The town of Orange (locals call it a small city) in New South Wales lies to the west of Sydney, beyond the Blue Mountains. Originally noted for its orchards: apples, stone fruits and cherries (but not the eponymous fruit), the region now specialises in grapes and wine production and has become something of a foodie destination.
At around 900 metres above sea level Orange specialises in cool climate wines. The vines were only planted in the 1980s and the region still boasts numerous independent, family run vineyards offering boutique and unique wines. Indeed the only large scale commercial winery is said have gone bust twice. Signature varietals are Chardonnay and Shiraz (but not the blockbuster Barossa type). Orange Wine Tours offers an ideal way to visit wineries and cellar doors hand picked for their hand crafted quality.
Ross Hill Wines offered ten tasting measures in their comfortable tasting room (each party had their own room), including their Sancerre-style Sauvignon Blanc, a delicate Chardonnay tasting of pears, a surprisingly robust, leggy Pinot Noir, and a tannic Cabernet Franc.
Standout wine: the extremely drinkable Tom and Harry Cabernet Sauvignon for only $25 a bottle.
Brangayne (named after the love potion in Wagner’s opera Tristan and Isolde) went one better with eleven wines. Their Sav Blanc was also in the French style but the standout wine was their surprisingly characterful Merlot, new this season.
Nashdale Lane perched atop a hill overlooking the ancient volcanic Mount Canobolas was the most striking location. Their modernist metal building with huge windows on three sides offered a panoramic setting for their elegant wines.
Standout wine: Pinot Gris, pear, floral, easily drinkable- described by one of our party as being “like bubbles without the bubbles.”
The final stop was at Orange Mountain Wines where winemaker Terry Dolle regaled us with stories of his unorthodox approach using traditional equipment such as the basket press. “I love Viognier and I love Shiraz,” he declared before bringing out his 12 year old son Joshua to introduce the Shiraz Viognier named after him. Had he tasted it, we asked? “No, I’m not allowed.” Eccentricity is in abundance at Orange Mountain but there’s no shortage of quality at this winery, which has won accolades from wine guru James Halliday.
Standout wine: no surprises, the Shiraz Viognier.
And the food?
The Orange fine-dining scene is said to have originated from an attempt to promote their wines – there’s little point in having a fine wine scene if your only restaurant options are kebab shop, Chinese takeaway, and a dodgy pub. Being only a small city, the dining experience is definitely a double-edged benefit with only a choice between ultra high end degustation or the aforementioned dining establishments.
One mid range exception popular with families and groups (and one of the few upmarket venues open seven days) is Zona. Set in a heritage building surrounded by well manicured grounds Zona offers informal dining, modern Australian cuisine with an Italian influence and a touch of spice.
In between cellar doors check out the Agrestic Grocer for farm-fresh dishes, wines by the glass, live music, and a shop offering local artisanal produce.