'You are creating some really outstanding wines here, so keep doing what you've been doing.'
- Winemaker Tim Kirk of Clonakilla addressing winemakers from the Hilltops region at the 2013 Annual Wine Dinner
In the 1860s, Croation immigrants planted vineyards in the area and by the early 1900s Hilltops had won prizes at the Sydney Wine Show. The vineyards were neglected during and after WWII, and sadly by 1960 the vines were pulled out and cherries planted in their place. According to The Global Encyclopedia of Wine: 'In 1975 grapegrowing was reintroduced to Hilltops in a small way at the Barwang Vineyard,' which was then purchased by McWilliams in 1989.
Today there are 13 or so producers with five cellar doors, and some outstanding award winning wines are being produced, as pointed out by Tim Kirk, who uses fruit from the region to produce Clonakilla Hilltops Shiraz (see 7. below). The high altitude and cool winter climate with warm, dry summers, coupled with rich terra rosa soils (a type of red clay limestone soil) contribute to the quality of the region's wines.
Hilltops Wine Dinner...
Dishes on the menu were created from Lyndey's Taste of Greece cookbook and included: olives marinated with lemon and fennel tzatziki and fava dip with flat bread crisps; followed by platters of vine leaves stuffed with haloumi; pumpkin fritters; pork souvlaki with skordalia; and 'spezofai', a tomato-based dish with alpaca sausages. For mains, there was bandit's lamb in paper parcels with salad of black eyed peas, olives and herbs with silverbeet and a fresh dill pilaf. The dessert platters featured cheesecake and poached quince with orange flower water (my favourite); as well as an orange, walnut and olive oil cake with spice syrup; and divine ouza frappe.
Busy creating this feast in the Town Hall kitchen, which I understand has yet to be upgraded (!), were local chefs Rob and Kerry Provan from The Pastor's Pleasures, and Susie Forrest from Zouch Catering, supported by a team of local students and volunteers.
Tyson Stelzer spent much of his time before dinner tasting some four dozen wines from the region (and said he had stained teeth to prove it), before announcing his list of the top ten Hilltops wines:
- Moppity Vineyards Lock & Key Single Vineyard Hilltops Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
- Moppity Vineyards Hilltops Shiraz 2012
- Grove Estate The Cellar Block Shiraz Viognier 2012
- Moppity Vineyards Lock & Key Reserve Hilltops Shiraz 2012
- McWilliams Barwang GDR Hilltops Cabernet Sauvignon 2009
- Moppity Vineyards Reserve Hilltops Shiraz 2010
- Clonakilla Hilltops Shiraz 2012
- Freeman Rondo Rondinella Rosé 2012
- Chalkers Crossing Hilltops Riesling 2012
- Freeman Altura Vineyard Nebbiolo 2010
Those who appreciate the very best Australian wines might like to add these Hilltops labels to the shopping list.
Lyndey's cheesecake with muscatels...
CHEESECAKE WITH MUSCATELS
100ml Samos liqueur wine or other sweet Muscatel style wine
200g muscatels left on the stalk
500g cream cheese at room temperature
200g goat's curd
3/4 cup soft brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
1/4 cup fine semolina
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
icing sugar to serve
Warm the wine slightly, taking care not to boil it. Soak the muscatels in the wine, preferably overnight. Preheat the oven to 160 degrees C (140 degrees C fan-forced). Grease and line the base and sides of a 20cm springform tin with baking paper. Use an electric beater to beat the cream cheese in a large bowl until smooth. Add the goat's curd, brown sugar and vanilla essence, then beat well. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in the semolina and cinnamon.
Pour the mixture into the tin and bake for 40-50 minutes, or until it is just set in the centre. Turn the oven off and leave the cheesecake to cool in the oven with the door slightly ajar. Dust the cheesecake with a generous amount of icing sugar, and serve with the muscatels and soaking wine. Lyndey's note: 'This cheesecake may crack, but I think that's part of its simple charm. You'll find its fabulous flavour and texture wins you over [sure does!]. I like to cook it and serve it at room temperature on the day it is made.' Serves 6.
Irish Lunch at Ballinaclash...
Peter and Cath Mullany (pictured below) were our generous hosts at Ballinaclash vineyard and cherry orchard on the Wombat Road, just a few kilometres out of Young. In a brand new kitchen in the shed on-site, Kerry and Rob Provan from The Pastor's Pleasures, prepared an Irish themed lunch that included a beef and guinness pie served with colcannon potatoes and mushy peas. The meal was very tasty and so filling, we very reluctantly had to say 'no thank you' to their dessert of dried fruit compote with clotted cream.
Peter Mullany's father, Michael, immigrated from County Waterford (the home of Waterford Crystal) in Ireland. The retired doctor and his Australian-born wife, Bernadette, bought the property in Young in 1965 as a small cherry orchard, where they sold from the shed door. Grape vines were planted in 1997 and varieties grown include Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Shiraz/Viognier, Rose, Chardonnay, Chardonnay/Viognier, Viognier, and Cherry.
The Ballinaclash shed shop/cellar door carries a variety of products, such as jams (cherry, apricot, fig, quince and strawberry) and sauces all made from fruit grown in the orchard. The shelves are stocked with award winning Ballinaclash wines, noted as being 'consistently excellent'. Ballinaclash also offers pick your own fruit during cherry season.
Postcards from country roads...
The old timber and steel railway bridge below is on the Galong/Boorowa line and sits alongside a rickety-looking one lane wooden bridge that crosses the Boorowa River.