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Thursday 31 March 2022

A special wine tasting in Coonawarra

Coonawarra is one of Australia's very best wine regions for premium cabernet sauvignon. 

This July, several of the finest producers are getting together to put on what should be a fascinating tasting, the good people at Majella Wines tell me. 

The Coonawarra @ Heart collective of Majella Wines, Katnook Estate, Leconfield Coonawarra, Bowen Estate and Balnaves of Coonawarra will be holding a masterclass: "The ageing ability of Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 v current release."

Each of the wineries will be comparing the aging ability of cabernet sauvignon from 2010 - one of the best vintages on record - to their current release wines.

Each winemaker will speak about their wines, which will be available for sale afterwards.                                                

This one-off event will be held from 10.30am-noon on July 16 at the Katnook Barn (above) and numbers will be limited. It is part of the month-long Cellar Dwellers celebrations in the region. 

The cost is just $60 person and bookings are essential. Check out the details at:

Wednesday 30 March 2022

A non-stop air trip that lasts almost 18 hours

Imagine flying non-stop for almost 18 hours in the same seat. It could get a little tiresome.

Cathay Pacific’s new non-stop New York-Hong Kong route has become the world’s longest - because of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

It is the longest flight by distance at 16,668km due to the route it has to take to avoid Russian airspace, Travel Mole reports.

The flight will travel over over the Atlantic Ocean, the UK, southern Europe and central Asia en route to Hong Kong from New York, whereas it would normally overfly Russia and the Arctic.

Cathay has just listed on its website a New York-to-Hong Kong flight for April 3 - a flight it said would stay in the air for 17 hours and 50 minutes.

It will surpass a Singapore Airlines flight travelling from the south-east Asian city-state to New York, which flies a shorter distance in a longer time: about 15,343km in 18 hours.

Many airlines have cancelled routes to Russian cities or are avoiding its airspace over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine last month.

“We are always running contingency routings for potential events or scenarios within the world of aviation,” Hong Kong’s flagship carrier said in a statement.

Pre-pandemic, Cathay operated three round trips between the Hong Kong and New York every day.

Flights to Hong Kong now face frequent cancellations due to the financial hub’s strict anti-Covid measures, as well as a lack of passengers.

Meet the latest gourmet festival in Tasmania

A new festival will showcase the diversity of Tasmania's north west, putting the spotlight on premium produce and the personalities behind it!

Set to take place on April 23-24, TrailGraze is the brainchild of the Cradle to Coast Tasting Trail, the organisation behind the self-guided touring experience in Tasmania’s north and north west.

The TrailGraze event weekend will see over 20 local producers will showcase recipes supplied by chefs, encouraging people to 'graze the trail' and discover the beauty of north west Tasmania along the way.
This project has received grant funding from the Australian Government under the Recovery for Regional Tourism program, an initiative of the $1 billion Covid-19 Relief and Recovery Fund.

Producers range from Ghost Rock Wines to House of Anvers chocolates, from Hazelbrae nuts to Seven Sheds brewery, and Christmas Hills raspberry farm to Hursey Seafoods.

Among the chefs who have visited the region and have provided recipes are: Alex Prichard from Icebergs in Sydney, local star Analiese Gregory, Clayton Wells from Automata in Sydney, Craig Will from Stillwater in Launceston, Kobi Ruzicka from Dier Makr in Hobart and Massimo Mele from Grain of the Silos and Peppina.

For more information, visit

Tuesday 29 March 2022

Small town food festivals offer a real taste of the country

Big cities host various wine and food festivals all the time, but for smaller regional areas their once a year gourmet events are an annual highlight - and the perfect time to visit a destination that might otherwise be off your radar.

The folks at Visit NSW recently released a list off festivals that fly under the radar, and I've selected a few that sound particularly tempting and offer food lovers a chance to head off the beaten track. 


Held on the banks of the picturesque Lachlan River, lined with red river gums, Grazing Down the Lachlan (top image) in September is a walking long lunch celebrating the produce of the Central West region. Visitors can snack, sip and wander their way through the day – six stations are set up along a dedicated path in the reserve, each offering a dish with a matched drink (but the menu is kept secret until the day). The organisers have a commitment to delivering a no-waste, environmentally responsible event.    


For the last 16 years, this lovely little coastal town 550 kilometres north of Sydney has transformed transformed itself into a little slice of India with culture and curry to the fore for one day only in September. The town has a large Punjab community that built the first Sikh temple in Australia. Woolgoolga Curryfest (above) is a celebration of the multiculturalism of the town with a wide array of Indian food, dance performances, live entertainment, and a kid’s zone. 


A lively coiuntry town just south of Coffs Harbour, Sawtell has hosted the annual Sawtell Chilli Festival (above) for over 20 years. From dark chilli chocolate to spicy ginger beer and everything in between: (condiments, curries, hot dogs, fresh chilli plants), guests can test their tolerance for heat while listening to live music each July. 


This small town in the Upper Lachlan Shire - a 30-mnute drive from Goulburn - is known for its fine wool, potato production, Irish heritage and community spirit, all qualities are celebrated at the Crookwell Country and Potato Festival, held in March (from 2023). Think celebrity chef appearances, farm tours and a popular demonstration kitchen. 

Southern Highlands

If you love a good pie, and who doesn't, then plan your next trip to the the Southern Highlands(or Southern Pielands, as it will be known for the month) in June for Pie Time. Follow a pie trail for a road trip through the picturesque towns of the region and sample a few of the 30 pies on offer. 

Vietnam offers aim to entice tourists back


With travel to Asia getting back at full throttle, Vietnam is keen to maintain its share of the market. 

Accor, the biggest international hotel group in the country, has launched a For the Love of Breathtaking Vietnam campaign offering travellers savings of up 20% at hotels and resorts across Vietnam. 

The Asian nation is now officially open to travellers from across the world with quarantine no longer required for fully vaccinated visitors, with inbound travellers requiring only a negative Covid-19 test result within 72 hours prior to departure. 

Accor's campaign includes close to 40 hotels and resorts under the Sofitel, MGallery, Mövenpick, Pullman, Grand Mercure, Mercure, Novotel, ibis and ibis Styles brands.

Accor is encouraging visitors to not only Hanoi, HO Chi Minh City, Halong Bay and Hoi An, but also to less visited destinations including Danang, with white sand beaches alongside mountains and forests, and Phu Quoc, home of numerous beautiful beaches. 

The For the Love of Breathtaking Vietnam offer is valid for bookings until January 1 ,2023, for stays until January 30, 2023. 

Members of Accor Plus can benefit from an additional 10% discount. 

For more information visit perhaps the longest link I have ever seen: 

Monday 28 March 2022

Is that a cannon in your vineyard?


Calling all vignerons in cool-climate wine regions.

How about a mobile hot-air cannon to guard against unseasonable frosts?

French wine industry outlet Vitisphere reports that the latest in frost protection for vineyards is a mobile hot-air cannon with a power of 1.8 million watts, designed by wine industry entrepreneur Michael Paetzold. 

The idea came to me during the frosts of April 2021," said the company’s namesake president. “While helping friends light candles or set up fans [in vineyards], I realised that most of the resources available today are not entirely effective.

Based on this observation, the Bordeaux-based businessman launched a research and development project. 

The basic idea was that we needed power to combat frost, the intensity and nature of which we have never known beforehand" he said.

"And we wanted something mobile. For a fixed device to be totally effective, the vineyard would need to be a single, circular block, and there is no such thing. So we put as much as we could fit onto a trailer.

The result is the new cannon, which can be hitched to a tractor and operated while driving. 

It's a circulating air system, with the added benefit of generating heat," the inventor said. "In terms of design, the fan and the heat source are very closely linked right from the start. It's a complex machine to design, and some people said it wasn't possible. We had to be very precise about the aeraulics” (the science of gas flow)."

The cannon runs on oil or biofuel, and uses “about 200 litres per hour at full power”.  It can be used “practically without any time limitation”.

The price tag of €130,000 means it is not an option for small producers.

How about flying to London via Malaysia?

How about flying from Australia to London via a stopover in Kuala Lumpur?

Malaysia Airlines is increasing flight frequency on its flagship Kuala Lumpur-London route to 11 times weekly starting from this week and and will return to full double daily service from July 1 onwards, Travel Mole reports.

Recently reinstated flights from Kuala Lumpur to Australia will also see an increase to seven times weekly to Sydney from five times weekly; and five times weekly to Perth from two times weekly following steady demand. 

"With Malaysia Airlines' Satellite Golden Lounge fully opened soon, customers can expect the reimplementation of buffet-style serving, offering convenience for guests to browse and indulge in a diverse range of local and western delicacies prior to their flight," the airline said in a statement. 

"All the airline's lounges follow stringent health and safety measures, mandatory use of face masks and disposable gloves at the buffet area and regular sanitisation of common areas." 

In other news, Malaysia Airlines said it would be reinstating scheduled commercial services to New Delhi, Bangalore, Mumbai, Chennai and Hyderabad in India, after close to 24 months of suspension due to border closures between the two countries.

"Starting April 1, Malaysia Airlines will also increase capacity to Bangkok from seven times weekly to 14 times weekly and to Phuket from once a week to three times weekly," it said. 

It said this came after Thailand recently relaxed entry requirements for fully vaccinated international travellers.

Additionally, it said Malaysia Airlines has begun flying to Bali with a once-weekly flight. 

New direction for Australia's highest-profile wine brand

Penfold's, the highest-profile wine brand in Australia, has launched its first global brand thematic.

Despite a history dating back to 1844, Penfolds has chosen a space exploration theme for its new look. 

Venture Beyond’ is said to "unlock a universe of playful experiences and out-of-this-world activations, designed to capture the imagination of global luxury consumers".

I must say that I have always though world-class wine does that; but I am just a crusty old curmudgeon. 

“The introduction of  Venture Beyond as our global thematic is a strategic shift for Penfolds from ‘fine wine’ brand to ‘global luxury icon’," says chief marketing officer Kristy Keyte said. 

“A logical next step following the introduction of our Meet Extraordinary communications platform in 2020 - Venture Beyond personifies our innovative spirit and desire to push the boundaries through self-belief."

So much jargon in one sentence. 

In late April, Penfolds will launch a personalised gifting experience; an augmented reality experience that will allow consumers to send a personalised message with their gift. Each limited-edition product gift box will feature a QR code linking to the AR experience. The platform will provide consumers the ability to create and attach a virtual personalised message to their Penfolds wine or follow links to view Penfolds content.

Australian illustrator Jason Solo is the man behind the thematics and "omnichannel" marketing. 

Apparently. Venture Beyond "will leverage themes centered around space exploration, daring to go where other wine brands have never gone before".

Penfolds Venture Beyond thematic will be live in key markets from the end of March - across platforms including outdoor media, print, social media advertising, video advertising, point of sale and experiential activations.

See for more information and bear in mind then amid all the marketing hope there are some serious world-class wines. 

Sunday 27 March 2022

Petaluma offers new wine tasting experience in the Adelaide Hills

Petaluma and Croser have launched a new premium tasting experience at their Adelaide Hills Cellar Door. 

The Glass Room Experience offers visitors a private food and wine tasting journey with the opportunity to experience some of the rarest wines in the Petaluma portfolio.

With capacity for only 8-10 people, The Glass Room Experience has been designed to create an intimate experience and is named after the ceiling installation of 540 wine glasses that have been placed to resemble the rolling contours of the Adelaide Hills. 

The setting also has vineyards views and and a feature wall of the original riddling racks where Croser sparkling was stored.

Petaluma and Croser cellar door manager Linda Popp says the experience gives visitors the opportunity to try back vintages from the Petaluma and Croser portfolios, with some bottles dating back 25 years. 

“We want our visitors to enjoy exclusive use of our beautiful Glass Room, as if the experience is a private event that is curated just for them," Popp said. 

"Whether they are after an educational experience or simply want to enjoy a wine and food journey they will hopefully find this worthwhile.

“The experience will see guests taste some of the rarest vintages in the Petaluma portfolio that are unavailable to purchase from anywhere except our cellar door, where they have been under pristine cellaring conditions for optimum drinking and only available in small releases from our museum wines portfolio. 

“Guests will be offered generous servings of wine, not simply tasting pours, so that they can savour each flavour. These will be purposefully paired with a three-course tasting menu from Woodside Providore with local baked bread, highlighting the stunning produce available right here in the Adelaide Hills." 

Visitors will be able to choose from one of two experiences, each highlighting a range of premium wines.

For $100 per person, The Glass Room Experience, will feature the best wines from the Croser and Petaluma portfolio matched with a three-course menu from Woodside Providore. 

For more serious enthusiasts, The ‘Museum Release’ Glass Room Experience will feature a mix of super premium, current and back vintage wines from the Petaluma portfolio, at $150 per person, paired with the three-course menu.

For more information or to book see

Singapore ready to welcome vaccinated travellers

Fully vaccinated travellers on all Singapore Airlines and Scoot flights will be granted quarantine-free entry into Singapore from April 1, without any on-arrival test or quarantine requirements.

The move follows the easing of travel protocols for entry into the Asian nation, Travel Mole reports.

This opens up the entire SIA and Scoot network to all eligible customers.

SIA and Scoot currently operate to 97 destinations in 34 countries from Singapore.

Fully vaccinated travellers are still required to take a pre-departure test and meet visa requirements.

SIA and Scoot will no longer designate specific Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) flights from April 1.

All travellers, regardless of vaccination status, will be allowed to transit through Singapore on almost all SIA and Scoot flights from April as long as they meet the entry requirements of their final destination.

“The SIA Group welcomes the latest measures to simplify travel protocols for entry into Singapore," the airline said. "This supports the goal of restoring Singapore’s position as a leading tourist destination and premier air hub."

Saturday 26 March 2022

Sample a special festival on Tasmania's east coast

Been meaning to sneak in a few days away on Tasmania's delightful east coast?

ECHO Festival could be the excuse you have been looking for.

ECHO runs over the weekend April 8, 9 and 10 and celebrates the regional harvest traditions, bringing together chefs, winemakers and producers, along with artists, musicians, storytellers, scientists, entrepreneurs and thought leaders.

“In the past two years we’ve been deprived on a sensory level – touch, shared tastes, sound and scent. ECHO wakes us up and takes us on a journey of exploration to reignite the senses,” says event creative producer Ange Boxall (also one of Australia's finest country singers).

“ECHO has all the elements of a festival – the finest Tasmanian food, wine and music – but it goes deeper. ECHO aims to connect, challenge and inspire us at a time when we need it most.”

The 2022 program offers a diverse range of experiences across food, science, nature, and arts - all centred around this year’s Kelp Forests theme. Central to the ecosystems of the East Coast, kelp has been a staple for Tasmanian Aboriginal people from this region for thousands of years.

“ECHO 2022 celebrates community, stories, authentic experiences and the coming together of cultural, culinary and local produce legends," says Boxall. "It’s a celebration and representation of who we truly are on the island.

"We crave these times more than ever, connecting by the fire over a red wine, sharing experiences and tales for a deeper kind of enrichment and rejuvenation.”

Interactive experiences include the Great Eastern Ferment (grape stomping) with winemaker Peter Dredge (Dr Edge) and the famous wine expert and nude pigeage specialist Mike Bennie.

The music program includes Hayley Mary (of the Jezabels), rising pop star and daughter of Troy Cassar-Dalry: Jem Cassar-Daly, festival favourites The Embers, and performance art from Emily Sanzaro and Julia Drouhin.

The inaugural, invitation-only ECHO Odyssey, running throughout the day on April 8, is a guided behind-the-scenes tour of the region, with stops at secret locations along the East Coast, and expert-led activities and sumptuous treats and tipples along the way.

Tickets start at $125pp for general admission, $175 for VIP, $250 for silver and $300 for gold.

Further details and ticket sales at A free shuttle service will be running from central Swansea to the Redbanks Farm ECHO site throughout the festival.

Images: Dearna Bond

A little bit of mango in your life

Who knew mango was a such a fashionable food? 

Yenly Yours is a chain of casual cafés which has grown organically from humble roots become to become one of south-east Asia’s fastest-growing brands. 

Having originated 10 years ago at a family fruit farm in northern Thailand, the brand uses only the finest nam dok mai mangoes (also known as “Thai golden honey mangoes”) to create smoothies and desserts.

Each outlet serves a selection desserts and drinks, ranging from cool mango smoothies and ice creams to Asian classics such as mango sticky rice and bualoy, as well as mango crêpes and macarons. 

Preserved products such as mango sweet fish sauce and mango sweet shrimp paste are also on sale. 

Exquisine Global, the successful franchisor of Mango Tree and COCA restaurants around the world, has added the Yenly Yours stores to its portfolio - and plans major expansion. 

The company currently operates a network of 16 cafés and kiosk-style outlets in Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore, with at least seven new cafés due to launch in 2022 including its first location in Cambodia, which is currently under construction and scheduled to open soon. 

Exquisine Global will now introduce Yenly Yours to Hong Kong, where its citywide portfolio is expected to reach at least 15 locations in the coming years.

"As a business that started with an owner’s passion for high-quality produce and authentic cuisine, Yenly Yours fits perfectly into our brand portfolio," says Exquisine Global chief Trevor McKenzie. .

"Having grown from humble beginnings, this innovative company is now showcasing its exquisite nam dok mai mangoes on a multinational level. We want to help them grow further." 

Tawatchai Watsirisaree, founder and CEO of Yenly Yours, said: "This is an important step for us and we look forward to working with our new franchise partners and talented investors around the world.” 

Friday 25 March 2022

Hot mustard: Global cocktail trends might surprise you

If you get past jargon like Luxury Liberators, Digital Drinkers, Sustainability Seekers, The Sober-Curious there is a lot of interesting  info a new report into cocktail trends released by Bacardi.

The Bacardi Cocktail Trends Report highlights increased consumer demand for premium and canned cocktails, natural and NoLo ingredients, and citrus and spicy flavours, including hot mustard. we might all end up drinking Bacardi Pomegranate mojitos (above).   

·      The top trend is Luxury Libations, as consumers seek high-quality drinking experiences. This looks set to drive another wave of premiumisation across spirits categories, including RTD and pre-mixed offerings. Some  50% of bartenders worldwide reported their customers are drinking more premium beverages. There is a focus on natural and sophisticatedly flavoured RTD options. 

·        Digital drinking will see consumers embrace technology to create cocktails at home. To help support the popularity of the home-premise and desire for experimentation amongst resident mixologists, Bacardi created Mix Lab, an app launched initially in the UK and US to provide more than 300 cocktail recipes to consumers making drinks at home, including classic serves and unique cocktails. 

·      Bacardi believes sustainability will be at the forefront of drinking habits this year, with more initiatives shaped by a focus on how spirits are made. Ethically sourced materials and businesses that support local communities will become increasingly important and a vast majority of people are willing to pay more for ethically sourced refreshments.  

·       Consumers are becoming more flexible in their approach to sobriety, and 2022 looks set to see an increase in low ABV and non-alcohol choices. 58% of consumers globally are drinking more non-alcoholic and low-ABV cocktails (NoLo) compared to a year ago. 

·      Drinkers are seeking cocktail experiences that deliver transformation, celebrate social connections, offer new experiences, and offer some sort of learning and personal growth. The report says than 40% of global consumers plan to spend more time going out to late-night bars, pubs, and restaurants. 

·    Citrus flavours are likely to remain in the limelight, driven forward by grapefruit and blood orange. A focus on spice from the food space is also impacting the world of cocktails with a rise in globally inspired flavours, such as tajin (increasing in use by 42% since 2020), furikake (+70%), and even hot mustard (+29%).

Those interested can check out the full report here:

A brilliant use for smoke-tainted wine grapes

There is a new reason to visit the Meerea Park cellar door in the Hunter Valley.

The Eather brothers are well known for their aged semillons and cellar-worthy shirazes, as well as other wines including chardonnay, a marsanne-roussanne blend and even a pinot noir. 

A recent newcomer to the Meerea Park arsenal, however, is the India Finger Lime Gin, made for Meerea Park by Mobius Distilling using Hunter-grown wine grapes from the 2020 vintage and native finger limes grown by a family friend from Grafton in the north of New South Wales.

The wine used was smoke-tainted and not suitable for release, but proved ideal for distilling.

Other botanicals used in the gin include coriander seed, angelica root, liquorice root, native pepperberry, rainforest lime and orris root. A spirit for lovers of dry rieslings.

The gin is vegan friendly and extremely palatable on its own, as well as enjoyed with tonic and a slice of lime.

The Indie Finger Lime Gin costs $80 at cellar door or through the website at

Star power kisses new cruise ship with good vibrations

We had Lady Gaga linking with Dom Perignon Champagne in a most unlikely collaboration. Now we have pop star Katy Perry as "godmother" for a new cruise ship. 

Norwegian Cruise Line says that "world famous pop icon" Perry will serve as the godmother for its newest ship, Norwegian Prima, to debut in August 2022.


Perry will perform during the christening ceremony before Norwegian Prima sets sail on its inaugural voyages from Reykjavík, Iceland, where the vessel will be the first major cruise ship christened in the Icelandic capital.


A vital element of any ship launch and dating back centuries, the tradition of appointing a ship’s godmother is a nautical custom during which the selected godmother officiates a ceremonial breaking of a Champagne bottle on the ship’s bow to bid the vessel and its travellers good fortune.

Sophia Loren is a godmother for MSC Cruises. 


“We are so excited to welcome Katy Perry, a one-of-a-kind artist and worldwide sensation, as godmother of Norwegian Prima,” said Harry Sommer, president and CEO of NCL. Harry is clearly a big fans and a very excitable fellow. 

"We are so incredibly proud that she will be part of the Norwegian Cruise Line family and look forward to launching our beautiful, innovative ship with her in August.”

Perry, playing her part to perfection, said: “My most favourite way to vacation with my family is on the water. 

"Every morning that you wake up, you get to experience an incredible new view. "I love that I get to christen her with my good vibrations, and I’m so excited for this new, beautiful, high-end, high-tech ship to take the seas, and provide once-in-a-lifetime vacations for so many families.”

Norwegian Prima will offer inaugural voyages from Southampton, England; Amsterdam; and Reykjavík. See

Thursday 24 March 2022

Big-name chef takes over at Sydney five-star hotel

Leading chef James Viles is making a huge step from a country restaurant to one of the busiest hotel kitchens in Sydney. 

Viles closed the doors of his acclaimed Biota Dining eatery in Bowral in 2020 after combined impact of bushfires and Covid pandemic.

Since then he has been consulting to Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley and Canberra-based Harvac group, for whom he opened an Asian barbecue restaurant.

Now, however, he will be joining the team at Park Hyatt Sydney to oversee the hotel's culinary operation.

Viles has 20 years of kitchen experience including stints with Aman Resorts and Orient Express Hotels.

"James' addition to our team is the first exciting step in our plans to transform The Dining Room and all our culinary experiences at Park Hyatt Sydney," says hotel general manager Samuel Dabinett.

With a superb location on the very edge of Sydney Harbour, between the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge, Park Hyatt Sydney's signature restaurant The Dining Room will be reshaped by Viles.

One thing he might want to address is the insulting $12 charge for bread and butter.

For more information on The Dining Room visit

Celebrate New Zealand wine in three different cities


UPDATE: Winetopia Auckland event has now been postponed to 28-29 October, due to ongoing Government restrictions related to the Covid-19 pandemic

New Zealand wine lovers can enjoy the nation's biggest celebration of wine in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch this winter. 


Each Winetopia event will feature up to 60 leading wineries in each city and an all-star (and all-Kiwi) cast of presenters. 


Visitors will be given an opportunity to ‘tour’ each major wine region of the country and try a range of styles from Marlborough albarino to Central Otago pinot noir, Northland chardonnay to Hawkes Bay syrah. 

A limited number of ‘golden coins’ can be purchased in advance or at the event and these will afford the attendee a taste of one of the most prestigious wines from around the country. 

Now into its seventh year, Winetopia will take place at the following locations:  

  • Auckland (May 20-21) at Shed 10, Queen’s Wharf 
  • Wellington (July 1-2) at TSB Arena, 4 Queen’s Wharf, Wellington Central 
  • Christchurch (August 26-27) at Te Pae Christchurch Convention and Exhibition Centre  

All Winetopia events will have food and a live music options.

Event founder Rob Eliott says: “More than anything, Winetopia is a fantastic community of wine lovers - some in the community make the wine and some simply enjoy it, but we’re all passionate about discovering the good stuff."

To view the wineries that will be attending the events and to book tickets visit

A valid My Vaccine Pass is required to attend all Winetopia events. If postponements due to Covid are necessary then tickets will be transferred to the new dates or refunds offered.

Meet the most expensive wines made in Victoria


Premium Yarra Valley wine producer Levantine Hill is always prepared to make a statement. 

Owners the Jreissati family and winemaker Paul Bridgeman strive for excellence - and know how to charge for it. 

Now welcome Optume, Levantine Hill Estate’s $800 celebrations of shiraz and cabernet sauvignon from the Yarra - the winery's most premium range yet and launched today. 

The 2017 Levantine Hill Optume Shiraz will have a limited release of 65 cases, and the 2017 Levantine Hill Optume Cabernet Sauvignon will have an even more limited release of 58 dozen bottles.

Levantine Hill winemaker Paul Bridgeman says he has aimed to craft wines expressing the heart and soul of the Yarra Valley. 

The wines use hand-sorted grapes sourced from several selected Yarra Valley sites, which Bridgeman says allows for more nuanced flavours and complexity. 

The bottles have been imported from France (another statement) and locally-crafted presentation boxes will hold each bottle, complete with their own individually numbered key to secure the contents. 

Levantine Hill managing director Samantha Jreissati says the release of the Optume label represents an important milestone in the company’s quest to produce Australia’s very best wines of uncompromising quality. 

“These wines are made from the best parcels of cabernet sauvignon and shiraz that we can find across the Yarra Valley from the 2017 vintage - so it is a true celebration of our entire region,’’ she said.

 “Optume was born following a chance discussion between Levantine Hill Estate’s founder Elias Jreissati and winemaker Paul Bridgeman (pictured above), who had a meeting of minds about what sort of wine could be created in the Yarra Valley if no effort or expense was spared and other premium wine growers were given the opportunity to submit grapes for inclusion in it. 

"Their shared vision is to create the optimum expression of a GI-specific, cool-climate wine - hence the name - from each suitable vintage, without regard to location, effort or cost. 

"We are very proud of the results." 

The $800 price tag is believed to make the Optume wines the most expensive in Victoria. 

“The rarity of these wines is due to the pulling together of the particular strengths as well as expressions of a small number of select single site grapes around Levantine Hill and the broader Yarra Valley, expressly targeted for predicted contributions they will have towards the final blend,’’ said Bridgeman. 

“In the end, the wine’s expression aims to be greater than the sum of all parts, which conveys a synergy and seamless balance across the palate, reflecting broader vintage conditions across the multitude of targeted vineyard sites.’’ 

Levantine Hill Optume is available to purchase online at, or in person at the Levantine Hill Cellar Door, Armadale Cellars in Melbourne and Moncur Cellars in Sydney. 

Wednesday 23 March 2022

Asian nations rapidly reopening their doors

Asia is opening its doors to vaccinated travellers with good news this week for anyone wanting to visit Hong Kong, South Korea or Malaysia. 

Hong Kong will lift its flight ban on nine countries next week, signalling a major switch from its ‘zero Covid’ policy, Business Traveller reports.

Fully vaccinated Hong Kong residents from the UK, Australia, Canada, France, India, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines and the US will be allowed to board flights to Hong Kong from April 1 provided that they have proof of a negative PCR test.

Travellers will still need to quarantine in a hotel upon arrival in Hong Kong, but this will be cut to seven days from 14.

The city’s leader Carrie Lam announced the news at a press conference, saying the flight ban was causing distress to Hong Kong people stranded overseas and is also having an impact on the city’s businesses.

She also announced that restrictions on social gatherings, mask-wearing and business and venue operations will begin to ease in three phases from April 20.

Malaysia and South Korea plan to reopen to fully vaccinated travellers from April 1 and those two countries will not require quarantine upon entry.

Visitors to Malaysia will have to take a pre-departure PCR test and antigen test upon arrival, while travellers to South Korea who have received two doses of the vaccine, or a booster jab, will be free from quarantine requirements from April 1. 

Can you guess which city has just been named the best cultural destination in Europe?

Looking for a cultural destination in Europe? 

Hoping to go beyond The Vatican, The Albert Hall and The Louvre? 

Well the people at USwitch, a mortgage company no less, say that they have done your homework for you, and decided that Prague (above), in the Czech Republic, is the best European destination for culture vultures.

USwitch notes that "Europe has always been renowned for its deep artistic roots, but with an abundance of attractions and limited time, culture lovers will inevitably have to make some tough choices when deciding which locations to prioritise".

So it undertook a survey based on the total number of theatres, museums, landmarks and cultural tours across each city in Europe to calculate a cultural score

The study then considered additional factors such as reviews and population size, to determine the most cultural cities in Europe.

Which is fine in theory. 

But any listing that does not include Paris among the the top 10 cultural destinations in Europe has to be hugely suspect. Flawed methodology or weighting, perhaps. 

Just think. The Louvre, the Pompidou Centre, the Musée des Arts et Métiers, the Musée du Quai Branly, the Musee d'Orsay, the Musée Rodin, the Paris Opera and the Opera Bastille. And I have barely started. 

So, with a big question mark, I can advise that this survey says that with a cultural score of 9.85 out of a possible 10, Prague is the most cultured city in Europe. 

It apparently has has 14.46 landmarks for every 100,000 residents and the most monuments of any city in Europe. It also benefits from having the most theatres (1.89 per 100,000)28.6% more than the number of theatres in London

Prague is a delightful city, certainly, with great history and immense allure. It has a delightful location on the River Danube and attractions including Prague Castle, the Astronomical Clock and the Charles Bridge among others. But...

With cultural hotspots such as the Rijkmuseum, Amsterdam (9.81/10) has the most museums per 100,000 people in Europe (7.66), and is the second most-cultured city in the continent, the survey says. Maybe they have been bonging on.  

Dublin is the third most cultural city in Europe, with a score of 9.48/10, apparently boosted by the Irish Whiskey Museum. 

Stop laughing out loud at the back! 

Then come Rome, Munich, Copenhagen, Budapest, London and Berlin in equal eighth, then Milan and Vienna. Poor Paris must be mortified.     

For full details of the survey visit

Global conglomerate heads for the African bush


Global hotel conglomerates and African safari lodges would seem to be unlikely bedfellows but ...

Marriott International has just signed an agreement with Baraka Lodges Ltd to enter the Africa safari lodge segment.

JW Marriott Masai Mara Lodge will be the company’s first safari lodge, located within the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya.

The retreat expects to welcome guests from 2023.

The new-build lodge will feature 20 private tents, including one presidential canvas-topped pavilion and two interconnecting canopied suites.

Shared spaces will include a restaurant, lounge bar, spa, and a large outdoor terrace with fire pits that will play host to traditional Masai dance performances in the evening (ugh!).

“We cannot think of a more perfect retreat than the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya,” said Bruce Rohr, vice president and brand leader for JW Marriott, Marriott International.

“JW Marriott Masai Mara Lodge will offer guests a luxurious backdrop as they connect with nature and wildlife as never before," he said. 

"We are thrilled that the JW Marriott brand will be welcoming adventure travellers, including families, to this breath-taking part of the world.”

Masai Mara is home to lions, leopards, buffalos, rhinoceros and elephants. Between June and September, the reserve is also host to the annual great wildebeest migration, when more than 10 million animals travel a distance of 1,800 miles from the Serengeti in neighbouring Tanzania.

Marriott International currently operates more than 120 properties in Africa across its portfolio.

I suspect nervous American tourists might feel more comfortable visiting the jungle when they stay with a familiar name.