Saturday, 24 July 2021

When too much sport is not enough: Birmingham is calling

With the Covid Olympics well underway in Tokyo, there is good news for fans anxious  about their next multi sports fix. 

The 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England, are just 12 months away. 

Birmingham, for those not familiar with the West Midlands city, is the second-largest conurbation in Britain - ahead of both Glasgow and Manchester.

Sports-wise it is known for under-achieving football teams like Aston Villa, West Bromwich Albion and Birmingham City, so locals in the Black Country are probably already looking forward to a gold medal or two. 

The multi-million-dollar construction of Alexander Stadium (above) is on track, thanks for the pun Visit Britain, and visitors will get to see first-hand a city that has been transformed from industrial hub to a "futuristic city". 

Locals highlights include  the dramatic Library of Birmingham and gleaming Bullring & Grand Central, which is described as (raising of eyebrows here) as "one of the most stylish shopping centres in the world". 

There is the revamped Grand Hotel (which has hosted everyone from Charlie Chaplin to Winston Churchill), and the restored Roundhouse, with a 19th-century curved building converted into a spectacular tourist destination.

For those so inclined (and I am definitely not) there is something called Bear Grylls Adeventure, an activities venue opened by someone who appears ion TV. Far more appeling is a Cadbury Factory Tour (the chocolate brand was born and bred in Birmingham). 

While Birmingham became famous for a tangled road network nicknamed Spaghetti Junction, the city harbours (another pun from Visit Britain) more kilometres of canals than Venice, with 56 kilometres of waterways. 

You can walk or cycle along the canal paths, or take a narrowboat tour. Or maybe check out some Peaky Blinders locations.

Birmingham has always seemed a little bleak when I've visited, but it does have a remarkable music history. 

Think of bands including The Move, Spencer Davis Group, The Moody Blues, Traffic, ELO, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Steel Pulse, UB40, Duran Duran, Fine Young Cannibals and Joan Armatrading - and half of Led Zeppelin (Plant and Bonham).

Non-musical regional highlights within easy distance from Brum include Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwick, Worcester and more. 

For day trippers, Birmingham is just an hour and a half train ride from London. 

The Cotswolds are just down the road, and Oxford is nearby for those who don't give a jot about sport. 

Rev heads might like the British Motor Museum, the National Motorcycle Museum or a Jaguar factory tour a Castle Bromwich. 

Here is Visit Britain's Guide to 48 hours in Birmingham: 

Friday, 23 July 2021

Flying gender bender tries to fool authorities

A Covid-positive Indonesian man tried to fool authorities - and put hundreds of people at risk - by pretending to be a woman.

The man dressed up as his wife - carrying her ID and her negative PCR test result and vaccine card - and boarded a flight from the capital, Jakarta.

The covidiot ruse initially worked as he wore a Muslim niqab full face covering but he made a misjudgement by changing clothes in the bathroom during the flight, Travel Mole reported.

The sudden change of gender was noticed by flight attendants aboard the Citilink plane and the man was arrested when the plane landed in Ternate, Eastern Indonesia.

"He bought the plane ticket with his wife's name and brought the identity card, the PCR test result and the vaccination card with his wife's name," Ternate police chief Aditya Laksimada said.

"All documents are under his wife's name."

Police took the man for a Covid-19 test - which was still positive. But no charges against him have been filed yet, which seems absurd.

Indonesia now requires passengers to have undergone at least one Covid jab to fly domestically and strengthened restrictions during this week's Eid al-Adha holiday to permit only essential travel.

The newest spot for wine lovers to sleep in McLaren Vale

Looking for somewhere to stay in McLaren Vale? 

On the rugged hillside of Kangarilla property Hillenvale, The Coach House is the latest addition to the Fleurieu Peninsula’s collection of boutique accommodation. 

The stone cottage is being managed by the team behind McLaren Vale winery Hither & Yon, who also run the vineyards and grazing land on the site.

“The Coach House is an all-inclusive and exclusive couples retreat, housing a fully equipped country kitchen, cosy lounge, luxurious bedroom, and outdoor drinks deck with beautiful views across the property, while Kuitpo forest is nearby as well,” says Hither & Yon director Malcolm Leask.

“We want our guests to immerse themselves in the beauty of the regions and really unwind. The Coach House is close to everything you want, yet a million miles away from anything you don’t.” 

Located between two wining and dining regions in McLaren Vale and the Adelaide Hills, and with an array of attractions easy reach, The Coach House is billed as "an idyllic getaway".

The property’s refurbishment has been overseen by Adelaide-based interior and design studio, Fabrikate, along with local builder G-Force, and retains 19th-century sandstone cottage charm. 

“We used a dreamy palette of blues and greens to sit gently against the landscape of rolling hills, while rich deep tones are used as a contemporary nod to the heritage of the house” says Fabrikate designer Kate Harry.

The 100-acre Hillenvale property is home to vineyards which span across the valley to include both McLaren Vale and Adelaide Hills regions, with Hither & Yon set to soon release their first pinot noir from the property. 

The Coach House is now open to guests with bookings available directly through the Hillenvale website.

To book a stay at The Coach House, visit

Hillenvale is located at 194 Cut Hill Road, Kangarilla, South Australia. Hither & Yon is a family-run winery with vineyards across McLaren Vale and a cosy cellar door in Willunga.

Thursday, 22 July 2021

Major crackdown on Covid vaccination recalcitrants

France is getting tough on vaccination recalcitrants with a new Covid-19 health pass being rolled out.

From this week, people in France wanting to visit cinemas, museums, sports events and other cultural venues will be required to show proof of vaccination, a negative test, or recent recovery from the virus.

The health pass will be extended in August to cover patrons of restaurants, cafés and shopping centres.

The certification scheme forms part of new measures imposed by President Emmanuel Macron to curtail the transmission of coronavirus.

Macron’s move will also see vaccinations become mandatory for healthcare workers from September 15.

Health Minister Olivier Veran has this week warned the virus is spreading rapidly just as France prepares for its month-long August holidays, which will see many French people travelling south to holiday destinations.

The government’s strong response to the crisis has annoyed some sections of French society, some saying Macron’s plan infringes on the freedom of choice of those who do not want to be vaccinated against Covid-19.

Lock 'em up, I say. 

If only New South Wales' alleged premier Gladrags Binchicken (as she is affectionately - or not so affectionately - known) had acted with similar vigour in Australia.

Binchicken is the dithering state leader who until last week allowed her subjects to frequent luxury stores to buy expensive handbags and visit hardware stores to buy tap washers. Both of which she deemed "essential" activities, apparently on the advice of Prime Minister Scott Moribund From Marketing.   

French government spokesman Gabriel Attal has described the Delta variant-driven surge as “stratospheric”; the national week-on-week infection rate has jumped 125% to 86 per 100,000, well above the national alert threshold of 50.

Image: Romeo Ninov - Scopio 

The five best-value wines in the 2021 release of the Penfolds Collection

Most of my wine writing colleagues will today be dissecting in minute detail the new-release 2017 Penfolds Grange - Australia's flagship red wine - which will be released on August 5. 

Today sees the lifting of the embargo on global tastings held last month of the new Penfolds releases. 

With the new Grange very much a special occasion wine at $950 a bottle, I thought you might be more interested in the best value wines among the new releases: wines ordinary folk can enjoy, or cellar, without taking out as second mortgage. 

The Australia Collection 2021 includes 2017 Grange $950.00; 2019 Yattarna Chardonnay $175.00; 2019 Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon $650.00; 2019 RWT Bin 798 Barossa Valley Shiraz $200.00; 2019 Magill Estate Shiraz $150.00; 2018 St Henri Shiraz $135.00; 2020 Reserve Bin A Adelaide Hills Chardonnay $125.00;  2019 Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz $100.00; 2019 Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon $110.00; 2019 Bin 150 Marananga Shiraz $100.00; 2019 Bin 28 Shiraz $50.00; 2019 Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz $60.00; 2019 Bin 138 Barossa Valley Shiraz Grenache Mataro $60.00; 2020 Bin 23 Pinot Noir $50.00; 2020 Bin 311 Chardonnay $50.00 and 2021 Bin 51 Eden Valley Riesling $40.00. 

That is a collection spanning five white and red wine vintages.

First of all, some notes about the new releases and some thoughts from Penfolds chief winemaker Peter Gago (above) on the "house style" that has been a hallmark for 177 years as the flagship Grange celebrates its 70th anniversary (1951 experimental – 2021). 

"Adored for its aromatic complexity, intensely rich fruit and ripe tannins of shiraz, Grange’s style and winemaking techniques have not altered since the first experimental vintages in the early 50s," says Gago. 

"After 70 years of unbroken vintage releases, the South Australian heritage icon is renowned by collector’s the world over for its unique Australian identity, consistency, and proven aging potential. 

“The original aspiration for Grange was to create a red wine ‘capable of staying alive for a minimum of 20 years’. Tell that to sexagenarian vintages such as ’52, ’53, ’55 & ’62! Stunningly drinkable in 2021! In modern parlance - under-promise, over-deliver! Long may it continue … and modern Grange vintages such as ’08, ’10 & ’16 patiently await judgement in 2071!” 

My verdict on the 2017 Grange: Made from 100% shiraz, a wine that combines richness and stylishness; powerful but elegant with layers of soft and smooth flavours ranging from racy to umami to dusty. 97/100. 

Like most Penfolds wines, the new vintage red and white wines will continue to develop and improve for many years after release - how long they should be kept depends on whether you enjoy your wine with some youthfulness or fully matured. 

Adding to this year’s Collection, Penfolds will launch two limited-edition wines made from parcels destined for Penfolds flagships: Superblend 802.A and 802.B Cabernet Shiraz (both $900). 

Essentially siblings raised in different environments, the wines represent two very different interpretations of the classic Australian blend of cabernet sauvignon and shiraz. The price of both is high for me, but they will doubtless be snapped up by collectors.

My top five value wines from the new releases: 

Penfolds 2018 St Henri: Made from 100% shiraz, it's all about the fruit here; dark and delicious and immediately accessible. Soft and supple and seductive. 99 points. $135. 

Penfolds 2021 Bin 51 Eden Valley Riesling: Perhaps the best-ever Bin 51. High-altitude and cool-climate fruit with finesse and elegance that can be enjoyed now with its bright acidity, lemon sherbet notes and crispness, or be cellared. 97 points. $40. 

Penfolds Bin 407 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon: Beautifully balanced, impeccably composed with berries, cassis and chocolate notes and impressive tannin structure. Drinkable now but with decades to go. 97 points. $125. 

Penfolds Bin 128 2019 Coonawarra Shiraz: A really delicious cool-climate shiraz with dark fruits, pepper and spice notes duelling on your tongue. 12 months in French oak hogshead. 96 points. $60.

Penfolds RWT Bin 798 Barossa Valley Shiraz: The initials RWT stand for ‘Red Winemaking Trial’ but now a stalwart of the range. Made from Barossa Valley fruit selected for aromatic qualities and lush texture. This is bright and vibrant. 96 points. $200.  

For more information visit

Wednesday, 21 July 2021

Queensland wine pioneers celebrate shiraz success

Imagine the reaction 50 years ago when Angelo and Mary Puglisi decided they wanted to make fine wine in Queensland. 

The Puglisi family, pioneers of viticulture on the Granite Belt, will celebrate 50 years of making shiraz on July 22 - the second annual Shiraz Wine Day in Australia. 

Ballandean Estate’s single vineyard premium shiraz is sourced from the Opera Block’s oldest vines, planted in 1968 - testament to the pioneering Puglisis. 

“Our cool-climate shiraz is a family jewel," says Angelo Puglisi. "Many shiraz vines in Australia are under 15 years old - and the older the vines, the lower the yield and more luscious the fruit.

We’ve come a long way since the sixties, when the naysayers told us the vineyard would fail — because only wogs drink wine in Queensland!

“Our expression of terroir begins in the vineyard, our hands and in our hearts.  We work the soil, we tend the grapes — every bottle tells a story, the people, the place, the passion.

"Fifty years on, these vines are bearing incredible fruit.” 

Queensland’s oldest family-owned and -operated winery future-proofed its reputation for quality shiraz by planting 5000 shiraz plants next to the Opera Block vineyard in early 2021.

Look out for social media posts using the hashtag #shirazwineday 

On the trail of mighty fine molluscs

There are plenty of gourmet trails across Australia; dozens of wine trails, too, but the folks from Destination New South Wales want to lift awareness of their state's oysters trails.

August is apparently the prime time to sample the much-loved mollusc, with Sydney rock and Pacific oysters both at their peak at this time.

Sydney rock oysters are native to Australia and have been cultivated since the late 1800s. They can now be found across the state's coastline.

Pacific oysters, in contrast, are a relative newcomer to Australia's waters, introduced from Japan in the 1940s. They are now the country's most common farmed variety and can be found at Port Stephens, north of Sydney, and Shoalhaven, south of Sydney.

Also native to Australia is the rare Angasi oyster.

The trail: North of Sydney

Around 400km north of Sydney on the state's mid-North Coast, Port Macquarie sits at the mouth of the Hastings River. Start your oyster adventure just to the south in the laid-back town of Laurieton. Savour freshly-shucked oysters overlooking the Camden Haven waters, or from the farm gate at Rockin' Oysters. If you're visiting Port Macquarie in December, be sure to attend Oysters in the Vines at Cassegrain Wines, the event uniting local drops with mountains of oysters.

Just 80 kilometres south of Port Macquarie lies Taree, where Stones Oysters & Seafood is a good place to stock up on fresh oysters, plus prawns, lobsters, crabs and fresh-caught fish. It's another 40km on to Forster, where you can discover these molluscs at Graham Barclay Oysters, the state's largest supplier of Sydney rocks. This is part of the Great Lakes area (which includes Myall Lakes National Park).

Further along the coast, the Soldiers Point peninsula juts from the southern shore of Port Stephens. It's here you'll find family-owned Holberts Oyster Farm, where you can enjoy a dozen or so at a waterside table with a bottle of wine.

The Hawkesbury River is 200km south; the oyster industry here dates back to the 1870s. In the town of Mooney Mooney, the Hawkesbury River Oyster Shed shucks while you wait. Nearby, the Central Coast waterside hamlet of Ettalong Beach hosts the Brisbane Water Oyster Festival every November.


There are dozens of places to sample oysters in Sydney, but you can't go past the perennially bustling Sydney Fish Market (above) for a selection of the state's finest (alongside everything else from the sea). Pick up a dozen and head for a bench to enjoy them overlooking the water.

South of Sydney

Shuckers don't get any faster than the owner of Jim Wild's Oysters, occupying a shack at Greenwell Point near Nowra (160km south of Sydney). The estuary of the Crookhaven and Shoalhaven rivers is the breeding ground for Jim's distinctive Greenwell Point rock and Pacific oysters.

Travel south 115km to discover the Oyster Shed and Pearly Oyster Bar on the banks of the Clyde River at Batemans Bay. Order shucked Sydney rocks as well as native Angasi oysters while soaking up the views.

From here south to Tathra (160km) is oyster heaven, the coastline characterised by oyster sheds, wharves, markets and restaurants where you can sample freshly shucked produce. At Tathra Oysters try Sydney rocks grown in the waters of Nelson's Lake in Mimosa Rocks National Park, also known for its sea caves and rock stacks.

It's a 30km drive on to Wheelers seafood restaurant in Pambula, where you can take a guided tour of the oyster factory. If you've ever wanted to learn how to shuck your own oysters (then enjoy with a squeeze of lemon), this is the place.

This part of the NSW Sapphire Coast is home to a number of other oyster farms, including Broadwater Oysters, Hazelgrove Oysters and JJ Oysters, all selling produce from Pambula Lake.

For further details visit 

Tuesday, 20 July 2021

Grange fetches record price at auction

A bottle of Penfolds Grange 1951, which was both signed and recorked by winemaker Max Schubert, has gone under the hammer at a Langton’s auction for $142,131, breaking the previous record for an Australian wine of $103,000.

Max Schubert AM (Wikimedia)
The bottle is one of the few rare examples in existence of the first vintage of Penfolds Grange ever made, and went under the hammer at the Langton’s Penfolds Rewards of Patience auction.

The buyer was a Sydney-based wine collector who was not identified.

“This is extraordinary, never in my wildest dreams would I have thought a bottle of Australian wine would sell for this much,” said Langton head of auctions Tamara Grischy.

“This, however, is a unicorn of a wine, and one of the finest bottles we’ve ever seen come through at Langton’s.

“The buyer is thrilled to have secured this fine piece of Australian wine history for their collection.”

Penfolds Grange Hermitage Bin 1 Shiraz 1951 is the first vintage ever made of Australia’s most famous wine. Schubert only made three or four barrels of it, and he gave away most bottles to his friends.

This specific bottle of Grange Hermitage Bin 1 Shiraz 1951 was made even more special as it is signed by Schubert, and hand re-corked in August 1988 at Penfolds Magill Estate.

“Incredibly, the 1951 Grange – the first vintage ever created – has sold for a world record price, as we celebrate the 70th anniversary of Grange in 2021. This is one to complete a collection,” said Penfolds chief winemaker Peter Gago.

“After 70 years of unbroken vintage releases, Grange continues to surprise and reward. Much to celebrate.”

There are believed to be around 35 bottles of the first vintage of Penfolds Grange in existence. This includes approximately 15 bottles that are part of complete sets of Penfolds Grange, which include all vintages of Penfolds Grange from 1951 to present day.

The Penfolds Australia Collection 2021, including the latest Grange vintage, 2017, is due to be released on Thursday, August 5.

Americans told to stay away from “dangerous” UK

While Britons celebrated "Freedom Day", Americans were told to stay away from a potentially dangerous destination: the UK. 

The US State Department has raised its travel advisory for the UK to the highest Level 4: "Do Not Travel," Travel Mole reported.

It cites "a very high level" of Covid-19 in the country; the State Department said.

The US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) earlier raised its own advisory.

"There are restrictions in place affecting US citizen entry into the United Kingdom." it said. "Your risk of contracting Covid-19 and developing severe symptoms may be lower if you are fully vaccinated with an FDA authorized vaccine." 

The UK was previously at Level 3: "Reconsider Travel."

The CDC asks all Americans to avoid Level 4 destinations but if travel is essential, they should be fully vaccinated, it recommends.

"Because of the current situation in the United Kingdom, even fully vaccinated travellers may be at risk for getting and spreading Covid-19 variants,'' the CDC said.

It comes as UK and US trade groups and airlines have been applying pressure on both governments to take action to restart non-essential travel across the Atlantic.

The UK yesterday surpassed 50,000 new daily cases, the highest tally in six months but the bulk of its population is now vaccinated and many Covid restrictions have been lifted.

The US has had 34 million cases of Covid. 

Monday, 19 July 2021

Cruise industry in Australia growing impatient

Despite the fact that just 20% of Australians have been fully vaccinated against Ciovid-19, the cruise industry in Australia is becoming impatient.

Cruise Lines International Association of Australasia (CLIA) has made a plea to the Federal Government, saying Australia is increasingly isolated as the only major cruise market in the world not taking meaningful action towards a revival of is cruise industry.

The plea came as the Canadian Government cut short its current cruise ban and will allow ships to sail again from November 1, 2021.

"Like Australia, Canada has taken a very conservative and risk-averse approach to cruising, but they've worked hard with industry to develop a detailed pathway towards resumption and economic recovery," said CLIA Managing Director Australasia Joel Katz.

"By contrast, Australia has made no progress towards establishing a framework for future cruise operations, despite the availability of comprehensive new health protocols at the international level."

Katz said the cruise suspension had already cost Australia more than $6 billion since early 2020 and had put more than 18,000 jobs at risk, including travel agents, tour operators, farmers and food suppliers.

"Around 600,000 people have already sailed successfully in countries where cruising has resumed, bringing back economic opportunities for local communities," Katz said.

"With these measures in place - including 100% testing of all passengers and crew before boarding – CLIA has called for Australian and New Zealand governments to agree upon detailed plans for a careful domestic cruising revival.

"This would initially begin within local bubbles, involving domestic-only cruises for local residents only.

“As Canada has recognised, it will take months of careful planning to revive cruise tourism.”

Image: Declan McWhinney, Scopio 

Don't make me travel: Australians adapt to working from home

Many Australians would elect to work from home rather than take a pay rise that would enable them to travel, a survey has found. 

Logitech, one of Australia’s leading suppliers of video collaboration technology, revealed that 42% of Australians would rather work from home than get a pay increase. 

The survey was conducted throughout the country with some surprising results.

 “I think it’s incredible that people would choose to work from home as much as they’d like, rather than take a salary increase," says Sean Byrne, head of B2B ANZ for Logitech. 

"It really demonstrates how Australians have taken to the new challenges of home offices and the importance of flexibility over money."


Many people have developed new hobbies during the Covid period and a whopping 40% of  Aussies surveyed have become more active. 

“While lockdowns make people want to leave the house and exercise, it’s fantastic that so many people are walking, running and riding bikes for the first time," Byrne said. 

"Many people are also taking up arts and crafts too, such as photography, learning a new language, drawing and even knitting."


More than half of the people surveyed said their company hadn’t invested in technology to make video conferencing more effective at their homes for staff. But 52% of respondents felt they could be more productive with new technology.


“It’s far more than just headsets and webcams that can help productivity, but specialised conference room products for small to large teams, that help with inclusivity, increased clarity and ultimately a better video experience”, said Byrne.


Most people surveyed (64%) agreed that video conferencing saved travel time for work and client meetings and that allowed for a greater work life balance (44%).


Sunday, 18 July 2021

MadFish goes for a whole new milestone look

There are two trains of thought about winery label revamps. 

The first is that a new look revitalises a brand and encourages first-time buyers to take a punt. 

The second is that regular buyers will not recognise the brand in its new livery and opt to buy something different. 

MadFish Wines, part of the Burch family-owned Howard Park group, has decided to mark its 30th year with a complete refresh. 

MadFish Wines has just released its new range complete with a new look. 

The new label artwork designed by local artist Kyle Odgers-Hughes draws inspiration from the rough and wild south west coastline of Western Australia that MadFish Wines calls home.

MadFish has used turtle artwork by local artist Maxine Fumagalli as its signature for three decades. 

"We saw this milestone as an opportunity to refresh our MadFish wine labels with a new look that emulates an authentic evolution of our brand – modern, positive, local, and influenced by our love for the south west coastline and the lifestyle it inspires," the Burch family said. 

Each label pays homage to the grape varietal and the land from which the fruit is grown in Margaret River and the Great Southern. 

The new range comprises MadFish Chardonnay, MadFish Shiraz, MadFish Sauvignon Blanc Semillon and MadFish Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot, Madfish Rosé and MadFish Moscato 

What are your thoughts?  


Saturday, 17 July 2021

Cruise to nowhere until Covid strikes

With most overseas travel out of bounds, cruises to nowhere have been popular with Singapore residents - until this week, anyway.

A Dream Cruises ship returned to Singapore after a passenger tested positive for Covid-19 on board.

It arrived back a few hours earlier than scheduled at Marina Bay Cruise Centre, Travel Mole reported.

The passenger was reportedly fully vaccinated, and had tested negative in an antigen rapid test on the day of departure, Dream Cruises said.

When the positive test was confirmed all passengers were asked to return to their cabins and all activities on board were stopped.

"As part of onboard health protocols, the passenger's three travelling companions were identified and isolated. They have tested negative for Covid-19 and further contact tracing is ongoing," said Singapore Tourism Board director of cruising Annie Chang.

"The passenger was then identified as a close contact of a confirmed case on land, and was immediately isolated."

The World Dream ship operates short 'cruises to nowhere' out of Singapore.

Cruises to nowhere are restricted to Singapore residents only and have been a popular escape for Singaporeans with other travel opportunities very limited.

Friday, 16 July 2021

A toast to the fresh produce of Tasmania

Celebrity chef Massimo Mele and his kitchen team at Grain of the Silos will host a special dinner to salute the quality of Tasmanian fresh produce. 

Mele, Thomas Pirker and new kitchen addition Mika Chae (formerly of Attica in Melbourne) will work with Tasmanian producers to showcase a menu of fine local produce. 

The producers will also be at the dinner to talk about the produce, how it is grown and what makes it so significant. 

The dinner will be held on Thursday, August 5, at Grain of the Silos in the Pepper Silo Hotel in Launceston. 

The cost is $145 per person including welcome drinks on arrival and canapés followed by a shared-style menu curated by food director Mele (above) and executive chef Pirker. 

The dinner is a lead-in to the AgriCultured festival weekend.

“Working with hyper local producers whom we know and have built relationships with is fundamental to the food philosophy at Grain," says Mele. "The quality of produce in northern Tasmania is some to the best in the country and having access to such exceptional local, seasonal ingredients is a pleasure. 

"We know our growers by name, we know and understand just what it takes to get the produce to our door. This understanding allows us to keep working together and allows us to deliver a better dining experience."

Among the menu items will be abalone fritter with smoked oyster and lemon myrtle; hand-rolled macaroni with king brown mushrooms and fresh truffle; king george whiting, cooked over the coals served with stinging nettle butter and Tasmanian lamb shoulder. 


Thursday, 15 July 2021

New dates for Vivid Sydney festival

One of Sydney's major tourism drawcards, the Vivid Sydney festival, has been rescheduled.

The NSW Government says Vivid Sydney will now be held from September 17 to October 9 in the interest of community health and safety.

No surprise really.

The 12th edition of the light, music and ideas festival has originally been scheduled for August 6-28.

Minister for Jobs, Investment, Tourism and Western Sydney Stuart Ayres said NSW must work together to contain the current Covid-19 outbreak to allow the state to recover.

“We all want to see Sydney shine through the spectacular show of creativity and innovation that is Vivid Sydney in September and October this year,” Ayres said.

“The recent outbreak has presented a new challenge for everyone, and the health and safety of our citizens and entire event community involved in Vivid Sydney is our foremost concern.

“Destination NSW will continue to work with NSW Health and other agencies to deliver a Covid-safe Vivid Sydney later this year, with support from our event partners, artists, sponsors, and suppliers.

“Vivid Sydney will only proceed if it's safe to do so.”

Full details of the revised Vivid Sydney 2021 program will be available online in the coming weeks as venues and event owners finalise logistics.

Ticketholders will be able to transfer their ticket to the new event date or request a refund via the relevant ticket agent.

For further information about the event, go to

Cruise ships banned from Venice lagoon

After much procrastination and prevarication, Italy has finally decided to ban cruise ships from Venice lagoon.

The Government acted as UNESCO proposed putting Venice on a World Heritage watchlist due to its failure to ban large ships.

The ban takes effect from August 1 and bans ships weighing more than 25,000 tonnes from the Giudecca Canal.

That effectively means all cruise ships - both large and small - are forbidden to enter.

Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini said the government acted "to avoid the concrete risk' of being placed on the UNESCO blacklist, Travel Mole reported.

It also "establishes an unbreakable principle, by declaring the urban waterways of St. Mark's Basin, St. Mark's Canal and the Giudecca Canal a national monument," the minister added.

The issue has been the centre of controversy for many years, with environmentalists against and many local businesses grateful for the revenue.

"The decree adopted today represents an important step for the protection of the Venetian lagoon system," Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said.

Draghi said funds will be dispersed to businesses to help mitigate the loss of revenue caused by the cruise ship ban.

There, is, however, no permanent alternative location for cruise ships to dock near Venice so several cruise lines will have to amend their schedules.

In the short term, large ships will be diverted to the industrial port of Marghera.

Photo by Evgenii Iaroshevskii

Australian wineries showcase indigenous culture

Several Australian wineries are celebrating the Indigenous history of the land on which their grapes are grown. 

A growing number are collaborating with their local traditional owners to provide experiences that connect visitors with Aboriginal culture and provide a historical context for the land.

Three members of Ultimate Winery Experiences are among them: Mandoon Estate in Western Australia (above); Tahbilk in Victoria and Gemtree in McLaren Vale, South Australia. 

Mandoon hosts regular bush tucker tastings at its property on Noongar land in the Swan Valley.

These offer visitors an opportunity to listen to the stories of this area and learn about local indigenous food and culture from Noongar Elder, Dale Tilbrook.

Taste some traditional bush food and listen to stories from generations past about indigenous farming methods and the history of the Noongar peoples. 

Tahbilk (above) hosts an Eco Trail and the Tabilk-Tabilk Indigenous Flora Trail. 

Established in 1860, Tahbilk comprises some 1,214 hectares of rich river flats with a frontage of 11km to the Goulburn River and 8km of permanent backwaters and creeks.

IAn ongoing works program continues to maintain and enhance the area as an important conservation area.

The Tahbilk Eco Trail can be explored by visitors via a range of walking paths and boardwalks along a 6km circuit of land once owned by the Daung-wurrung clans.

The Indigenous Flora Walking Trail is a collaboration between the Taungurung Land & Waters Council, Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authority and the Purbrick family, who own Tahbilk. 

Launched in March,  this walk is a collective gift to both current and future generations. Walk through the trail to learn and grow your understanding of the Taungurung people and the diverse plant species abundant in the wetlands. 

Gemtree Wines (above) has partnered with Senior Cultural Custodian, Karl Winda Telfer of Yellaka to share Tirkandi – an inspiring journey of Culture, Connection and Country.

Karl is a senior man from the Mullawirra Meyunna (dry forest people/family clan) which is known today as the Kaurna Nation from the Adelaide region. 

Sharing his cultural knowledge and connection to country at many places and events, Gemtree is hosting small group events taking place from March to October, 

Karl  shares his knowledge and heritage within the idyllic setting of the Gemtree Eco-Trail, set among native gumtrees and wildlife.

The Tirkandi experience continues in the Tasting Room, where guests can sample Gemtree wines, which are all certified organic and biodynamic. 

Discover more about Ultimate Winery Experiences HERE.

Wednesday, 14 July 2021

Onwards and upwards for Adelaide's Thai treat destination

Change is afoot at one of my favourite Adelaide hangouts: super casual, ultra tasty Soi 38. 

Named after what used to be of the most famous "street eats" destinations in Bangkok, Soi 38 opened in October 2014 in Pulteney Street, but is destined for new digs on the corner of Pirie Street and Coromandel Place. 

Soi 38 has evolved over the past seven years and showcases the dishes of Thailand’s many regions, history and ethnic minority groups. 

The menu is seasonal and recipes have been gathered by executive chef Terry Intarakhamhaeng from all over Thailand (some with a local twist). 

Where else would you find a dish of sir-fried Goolwa pipis with chill crab oil (top). 

Other than a whole flathead with mixed herbs and roasted cashews, it is hard to find any dish on the current menu that costs over $30. 

So you get authentic flavours at realistic prices. Which is why I love this spot.

There is also a small wine list featuring local names like Schwarz and Wines by KT.  

Soi 38 has a commitment to source produce as ethically as possible. Some Australian native ingredients are substituted for Thai ones where appropriate, such as using kangaroo tail in place of water buffalo tail, for example.

The new site will more than double capacity and will have an open kitchen (with counter seats) running the length of the room 

The site at Pulteney Street will revert back to its origins. It’ll become a fast, casual spot catering to nearby university students and office workers featuring dishes like charcoal turmeric chicken. 

“It will be a much more casual vibe than what will be offered at Pirie," co-owner Daisy Miller told local media. 

See for details.  

Tuesday, 13 July 2021

A West Australian gourmet destination you must not miss

Combine 180 years of history, fine wines and food and beautiful riverside gardens and you have a "must visit" destination in the Swan Valley, just a short drive from downtown Perth.

Sandalford Wines, one of the founding wineries in Western Australia, is now also one of its major gourmet tourism drawcards.

Sandalford’s establishing estate at Caversham, Swan Valley, had its genesis in 1840 and coincided with European settlement in the burgeoning colony of Perth.

Queen Victoria granted John Septimus Roe, Western Australia’s first surveyor general, 4,000 acres of land on the riverbanks at West Swan in honour of his 57 years of service to the Commonwealth.

He named the property Sandalford after a priory in Berkshire, England - his original home.

Sandalford became the Swan Valley’s pioneering agrarian estate with crops, cattle grazing, vegetables and extensive vineyards and fruit orchards.

The Roe family purchased a 300-hectare property at Wilyabrup in Margaret River, planted vines in 1970, and joined a handful of others in pioneering Western Australia’s second classic wine region.

In the 1990s, the business was sold to the Prendiville family, who have continued to build on tradition.

Opened earlier this year, the new Sandalford Bar and Restaurant is open for lunch, Monday to Sunday from 11:30am, and for drinks and dinner on Friday to Sunday evenings until late.

Featuring an open kitchen and a wood-fired Sicilian pizza oven, the facility offers a selection of wine from Sandalford's Swan Valley and Margaret River portfolios.

CEO Grant Brinklow said the total spent on the enhancements, which were completed during the property’s Covid-19 closure, was in excess of $3.5 million.

Executive chef Alan Spagnolo, a vastly experienced pan-handler, heads the kitchen team and was in top form during our recent visit.

The vibe is less formal than it used to be; but the food remains seriously good with dishes incorporating fresh regional produce.

Standout vegetarian dishes include Gin Gin paprika cotolette with coal roasted chilli tomato aioli; or maybe try Dardanup lamb rump, char-grilled medium, with roasted eggplant, carrot, feta and date relish.

All menus feature an abundance of local Western Australian seafood. 

Two standouts for me were Abrolhos Islands char-grilled octopus, orange, basil, purslane and pink peppercorn dressing (above) and the shellfish risotto (below) with lobster, local prawns, scallops, tomato, basil and Aleppo pepper.

There are several activities on offer. First, you can travel to Sandalford Estate by river boat.

Cruise into the upper reaches of the Swan as you sample wines before disembarking at Sandalford Estate’s private jetty for an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour, video presentation and Flight of Wines wine tasting.

A gourmet two-course lunch is presented on-site before a dessert buffet and afternoon tea is served back on board the vessel.

Alternatively, a one-hour Sandalford Experience tour and tasting is priced at $25 per person and operates daily at noon. Bookings are essential.

Or, perhaps you'd prefer to create your own wine blend.

First you participate in a winery tour, learning about the winemaking process up to the blending stage. Then, you’ll put your knowledge to the test, creating your own original blend of wine, which can be enjoyed over a meal.

This three-hour experience is priced at $145 per person and operates every Saturday at noon.

During summer, Covid permitting, Sandalford regularly hosts concerts featuring the likes of Neil Diamond and Jimmy Barnes. It is also a popular wedding and conference venue. 

# Sandalford Wines has recently welcomed wine industry veteran Ross Pamment (above) as its senior winemaker while Hope Metcalf is on maternity leave. He will oversee both Swan Valley and Margaret River operations.

For details and experiences visit  

Monday, 12 July 2021

Winemaker takes advantage of ill fortune to do some good

Mike Calneggia of Calneggia Family Vineyards in Western Australia found himself in a tricky spot after China raised tariffs on Australian wine imports.

He was sitting on a heap of shiraz destined for customers in China who had cancelled their orders. 

At the same time, wine distributors Naked Wines Australia unveiled a $5 million rescue fund for independent Australian winemakers who had taken a hit from the China tariff issue. The scheme is called Stop The Squeeze.

Calneggia was successful in gaining funds and decided to release the Bloody Good Red, which will help to raise funds for the Snowdome Foundation, which is Australia's leading foundation providing research and treatment support for Australians suffering from blood cancers.

This is a cause dear to Calneggia and his family's heart as his father died as a result of blood cancer.

"By snapping up the Bloody Good Red, you’re not only supporting a bloody great cause, you’re getting your lips around a magnificent 2018 Western Australian shiraz," Calneggia said.
Alicia Kennedy, managing director from Naked Wines, said: "When Mike came to us with his idea for the Bloody Good Red and how Stop The Squeeze could lend support, it received a resounding ‘Yes!’ from all of us at Naked."

"Independent winemakers do it tough enough as it is, with small margins and the compounding experiences of bushfires and Covid. Big market forces like the China trade tariffs can literally push some winemakers to the edge and over.

"Stop the Squeeze is our small way in ensuring independent winemakers have some much needed support and hope, and we can make sure great wines like Mike's Bloody Good Red actually get the attention they deserve and don't just get lost on the shelf."
Bloody God Red is exclusively through Naked Wines ($19.99 per bottle, $239.88 a case), with part proceeds from every bottle going to the Snowdome Foundation.

Wine rivals to the rescue in a time of crisis

Tim Kirk and his winemaking team at Clonakilla are probably the highest-profile producers in the Canberra region - and will celebrate their 50th birthday later this year 

In addition to producing wines made from their own fruit grown at Murrumbateman, they also make wines using grapes from the Hilltops region in New South Wales. 

So why, then, are the two latest releases from Clonakilla, a shiraz and a viognier, crafted from Eden Valley grapes? 

The answer is both simple and sad. 

"In 2020 we suffered the catastrophe of losing our entire crop to smoke taint; a consequence of severe drought and the worst bushfire season in living memory," Kirk says. 

"Generous friends came to our rescue with clean fruit from regions outside New South Wales."

Hence a pair of 2020 releases made from fruit grown by the Hill-Smith family of Yalumba renown in the Eden Valley. 

"We thank Louisa Rose and the Hill-Smith family for making the grapes available to us," says Kirk. 

That's the Australian industry for you: intensely competitive but also collegial in times of need.

The wines are both extremely impressive. The 2020 Viognier ($50) is on the pear/peach side of the viognier spectum and a great match for lightly-spiced Asian dishes, while the 2020 Shiraz ($40) is dark and intense but nicely balanced with youthful allure. Both are well worth trying.


Saturday, 10 July 2021

Tibet bites the bullet with high-speed trains

When you think of Tibet, you probably consider somewhere that is remote, mountainous and perhaps a little old-fashioned.

When you think of Sydney you probably think of a modern, first-world city with excellent infrastructure.

You may be surprised, then, to learn that while Sydney has rattling suburban trains with no high-speed links to Melbourne or Brisbane, in Tibet they have have commenced operations of the an electrified bullet train.

Preconceptions eh?

The remote Himalayan region now has 150kph service linking the Tibetan capital Lhasa with Nyingchi, a Chinese town close to the Indian border.

The 435km Lhasa-Nyingchi section of the Sichuan-Tibet Railway opens up part of the Tibet Autonomous Region for public transport for the first time, as China ramps up tourism development in the region.

The services are operated by the China National Railway Corporation (CNRG).

The Fuxing railway, China's first single-line electrified railway, will take passengers from Lhasa to Nyingchi in 3 1/2 hours.

The Lhasa-Nyingchi route connects the existing Lhasa-Shigatse Railway and the existing Qinghai-Tibet Railway, which is also an important part of the Sichuan-Tibet Railway under construction.

Friday, 9 July 2021

Sigh. Another new hotel brand gets a hyped launch in Australia

To be brutally honest, I cannot think of anything the world needs less right now than a new hotel brand. 

I get confused by all the various versions of Ibis hotels, and Marriotts, and I work in the travel industry. 

BWH Hotel Group, the parent organisation of WorldHotels Collection, Best Western Hotels & Resorts and SureStay Hotel Group, has decided, however, to introduce its newest lifestyle brand - Aiden by Best Western - to the Australian market.

It describes the move as  "shaking things up". To me, Aiden sounds like the name of a boring old scientist.

The brand was launched in November 2018 in South Korea and now has 14 properties worldwide including locations in the US, Biberach, Germany; Steyr, Austria; Cheongdam, South Korea; Lorient, France; Margny-Les-Compiegne, France; Clermont-Ferrand, France and now Sydney.

BWH Hotel Group has approximately 4,700 hotels in over 100 countries and territories worldwide and offers 17 brands across Australasia - so of course we desperately need an 18th! 

Aiden is described as a collection of modern, suburban boutique hotels, with each showcasing a cool, laid-back personality that reflects the eclectic spirit of its neighbourhood.

Aiden will make its debut in Australia with a location in the Pyrmont precinct of Darling Harbour. It opens its doors in September. This opening has been pushed back from mid-year.

“Aiden exudes creative positivity and is exactly what Sydney needs right now," says Graham Perry, managing director of BWH Hotel Group for Australasia. He sounds like he's ingested too much caffeine. 

"At a time when travellers are demanding even more from their stays, Aiden allows guests to find joy in an affordable luxury hotel immersed in the centre of the community whilst portraying the surrounding neighbourhood’s unique personality."

The press releases gushes: "Aiden Darling Harbour speaks to the future of hotels, with state-of-the-art design and technologies to ensure a safe and secure stay, including MERV-13 (or F7) air-conditioning filtration in each room and continuous 24/7 hydroxyl supply and dispersion throughout the building’s ventilation system. 

"The hotel will have antimicrobial films over all lift buttons and door handles, hand wipes and sanitisers throughout the hotel and contactless technology for check-in and check-out."

So much hype. I feel like I need a nice lie-down.