Splash out

Per­mis­sion to lounge on Lizard Is­land

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - GRAHAM ERBACHER

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

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