Permission to lounge on Lizard Island
Screwtop or cork? It’s a debate that’s been going on since the 1970s, raising issues of heritage, effective seals, business costs and consumer choice. But it can be the launching pad into a spirited conversation on the heart and soul of winemaking.
I learn this in paradise — Lizard Island, the northernmost resort of the Great Barrier Reef — at the first of three special Wine Series long weekends. The form of the event is to be two five-course dinners at Salt Water restaurant, featuring the wines of a selected vineyard paired with dishes prepared by resort chef Mark Jensen. Throw in an afternoon wine master class, vintage Louis Roederer Cristal and canapes on the beach as a perfect day ebbs away, Krug on another enchanted evening and a champagne breakfast. Are you getting the picture?
MC for the occasion is Jeremy Oliver, wine critic, author (think The Australian Wine Manual) and Lizard Island cellar consultant. His chosen vineyard is Mount Mary at Lilydale in Victoria’s Yarra Valley, established in 1971 and James Halliday’s Winery of the Year. It’s a threegeneration family business and I’m at a table with chief executive David Middleton (whose late father John set it up) and his son Sam, the head winemaker.
I’m a little nervous; I appreciate fine wine but am of the “know what I like” class and lack the descriptive language of the connoisseur. But fear not, this is genial company, passionate about their craft but with wide interests. John was a wartime meteorologist and country doctor; David a veterinary surgeon, including at Melbourne Zoo and Healesville Sanctuary, and a philanthropist; and Sam is the wine scientist who has gained experience in France.
At 34, Sam is the youngest at the table and the most heartfelt defender of cork. The Middletons have brought with them for the master class 2005 and 2015 vintages of their triolet, chardonnay, pinot noir and quintet wines. They have other vintages for the degustation menu. Standouts are the Mount Mary 2006 and 2012 chardonnays matched with salmon roulade, pumpkin miso and smoked caviar; and 2004 and 2013 quintets with roasted lamb rack, broad beans and porcini.
Jeremy introduces each course and Sam describes the wine; their remarks are brief, informative and entertaining. On the second evening, Jeremy broadens the pairings to other vineyards and our chef delights with five more dishes, including roasted venison rump. We might be here to be educated, but the only test is enjoyment.
Fellow guests include a knight of the realm and his wife, and a former Test cricketer celebrating a significant wedding anniversary with his wife. I learn I’m not the only one who lacks those rather exotic wine descriptors, but we are all gaining an enthusiastic appreciation of the product.
Lizard Island is the soul of discretion, an hour by light aircraft from Cairns and slap-bang in a blue sea of loveliness. My beachfront suite is an instant hit, coastal in colours, casual, comfortable and private. It is spacious, airy and opens on to a deep veranda with day bed. Walk across a short lawn on to white sand and into the clear water of Anchor Bay. The reef starts here.
A daily schedule of activities has much to feed the soul, from sun-up yoga to sundown pilates at Essentia Day Spa, and easy-access snorkelling over colourful coral (no, it’s not all bleached) and clam gardens. For more snorkelling and diving adventure, head by boat to the outer reef, or get dropped off on one of the island’s 24 beaches with a picnic hamper. Chances are, with only 40 suites and a limited number of guests, you’ll have the vista to yourself.
I’m determined, however, to grant myself permission to do nothing. With no mobile phone reception and only limited Wi-Fi, Lizard is, in modern parlance, a digital detox zone. I have bought at Sydney Airport John le Carre’s new novel, A Legacy of Spies, which builds on the incidents of a favourite book, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. I take to the day bed to snooze and read, iced drink alongside, the perfect lounge-lizard eyed occasion-
One of Lizard Island’s 24 beaches, main; daybed on beachfront suite veranda, above right