Girraween National Park, near Ballandean, Granite Belt, Queensland, Australia. An early morning walk from 6am-7:30am, before the punishing heat of the drought made walking unpleasant.
Queensland is not the first destination that would come to mind for food and wine tourism. However, one part of the state is slowly gaining a reputation for producing high quality wines. The Granite Belt has the advantage of sandy, granitic soils and a relatively high altitude that provides it with a cooler climate than its latitude would suggest.
In recent years, an increasing number of small to medium sized producers have started to produce some exceptional wines, particularly as the styles and cultivars that suit the region are beginning to be determined. Equally, other producers have experimented with unusual or lesser known cultivars as part of the “Strange Birds” scheme, which has been organised by the local tourism authority. Many of these wines are well worth trying.
In my opinion, the main attraction for visitors in the area is the numerous cellar doors. Unusually for a wine region, there is little outstanding in the way of restaurants or, except for a few local producers, food shops. However, this is more than made up for by the many cellar doors. I would recommend the region as a good destination for a short break for those living in or visiting south-east Queensland.
There are a lot of wineries locally, and consequently I have only listed a small number of them. I have limited myself to wineries I have visited and can recommend, but there are others I am not familiar with that are also no doubt excellent.
Ballandean and surrounds
- Ballandean Estate, 54 Sundown Rd, Ballandean, Qld 4382. The oldest and largest winery in the district, which was established in 1932. They have a large range of wines, including some easy-drinking wines that may not interest wine enthusiasts, as well as more serious, age-worthy wines. They also have the oldest plantings of Shiraz in the region. The Opera Block Shiraz, “Messing About” Shiraz Viognier, and Saperavi are always excellent quality. Open 9am-5pm daily, except Good Friday and Christmas day.
- Pyramids Road Wines, 25 Wyberba Lane (off Pyramids Road), Wyberba Qld 4382. An excellent small producer who make distinctive wines. In particular, their Mourvèdre and Petit Verdot are worth trying, and Bernie’s Blend is generally excellent (the exact blend varies from year to year). Open 10am-4:30pm daily.
- Bungawarra Wines, 181 Bents Rd, Ballandean, Qld 4382. Another excellent small producer, with one of the oldest vineyards in the region, producing nuanced, age-worthy wines. Open 10am-4pm daily.
- Bent Road Wine/La Petite Mort, 535 Bents Road, Ballandean, Qld 4382. One of the few organic producers in the region (but note they’re not certified), they produce interesting, distinctive wines that go well with food. They make excellent Tempranillo and Marsanne. They are also experimenting with extended maceration for both red and amber/orange wines, and use of Georgian kvevri for many of their fermentations. Open by appointment only.
- Wild Soul Wines, Horans Gorge Road, Glen Aplin, Qld 4381. A tiny local producer who make wine from their 1 ha organic vineyard, which is planted with Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, and some Merlot. The wines are light to medium bodied compared with other local wineries, but age well. Open 10am-4pm on weekends and public holidays (i.e., bank holidays), but it’s worth phoning in advance (+61 7 4683 4201) to confirm that they are open.
Stanthorpe and surrounds
- Ridgemill Estate, 218 Donges Road, Severnlea, Qld 4380. Producer of perhaps one of the best Chardonnays in the region–in my opinion, anyway. They are also one of two local wineries to produce a Riesling. The Granite Belt would seem an ideal region for Riesling given its cool climate and granite soils, but unfortunately it produces vanishingly low yields when grown here. The resultant wine is lovely, nonetheless. They also have accommodation in small cabins near to the vineyard. Open 10am-5pm Monday-Saturday, and 10am-3pm Sunday.
- Robert Channon Wines, 32 Bradley Lane, Stanthorpe, Qld 4380. Famous for their Verdelho—which they make dry, sweet, and sparking versions. They are also one of the only producers in the region to make a decent Pinot Noir. Open 10am-5pm on weekends, and11am-4pm on Friday, Monday, and Tuesday.
- Severn Brae Estate, 49 Back Creek Road, Severnlea, Qld 4352. A good small producer, who also makes his own cheese and preserves. Open 10am-5pm daily.
- Casley Mount Hutton, 94 Mount Hutton Road, Greenlands, Stanthorpe, QLD 4380 (GPS: 28.6664 S 151.8045 E). This winery is a bit off the beaten track—I got thoroughly lost on my visit there—but worth the detour. As well as excellent Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, they make a complex, age-worthy Chenin Blanc—a rarity in Australia. Another rarity is that they offer a wide range of back vintages at fairly reasonable prices. Open 9:30am-4:30pm Friday-Monday, including public holidays and school holidays
- Boireann Winery, 26 Donnellys Castle Road, The Summit, Qld 4377. One of the most widely known Granite Belt estates, who produce a range of complex, age-worthy red wines. I haven’t yet visited them since they changed ownership, but I presume the new owners are continuing in the footsteps of the winery’s founders. Open 10am-4pm Friday-Monday.
- Heritage Estate, New England Highway, Thulimbah, Qld 4376 or 747 Granite Belt Drive, Cottonvale, Qld 4375. A small winery that is known for its excellent Chardonnay. They also make an excellent Marsanne, as well as some very good red wines. I haven’t visited since the change of ownership, but they have retained the same winemaker, and the original owners have stayed on as advisors. The Thulimbah cellar door is open 10am-4pm every day, and the Cottonvale cellar door (which is attached to the winery) is open 10am-4pm Monday-Friday, and 9am-5pm on weekends.
Restaurants and cafés
Many wineries, including Ballandean Estate and Robert Channon Wines, have restaurants or cafés as part of their cellar door. I haven’t yet visited any of these, so am reluctant to make recommendations.
- Hanasuka, 13 Davadi St, Stanthorpe, Qld 4380. An excellent small Japanese restaurant, serving a range of simple but delicious Japanese dishes; opened in mid-2019. Open 10:30am-3pm & 5pm-8pm Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, and 11am-3pm & 5pm-8pm Saturday and Sunday. Closed Tuesday.
- Sutton’s Juice Factory Cidery & Café, 10 Halloran Drive, Thulimbah, Qld 4376. This local orchard has a very good café and known for its excellent (but expensive) apple pie. It also produces ciders, juices, and preserves, and offers pick-your-own apples, see the entry under ‘Other food and wine attractions’. Open 9:30am-4:10pm daily.
- Aussie Beef Steakhouse, 1 High St, Stanthorpe, Qld 4380. A decent small restaurant attached to a local motel. They serve a selection of local wines. Open 6pm-late Tuesday-Friday, 5:30pm-late Saturday, 7:30am-9am Sunday; table reservations +61 7 4681 1533.
- Vixen’s Bakery Cafe, 23 Maryland Street, Stanthorpe, Qld 4380. A good small bakery and café that’s great for a quick breakfast, lunch, or coffee. Open 7:30am-4:30pm Monday-Friday, and 7:30am-1pm Saturday.
Other food and wine attractions
Regular visitors may remember Vincenzo’s at the Big Apple as being an excellent, well stocked delicatessen. Sadly, they closed in 2018.
- Heavenly Chocolates, Pyramids Road, Wyberba, Qld 4382. A small, local chocolate producer that provides an excellent stop off on the way to Girraween National Park. Their hot chocolates are also excellent. Open 10am-4pm Mon-Fri, as well as on public holidays and school holidays.
- Sutton’s Juice Factory Cidery & Café, 10 Halloran Drive, Thulimbah, Qld 4376. A local orchard that produces excellent ciders, apple juices, and preserves. It is also possible to pick your own apples during the harvest period, and they have a wide range of heritage varieties. The café is also very good—see the entry under ‘Restaurants and Cafés’. Open 9:30am-4:10pm daily.
- Stanthorpe Cheese and Jersey Girls Café, 4 Duncan Lane, Thulimbah, Qld 4376. A small cheesemaker who produce some excellent (if expensive) cheese from their own herd of Jersey cattle.
- Severn Brae Estate, 49 Back Creek Road, Severnlea, Qld 4352. A local winemaker who also produces his own cheese and preserves. Open daily 10am-5pm.
- Stanthorpe Museum, 12 High Street, Stanthorpe, Qld 4380. An excellent small museum housed in a number of historic buildings that have been moved to the site. The museum chronicles the history of the area, particularly that of the early pioneers. There is also an interesting (but small) display of Aboriginal artefacts. While the museum doesn’t focus on the wine industry, an exhibit on the Italian heritage of the region contains some history of winegrowing in the area. Open 10am-4pm Wednesday-Friday, 1pm-5pm Saturday, and 9am-1pm Sunday; Admission $7.
- Girraween National Park. A beautiful national park that’s a great place to see some grey kangaroos, and to go for either a short, easy walk—or to try walking all the way to the top of the Pyramid for the views. “Girraween” means “place of flowers”, a name that it more than lives up to during the spring. Girraween National Park is a short drive from Ballandean and is on the same road as Pyramids Roads Wines and Heavenly Chocolates.
- Bald Rock National Park. This is just across the state border from Girraween National Park and is contiguous with it. Consequently, it’s quite a drive to get there, but well worth it. The view from the top of Bald Rock is worth the walk. Parking is $8 per vehicle.
- Note that national parks can be closed due to bad weather or bushfire danger—it’s worth checking online prior to travel.
(Disclaimer: I have no commercial or personal interest in any of the places mentioned. I did, however, work as an apprentice winemaker at Heritage Estate for a few months in 2011-2012, under the previous owners.)
5th January 2020: added a new restaurant (Hanasuka), and a bit more detail about Bents Road Wines and Pyramids Road Wines.
“But like everybody else, as Hollier says, I live in a muddle of eras, and some of my ideas belong to today, and some to an ancient past, and some to periods of time that seem more relevant to my parents than to me. If I could sort them and control them I might know better where I stand, but when I most want to be contemporary the Past keeps pushing in, and when I long for the Past … the Present cannot be pushed away.“
— Robertson Davies, The Rebel Angels
Continuing my ‘mini reviews’ or impressions of some restaurants I got to visit whilst I was in Melbourne recently, which I started with my impressions of Hawker Chan.
On my last day in Melbourne, I decided to try and find some of the alleyways for which the city is famous, and the cafés and street art that are so often features of these alleys. On previous trips to Melbourne I had looked for them, but apparently walked past them completely oblivious to what I was missing. So I’d managed to visit Melbourne and not find a decent café… not a great start!
I started by locating Hosier Lane, one of the more famous street art localities, and had a bit of a wander with my camera.
There were a couple of restaurants here that looked promising, but I decided to push on anyway.
A few wrong turns eventually brought me to Centre Place, a lane so small it’d be easy to overlook. It turned out to be a characterful lane full past bursting with tiny cafés and restaurants, all of which looked worth sampling. Certainly, one meal did not seem enough to do justice to the place. But given I was in Melbourne, I felt I had to try both the coffee and the café culture, and after perusing menus for a bit, picked the Little Denn for some lunch. The menu had quite a few options that looked tempting, but in the end I decided on the eggs florentine with rice pancakes, spinach, and tomato, and added some chorizo. I also ordered a café latte.
I suppose it’s expected that I should say that the coffee was the best I’d ever had, a revelation, a miracle of the barista’s art. I would not award it that accolade, but it was very good. (That accolade would go to The Coffee Academics in HK, for their ice drip coffee — much as I realise this might be heresy to Melbournites!). The food was beautiful too, particularly the rice pancakes; the addition of chorizo made the dish for me. Much of café culture has passed Queensland by, so it was a pleasant change to be able to sit in a good café in pleasant surrounds.
After finishing lunch, I decided I should walk around town for a bit, and then go back for a second lunch. After all, I had a late flight home, and wasn’t sure when I’d get dinner. And I certainly wouldn’t get to check out such good restaurants again for a while. It was dangerously easy to rationalise. I didn’t get much further than Federation Square. By 14h50, I was back in Central Place, and this time I decided to try Shandong Mama’s fish dumplings. At the time, I wasn’t aware that this was an offshoot of a larger restaurant in another part of the city centre, but nonetheless it proved a good choice. This was a tiny place too, with just a few tables jammed in to a small shopfront.
I’d read that their signature dish was their fish dumpllings; I went for the mackerel boiled dumplings. The menu describes this as “fresh Mackerel fillet mixed by hand with coriander, ginger and chives into a mousse-textured filling, wrapped in home made very thin dumpling skin“, which it notes is a “traditional recipe from the coastal city of Yan Tai in Shandong province“. Whilst mackerel can be overpoweringly fishy, in this dish, it was delicate and perfectly balanced with the coriander and ginger; the texture of the mousse was beautifully smooth. The dumpling skin was gorgeous too: thin, moist on top, crisp on the base. Lovely.
I resisted the temptation of a bottle of beer (of which there was a good selection), and instead tried their home-made plum juice, which was also flavoured with liquorice. Given that this was my second lunch, my decision to order ten dumplings rather than six may have been somewhat rash, but was not regretted. Much. Though the last dumpling was a struggle, it was not an unpleasant one.
By the time I’d finished and paid, it was time to walk back to Southern Cross train station to get the bus to get to the airport to get the plane. It felt like a chance to walk off lunch, in any case, and to go back over my impressions of Melbourne from a too-brief stay. I’ll be back, of course.
The Little Denn, 6 Centre Place, Melbourne, VIC 3000, Australia
Open 6h30-17h00 Mon-Fri, 7h30-19h00 Sat-Sun
Shandong Mama Mini, 5 Centre Place, Melbourne, VIC 3000, Australia
Open 11h00-21h00 Mon-Sat, 11h00-17h00 Sun, no reservations
I visited Melbourne for a few days last month, a rare chance to try a few of the restaurants there. I will post a few impressions here on the blog. They are not quite reviews: I don’t feel I can be as authoritative as that. Nonetheless, it was interesting to try some different dishes, and different cuisines.
One place I felt I really had to visit in Melbourne was Hawker Chan. This is the local branch of a Singaporean restaurant that has been described as the world’s cheapest Michelin-starred eatery, one of quite a few that have opened around Asia. It’d been a while since I’d got to eat so well, so I didn’t need much encouragement to go looking for it. And it’s not often that you get such good food for less than AU$16 (~€10.20)!
Realising that the queues would be potentially quite impressive, I tried to arrive early, getting there at around 17h20. There was already a queue, but just enough that I had time to decide what I wanted before I got to the till. It may have a Michelin star, but there’s no table service! Since the soya sauce chicken with rice is their signature dish, I had to have that. I also wanted bean sprouts, so ordered that too. There will still tables free, so I sat and waited for my meal. Again, no table service: your number shows up on a board, and you go and collect it.
I had no complaints once I actually got my dish. The chicken was rich, tender, and moist. Like Peking Duck (北京烤鴨) the skin was tender, rich, and moist, but the skin crispy and flavoursome. It wasn’t as rich as duck, but richer than I’m used to for chicken. As with Peking Duck, the meat and bone were cut through with a cleaver, allowing it to be eaten with chopsticks. The beans and rice, and the bean sprouts I’d ordered as a side, complemented it perfectly — as did the various chili sauces, and the sweet tea. Chicken can be a bit dry, or a bit bland, if not cooked well — but there was nothing to complain about here. I could understand why this dish attracted the attention of the Michelin inspectors.
It was still early when I left to get the tram back to my hôtel — but, by then, the queue was out the door and starting to stretch along the street. Another quiet weekday for Hawker Chan…!
As the tram rumbled back out to the suburbs, I had some time to think. Arriving back at the hôtel, I bought a half bottle of Marlborough Sauvignon and some chevre as a de facto desert. Impressions of a restaurant, or of a wine, can be shaped by preconceptions. Sometimes, even good food can disappoint if it fails to live up to the hype. I had high hopes for Hawker Chan, based on what I’d read, and it comfortably exceeded them. Realistically, eating out so well for so little in Australia is a rarity, so perhaps I am being less critical than I normally would. The main course was AU$6.80 (~€4.30), the soya bean sprouts AU $6.00 (~€3.80), and my plum juice AU$3.00 (~€1.90) — AU$15.80 (~€10). Nonetheless, I loved the meal, and would be a regular if I lived in Melbourne. I would be interested to see how it compares with the original in Singapore, too…
Hawker Chan, 157 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne, VIC 3000, Australia
Open 10h00-22h00 Mon-Sun, no reservations.
Late summer, at the tipping point of autumn. Harvest ahead. Cycling back to Meursault in the early evening. Rain hanging around, spitting, threatening. Grey clouds glowering overhead. As the sun disappears, the clouds relent & turn golden with the dusk; bluegrey & gold, like slate and fire, iron and gold. However the day seemed prior to this, it is a benediction; it is like the threat inherent in those splattered rain drops has passed and been forgotten.
But I was heading back to Meursault. Still in Beaune, not yet in Pommard, & needing to be back before the light faded for the evening. But I couldn’t move on: the light changed from gold to galah pink, the clouds still glowering slate grey above the vineyards.
Eventually, I got back to Meursault. Late, I struggled to find a restaurant open. Luckily, the Hôtel du Centre was still open, just. The dinning room was starting to empty. A couple, a businessman polishing off the last of a bottle of wine. I had magret du canard and a glass of red burgundy. My luck was still with me: the duck was beautiful, rich, flavoursome, seared outside and bloodily red inside. The sole mishap, that I was given a glass of Côtes-du-Rhône instead of the requested Santenay, was no mishap in that it was an excuse for two glasses of wine rather than one. What had been a desperate attempt to get something, anything, to eat, was anything but. What was to be a simple meal, an unexpected pleasure. Serendipity! The meal finished with a glass of an armagnac older than me, and a petit café.
Walking back afterwards, the sky was perfectly dark. Sodium lights lit the village, and the edges of vineyards. I walked past a clos, and looked in through wroughtiron gates at the vines, sleeping before the harvest, unworldly under the orange light. Gold to pink to orange.
HK in August, so the humidity is simply too much. I escape the city for an afternoon, to Lantau Island. It’s a bit away from the crowded streets of Central or Wan Chai. Indeed, it seems incongruous that such an area should sit so close to the urban singularity of HK, but there it is. Opposites don’t always contradict. Indeed, HK Island itself has its areas of forest: mostly, I suspect, on sites too steep to build on.
Lantau, in contrast, is small towns and villages straggling out to farmland, country houses, temples, mountains, old roads, abandoned bicycles. With no real plan, I walked around, pleased to be surrounded by fields. And, eventually, the edge of the forest, a river, a waterfall. The path goes on. I don’t have time for a long walk, I need to be back in town to see an opera that evening, but I keep onwards. There’s always the urge to look around one last corner, see one last skyline. The temple signposted ahead. A field with a striking arrangement of trees and hills.
Eventually I head back to the ferry, and to the city. By the time I get to Central, the light is golden.
2010 was the first year I visited Burgundy. By coincidence, it was a catastrophically good year across the region — more classical and less rich than 2009, but refined and built for ageing. I barely knew a grand cru from a premier cru — and, with Burgundy, there is such a lot to learn. I visited Pommard, Volnay, and Meursault for the first time, and took a bus north to see a glimpse of the Côte de Nuits. I walked around Beaune. I tried Burgundian cuisine for the first time. I visited the Hotel de Dieu. Burgundy is such a remarkable place.
I was there during the harvest, and would have seen the grapes being picked. I didn’t actually get to work a harvest till 2011, the way things worked out, but it was a good introduction.
Now, seven years on, a lot has changed. Visiting Burgundy again, too briefly, I feel lucky to be able to sample a 2010 from Volnay. Volnay was a village I didn’t immediately ‘get’. Initially, I far preferred the wines of Pommard, which are richer and more full bodied. Volnay, elegant, light, ethereal, escaped me. Over the years, I’ve drifted from preferring Pommard to preferring Volnay. Seven years. A lot has changed.
This particular Volnay — Bernard Delagrange’s 2010 Volnay 1er cru, presumably a blend of premier cru vineyards, is a perfect example. At seven year’s of age, it still seems very young. It’s fresh, and lively, and full of primary fruit. It hasn’t yet developed any aged characters. It has plenty of cherry, with a touch of pomegranate and perhaps cassis, with lots of sweet spice, and is elegant and light. I love the way the light refracts through it — still supple cherry red, translucent. Elegant. It’ll keep a good few years more. It’s a vintage — and a region — I hope to keep returning to.
Colour: light cherry
Nose: cherry, pomegranate, cassis. Dark chocolate. Sweet spice. Old oak, vanilla.
Palate: still seems v.young. Lots of red fruit — cherry, raspberry, pomegranate. Perhaps a touch of cassis. Sweet spice. Fine grained, slightly drying tannins. Moderate, berry-like acidity. Smooth, subtle/supple and medium bodied, elegant. Not the most complex Volnay, but very pleasant and typical of the village nonetheless. Very nice. 13% alcohol.
A train through (and under) the mountains. Brief glimpses of alpine streams, cold and fast flowing. A person walking through a small village. What is the connection that you could possibly have with them in this brief moment — if any?
Later, glimpses of limestone cliffs amongst oak trees. Vegetation so luxuriant it’s almost tropical. Lakes and steep drop-offs to gullies.
I am still unsure what any of this means.