Day two began with coffee and breakfast at Benson’s Cafe (the best place for coffee in Orange!) and a trip out to Ross Hill. We were greeted by father and son team Peter and James Robson, who took us on a tour of their immaculately kept winery (originally an old apple packing shed), and poured us samples of almost the entire Ross Hill range.

While not certified organic, Peter and James believe that minimising the use of commercial preparations in the vineyard is key to expressing the unique characteristics of their special terroir. Vines are hand-pruned, grapes are hand-picked and insecticides aren’t used. At an elevation of almost 800 metres and with rocky, free-draining soils over a 410 million year old limestone base, the pair believe they have one of the best sites in Orange, especially for red varieties.

Since 2009 the wines have been made by Phil Kerney and his wife Rochelle and marketed under two labels: the higher priced Pinnacle Series and the more moderately priced Family Series. All of the wines were excellent, but for me the stand-outs were the refined, yet full bodied, wild yeast fermented Pinnacle Chardonnay 2010, the rich, savoury and elegant Pinnacle Shiraz 2009 and the Bordeaux blend Isabelle & Jack Cabernet Franc Merlot 2009.

Next we headed down to Fiorini’s where Italian chefs Patrizia Fiorini and Marina Fedeli delighted us with their home-style Italian cooking served on shared plates in a brightly coloured little cottage decorated with exuberant Van Gogh prints. More superb examples of Orange wines were chosen to complement a wide assortment of dishes including warm olives, lightly fried calamari, smoked mozzarella, locally sourced garlic mushrooms and a veal schnitzel topped with a ‘to die for’ truffle and gorgonzola sauce!

Wine selections were the De Salis Wild Fumé Sauvignon Blanc 2010, the 2011 Brangayne of Orange Chardonnay, the 2008 Mayfield Vineyard Private Reserve Orange Pinot Noir, the Brangayne of Orange Pinot Noir 2009, the De Salis St EM  2009  and the 2005 Mayfield Vineyard Cabernet Merlot.

De Salis is a small, family winery located at an altitude of 1050m on the northern slope of Mt Canobolas. Before buying the vineyard with his wife Loretta, Charlie Svenson spent many vintages with Orange pioneer winemaker Murray Smith of Canobolas-Smith, learning the “dark art of minimalist wine crafting.” His 2010 Wild Fumé Sauvignon Blanc is an excellent example of a drier and more complex style of sauvignon blanc. After whole bunch pressing and fermentation with indigenous yeast in steel tanks for 24 hours, the wine is racked to older French barriques and lees stirred weekly for six months.

The Mayfield Vineyard Private Reserve Orange Pinot Noir 2008 and the Brangayne of Orange Pinot Noir 2009 made for an interesting comparison as they were quite different in style. The Mayfield was much lighter in colour with a complex fruit and savoury bouquet, and a good balance of tannin and acid suggesting it should continue to age well. In contrast the colour of the Brangayne of Orange Pinot Noir was dark cherry red with a hint of purple. The ripe complex dark stone fruit bouquet had subtle savoury undertones and the layers of ripe plum fruit flavours on the palate were supported by an elegant tannin structure. Excellent!

Incidentally the Brangayne of Orange Pinot Noir 2009 won a gold medal at the 2010 New Zealand International Wine Show – the only Australian pinot noir to do so. The plaudits keep coming for winemaker Simon Gilbert and the Hoskins’ family of Brangayne. The Brangayne of Orange 2009 Tristan Cabernet Shiraz Merlot was just named one of the Top 40 wines of NSW at the Citibank 2011 NSW Wine Awards.

Merrill Witt, Editor