By JOHN ROZENTALS
JOHN'S TRAVEL BLOG: 22 APRIL 2016
A day of absolutely sheer indulgence in the Southern Highlands
As mentioned a couple of days ago, I’ve just enjoyed a weekend reunion in the Southern Highlands with a small group of travel writers who had gotten on famously during a few days in Singapore.
While accommodation was arranged independently at the historic Robertson Hotel, a plethora of activities was organised through Destination NSW, with the emphasis very much on sampling the district’s fabulous food and wine.
The Southern Highlands certainly doesn’t get the attention it deserves in this regard, to the point where I’d almost rate it as well kept secret, though those who know might prefer to keep it that way for their own benefit.
Our first port of call was the Robertson Inn, one of Australia’s few remaining pubs constructed entirely of timber and just far enough up the road from the Robertson Hotel to require transport or more stamina than possessed by some in this group.
The menu combines a broad selection of pub favourites, such as black angus burger and tempura-battered flathead and chips, with more sophisticated dishes such as linguini with baby spinach, chilli and olives.
I and one of the others had the chef wind up the chilli content of the latter and found it just about right.
For the trip home we’d pre-booked a small van through the 05 Club, a car-hire service that operates much like a cab company but can’t be hailed on the street and works for pre-arranged fares. The trip wasn’t a hugely long one and the late-night cost of $30 for five of us was pretty reasonable and certainly avoided an unwanted meeting with an RBT crew.
The next day was winery time, this time being driven in a Highlands Chauffered Hire Car organised by Destination NSW.
We visited four wineries Sally’s Corner, Artemis, Bendooley Estate and Tertini and enjoyed relaxed and professionally run experiences in all of them. And they really were all very different.
Allen Davies is a retired solicitor who set up Sally’s Corner Wines in partnership with his wife Dawn and named it after a solicitor of a completely different kind a colourful, rather immodest woman who used to ply her particular trade on a nearby intersection.
He’s a real charmer, with plenty of tales to tell and some quite reasonably priced, good-quality wines to show off. His medium-weight Sally’s Corner 2015 Merlot really is a bargain at just $7 a bottle, and I enjoyed tasting three very different chardonnays from vintages that varied from 2009 to 2013.
Artemis, near Mittagong, offers a more sophisticated set-up under the supervision of Dutch-born cellar-door manager Sanne van der Lubbe, whose fiancé Mark Balog set up the operation in 1996 with his older brother Anton.
Pinot noir rules here, at least in the vineyard, where it is the only variety planted, with the other varieties bought from neighbouring growers.
And it’s the Artemis 2014 Close Vine Pinot Noir that proves to be the real stand out of the tasting a beguiling, charming wine that would sit very comfortably with the best dish of duck imaginable.
But there’s also enormous joy to be found in wines such as the Artemis 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, which to me indicates very much the future of the variety in Australia, and is built for complexity and aging rather than chasing the simple pungency of so many Marlborough savvies.
A board of exceptional local charcuterie, cheeses and condiments goes down an absolute treat, and we finish with some meads and apple ciders that the Balog boys also turn out.
Lunch is at Bendooley Estate, which shares its absolutely superb location with the huge, rambling Berkelouw Book Barn.
The restaurant, like the shelves, is packed to the rafters and it’s easy to see and taste why.
Executive chef Jason Hughes’ menu is filled with delectable dishes that made the day for the couple of vegetarians in the group dishes such as mushrooms from Mittagong’s famous tunnel, served with parsnip cream and pine-needle oil, and wood-roasted pumpkin served with baby carrots, fetta, almonds and raisins. My, how they enjoyed eating food that real thought had been put into.
But once again it’s the linguine which catches my eye, this time tossed with chunks of blue swimmer crab and lemony-and-garlicky sauce. The balance is perfect and this time there’s no need to ramp up the chilli.
But our next adventure calls and we unfortunately don’t have time to taste the full range of wines. However the Bendooley 2015 Pinot Gris is deliciously dry and moreish and seems to more than satisfactorily wash down everyone’s lunch.
Final stop is Tertini Wines and there were comments from our group that the organisers had saved the best till last, and certainly I was mightily impressed by the edgy individuality of the wines, presented by Linda Lambrechts and immediately demanding thought and discussion.
A small sample of Tertini 2011 Blanc de Noirs refreshed the palate nicely and once again confirmed my love for the backbone that red grapes give to sparkling wines.
But it’s the Tertini 2014 Arneis that those in the know are waiting for, and it proves to be a stunning dry white, made from a rare northern Italian variety that certainly seems to thrive in the cool air of the Southern Highlands.
Its complexity and alluring texture remind me of a well made chardonnay, but there are subtle differences too, especially when a manifold of spicy flavours reveal themselves and take hold on the palate.
As we were leaving, winemaker Jonathan Holgate was crushing grapes in fading light, taking the first steps in fashioning what I’m sure will be another fascinating wine. It was an appropriate finish to a memorable day that had had a somewhat dusty beginning but had become a real eye-opening revelation of the treasures that can adorn the glasses and plates of the Southern Highlands.
NEXT: Dinner at The Robertson Hotel, a morning of cheese tasting and a farewell lunch at one of the region’s best-known wineries.
The Robertson Hotel, 4575 Illawarra Highway, Robertson (phone 02 4885 1111 or visit http://therobertsonhotel.com)
The Robertson Inn, 89 Hoodle St, Robertson (phone 02 4885 1202 or visit http://www.robertsoninn.com.au)
The 05 Club (phone 0400 505 113 or visit http://www.05club.com.au)
Highlands Chauffered Hire Cars (phone 02 4872 3038 or visit http://www.hchc.com.au)
Sally’s Corner Wines, 257 Sallys Corner Rd, Exeter (phone 0424 183 499 or visit http://www.visitnsw.com/destinations/country-nsw/southern-highlands/attractions/sallys-corner-wines)
Artemis Wines, 46 Sir Charles Moses Lane, off the Old Hume Highway, Mittagong (phone 02 4872 1311 or visit http://artemiswines.com.au)
Bendooley Estate, 3020 Old Hume Highway, Berrima (phone 02 4877 2231 or visit http://www.bendooleyestate.com.au)
Tertini Wines, Kells Creek Road, off Wombeyan Caves Road, Mittagong (phone 02 4878 5213 or visit https://tertiniwines.com.au)
Bendooley Estate and the Berkelouw Book Barn.
Working on this year's wines ... Tertini winemaker Jonathan Holgate.
Artemis cellar-door manager Sanne van der Lubbe ... running a sophisticated operation.
Tertini's Linda Lambbrechts ... pouring wines that demand thought and discussion.