'You are creating some really outstanding wines here, so keep doing what you've been doing.'
The town of Young is at located the centre of the Hilltops wine region, an area which is earning recognition for successfully producing premium quality wines. Boorowa and Harden are also part of this exciting new region, which is also popular for its fresh produce, notably cherries (an annual harvest of around 600,000 cases for the domestic and export markets!), and other stone fruit such as plums, nectarines, apricots, peaches, apples and figs.
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...
Motels in the Young area were booked out during the 24-25 August weekend of the Annual Hilltops Wine Dinner, when 140 guests from as far afield from Brisbane, Sydney and Canberra gathered in the Town Hall to toast the Hilltops region. The event was hosted by celebrity chef and cookbook author, Lyndey Milan, together with wine guru Tim Kirk, of Clonakilla, and renowned wine writer, Tyson Stelzer.
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:
Those who appreciate the very best Australian wines might like to add these Hilltops labels to the shopping list.
Lyndey's cheesecake with muscatels...
Lyndey Milan has kindly shared her recipe for the exquisite tasting cheesecake which was part of the dessert platter served during the wine dinner. It is reproduced with her permission from Lyndey and Blair's Taste of Greece (Hardie Grant Books) and in the book is served with muscatels soaked overnight in a sweet muscat style of wine. At the dinner it was served with morsels of poached quince and an orange flower water syrup (see the collage above). The quince recipe is also in the book.
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.
Above: Tim Kirk, Lyndey Milan and Tyson Stelzer, were the special guest hosts of the Hilltops Wine Dinner which showcased premium wines and fresh regional produce from the Hilltops region. Entertainment was provided by local musical trio, Shiraz.
Irish Lunch at Ballinaclash...
The celebrations continued on Sunday, with a number of the region's cellar doors offering special themed lunch menus, including Irish at Ballinaclash, Indian at Grove Estate, French at Chalkers Crossing, Italian at Freeman's Vineyard, Australian at Bluestill Cafe and Gallery, and lunch at Woodonga Hill Winery.
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...
Peter loves nothing more than driving the Jeep on quiet country roads. Our journey to Young on the southwest slopes of New South Wales takes us via winding backroads that offer picturesque rural vistas worthy of a postcard or two. The earthy tones of a weathered post and rusty fencing wire (above) are in stark contrast to the rich green and gold of the canola field in the background.
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.
Below: a dead tree stands like a lone sentinel on a sweeping hillside covered in golden canola, as a storm brews in the distance.
Below: recently shorn sheep graze on lush green pastures with baby lambs afoot, the blue Springtime sky dotted with clouds.
Mark your diaries for the The National Cherry Festival, which will be held from 6-8 December 2013, and the Lambing Flat Festival to be held in the early months of 2014. There is also a regular Farmer's Market, held in Anderson Park in Young on the first and third Saturday of each month. For more information about tourism and accommodation in the region, go to the Visit Young web site or for details about Hilltops wineries, visit the Hilltops web site.
Thank you to Visit Young for hosting our tickets to the 2013 Annual Wine Dinner, and for a few of the photographs above. Thank you also to Pete and Cath Mullany, who kindly hosted our lunch at Ballinaclash.
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Dear readers, tell me, do you enjoy journeys by car? Australian readers, have you been to the Hilltops area in NSW and are you familiar with the region's award winning wines?
Hello. I'm Liz, a writer, cook and traveller based in Canberra, Australia.
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.