Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Embla

There’s nothing better when something is simple, but simply perfect. 

Embla, the newest venture from the team that brought you Town Mouse (which y’all know I simply adore), was somewhere I had dropped by for a drink when they first opened, but just never made it around for dinner. Until your friend Chris from Brisbane randomly drops in on a Monday night and it’s simply perfect timing. 

Located on Russell Street, the wine bar (they have been quite specific in the media that they’re not a restaurant…yet) is a like a warm cavern in the distance on a cold winter’s night; candlelight flickering and casting shadows across the timber heavy interiors which give it the feeling of age, grandeur, but intimacy all in one breath. It’s cosy, and it’s easy to get lost in the selection of wine and top-notch hospitality. 

I love the wine list, the wine by the glass list is punchy, selected and not too long, but with enough things on it that aren’t familiar on it - so it’s fun to get adventurous. 

The food menu is quite similar, not too long, punchy, selected, with lots of charred items that enjoy some time in the scorching wood fire oven that looks like a dragon is opening it’s mouth every time the door is opened to pop something in, or on the charcoal open grill. 

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A plate of anchovy toast is whisked on to our table, a must, and it’s easy to see why. Hit of salt, hit of umami, hit of crunch, it whets the palate beautifully. 

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Duck liver parfait is something I can never go past, and Embla’s was a generous serve of perfectly smooth and velvety goodness. Loved the pickled radish on the side to offset the richness. Was also very kind of them to top up our quickly dwindling bowl of lavosh which I wasn’t expecting (otherwise I would’ve not held back!) 

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When I see pine mushrooms on the menu, being in season (when I visited Embla), it’s impossible to say no. Served so simply (a theme you’ll see ongoing through the night) with rosemary and soured buttermilk, my only wish was that there would be more. Perfectly cooked, the buttery and meatiness of the pine mushrooms was accentuated beautifully.

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Wood roasted broccoli with sunflower seed miso is not much to look at, or so one may think, tree trunks of broccoli charred to black on the outside, but so sweet and tender on the inside. I’m also totally obsessed with broccoli (as a kid I actually drew ‘steamed broccoli, chicken and rice’ as my favourite dish for a homework task) so couldn’t get enough of this.

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Ongoing theme yet again, but the half roast chicken was everything you could ask for. So juicy and delightful, but surprisingly, the roasted garlic was one of the most delightful components. Roasted until so soft that it’s sweet - it perfectly accompanied the chicken. Make sure you and your dining partners all have one (or enjoy them all and let the others suffer).

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We also enjoyed the roasted celeriac, I forgot what it was served with (it’s a wine bar, sue me for forgetting), but at the end of the meal when Chris and I were trying to decide our favourite dishes, this one definitely came up for me. I loved the crisp and charred edges and how comforting, homely and filling the dish was. Reminiscent for me of Town Mouse’s roasted cabbage, and the way it makes me feel. You’ll have to forgive my vague flavour profile notes…this was one of the last savoury dishes we had after a couple glasses of wine!

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Chris and I had the great honour of being one of the first people to try a new dessert on the menu that evening, a lemon curd tart made with a white sesame pastry, black sesame sugar and bananas with lemon/citrus. 

Oh my goodness. So sublime. Perfectly zesty, and sweet, but also refreshing. Great smooth texture, and absolutely loved the extra level of flavour the sesame brought to the citrus palate. We were recommended a glass of yuzushu, which was absolutely perfect and highly recommended. 

For only being a wine bar, the food offering is pretty solid and also solidly filling. Pretty sure I rolled out of there at the end of the night, although it’s almost tempting to never leave with the most warm and welcoming of service (always always take their recommendations - everyone there knows what they’re doing), cosy atmosphere and obviously delicious food and wine. 


Embla is just making the simple, simply magic - and that’s all there is to that. 

122 Russell Street
Melbourne 3000

Embla Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

West of Kin

Disclosure: I was invited to dine as a guest of the restaurant

As a Melbourne foodie, I’m definitely the adventurous sort - happy to try just about anything…but I’m definitely on the lazy side. 

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Which is why I haven’t explored the west side of Melbourne, probably as much as I should, especially at the moment, with lots of interesting new restaurants and cafes popping up all over the place. 

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West of Kin is an unexpected little oasis in a rather industrial area in the West of Melbourne in Braybrook. Although fresh this particular evening, the lovely courtyard outside the restaurant, and floor to impossibly high ceiling windows at the front of the restaurant would be absolutely charming in warmer weather. 

The ex-ETA Foods Factory that they reside in is heritage listed, so the crew had to get creative with the interior, but have succeeded in a fit out that’s contemporary, blending the old with new, but also warm and cosy. I just loved the lighting - so moody!

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The food at West of Kin is Asian fusion, and man, they pack a punch in the flavours! From the first dish of abalone congee with house made XO sauce, crunchy wild rice, spring onions and fried shallots I was completely taken by the big flavours that were also so familiar and so comforting. The congee was the perfect thick consistency, the XO sauce so rich and the black rice providing such an unexpected but delightful crunch - and all those fried shallots? So much flavour, so much texture, so delicious. Although the first dish, it was probably one of my favourites for the evening (although they also serve tis dish for breakfast/lunch). 

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Cho-gochu-jang ceviche king fish with avruga caviar, almond cream, quail egg yolk, sea cucumber, ice plant and kelp infused oil is beautifully silky, and again, I love the textures through the dish, from the crispness of the ice plant to the creamy egg yolk. The gochujang was punching with flavour too.

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The summer kimchi with nachi pear and pistachio, is everything we love about kimchi, but dialled back a bit and made just a tiny bit sweeter and al little more refreshing. I really enjoyed the nutty addition of the pistachios. 

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I did not do this dish any justice with my photos! The imitation squid ink cannelloni with prawn and squid filling, wasabi pea puree, smoked yoghurt, viola, sesame and yuzu granita is definitely on the very ‘fusion’ end of Asian fusion! Despite it’s look, the cannelloni is smooth and tender, easily cut through and lovely and creamy. 

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Our next item on the menu was simply called ‘Traditional West of Kin salad (we dare you)!’. Interesting. The salad arrived at our table, loaded with coriander, Vietnamese mint and looking lush and green. Being the initiator I am, I started mixing up the salad to serve out and couldn’t help but grin with delight at what I saw come up. 

No wonder they didn’t want to spell out all the ingredients, as I’m sure some would baulk away from it. Amongst all the herbs, hid some tripe and spleen (sorry to give away the secret guys). In all honesty, this and the abalone congee were my favourite dishes of the night. I absolutely loved how refreshing the salad was and the huge kick of chilli with the cooling mint and coriander and peanuts with it. The tripe and spleen itself were just delicious - but hey if you don’t like it, I’ll take your share. No problem!

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Another stellar dish was the deep fried flounder with pips in black bean sauce, crunchy wild rice and can nouc. Again vibrant with flavours, possibly one of the most aromatic black bean sauces I’ve had in a while and perfect with the sweet and utterly delicious flounder. 

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By the time the Korean bossam with braised pork belly, summer kimchi, seasonal salad and herbs, ssamjang and house made XO sauce came out - I was about ready to burst! I got a bit lazy and didn’t quite DIY a whole bun together, but I did sample a bit of the pork and although a little anaemic looking, gorgeously tender and melted in your mouth. 

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We finish on a sweet note naturally, with Valhorna chocolate mousse with fresh and freeze dried raspberries. Classic, not overly sweet and lovely and cocoa-y. 

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The Taiwanese pineapple cake with coconut ice-cream was also punchy with flavour - I found the cake a tad dry for my tastes, although I liked the flavour but the coconut ice-cream was just divine. 


The calibre of food at West of Kin was outstanding, and I think it’s amazing that the owners have taken the punt of getting out of town and bringing something new to the area. It’s definitely some of the most vibrantly flavoured, interesting and yet comforting and familiar flavours I’ve had recently. I only wish it was closer…or I could just be a little less lazy! Been thinking about revisiting for brunch, where congee and soup noodle breakfast dishes are calling in the frosty, frosty weather…

17 Lacy Street
Braybrook 3019

West of Kin Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Vaporetto

I love Vaporetto. 

I love how cosy it is, how accessible it is, and the fact that it is in Hawthorn. As Melbourne continues to be saturated in the CBD and in general with cafes, it’s interesting seeing interesting, and very good, suburban restaurants pop up. I know Hawthorn’s not super suburban - but it ain’t the city. 

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From the get go Vaporetto is cosy and intimate, as you squeeze your way through the front bar where Aperol spritz and Sangiovese are poured cheerfully, and are seated in the restaurant. 

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There are various seating options, from your standard tables, the outdoor courtyard, the mezzanine, and my favourite spot - which we were lucky enough to get, right by the kitchen where one becomes mesmerised by the sights, sounds and smells. 

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And oh my, the food! 

As the name suggests, Vaporetto is inspired by the owner’s love affair with Venice, and the food is quintessential Italian - Venetian classics to be more specific with all the best that Melbourne has to offer. It’s casual and light, but elegant food that packs a punch. 

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Soft squid ink polenta with dressed Spanner crab, parmesan, chill and wild fennel pollen to begin with was just beautiful. Comforting, but so vibrant as well, with a solid kick of chilli and a bit of richness from the parmesan too. 

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Grilled calamari with pine mushrooms, Jerusalem artichoke, smoked eel and farro was also beautifully balanced, a seafood dish that was surprisingly earthy and very appropriate for autumn. Loved the char on the calamari too!

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The mains are pure comfort. Brad’s gnocchi with rabbit argue, porcini, black truffle, salt bush and truffled Pecorino is everything you want in this weather at the moment. Fluffy, light gnocchi, crisp fried salt bush and just overall hearty goodness. I definitely poked my fork into Brad’s plate a multitude of times. 

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I on the other hand, opted for the Hunter Valley spatchcock, butterflied and marinated with white truffle and sage which had me reminiscing of a similar style dish my last visit to Italy some years ago. I love how simply it is presented, just beautifully cooked spatchcock that is juicy and moreish, simply but deliciously marinated. This is really my kind of food. 

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I’m such a sucker for cauliflower, so of course had it with pancetta, hazelnut and pine nuts, parsley and truffled Pecorino on the side. Loved how tender the cauliflower was, and it’s really just a marriage made in heaven with cheese and pancetta no?

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To finish, roasted quinces, chocolate and fig and mascarpone ice-cream. Another beautifully balanced dish, that Brad actually tucks into as well as it’s not too sweet. I’m not usually a fan of quinces, but I enjoyed the smooth texture that Vaporetto managed to get and the chocolate is just insanely cocoa-y and lovely. 

Vaporetto really hits a sweet spot in Hawthorn, absolutely breaking every Italian restaurant cliche. The food is vibrant, full of flavour - and quite unexpected (I mean spanner crab and polenta?). The atmosphere is warm and cosy and hospitality is true Italian style - like you’re in their home. Could you ask for much more? 

Rear 681 Glenferrie Rd
Hawthorn (Enter via Grace St) 
VIC 3122

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Dinner with the Angels - A Gastronomique Affair

Last year, I had the great pleasure of attending Anglicare Victoria’s Gatronomique event - which is an absolutely fabulous evening raising money for the great work they do in looking after the futures of children, young people, families and adults. Anglicare Victoria is the largest foster care provider, and over 2014-15 placed 2091 babies, children and young people with foster carers. 

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This year, the annual Gala Dinner has been newly renamed ‘Dinner with the Angels - A Gastronomique Affair’, but still has all our favourite things - great chefs, great food, great cause. 

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Chefs and restaurants kindly donate their time and produce, to deliver a spectacular feed to the hundreds of people who attend the evening. Last year, I had the great pleasure of being seated at a table that Estelle Bistro, and therefore Scott Pickett, was serving and our meal was pure delight.

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Delicate green tomato and mozzarella (I think) entrees, followed by great big share plates of pork and heirloom carrots makes the evening social and very much an evening of sharing. 

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This year Scott Pickett is once again taking part, but other chefs you could also be enjoying the food of include:

Nicky Riemer from Union Dining
Dusty Treweek from Bottega
James Kummrow from Fatto
Matt Dempsey from Gladioli
Zac Cribbes from Lucy Liu
Stuart Munro from Merricote
Peter Roddy from Noir
Tim Goegan from Supernormal
Tony Twitchett from Taxi Kitchen
Stuart Bell from Ten Minutes by Tractor
Andy Harmer from The Point Albert Park
Graham Jeffries from Tulip
Rhys Blackley from Circa
Ed Navghare from Tonka

…amongst others! Talk about a star studded evening of cuisine! 

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Between the food, touching stories from people who’ve benefited from Anglicare Victoria’s aid, great music and entertainment (Caryn and I burnt up the dance floor!) and amusing auctions, you’re in for a great night. I definitely can’t wait to attend again this year. 

Date: Wednesday 7 September 2016 - 6:30pm - 11:45pm
Venue: Peninsula, Central Pier, 161 Harbour Esplanade, Docklands, Melbourne
Tickets: $300 per person (includes a $150.00 donation for which a tax receipt will be issued)

(03) 9412 6133

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Wine Compass Tour in Yarra Valley

Disclosure: I was invited as a guest on a wine tour with Wine Compass 

I’m one of those people who rarely go for the ‘Feed Me’ menus at restaurants. I usually have an idea of what I want (and have done the research on what I want), and like to build my own adventure. I’m like this with travel too, often thoroughly planning and finding interesting places to go and things to do.

However, when Adam Nicholls, found of Wine Compass, came to me and asked if I’d like to do a tour of Yarra Valley, an area I thought I knew relatively well, I was positively thrilled to only know one of the three wineries on our itinerary. 

Wine Compass started almost as a hobby, Adam being a wine aficionado, with a focus on wineries in the Mornington Peninsula, but has more recently been expanding his Yarra Valley offering. 

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What’s really great about Wine Compass’s tours though, is how flexible and tailored they are for the group. It’s not just a stock standard offering for everyone. Adam caters the tours depending on your group size, and what you’re after. Big group out for just a fun birthday celebration? Or perhaps you’re relatively well versed with the Yarra Valley and you want to get to know the makers and go wine geek a bit? Adam can cater for both. 

So bright and early on a fresh, bur sunny Sunday, Adam picked up my girlfriend, Caryn, and I for a gloriously fun afternoon out in the Yarra Valley. 

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Although Adam took the two of us out, the best value really comes when your groups are around 5 to 8 and are about the same price as any of the other Yarra Valley tours. Regardless, you’re always paired with a host - who not only drives you but actually is interested and knowledgable about wine as well, so you can all share in your enthusiasm together if you want (although they will be far more sober than you by the end of the day).

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Our first winery stop of the day, was Pimpernel Vineyards, a winery I may have never come across, located further down on the same stretch of road as Levantine Hill and Rochford wines. Intimate and unassuming, we were greeted by the owner Mark Horrigan, cardiologist by day, wine maker and lover all other times, who enthusiastically led us straight down from the cellar door to where all the magic happens. 

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Mark has a passion for old French domain wines, and utilises dry land cultivation techniques - so no watering, and all by hand to produce smaller but intensely flavoured grapes, higher higher skin to juice ratio, to make intensely flavoured wines. The grapes are all picked, by hand of course, and they’re even careful to lay the grapes out flat in one layer - more than that and they’ll start crushing each other and losing juice. 

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Mark easily moved through his labyrinth of barrels; Pimpernel has a loose 100 barrel rule, so that they can always know and stay on top of what’s happening in every barrel. It was clear how well Mark did know his wines, as we sampled the range. A particularly interesting exercise was sampling the most recent Chardonnay harvest, but from 5 different barrels and how distinctively each barrel’s characteristics could be tasted. Obviously these are all blended later for a balanced product, but even in that you can subtly taste the different barrels and woods doing their thing. 

We went through Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Mark even blended us a pretty darned good GSM right on the spot. 

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Then it was time to actually go taste all the final product! 

Tip - have a snack before you meet with Mark, I was definitely feeling the stand struggle after an hour in the cellar!

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Pimpernel’s final products are just stunning. Elegant in execution, but not lacking in personality and flavour. The Chardonnay is vibrant, with gentle oak, and Caryn and I are smitten with the Pinot Noir’s. Pinot Noir No.1 is the ‘feminine’ pinot noir, velvety smooth, berry and plummy. Pinot Noir No.2 is the ‘masculine’ pinot noir, more structured, a little more earthy and robust. All of Pimpernel’s wines are stunning though, was definitely a struggle not to empty out the wallet right there and then!

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Generously lubricated after our first session, Caryn and I roll back into the car and Adam takes us to our next destination, Oakridge Wines.

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I have been to Oakridge, but it’s been a long time since I last visited, and the revamped cellar door and restaurant are looking spectacular. One whole side of the building is just glass, over looking the grapevines and the stunning scenery of the valley. 

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Oakridge does a beautiful selection of what the Yarra Valley is great at, surprisingly delicious Chardonnay (I love what wineries are doing with Chardonnay as a whole lately), fruity and delicious Pinot Noir, and some more unexpected wines. Meunier is not often made into a wine on itself, usually it’s blended to make Champagne, but on it’s own is an incredibly light and airy red - surprising for it’s colour! Although not my usual preference, I could imagine how good this would be ins summer, slightly chilled. 

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Chef Matt Stone is the brains behind the kitchen, with a focus on seasonability and local produce, and I like that he keeps the menu options limited but beautifully presented. 

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Dishes such as caraway pastry with smoked trout, caviar and fine herbs, and wild mushrooms with lentils and coddled egg. I of course, could not go past the silky smooth chicken liver pate with baby radish and decadently buttery brioche. 

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Get the chunky hand cut chips, they’re golden and divine. 

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Mains are simple, but so elegant. Lamb, pumpkin, seeds, harissa and fetta for Adam, duck breast with swede, chestnut and raspberry vinegar for Caryn, and the rainbow trout with XO butter with broccolini for me. I was amazed at how generous the portions were. 

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Trout’s way underrated in my opinion, and I absolutely love seeing more and more of it come up on menus. At Oakridge it was perfectly cooked, loved the heat from the XO sauce and the crunch of the broccolini with it. Perfect.

Although very, very sorely tempted by dessert, with the combination of all the wine previously and the generosity of the serving sizes, we had to skip this time. Blasphemy, I know!

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So on to our final destination it was. A little further from the main Yarra Valley winery area, and off the beaten track, we pulled up in front of Yileena Park. 

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First thing you notice? It’s so peaceful, further removed from the main drag, the cosy little cellar door is surrounded by greenery and lushness; where we were greeted by the bleating of a cheerful 3 day old lamb that frolicked in a paddock and two of the sweetest donkeys. Poppy and Freckles happily amble over to the gate for a chin rub (and a carrot if you’ve got one). 

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Bob and Diane Curtis, who first established their vineyard in 1998 and then opened their cellar door in 2006 (8 years later!) have done an amazing job in creating the most cosy and intimate of spaces, where you want to sink into a chair in front of the fireplace with a good book and a big ol’ red. 

And Yileena Park is exactly where you’ll get those big ol’ reds that I love. Bob sits down with us and takes us through some of their beautiful wines - their releases are usually no younger than 4 years old as their reds are big in tannins, bit in structures and are more traditionally crafted which means they need a bit longer to age before they’re good for drinking. Even then, you could easily age any of the wines Bob introduced to us for a good time longer (but they’re definitely great for drinking as is!)

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Even the Chardonnay is aged, a 2012 release, which is simply a rich golden colour and gorgeously fruity on the palate still. 

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As my dad was always a big fan of big red Shiraz’s as a kid, I adored everything we drank at Yileena Park, despite many of the wines being 6 years old, they were heaving with dark red fruit and just a nice amount of tannin that had started to soften. 

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The 2008 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon was simply a stunner and one of the best things I had drunk all day. Gorgeously smooth, but still retaining structure, this was a beautifully matured wine which just feels like velvet as it goes down. Totally fruity too. 

Not pictured but bought, were the Botrytis Semillon and Aged Topaque, both fantastic after dinner wines which aren’t too sweet or sugary on the palate but generous and rich in fruit. I think I only ended up having a couple of glasses of each when I got home and my dad promptly devoured the rest before I had a chance to get to it over the next week!

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Bob also works with a friend to develop a range of smoked goods, from merlot infused smoked salt, smoked olives and smoked olive oil to smoked duck and an amazing smoked stilton cheese that just tastes like bacon-y goodness. Yeah, I went home with some of that for sure!

Although Adam had initially said we could see how we were going and could pop into a bakery, or dairy if we had the time, by the time we filled up on wine and the stories of the winemakers, 3 places was all we could manage! 

Throughout the whole day Adam had kept the pace easy and relaxed, Caryn and I feeling we always had a good feel of everywhere we went but never staying for too long either. Adam’s insight and knowledge was also fantastic to be able to tap into and his tolerance, as we got more and more, uh, lubricated with wine, was also very impressive! 


Easily one of the must fun Sunday’s I’ve had in a while, and highly recommend if you’re looking for a tour or a slightly more unique experience in the wineries, where you get to meet the wine makers, explore new places and feed adorable donkeys. 

1300 339 463