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Holidaying in Australia? Then put Canberra on your itinerary – because it's the gateway to some of the country's greatest wineries (but watch out for the snakes)
- Poachers Pantry and its Wily Trout Vineyard and Clonakilla are two must-visit New South Wales vineyards
- The former also offers top-notch food, while the latter makes some of the world's best Shiraz's
- Both are within easy reach of the capital, Canberra, which is a 45-minute flight from SydneyÂ
'Probably best not to walk there mate,' the gardener said to me. 'I've just seen a brown snake in the hedge.'
Suddenly my gentle meander around the gardens at top New South Wales winery Poachers Pantry in my flip flops seemed less important than it had done a second before.
I was near Murrumbateman in the rugged merino sheep farming countryside just north of Canberra.
A charcuterie board and red wine, available on the lunch menu at Poachers Pantry in Springrange
A 20-minute drive from Poachers Pantry is Clonakilla, rightly regarded among the very finest wineries in Australia
Australia's capital city remains off the beaten track to most tourists.
On the 45-minute flight from Sydney aboard a propeller driven plane I reckoned Canberra may have been located where it is because it's almost perfectly timed for a single flight attendant to serve and clear away 40 coffees before descending.
But this city should be on every Australian holiday itinerary – because it's the gateway to some of Australia's greatest vineyards.
You just need to be alive to the presence of highly deadly serpents.
I avoided venomous fangs and met Susan Bruce, the general manager of Poachers Pantry and its Wily Trout Vineyard, for lunch.
Over a selection of her home-made smoked meats I was introduced to her vineyard's produce, each one perky and lively with her Nanima red blend getting my personal thumbs up.
Every winemaker is prone to exclaim on the myriad reasons why their region is better for wine than anyone else's and Susan pinpointed 'breezes'.
She said: 'We've got cool breezes during the day that keeps the freshness in the wines.'
She went on to explain that a raft of new, young winemakers are settling in the area and creating some great produce.
A 20-minute drive from Poachers Pantry is Clonakilla, rightly regarded among the very finest wineries in Australia.
Colin was treated to some of Clonakilla's new wines, which Colin described as being just as complex as anything produced in France
Clonakilla mainly produces wine from the Shiraz grape, but they're not in the typical 'super sweet' style
For more on things to do in Sydney and New South Wales www.visitnsw.com.
For more on Poachers Pantry visit www.poacherspantry.com.au.
For more on Clonakilla visit www.clonakilla.com.au.
General Manager David Reist met me at the tasting bar in its small, but modern, tasting room. He explained that Shiraz is the main grape for Clonakilla but that it was going to be very different to the sort of Aussie Shiraz I might know.
And it was.
None of the super sweet, high alcohol richness here.
It was more of a savoury, black pepper infused, medium weight style.
You don't need to be any sort of expert to know when something is great.
'We naturally produce a more Rhone Valley style of red wine here,' David explained.
As a special treat I was taken to a slightly dilapidated looking barn across the car park whereupon a multitude of barrels were revealed. 'Shall we try some new wines?' asked David.
I wasn't about to argue against the idea.
We tasted through multiple barrels of Shiraz, each from a specific plot around the property.
A worker at Clonakilla stirs the harvest. The vineyard is about 20 minutes away from Poachers Pantry
'This is 500 metres down the road in a little dip that collects the cold air and it tastes completely different to the block behind us that catches the morning sun,' David said of one wine.
If anyone doubts that Aussie wine can be as complex as the great wines of France – they should to get some Clonakilla in their glass.
Colin Thorne is Wine Buyer for Vagabond Wines, London.
Passenger who flew economy from London to Sydney with Qantas repeats the trip in business class… and here he reveals the BIG difference the upgrade made
Colin, pictured, was impressed with the Charles Heidsieck Brut champagne he was given on boarding
It's the Champagne before take-off that really lets you know you're about to fly in a more refined manner than usual.
Sitting in my spacious seat on board a Qantas Airbus A380 to Sydney with a flute of Charles Heidsieck Brut in hand the gloomy Sunday afternoon at Heathrow outside seemed to magically look a little brighter and sunnier.
Let there be no mistake, business class is completely worth it for this flight.
I had taken the exact same flight two months earlier. In economy (at the time I had no idea I'd be doing it again in style).
On that journey, what felt like several hours of cramped, fitful dozing had only resulted in crossing the Palk Strait between India and Sri Lanka.
In business the hours and miles seemed to melt away.
Unexpectedly I found myself sharing the business class cabin with the entire Wallabies Rugby squad. Fresh from back-to-back defeats to Scotland and England their mood was subdued. As I finished my glass of fizz I couldn't help but feel the old phrase 'in victory you deserve it, in defeat you need it' seemed quite apt.
I used my extra boarding time to do some surreptitious last-minute online searches for the stats of those matches just in case any of the team felt like reliving the trauma. A subtle sliding up of the privacy divider between our seats suggested that was not going to happen.
At just over six feet tall I'm more than familiar with the old knee in the tray table situation most air travellers experience. But try as I might I simply couldn't reach the back of the seat in front of me with my legs outstretched.
Legroom is always curtailed in economy. Anyone six feet tall or more will certainly experience the dreaded leg-touch with their adjoining passengers at some point.
In business I was looking forward to catching a few movies on the 10-inch entertainment screen, but was distracted by the eight-way movement controller for my seat. There are built-in massage settings and lumbar controllers, too, for ultimate comfort. A USB port in the chair, meanwhile, means you can bring your own devices for entertainment.
The in-flight entertainment system is a notch down in economy. With a smaller screen to watch I found myself straining my neck more often to view it – and the headphones are also more uncomfortable to wear than those in business class. Frequent flyers know it pays to bring your own and I rued my rookie error in that regard.
Fast forward back to business class and it was time to get even more comfy.
The cabin crew set up my mattress cover and soft blanket for me during a toilet break. Complimentary pyjamas, travel socks and an amenities kit that includes assorted toiletries including a toothbrush and toothpaste plus ear plugs and eye cover were also provided.
Colin is just over six feet tall, but said that try as he might, he couldn't touch the seat in front with his feet (left). The seats feature built-in massage settings and lumbar controllers for ultimate comfort (right)
All very nice, but hunger struck.
In economy the food is serviceable but is mainly pre-packed and there is no sense of anyone having had some sort of creativity over its presentation.
It's a different story in business.
Polenta chips with wild mushrooms and spinach was one of the meals Colin enjoyed on his business class flight to Australia
With an inflight menu inspired by Sydney's famed Rockpool Bar & Grill I got a fast-track taste for the gourmet life down under. Goats cheese, shaved fennel and roast tomato salad as a starter was invigoratingly fresh. I thought my seared red snapper main course was a valiant attempt at a tough dish to execute mid-flight but – looking at a my neighbour's plate – wished I'd plumped for the braised lamb instead.
As Rockpool has been voted as having the best by the glass wine list in the world (World of Fine Wine Awards 2016) it was no surprise to see some great options on the drinks trolley. A glass of 2012 Forest Hill Chardonnay from the Mount Barker region in Western Australia showed mature richness and style.
A brief one-and-half-hour stopover in Dubai gives time to visit the Business Class lounge and showers. For UK residents Dubai is a marvel as they use the UK three-pin socket. Laptop out, phone on charge, no need for the bulky travel plug adaptor.
I landed in Sydney at 6:30am about as fresh and relaxed as a long-haul flight can allow.
By Colin Thorne