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Food
Best of the Best RAS President's Medal
Words by Words Ed Halmagyi on 13 Jan 2017
The president’s medal is a unique prize honouring the very best in Australian food and beverage production. When John Fairley steps into the milking yard of his iconic artisan dairy at Picton, south-west of Sydney, the motley assortment of Jersey, Friesian and Swiss Red cows congregating in the early morning mist barely respond. Their udders are huge and distended, yet the cows are perfectly at ease, trustful, and content with the calm, persistent rhythm of the farm. He walks deliberately, purposefully, and with a composure that silently echoes off the hillsides. John doesn’t farm this land, he exists within it. A seventh-generation dairyman, John has a connection to land that is about as profound as it can be. He loves this country, and the cattle, and the milk they produce together. It’s a deep and abiding affection that underscores the quality of his remarkable milk. And the milk is truly remarkable. It’s rich and creamy, with a distinctly grassy note, the season’s sweet clover obvious on the nose. This is quite unlike large-scale commercial milk, for its flavour is infused with the terroir of Picton. EXCELLENCE AND IMPROVEMENT In 2008, John and his team from Country Valley Milk were awarded the President’s Medal, Australia’s highest honour for food and beverage producers. It is an accolade that recognises not only brilliant produce, but also the extraordinary people, businesses, systems and measures of environmental management and community engagement that must underpin all great agriculture and production. Food and beverage is not simply about what we bring to the table, it’s about our place in society, now and into the future, and a relationship with the environment and our communities. A broad proposition, it must be careful, respectful and manageable. To that end, the President’s Medal is unique as it not only recognises excellence, but actively encourages improvement in all areas, for the winners and their competitors. This award is about ensuring Australia will have even better food and beverages, embodying the highest levels of product integrity. Established in 2006, the Medal is managed by the Royal Agricultural Society of NSW. Open to farmers, producers and manufacturers from all over Australia, it is the distillation of the year-round competitions in Fine Food, Dairy Produce, Wine, Beer & Cider, and Chocolate. Overall champions from each division are pitted against one another in a triple-bottom- line analysis to find the very best of the best. This involves a rigorous examination of business plans, operational practices, community engagement and environmental management systems, global strategy and market acceptance. WINNING BENEFITS Many past winners are household names in fine dining – Tathra Oysters, Holy Goat Cheese, Milly Hill Lamb – while others are global brands like Bulla,  Yalumba  and Hardy’s. The President’s Medal reveals small manufacturers who think globally, and industrial players with the heart of an artisan. Benefits for all those involved are diverse. The process compels them to engage in new and productive ways with the challenges specific to their business, to find answers to stubborn questions, and to seek out new ways of marketing themselves. In addition, all competitors are exposed to a range of quality advice from industry professionals, chefs and retail experts about improvements they might consider, or ways to differentiate and grow. This is an invaluable consultation usually out of the reach and budget of most artisans. EYES ON THE PRIZE Then there’s the prize itself. A cash reward is provided by the RAS, along with a marketing package from one of Australia’s leading minds, Michael McQueen, and help with story production from Jason van Genderen, one of the world’s best film producers and filmmakers. This award is not simply about recognition, it’s engineered to help our very best produce companies grow, thrive and excel. There’s a great deal Australians can be proud of when it comes to our food and beverage industries. Diversity, innovation, resilience and excellence are all common values. Consequently, judging the President’s Medal is a daunting task, not simply because the entrants are from such diverse businesses, but because the economic, social and environmental standards are so high. But they will be judged, and a winner will be chosen. A DELICIOUS CELEBRATION To celebrate those achievements, the RAS is hosting The President’s Medal Awards Night in November, where a bespoke menu will be crafted by one of Australia’s most celebrated chefs, Christine Manfield in conjunction with Sydney Showground’s Tim Browne, using all the champion ingredients from this year’s competitors. It promises to be a delicious evening to which everyone is invited. Tickets will be available through www.rasnsw.com.au/presidents_medal. If you love great food, and want to taste Australia’s finest, this is an evening not to be missed.
Wine
Pursuit of Perfection - Australian Pinot Noir
Words by Dave Mavor on 2 May 2017
Australia's established Pinot Noir regions are continuing to develop and evolve remarkable examples of this varietal. But for the big future of Aussie Pinot, we may need to look west. I'll admit it - not everyone is a fan of  Pinot Noir . But that fact, in itself, is what makes Pinot so enigmatic - aficionados swoon, swillers scoff. And this suits Pinot (and its lovers) just fine because in this land of the tall poppy, it is not always favourable to be too popular. That said, Pinot is one of the most revered and collected wine styles in the world, with the top examples from its homeland in Burgundy selling for outrageous sums of money. It is generally quite delicate (some say light-bodied), and it takes a certain development of one's palate to truly appreciate its delightful nuances, perfumed aromas, textural elements and supple tannin profile. It appears that if you enjoy wine for long enough, eventually your palate will look for and appreciate the more subtle and complex style that quality Pinot can provide. A good point that illustrates this comes from winemaker Stephen George, who developed the revered Ashton Hills brand. "A lot of older gentlemen come into the cellar door and say they love Shiraz, but it doesn't love them anymore," he says. "So we are getting some of my generation moving over to Pinot Noir, and the young kids of today are also really embracing it." THE ALLURE OF PINOT (FOR THE WINEMAKER) Winemakers love a challenge, and there is no doubt that Pinot is a challenging grape to grow, and even more challenging to make. The Burgundians have certainly nailed it, but they have been practicing for thousands of years, and this is part of the key. The cool climate of Burgundy has proven to be a major factor, as is the geology of the soils there, but they have also shown the variety to be very site-specific - vines grown in adjacent vineyards, and even within vineyards, can produce very different results. Vine age too, is critical. True of most varieties, but especially Pinot Noir, the best fruit tends to come from mature vineyards, considered to be around 15 years old or more. Yields too, need to be kept low to get the best out of this grape, as it needs all the flavour concentration it can get to show its best. Australian winemakers have taken these lessons to heart - gradually developing ever cooler areas to grow Pinot, working out the best soil types, and carefully exploring the ideal sites within each vineyard to grow this fickle variety. They're also working out the best clones and the most appropriate vine spacing, and then managing the vine canopy to allow just the right amount of dappled sunlight to reach the ripening bunches. Our vines are getting older, reaching that critical phase of maturity, and yields are managed carefully to coax the maximum from each berry. Once in the winery, the grapes need careful handling due to their thin skins and low phenolic content, so physical pump-overs are kept to a minimum. These days more and more winemakers are including a percentage of stems in the ferment to enhance the aromatic and textural qualities of the finished wine, and oak usage is more skilfully matched to the style being produced. THE STATE OF PLAY OF PINOT Australian viticulturists and winemakers are getting better at producing top quality Pinot with every passing year. And that quality is truly on show in our most recent State of Play tasting. It's been five years since we last had an in-depth look at Pinot Noir in this country. And what a change we've seen in that time! The overall quality of Australian Pinot is certainly on the rise. But what is perhaps the biggest development in the last five years has been the emergence of a potential Pinot giant  in the west . As you will see in our reviews across the following pages, the established Pinot producing regions such as the  Yarra Valley ,  Tasmania  and  Adelaide Hills  are still well represented in our Top 20, but they are joined by newcomers, the cool-climate  Tumbarumba  region of NSW, and an impressively strong showing from the  Great Southern  and  Pemberton  areas of Western Australia. In fact, five wines in the Top 20 are from WA - an amazing statistic given that there were none five years ago. THE EMERGING PINOT GIANT - WA We have seen a marked increase in the number and quality of Pinots coming from the West in recent years, particularly from the vast  Great Southern  area encompassing the five distinct sub-regions of Albany, Denmark, Frankland River, Mount Barker and Porongorup, as well as a secluded pocket of the South West around Pemberton and Manjimup. So what has led to the emergence of WA as a Pinot powerhouse? According to second generation winemaker Rob Wignall, whose father Bill pioneered Pinot production in Albany, there have been a number of small improvements that make up the overall picture. He believes that climate change has been a significant and positive factor, moving the region's climate into more of a semi-Mediterranean situation with mild summer days and a reduction in rainfall throughout the growing season, leading to improvements in disease control and better canopy management. In addition, Rob feels that better oak selection and winemaking practices such as 'cold soaking' of the must prior to fermentation have led to improvements in the finished product. He is also a strong advocate for screw caps, believing that the delicate fruit characters of Pinot really shine under this closure, and that they also enhance the age-ability of the wines. Luke Eckersley, from regional icon Plantagenet Wines in Mt Barker, points to the variations in micro-climates and soil types across the Great Southern region as a factor. "Pinot Noir styles are varied with complex savoury styles from Denmark; elegant perfumed styles from Porongurup; rich fruit driven styles from Mount Barker; big robust styles from Albany; lighter primary fruit styles from Frankland River," he says. Michael Ng, winemaker from Rockcliffe in Denmark, adds that the cool climate with coastal influences allows full flavour development in the fruit, while still allowing for wines of finesse and savoury complexity. And a bit further west, Coby Ladwig of Rosenthal Wines points to the steep hills and valleys of the Pemberton region creating many unique micro-climates that enable varied grape growing conditions, "allowing us to create extremely complex and elegantly styled wines from one region", he says. While neighbouring Manjimup, with an altitude of 300m and therefore the coolest region in Western Australia, has cold nights and warm days ideal for flavour enhancement. PERFECTING THE FUTURE In summary, Pinot Noir in Australia is in a healthy position, with the established regions in Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia producing more consistent and ever improving results. Equally exciting are the emerging Pinot Noir regions such as those in WA, as well as Tumbarumba and Orange, that show that the future for Pinot in Australia is bright. So, if you find your Shiraz doesn't love you as much anymore, perhaps look to Pinot, and when doing so, glance west. THE WINE SELECTORS TASTING PANEL The wines in this State of Play were tasted over a dedicated period by the  Wine Selectors Tasting Panel , which is made up of perceptive personalities and palates of winemakers, international wine show judges and wine educators. With an amazing 140 years collective experience, they love wine and they know their stuff.
Food
Top eats in the Hunter Valley
Words by Patrick Haddock & Mark Hughes on 7 Aug 2015
The Hunter Valley Wine Region is fast becoming a mecca for foodies. From casual bites to artisan cheeses and full degustation fine dining, there is a burgeoning restaurant scene that is exciting locals and visitors alike. Here is our list of the Hunter’s top 20 culinary delights. Muse 1 Broke Rd, Pokolbin (02) 4998 6777 Hands down the Hunter’s best fine dining destination conveniently located at the gateway to the vineyards inside the sleek architecture lines of Hungerford Hill winery. Chef Troy Rhoades-Brown uses the best seasonal produce to serve immaculate dishes such as butter-poached scampi tails, slow-cooked lamb and his signature Muse Coconut dessert. Restaurant Botanica 555 Hermitage Rd, Pokolbin (02) 6574 7229 Restaurant Botanica at Spicers Vineyards Estate has made a name for itself thanks to its emphasis on sustainability. They make fresh bread daily and use their on-site kitchen garden to create healthy and locally sourced dishes that deliver freshness and flavour. Margan Restaurant 1238 Milbrodale Rd, Broke (02) 6579 1317 Margan uses produce from its one-acre kitchen garden and orchard in its the Meditteranean-inspired meals and complements it with Andrew Margan’s award-winning wines. A delightful atmosphere with views of the Brokenback Range.   Bistro Molines 749 Mount View Rd, Mt View (02) 4990 9553 Located at Tallavera Grove Bistro Molines is coveted by locals as one of the Hunter’s little gems thanks to the consistent cooking of Frenchman Robert Molines, who arrived in the region in 1973. Rustic provincial cooking paired with a stunning wine list. Circa1876 64 Halls Road, Pokolbin (02) 4998 4998 One of the new culinary highlights of the Hunter, located in the refurbished site of the historic Robert’s Restaurant at Pepper’s Convent. American-born chef George Francisco uses seasonal produce from the on-site kitchen garden to create a superb menu of modern Australian with French flair. Muse Kitchen Hermitage Rd, Pokolbin (02) 4998 7899 Muse Kitchen (at Keith Tulloch Wines) is the second Hunter venue from Troy Rhoades-Brown, this one somewhat more laid back but still delicious seasonal produce. Breakfast at the weekends is not to be missed. Esca 790 McDonalds Rd, Pokolbin (02) 4998 4666 Located at Bimbadgen Estate, Esca serves modern Australian cuisine such as confit pork belly and Madgery Creek venison. Match with Bimbadgen wines or something off the varied international list. Verandah Restaurant Palmers Lane, Rothbury (02) 4998 7231 Situated at Calais Estate, the Verandah Restaurant serves up delicious tapas or a la carte dishes such as slow-braised pork belly.   Make sure you save some space for the signature dessert of soft chocolate soufflé with Baileys and almond ice cream. Sabor 319 Wilderness Rd, Lovedale 1300 958 850 Sometimes it’s a sweet hit you require and if you like to skip mains, Sabor is the place for you. Portuguese custard tarts, gourmet ice creams, hand made chocolates and terrific coffee. Café Enzo Cnr Broke & Ekerts Rd, Pokolbin (02) 4998 7233 Located next door to the boutique wines of David Hook in Peppers Creek village, Café Enzo’s charming Tuscan-inspired courtyard is open for traditional breakfast, and lunch dishes such as barramundi on kipfler potatoes & pea purée.   Mojo’s on Wilderness 84 Wilderness Rd, Lovedale (02) 4930 7244 By day you can stop by the deli and stock up on gourmet sandwiches, delicious tarts and quiches straight from the oven, in the evening, Ros and Adam Baldwin serve up cultured European cuisine with natural flair.   Restaurant Cuvee at Peterson House Cnr Broke Rd & Wine Country Drive, Pokolbin 02 4998 7881 At the very gateway of the Hunter Wine Region is Peterson House where you can taste the best sparkling wines and pair them with the freshest of oysters then stay on for the full a la carte menu using regional produce. Smelly Cheese Shop 2188 Broke Rd, Pokolbin 02 4998 6960 No trip to the Hunter is complete without a visit to the Smelly Cheese Shop. Now in two convenient locations, there’s no better way to match the wines of the region than to some of the locally made and international cheeses. A cheese lover’s paradise! Goldfish Cnr of Broke & McDonalds Rd, Pokolbin (02) 4998 7688 Unwind in this bar & kitchen in the heart of the Hunter. Down to earth, laid back dining paired with a broad cocktail list with a range of tequila, whisky, boutique beer and of course, wine. Oishii Cnr of Broke & McDonalds Rd’s, Pokolbin  02 4998 7051 Right next door to Goldfish at Tempus Two Winery you’ll find Oishii which fuses the best of Thai and Japanese cuisine. There’s sushi, sashimi and teppanayaki as well as Thai curries and salads.   Lindemans 1843 café McDonalds Rd, Pokolbin 02 4993 3700 Casual and comfortable dining for the whole family with dishes like wood fired pizzas, pulled pork and wild mushroom risotto – all at reasonable prices.   Tatler Tapas 477 Lovedale Road, Lovedale  (02) 4930 9139 Head chef Katy Carruthers has designed a delicious range of tapas delights including bacalau & potato croquetas, sardines escabeche, and Moroccan meatballs Shakey Tables 1476 Wine Country Dr, North Rothbury 02 4938 1744 Art and food collide at chef Paula Rengger’s Shakey Tables, which serves up modern Australian blended with touches from Paula’s Scottish heritage. Morpeth Sourdough 148 Swan Street, Morpeth 02 4934 4148 On the other side of the Hunter in the picturesque village of Morpeth, this is the site where the iconic Aussie brand Arnott’s started. Morpeth Sourdough serves an amazing range of sourdough breads. A must visit.
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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