Ross Hill Estate, Orange
The October Long Weekend
By Becca Johnstone
It was surreal. I was seated at a table supping Chardonnay, in what was once a giant apple-processing shed, surrounded by cherry trees and oak barrels. A cold, rainy, Sunday in Orange – it was the thing of poignant afternoons in the French countryside, curled up with Madame Bovary. Except that there were 90 other people at my table, one bikie and a tantalising onslaught of chilli and lime and fish sauce coming at me. Four Thai chefs and three city-slicking fine-dining restaurant staff made the journey West to prepare a 9 course Royal Thai banquet (matched with 8 premium wines) for 100 very hungry, very thirsty people. Welcome to the Long Lunch…
Ross Hill Wines are a family owned and operated company situated at the base of Mount Canobolas in the heart of Orange’s wine region. They are relatively young for a vineyard, starting in 1994. They have a great environmental policy that sees the use of no insecticides, and a reduced irrigation scheme. They are in a cool climate, high altitude area of the state, which lends itself perfectly to wine production. Sailor’s Thai is one of Australia’s flagship high-end Thai restaurants. The brainchild of the Godfather of Thai food, David Thompson and restaurateur Peter Bowyer, Sailor’s has three locations across Sydney: The Rocks, Pott’s Point and a new restaurant at The Ivy. Combine Ross Hill’s cool climate wines, the spice and energy of Sailor’s Thai’s food with a boozy business meeting and an idea is born: “I know! We’ll put on a Thai banquet in Central NSW! And invite 100 of our closest friends!” I love it.
I have dined at Sailor’s a couple of times before, and was thrilled to see that my favourite dish was to be coming out first: a delicate starter of Yamba prawns, peanuts, chilli, roasted coconut and lime with caramel dressing on betel leaves. But alas! Disaster had struck last night in the Ross Hill kitchen. The poor fresh Thai herbs, not used to the chill of Orange in October, froze – rendering them all but useless. It is one thing to run around sourcing coriander and mint at Orange Woolies, but an entirely other trying to find betel leaves! So our betel leaves were thawed, and floppy unfortunately. But no one was complaining – the explosion of flavour in your mouth would forgive nature, just this once. This intensely sweet, spicy morsel coupled with the 2010 Pinnacle Pinot Gris was just splendid. It was going to be a very good day…
Next we had an interesting dish of smoked pork sausage, red chilli paste and peanuts dressed with salmon roe and eschallots. Along side these was a little complimentary number, not on the menu, of oysters topped with salmon roe and kaffir lime leaf. When I read this I was skeptical – smoky pork, red curry and salmon roe? But was pleasantly surprised when I popped it in my mouth. There was lovely heady heat from chilli (but not too overwhelming), smokiness from the sausage all helped along by salty oily roe. And never in my dining life have I seen anyone be more generous with salmon roe! Not even in my own home! Matched with the 2010 Jessica Rose, the wine was fresh and was a great way to clean the palate for the next course.
The dish that followed fought for dish of the day in my head – and a brave fight it was, but unfortunately it came second. A simply delicious dish of deep fried fish and green mango salad. The fish was crunchy, the salad having that perfect balance of sweet/salt/sour/spice that the Thai do so well. I could have happily eaten the bowl all to myself! This was paired with the 2009 Pinnacle Sauvignon Blanc another fresh and zesty wine with great limey acidity. For me, this match was one of the most successful of the day. It just screamed summer!
After a brief, but much needed, interlude we were served an aromatic curry of chicken, alongside my favourite wine of the day: 2009 Pinnacle Chardonnay. It was one of those perfectly balanced Chardys, a little kiss of oak, but still nice and acidic, with some great peachy notes. Personally, I felt the curry lacked that bit of oomph. I was expecting a bit more heat, as most of the chilli on the menu had been pretty tame (and I have often sat at Sailor’s panting, cursing that pesky Scud). But still a well balanced, but mildly spiced curry that was helped along by the Chardonnay.
Up next was another Sailor’s favourite of mine: Caramelised pork hock, red chilli and vinegar sauce. Again, an enormously generous serving – and everyone was well and truly full at this stage – but we all managed to pack away a fair bit of pork! It’s sticky and gooey and sweet, with the fattiness cut away by sharp vinegar and warming chilli. Just divine. We ate this with the 2009 Cabernet Franc Merlot – a very good Aussie rendition of a typical Bordeaux blend if you ask me. Some nice drying tannins helped with the richness of the dish too.
And now we are on to the hands down dish of the day: Grilled beef with tamarind dressing. A dish subtly named, but completely scintillating on the palate. It took ‘Thai beef salad’ to a whole new level. The beef was so meltingly tender you could cut it with your spoon, and it really just came alive with the sourness from the tamarind. I was worried that the 2008 Pinnacle Shiraz would overpower the dish, but I was happily proved wrong. The pepper from the beef worked a treat with the spicy Shiraz. My tummy is rumbling just thinking about it!
Just when we thought we couldn’t eat another thing, desert arrived! The tapioca pudding was quite refreshing, but it wasn’t a crowd favourite. I didn’t mind it, but it was very different to the Malaysian style I’m used to. It had green tea added to it (I think) and was missing all that unctuous coconut and sticky palm sugar. And it was also a cold desert on a very cold day, which probably didn’t do it justice. The coconut cake on the other hand… my lord what a treat! A gooey, slightly gummy texture and just warm in the middle, it was pretty special. So special that many around me were asking for more! These two were matched with the 2009 Pinnacle Cordon Cut Riesling, which really complemented the coconut cake with it’s lovely honeyed sweetness. A great finish to a truly decadent feast!
When these guys say long lunch, the really mean long lunch. After 6 and a half hours we poured ourselves in to taxis and made the short journey back to centre of town. A few kicked on at the pub, many retired early for a little sleepy. All certainly left well fed and ‘watered’ and extremely content at the more than pleasant afternoon. Now at $150.00 a head I personally think it was exceptional value: incredible, endless plates of food and what seemed like bottomless bottles of wine. I understand for some that it’s pretty steep, but if you can spare it, DEFINITELY check out the next one. Well worth not only the cash, but the trip to Orange – a truly lovely part of our country.
A big thanks to: the crew at Ross Hill for looking after us so well, Peter, Colin and the rest of the team from Sailor’s Thai and of course the wonderful Sally at Camelia Cottage – the best B&B in Orange (in my humble opinion). Obviously you can visit Sailor’s at the Rocks, Potts Point or Ivy, but if you’re after Ross Hill wines in Sydney give CBD Cellars a call.
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