Blue Range Estate. Wine, Smiles and Spuntini

Perched high above Port Phillip Bay, Blue Range Estate is a surprising find. The journey involves travelling through the back blocks of Rosebud’s sprawling suburban hinterland, housing estates that scramble up the foothills of Arthur’s Seat in search of that all important bay view. Following the signs, a narrow gravel track winds up the side of the range, and eventually a sea of white net covered vines suggests you have arrived. The winery, with its cosy tasting room and raised platform deck with market umbrellas, is a fine place to fritter away a sunny afternoon with a wine and a snack.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
An ocean of grapes, ripening under their nets

Blue Range is not like the other wineries in the nearby Red Hill wine district. It is unpretentious with very friendly service, a small wine tasting area and an outside dining area. Franc De Cicco and his wife Filomena established the winery 30 years ago. Frank must have been a very industrious man, as he also ran a cheese factory in Coburg, an inner Melbourne suburb of Melbourne. The winery is now run by the Melone family, Cosi, Jo and their four children.

Service with a smile, and lots of stories
Service with a smile and lots of stories.

My sister and I often travel up to this winery in the sky to share a light lunch and a bottle of wine, thanks to our obliging chauffeurs! The menu is made up of spuntini, small bites of light Italian style dishes designed to go with the wine. The food is simple and tasty, but I doubt that much of it is house made. It’s cheap and works well with the sensational wines. We ordered the calamari fritti, the arancini, and Tuscan sausage with artichoke, a bottle of the 2009 chardonnay and the sensational vista was free. Other menu offerings include flat breads with various toppings and antipasto platters.

st
spuntini and wine

The vineyard produces Pinot Noir, Merlot, Shiraz, Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio. The wine list consisted of aged wines from 2009 to 2010: no youngies on the list at all. The 2009 vintage wines were made by Frank the founder, while some of the 2010 wines were made by a visiting Italian winemaker. I suspect the current grape crops are sold to nearby wineries. It’s a great place to visit if you want to taste an 8-year-old Pinot Noir, which is an exceptionally good drop.

It’s a good idea to do a full wine tasting before you choose a bottle to go with your bites. A tasting puts you in a festive mood and the sommelier or assistant needs to be well-informed and cheery. This young member of the Melone family was the perfect host, with lots of great stories to go with it. His Italian ancestors came from Benevento, the city of witches in Campania. There are some great folkloric legends about this region, a new little Italian nugget for me to explore further.

Deck at Blue Ridge Estate
Deck at Blue Range Estate

Cellar Door open from Thursday to Sunday 12pm-4pm (weather dependent, alfresco dining)

Address: Blue Range Estate, 155 GARDENS ROAD, ROSEBUD.VICTORIA. Ph 59 866560

Keep Your Eyes on the Road: Central Otago, New Zealand

Along the way, the Clutha river is dammed, forming huge inland lakes for irrigation.

Golden poplars march up steep volcanic hills, their Autumn confetti brightening this forbidding desert. The mighty Clutha river roars down below, a deep turquoise and tumultuous presence, as it moves at swift pace carrying its huge load towards the sea 338 kilometers away.  Fertile river communities huddle in valleys, surrounded by these dark majestic hills, with apples, pears, quinces and pumpkins for sale, as the orchard leaves turn scarlet. The local wines taste like their place. It is not hard to appreciate how the notion of ‘terra’ can flavour a wine. The white quartz and schist deposited in these ancient glacial valleys give that tingling mineral sensation, so readily discernible on the palate, to the Pinot Gris from Central Otago.

Wandering through small colonial towns, the old gold mining villages of Clyde, Cromwell, Arrowtown and Wanaka, enables you to step back into the 1860s. The preserved and partly reconstructed Chinese huts in Arrowtown attract many Chinese visitors from Guangdong province as Chinese tourists begin to take more interest in the history of the Chinese diaspora during the gold rush era. Old Cromwell Town is a quaint precinct within the larger modern, sprawling town of Cromwell, with ‘saved’ buildings after the construction of a dam and Lake Dunstan in the 1990s.

Old Cromwell Town
Old Cromwell Town

These small places are well-developed tourist haunts but also make good bases for day touring around the district. We stayed in Cromwell, Arrowtown and Wanaka, all quite striking in different ways.

‘Keep your eyes on the road and your hand upon the wheel’. The views are so stunning in Central Otago, it’s like driving through a dream.

Turquoise Turbulence. the Mighty Clutha river, the largest by volume in New Zealand.
Turquoise Turbulence. The mighty Clutha river, the largest by volume in New Zealand.

Wines of Central Otago, New Zealand.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

An old Italian expression always makes me laugh out loud- Voler la botte piena e la moglie ubriaca, which translates literally asto want the barrel full and the wife drunk.’ This is a lot more colourful than the English version of ‘having your cake and eating it too.’

Barrels outside Mt Rosa Winery
Le Botti Antiche. Barrels outside Mt Rosa Winery.

I was thinking about this expression often as we travelled through the wine district of Central Otago, New Zealand. As the wifely half of this travelling roadshow, I would rather have a barrel full of Central Otago wine AND a sober husband to drive me to the next wine tasting venue.

From Mt Difficulty
From Mt Difficulty

Julie and Andrew from Toi Toi Wines armed us with a fabulous touring list of the district, which included historic villages, wineries of note and good restaurants. If we tried them all, we would still be in Central Otago, which would be rather lovely indeed. Four days touring around the area was not long enough.

A vineyard on the moon?
A vineyard on the moon? The volcanic hills around Mt Difficulty.

If you plan to do some wine touring, grab yourself a local map from the Tourist Information Centre or your accommodation, which will list the cellar doors and hours of opening. The Central Otrago area has around 5 distinct wine districts and vineyards are clustered along each route. Not all vineyards are open in May. Some charge a modest wine tasting fee which is deducted from your purchase. Even if you don’t drink wine, heaven forbid, the views along these routes are stunning. You will find yourself stopping at every bend for another photo.

last of Autum vines
Last of the Autumn colours.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The wineries we visited included-

  • Wooing Tree, Cromwell. Expensive, cheapest Pinot Noir is $48.00. Wine tasting per person is also costly, but is deducted from the cost of a purchase. Small and cramped tasting room.
  • Mt Difficulty. Includes a restaurant with a fabulous view. Extremely expensive antipasto platter for two ($50). Excellent Pinot Gris. Taste those hills!
  • Brennan wines. Modest tasting shed, amusing and very informative host, excellent wines. Sensible pricing. We bought some Pinot Gris and Noir which were packed to bring home. We loved this place. Top pick.
  • Peregrine wines. Stunning building and setting. Not impressed with the 2015 Riesling we purchased. Extremely volatile. Think photo opportunities, old sheds, rolling valleys.
  • Chard Farm. We didn’t make it to the cellar door of this winery but wish we had as this wine is sensational, an absolute knock out! Recommended- Pinot Gris and Chardonnay.  Voler la botte piena di vino del fattoria di Chard! Magari!
  • Brennans wine, xxx
    Brennans wine, Gibbston

    In case you think I missed Toi Toi Wines, I should mention that they don’t have a cellar door in the area but market their wines widely throughout supermarkets in New Zealand and Australia ( Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc). In New Zealand, you can hunt down some of their reserve wines which are not available in Australia, such as their award-winning Marlborough Riesling 2013. Yum.

Stone shed, Peregrine wines
Stone shed, Peregrine wines

Next post- more on Central Otago, the most beautiful district in New Zealand.

The Italian Balinese. Massimo’s Ristorante, Sanur.

It’s not hard to find a pizza in most towns in the world, and Sanur in Bali is no exception. What is often hard to find is a genuine Italian restaurant. Wood fired pizza ovens have taken off here and there are some rather sad versions being pumped out to satisfy the Western palette, especially along the beach front restaurant strip but also in Jalan Danau Tamblingan, the main tourist drag and restaurant belt.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARistorante Massimo is as close to authentic as you can get. Let’s start with the decor. The walls are covered with photos and paintings of Massimo, as well as images of Massimo with famous people: they fill every spare space on one lengthy wall as well as on the columns throughout the room. To personalise a restaurant that has a large and passing clientele seems particularly Italian, reminding me of a famous Italian pizza chain in Melbourne. There are also many framed black and white photos of Lecce, his home town in Puglia, Italy, assorted other subjects such as Alberto Sordi, in the famous spaghetti eating scene in “Un Americano a Roma“, together with other kitsch prints.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe table service at Massimo’s is fast and efficient. Massimo employs a staff of 30 or more on the floor, in the bar, the gelateria and pizzeria. I didn’t get back into the kitchen area to count the chefs and kitchen staff. The wait staff are very well trained, the best I’ve encountered in Sanur, and, while Balinese, they have picked up lots of Italian brio and style from whoever trained them. The service is fantastic.

Free little starter at Massimo's, Sanur.
Free little starter at Massimo’s, Sanur.
Locally made Two Islands Wine is a resonably priced drop. Made from Australian grapes in Bali.
Locally made Two Islands Wine is a reasonably priced option. Made from Australian grapes in Bali.

The food is good in a traditional way. There are many dishes scattered throughout the menu from Lecce in Puglia, marked with a code, Salentu. For those who have spent time in Puglia, these dishes will bring back memories. Mr Tranquillo had linguine with granchio, fresh crab ( AU $6.90) and I chose Spiedini di pesce alla griglia, three grilled seafood skewers with prawn, tuna and squid, which came with polenta chips and greens. ( AU $7.50).

The pizzas are excellent, the best you will find in this part of Bali. They start at around IDR 65,000 (AU$6.50 or €4.70) and come directly from the wood fired oven. We had a Napoli one lunchtime and found that one pizza was ample to share. Massimo has all bases covered with a relaxed open air bar, a gelateria, and a wood fired pizzeria facing the street, as well as the formal, spacious restaurant. There is also an excellent choice of freshly made tarts and cakes from the little caffe`.

Napolitana alla Massimo

This place is hugely popular with expats, tourists, and also middle class Balinese. It is a cavernous place with inside and outside areas and is always busy. It is advisable to book at night.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMassimo Sacco has been in this restaurant for 10 years, is married to a Balinese woman, and has two children. A real autentico Italiano Balinese. And as for that man in the photo below, Massimo and I both share a love of the old films by Alberto Sordi!