the new craze of ‘hard seltzers’ – soda water spiked with alcohol and a fruit flavour that is lower in calories and carbohydrates than other alcoholic beverages, these RTDs in a can represent only a tiny fraction of the alcohol market compared to beer.

Tuesday 27 April 2021

Aussies want to spend more holiday time with their kids

What Australians want most from their holidays is time to spend playing with their children. 

New research has revealed Aussies feel guilty for not having enough play time and psychologist and parenting expert Michael Carr-Gregg says finding time and places to engage in play on holidays helps create positive memories, early brain development and bonds families together. 

Holiday house booking site Stayz has curated a list of top holiday playhouses available for vacations across Australia. 

The national research, commissioned by Stayz, found seven in 10 Aussies believe that playing with kids helps to create stronger bonds and memories while six in 10 Aussies agree that parents feel guilty if they don’t have enough time to play with their kids thanks to work and household chores. 

Psychologist Carr-Gregg, a specialist in parenting, children and adolescents, says play is not trivial. 

“Nothing lights up the human brain like three-dimensional play with loved ones," he says. 

"Not only does play relieve stress, improve brain function, enhance creativity but it also improves our relationships and our connections to other people. Play is what helps us feel young and energetic throughout our entire lifespan.” 

With holidays being a great time to engage in the magic of play, the research also found that playing board games, swimming in the pool and making sandcastles are among the greatest holiday memories for Australians.

“We’ve all had a very serious 12 months and it’s left us craving some good times with loved ones," says Stayz travel expert Simone Scoppa. 

"Time for parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, nieces and nephews to escape into a game of cards, hide and seek, dress ups or Marco Polo in the swimming pool.  Time not to worry about work, homework or mowing the grass.” 

Stayz is Australia’s original holiday rental website and is part of Expedia Group. 

Stayz lists more than 50,000 properties across Australia, and now over two million properties internationally available for rent. See

Monday 26 April 2021

Meet a landmark new Tasmanian sparkling wine

Meet the newest addition to the Jansz family of Tasmanian sparkling wines. 

Pontos Hills is the name of the new Jansz vineyard in the south of the Apple Isle, and also the new Hill-Smith family-owned winery that processed grapes for the first time this vintage.

The debut Jansz Pontos Hill release is the 2017 Vintage Cuvee; a total of 1986 bottles were made to celebrate the the beginning of a sparkling wine journey that began in 1986. 

Now, 35, years on, the opening on the Pontos Hills facility reflects the ongoing commitment to wines that are "undeniably Tasmanian". Jansz will maintain its Pipers River headquarters in the north of the state. 

The debut release ($50) is a "field blend" of chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier" - the three classic sparkling wine grapes of Champagne. 

The Pontos Hills site spans 150 hectares in the Coal River Valley, just north-east of Hobart, where Jennifer Doyle is viticulturist and wine winemaker.

"It is a significant milestone in Jansz Tasmania's journey," says proprietor Robert Hill-Smith. "It is a mark of our growth and achievements since the first vines were planted and the label established in 1986. 

"It embodies our commitment to Tasmania and and its community."



Sunday 25 April 2021

Barossa kitchen "dream team" gets back together

A decade ago, Pete Little, Jamie Wall and Charanjit ‘Sunny’ Chawla worked together in 2011 at the renowned Appellation restaurant at The Louise in the Barossa Valley. 

Ten years on, having all built their own reputations, the "dream team" has reunited at Harvest Kitchen at Vine Vale, part of the Calabria Family Wines cellar door building. 

Little worked at Appellation as the director of food and beverage, Wall was sous chef and Chawla was chef de partie.

Little was a founding director of Harvest Kitchen - which previously shared the space with Artisans of Barossa - while Wall is now head chef and Chawla the sous chef.

“I feel that the stars aligned and we have been able to bring the band back together,” Little said.

“We connected all those years ago while working at one of Barossa’s finest restaurants, and working together again has been seamless – it’s as if no time passed at all!”

After spending years working under Mark McNamara’s watchful eye at Appellation, it came as no surprise that the team share a similar vision in the kitchen together.

“We can confidently attribute a lot of our confidence in the kitchen to Mark, the man who’s use of spice was paramount and who’s most frequent saying was ‘it needs more salt!' ” Wall said. 

“Sunny is like a brother from another mother and working together isn’t only fun, we also push each other to be better and to create better food.”

Harvest Kitchen’s menu is Mediterranean-focused. 

Located at 284 Magnolia Road, Vine Vale, Harvest Kitchen operates for lunch seven days a week from 11:30am and for dinner on Saturday nights from 6pm.

Friday 23 April 2021

Calling all beer-loving AFL fans

Carlton Draught is the official beer of the AFL (that is Aussie Rules football for those overseas). 

And now Carlton (the brewer, not the team) has launched a limited-edition 24-pack of Carlton Draught lager in heritage-style cans reflecting each of the 18 AFL club logos. 

Each mixed 24 pack will contain all 18 clubs, with the remaining six cans being a random mix of clubs.

The packs are available at Dan Murphy's stores for $49.90. 

Perfect for toasting a victory, or drowning your sorrows after a loss. 

Frost catastrophe for wine growers in France and Italy

Imports from the 2021 wine vintage in France and Italy could be in short supply after both countries were hit by waves of spring frosts. 
At least a third of French wine production worth almost €2 billion in sales will be lost after rare freezing temperatures devastated many vines and fruit crops across the country. 

“This is probably the greatest agricultural catastrophe of the beginning of the 21st century,” French agriculture minister Julien Denormandie said as the Government declared an “agricultural disaster” and began preparing emergency financial measures.

The unseasonal wave of bitter frost and ice hit suddenly after a bout of warm weather, which worsened the damage. The warmth had encouraged vines and fruit trees to develop earlier than usual. 

The destruction hit regions including Bordeaux, Burgundy (above), the Rhône Valley and Provence. 

In the Côte-Rôtie the region was heading for its smallest harvest in 40 years, with some estates losing their entire crop. Local media reported around 50% of the 2021 harvest in Burgundy has been lost.

Winemakers battled over several nights to try to save French vineyards and soon after vines in Piedmont and Tuscany were impacted by the same cold snap. 

Antinori CEO Renzo Cotarella said: "It was quite severe in Montepulciano, in the lower areas of Montalcino and also in Maremma. 

"We were also affected at Castello della Sala [in Umbria] with chardonnay. Much better in Bolgheri, where the damage was very little - 5% - and in Chianti Classico, thanks to the altitude."

In Piedmont, the cold weather also brought growth in the vineyards to a halt for several days. It will likely be another week or two before the exact impact on the overall production for 2021 can be evaluated.

Thursday 22 April 2021

We should be so lucky: Kylie's wine empire expands

Keen-eyed visitors to the cellar doors at Howard Park in Margaret River and De Bortoli Yarra Valley might have noticed a familiar face among recent fellow visitors.

Pop princess Kylie Minoqgue is expanding her wine range with a little help from her friends Janice McDonald at Howard Park and Steve Webber at De Bortoli.

The current Kylie Minogue Wines range includes a Signature Rosé and a Collection Côtes de Provence Rosé  - but now the singer has crafted two wines from her Australian homeland. 

Kylie this week toured the Allingham Vineyard with Howard Park owners Jeff and Richard Burch, where the grapes for her 2019 Kylie Minogue Collection Margaret River Chardonnay are grown, and then crafted by Howard Park. ⁠

⁠"It was love at first sip when I first tried Howard Park chardonnay, so it was a real thrill to work with the extraordinary Burch family, Janice McDonald (director of winemaking) and the team on this wine,”⁠ Kylie said. ⁠
The 2019 Kylie Minogue Collection Margaret River Chardonnay and also a 2020 Kylie Minogue Collection Yarra Valley Pinot Noir, made in collaboration with Webber, will both be launched to consumers across Australia in June this year.⁠

For more information about the range head

Fake Covid test certificates fool border officials

British immigration officers are discovering thousands of fake Covid-19 test certificates. 

MPs have been told the documents are relatively low-tech and are quite easy to forge, and there is no way to know how many bogus certificates are getting through undetected.

Around 20,000 people enter Britain each day, of whom most are truck drivers, Travel Mole reports. 

Proof of a negative test taken in the past three days is required for entry into Britain - which can be a printed document or email confirmation.

Immigration Services Union professional officer Lucy Moreton said border staff have no way to categorically guarantee a document is genuine.

"It's predominately taken on trust,' she told the All Party Parliamentary Group on Covid-19.

"'We trust people when they say they have not been in a red-list country in the last 10 days, we trust people when they say that they are going to quarantine. The whole thing is based on an assumption that people will do the right thing."

A member of the Independent SAGE group of scientists, Professor Deenan Pillay, has said the system for checking arrivals is "very leaky".

It suggests border staff are successfully spotting fake documents which obviously look bogus, but an unknown number of good quality forgeries could be getting through.

"The stark evidence we heard today exposed how current border checks are totally inadequate to stop Covid cases entering the UK, including dangerous variants," said the chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group, Layla Moran.

Moran says the Government should be doing more to actively discourage people from travelling.

Tuesday 20 April 2021

Australians turn to drink - and wine in particular

Maybe it is a result of coronavirus, but the number of Australians drinking alcohol has increased for first time in four years - powered by wine, spirits and RTDs.

New data from Roy Morgan’s Alcohol Consumption Report shows the proportion of Australians who drink alcohol increased by 0.8% to 67% in 2020 – the first year-over-year increase since 2016 when 69.6% of Australians drank alcohol. 

In 2020, a total of 13,337,000 Australians (67.0%) aged 18+ consumed alcohol in an average four-week period, up from 13,021,000 (66.2%) a year earlier.

Driving this increase were significant increases for wine and spirits during the Covid-19 pandemic that impacted 2020 figures . 

The number of Australians drinking wine increased from 8,065,000 (41.0%) to 8,814,000 (44.3%) – an increase of 3.3%  over the year.

In addition, there were 6,277,000 Australians (31.5%) drinking spirits in 2020, up from 5,465,000 (27.8%) a year earlier – an increase of 3.7% points. 

Also increasing was consumption of Ready-to-drinks (RTDs) which increased from 2,101,000 Australians (10.7%) up to 2,392,000 Australians (12.0%).

Outside these three categories the long-term trends continued with fewer Australians drinking beer, cider, liqueurs and fortified wines in 2020.

Beer led the decline and was down from 7,353,000 (37.4%) in 2019 to 6,878,000 (34.6%) in 2020. 

The findings are from the Roy Morgan Single Source survey, derived from in-depth interviews with 50,000 Australians each year.

Make a winter wine date on the Mornington Peninsula

Calling all lovers of cool-climate wines: the Mornington Peninsula Winter Wine Weekend will return from June 12-14. 

The annual three-day celebration of wine and food has been held over the Queen’s Birthday long weekend in June since the 1980s, with the extensive program opening with a showcase exhibition and tasting. 

The Winter Wine Festival will be held on Saturday, June 12, from 10:30am–4pm in the Pavilions at Red Hill Showgrounds. This offers a rare opportunity to experience drops from 50 Mornington Peninsula wineries exhibiting over 200 premium wines. 

Keeping crowd density in mind, three sheds will be transformed into sub-regional experiences, where groups will circulate from one shed to the next after a 90-minute stay. 

Each shed will feature two restaurants creating menus of entree-sized dishes using regionally sourced produce. Tickets will be hot with only 900 available.

The Sunday sees the launch of the Long Lunch at the Pavillion, which will bring together a collection of wineries who don’t have cellar doors, pouring wines you normally need an appointment to enjoy. 

These wines will be matched to a three-course menu and with roaming musicians. Guests will sit side-by-side with the winemakers at an event to be hosted by Richard Cornish.

Throughout the weekend the Mornington Peninsula Vignerons will, as usual, welcome visitors to their cellar doors to taste new-release wines, revisit old favourites and to experience the seasonal offerings of the region.

Pre-booked tickets only at $120 for Saturday and $170 for Sunday.

Saturday tickets include a complimentary Riedel tasting glass, all wine tastings, a tasting book and three entree-sized dishes (more food vouchers also available for purchase).Sunday’s tickets include a pre-lunch tasting, and hosted sit-down three-course winemaker’s lunch with wines to match.

Online Tickets are available at

Monday 19 April 2021

The luxury hotel that became a burger joint

The Waldorf Astoria is a luxury hotel and spa in Amsterdam where rooms start from $700 a night.

It has a two-star Michelin restaurant, a prestige canal-side location and is set in six 17th- and 18th-century palaces.

To keep some staff busy during Covid-19, the Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam hit on the idea of offering deluxe burgers for delivery, Reuters reported.

The chefs had to come up with something unique, said the hotel's manager Roberto Payer.

"The way we do it, the way we prepare it, the way we serve it, the way it comes home is very different to any other burger," he said.

For 19.50 euros ($23) plus an Uber Eats delivery fee, the Waldorf Signature burger comes with a 240-gram Holstein-Fresian meat patty and is served with English Duke of Berkshire bacon on a French brioche bun with aged Dutch cheese and homemade relish.

Uber Eats reviewers have awarded it 4.8 stars out of 5.

Crafting the perfect burger took serious research, said executive chef Sidney Schutte, who during normal times runs the two-Michelin-star Spectrum restaurant, which does not serve burgers.

"It had to be 'the best burger that you can buy here in Amsterdam'.... it needs to be perfect," he said.

Dutch plans to ease some Covid-19 measures have been pushed back until April 28 at the earliest, so the burger remains on sale for now.

Sunday 18 April 2021

A taste of Mexico in Sydney

Sydney is a global city, which is why its residents have a huge choice of venues to enjoy Cinco de Mayo celebrations on May 5. 

Cinco de Mayo, or “Fifth of May”, is an annual fiesta celebrating Mexican culture. 

Here are some recommendations from Destination NSW for enjoying a taste of the exotic. Hopefully they know their stuff.

  1.  Spice up your morning with a Mexican-inspired brunch at Maiz Street Food, NewtownMaiz (meaning corn in Spanish) is the main ingredient featured on the menu at this Newtown institution which specialises in authentic Mexican street food.

      2. Sip on Sydney's best margaritaa at Cantina OK!, CBDRanked number 28 on the World's 50 Best Bars list, Cantina OK! is a micro mezcal mecca, stocked with a range of hand-sourced, hand-imported, handmade agave spirits.

       3. Knock back cocktails and authentic Mexican dishes at Alma, Avalon (above)Hailing from Mexico, Alma's head chef, Ricardo Lemus, will be serving up cocktail and taco specials inspired by Mexico's coast all week long for Cinco de Mayo.

       4. Savour Australia's largest collection of premium tequila and mezcal at Esteban, CBDFrom the Tequila Mockingbird team, Esteban features an upstairs restaurant, a downstairs mezcal bar and a laneway dining space. It is one of the hottest places to celebrate.

  1. Settle in for a bottomless brunch at Sonora, Potts PointWith a vibe matching the thriving restaurant scene in Mexico City and a menu inspired by the cuisine of Sonora, a coastal state in Mexico's north-west, this local haunt is all about the tacos chingones – literally “bad-ass tacos.”

      6. Get the party started at Tio's Cerveceria, Surry Hills: With $5 happy hour drinks every day and complimentary signature spiced popcorn, what better excuse to clock off early to start your Cinco de Mayo celebration. Don't pass up a tequila con verdita shots with 'Green Thing' chaser – a ritual since 2011. 

  1. Sit down for a traditional Mexican family dinner at Taco Burrito Mexican Cantina, Penrith: Boasting the tastiest Mexican food in Western Sydney, the team have perfected an authentic menu. Whether you are vegan, vego or hungry for meat, there's something for everyone.
  2.  Indulge in some of the finest market-to-table Mexican cuisine in Sydney at Mejico, CBD: Mejico (above) will be serving $45 Margarita Jugs and non-stop food specials including their DIY Taco Board for just $29 all Cinco de Mayo long.

      9. For a vegan menu full of meat-free Mexican delights say Hola to Bad Hombres, Surry Hills + BondiThis institution has re-imagined traditional Mexican cuisine with an all-vegan menu and eclectic setting. The rotating taco of the week is determined by seasonal produce. 

  1. Build your own tacos at Carbon Mexican Woodfire, Bondi: Carbón, which means 'charcoal' in Spanish, focuses on wood fired dishes inspired by Mexico's Caribbean coast, made using traditional South American parrilla (charcoal grilling) techniques. 

Saturday 17 April 2021

Celebrating malbec - a grape variety that almost died

For the past decade, Wines of Argentina has celebrated World Malbec Day on April 17 each year.

One of the six original grape varieties of Bordeaux, malbec is now synonymous with Argentina, which leads the world in plantings and production. 

On April 17, 1853, the first agricultural school in Argentina was founded with the hopes of adapting French grapes to the soils of Mendoza. Malbec was introduced to Argentina by French agronomist Michel A. Pouget in 1868 - and is still thriving. 

In its original home in the south-west of France, malbec in known as cot, or sometimes auxerrois. 

It was largely wiped out by frost in Bordeaux in 1956 and while it is still grown widely in and around the small town of Cahors, where is known for producing dark, intense reds, it is now very much a minor grape in France. 

It is, however, grown in Australia, where it is often used in red blends, in the US, New Zealand, South Africa, Chile, Brazil, Canada and Mexico, among others. 

Producers in Australia include Mitolo of McLaren Vale and Bleasdale of Langhorne Creek along with niche operators like Zonte's Footstep, Merité and Alkoomi. Wendouree, in the Clare Valley, makes legendary long-lived blends using malbec. 

That said, over 75% of all malbec grapes in the world are now grown in Argentina - understandable because the malbec is a thin-skinned grape and needs plenty of sun and heat to achieve ripeness. 

Nowadays, more than 60 cities around the world host World Malbec Day events centred on malbec tastings, Argentine food and lifestyle. I was lucky enough to be invited to Argentina for the event in 2015 by Wines of Argentina - a memorable trip.  

Benchmark Argentine malbec wines from the likes of Bodega Trivento (above), Catena, Zuccardi and Finca el Origen are available in Australia, while Artisan Malbec in Sydney imports a number of wines from smaller producers. Jed malbec is made by Australians in Argentina.  

On safari: a quintessentially Australian river experience

A guided multi-activity wildlife adventure exploring the iconic Murray River and Riverland Ramsar Wetlands is the latest addition to the Australian Wildlife Journeys collection. 

But don't expect to be roughing it - this is a bush experience with plenty of luxury thrown in.

Part of the Murray River Trails portfolio launched by Tony and Susie Sharley in 2016, the Murray River Safari is a three-day, two-night guided wildlife experience based out of Renmark in South Australia. 

It combines the comforts of houseboat accommodation with immersive nature activities including canoeing, bushwalking, creek cruising, nature drives and bird watching.

Situated along one of the most picturesque sections of Australia's longest river, the Riverland Ramsar Wetland area includes an 80km section of the Murray River and more than 200km  of creeks.

There is the chance to spot wild koalas, brush-tailed possums, red kangaroos, lace monitors and 180 bird species; including emus, wedge-tailed Eagles and sharp-tailed sandpipers,. 

The Murray River Safari accommodates up to 10 people to showcase "in-depth interpretation and personalised conversations". 

Guides cover the river's history, geology, culture, people, environmental challenges and regenerative opportunities. A menu by chef Andrew Fielke is provided throughout the trip, with a focus on natve and local produce, matched with premium local wines.

Operating between March and November, the Murray River Safari provides a perfect complement to the group's award-winning Murray River Walk that runs between May to September, with the opportunity for guests to combine the two experiences. 

“We are delighted to join a national collective that not only celebrates the importance of sharing our diverse natural landscapes, climatic zones, and amazing fauna across Australia, but provides opportunities for guests to contribute to a better future for wildlife across our most critical ecosystems” said Tony Sharley, managing director of Murray River Trails.

A 3 day/2 night Murray River Safari includes private cruising, guided woodlands and cliff walks, private guided canoeing trip, a driving safari through dunes, lodge-style accommodation for two nights on a modern houseboat and all meals and beverages including wines and beer, juice and coffee. Prices from $1,750 per person (twin share). 


Images: Murray River Trails 

Friday 16 April 2021

Turning back time as a new whisky makes its debut

Meet Bad Boy Billy, the first whisky to be made in the Geelong region for four decades that will be released on April 26. 

Billy is the first barrel of single malt whisky from Bellarine Distillery. 

The release maintains the tradition of naming their products after the family’s four-legged friends with the honour of the first barrel goes to Billy the Staffordshire terrier distillery dog.

 Bad Boy Billy will be the first whisky to be made, matured and bottled in the Geelong region since the closure of Corio Distillery in the 1980s.


Bellarine Distillery was established in 2015 by Russell Watson & Lorelle Warren, with the dream of making a single malt whisky.


Commercial production began in 2017, when distillery manager Craig Michael joined the team and in 2019 he and his wife Nicky came on board as business partners.


While Bellarine Distillery’s much anticipated whisky was maturing, the team were working on releasing their award-winning gin range.


Bellarine Distillery’s cellar door, The Whiskery, opened in 2018 and has proved immensely popular in showcasing the gin range, including the popular Teddy & The Fox. 

“Since opening early 2018, the cellar door has proven to be a popular venue for visitors both local and far and wide, with our gin products now being sent all over Australia,” says Russell Watson. 


“From the beginning, however, the dream was to produce our own single malt whisky, made, matured and bottled on the Bellarine.” 


Bad Boy Billy - a single-cask release - will produce a very limited number of bottles but the team has been constantly laying down barrels to secure greater volume releases in the future.



Thursday 15 April 2021

Reyne falls for new Coopers beer release

Family-owned Adelaide brewers Coopers are releasing a new IPA they say is distinctly Australian in flavour. 

The full-flavoured beer uses a blend of Australian exotic hops with citrus notes of mandarin and orange as well as piney and passionfruit characteristics.

And one of the most iconic voices of Australian rock is getting behind it.

Legendary Australian singer songwriter James Reyne is helping launch the beer by featuring in an upcoming creative campaign shot at the iconic Silverton Hotel in Broken Hill (where Mad Max was originally filmed) and performing at a series of trade events being held across the country in April.

Managing director and chief brewer Dr Tim Cooper said the brewing team had spent many months honing the unique hops blend to develop a distinctly Australian take on the traditional IPA. 

“IPAs continue to grow in popularity among craft beer drinkers,” he said. “Australians are also turning to local brands they know and trust. So while there is a large number of overseas styles in the market, we saw demand for a great tasting IPA with a distinct local touch. 

“We’re very mindful about when to bring out a new beer and an enormous amount of time goes into getting it right. We’ve come up with a great tasting Australian IPA that will suit any occasion.” 

Former Australian Crawl frontman Reyne was one of the first artists to take part in the current Coopers Live, Loud and Local series, started last year to support pubs and musicians recover from the Covid-19 shutdowns. 

The ideal waterfront escape for Sydney residents

Recently opened: What sounds like a perfect country retreat for jaded Sydneysiders.

Marramarra Lodge, set on the Hawkesbury River and fringed by national park, offers a barefoot luxury experience for couples, surrounded by nature.

The newly-built lodge is set in bushland with boat access from Mooney Mooney and Brooklyn – just north of Sydney, approximately an hour’s drive from the city centre.

Marramarra Lodge has been designed to deliver an authentic, yet luxurious Australian nature experience. 

The lodge is located at Fisherman’s Point across from Bar Island. The property is framed by the Marramarra National Park. 

The property caters to a maximum of 28 guests with an all-inclusive experience including transfers to Marramarra via boat, daily meals incorporating a six-course degustation dinner with paired wines at the on-site restaurant Budyari (meaning “good’ and “well” in the Dharug language), daily sunset canapes and cocktail tour and a locally sourced mini-bar menu. Overnight rates start from $1,250 including gourmets breakfasts and light lunches.gourmet breakfast, light lunch daily,gourmet breakfast, light lunch daily,.
There are two styles of accommodation, including the Peninsula Tent, a river-safari experience overlooking the water, and the Hawkesbury Bungalow, minimalist cabin lodgings with bush and river backdrops. 

Both accommodation options offer large river-stone bathrooms, locally-sourced timber floors and luxurious furnishings. 

The rear glass veranda doors of each accommodation unit open to a private balcony made for lounging and enjoying moments of river life.

The property’s Day Spa, Iyora, offers a range of treatments for in-house guests, and each of the accommodation lodgings are named after Dharug words for flora and fauna native to the area.

There is an outdoor swimming pool and lounging area, riverside boat shed (above) with private jetty and games room.

For guests that want to fly or arrive in their own boat, Marramarra Lodge has its own helipad and private jetty, so is accessible by private helicopter charter, private boat or via Sydney Seaplanes.

Marramarra’s main lodge and buildings enjoy a long and rich history. 
Carter House, still on the property, was first built in the 1920s. 

There are a number of bush walks that run from the grounds and visitors may spot sea eagles, lyrebirds, wallabies, goannas, bandicoots, black and white cockatoos and kookaburras. 

There are a variety of add-on experiences guests can choose from, including a local pearl farm tour, helicopter ride to the Hunter Valley for lunch and private wine tasting, a gin distillery day trip, or bush foraging in the Marramarra National Park with a local Dharug Elder. 

Transfers can also be arranged to local water-access-only restaurants such as Berowra Waters Inn and Peats Bite.

Complimentary kayaks, canoes, paddle boards and fishing rods are available for guest use. My invitation is no doubt in the mail. 

For further information on packages see

Wednesday 14 April 2021

The perfect party venue for multi-millionaires and their friends

So you are ridiculously rich and want to hold an extravagant party for a couple of hundred of your nearest and dearest friends?

How about exclusive use of a five-star resort in the Maldives?

The five-star Kuredhivaru Maldives Resort is available on an exclusive basis - for guests with deep pockets or maybe a superstar with an album to launch.

The lucky rich dude and his or her mates will gain exclusive use of facilities that include 105 private villas, suites and residences located both over-water and on the beach as well as four restaurants, lounge bars and cafes, the Bodumas over-water seafood restaurant, and Latitude 5.5 poolside grill..

The Movenpick-managed resort also features a five-star PADI dive and watersports centre, Sun Spa by Healing Earth, and recreational facilities such as tennis and volleyball courts, Travel Mole reports.

It is priced from US$930,000 per three-night stay between May 10 - September 30, 2021; US$999,000 between November 1 - December 23, 2021, and from US$1,014,000 per three nights between October 1-31, 2021.

The resort comes with an all-Inclusive meal plan, unlimited non-motorized water sports and free snorkelling gear rental, and a choice of accommodation. 

The island getaway has been the subject of recent legal action over its lease.  

Tuesday 13 April 2021

Forget the plane; catch the train

France has moved to scrap domestic airline flights on any route that can be travelled by direct train in under 2 1/2 hours.

French MPs made the decision as part of a series of environmental measures, The Guardian reported.

After a heated debate in the Assemblée Nationale at the weekend, the ban, a watered-down version of a key recommendation from President Emmanuel Macron’s citizens’ climate convention, was adopted.

It will mean the end of short internal flights from Orly airport, south of Paris, to Nantes, Lyon and Bordeaux among others, though connecting flights through Charles de Gaulle/Roissy airport, north of the French capital, will continue.

The climate commission set up by Macron had originally recommended the scrapping of all flights between French destinations where an alternative direct train journey of less than four hours existed.

This was reduced to 2 1/2 hours after strong objections from certain regions and from Air France-KLM, which, like other airlines, has been badly hit by local and international Covid-19 restrictions on travel.

A year ago, the French government agreed a €7bn loan for AF-KLM on the condition that certain internal flights were dropped, but the decree will also stop low-cost airlines from operating the banned domestic routes.

The chief executive of Air France-KLM, Benjamin Smith, has said the airline is committed to reducing the number of its French domestic routes by 40% by the end of this year.

The transport minister, Jean-Baptiste Djebbari, told MPs: “We have chosen 2 1/2 hours because four hours risks isolating landlocked territories including the greater Massif Central, which would be iniquitous.”

Given the speed and efficiency of the French railways system, I have always preferred trains to planes for domestic journeys.

Details of the exact routes that will be halted will be published in the official decree. Flights from Paris to Nice, which takes about six hours by train, and Toulouse, four hours by train, will continue.

France’s new law will be watched closely by other countries. Austria’s coalition conservative-Green government introduced a €30 tax on airline tickets for flights of less than 217 miles (350km) last June and a ban on domestic flights that could be travelled in less than three hours by train.

Monday 12 April 2021

Swiss roll out. A second Mövenpick hotel in Australia

The first Mövenpick hotel in Australia proved a huge success when it opened in Hobart in January. 

Now Accor, together with Singapore’s Fragrance Group Limited, is to open Australia’s second Mövenpick hotel with the unveiling  of Mövenpick Hotel Melbourne on Spencer next month. 

Situated at the meeting point of Melbourne’s Spencer and Bourke Streets in the CBD, the 172-room premium hotel will highlight  a dedicated cafe serving the brand’s signature ice cream, modern South East Asian cuisine at Miss Mi restaurant and bar (below) and a daily Chocolate Hour along with a 25-metre swimming pool, sauna, gymnasium, and a boardroom.

Mövenpick Hotel Melbourne on Spencer will form the six-level podium of the striking 78-storey Elenberg Fraser architect-designed Premier Tower development.


Simon McGrath, CEO Accor Pacific, says: “We’re delighted to be bringing the Mövenpick hotel brand to Melbourne. This investment will benefit the local community by providing a choice of even greater accommodation options for visitors to the city and for Accor loyalty guests. 

"The city of Melbourne is the perfect location for a Mövenpick hotel, enriching Melbourne’s incredible culinary scene with an outstanding restaurant and bar, and masterfully blending the brand’s Swiss heritage with a top-quality hospitality experience.”

Mövenpick Hotel Melbourne on Spencer is just a short stroll from Sea Life Melbourne Aquarium, Queen Victoria Markets and Marvel Stadium. 

With a Swiss heritage dating back to the 1940s, Mövenpick Hotel Melbourne on Spencer joins some of the world’s finest hotels including Mövenpick Resort & Spa Jimbaran Bali, Mövenpick Resort Kuredhivaru Maldives, Mövenpick Resort & Spa Dead Sea, Mövenpick Hotel Sukhumvit 15 Bangkok, Grand Plaza Mövenpick Dubai Media City UAE, Mövenpick Hotel Amsterdam City Centre, Mövenpick Hotel The Hague and Mövenpick Hotel Hobart. 


Opening Special: From $240* per night in a Superior King or Twin Room including a Chocolate Hour experience for two on one afternoon. To book, visit