Good taste ... Racine at La Colline.
Winsor Dobbin presents the latest in a series of guides to Australia and New Zealand's leading wine regions.
Orange is one of the funkiest small towns in NSW, with a thriving arts community and a gourmet culture that has grown alongside the apples, cherries and stone-fruit trees.
Most wineries are small, family-run affairs.
Grapes have been grown in the district since it was first settled in the mid-1800s, following a gold rush, and today Orange is home to several of the best regional restaurants in the state.
Winemaker Philip Shaw at his Orange winery. Photo: Robert Bruce
The modern development of the wine industry in the Orange region began in the early 1980s - Stephen and Rhonda Doyle at Bloodwood started in 1983 - and it is regarded as one of the best cool-climate wine districts in the country, gaining particular acclaim for its sauvignon blancs and chardonnays.
Shiraz and cabernet sauvignon are the most widely planted red varieties, with merlot and pinot noir also popular.
Most of the wineries are small, family-run affairs, although several growers sell fruit to larger businesses. Key wineries include Bloodwood, Belgravia, Brangayne of Orange, Cargo Road, Canobolas-Smith, Mayfield Vineyard, Patina, Printhie, Philip Shaw, Ross Hill, Angullong and Cumulus, which produces wines under the Rolling and Climbing labels.
Flagship restaurant Lolli Redini.
Orange boasts the charm of a country town with the facilities of a city, including botanic gardens, a range of museums, a civic theatre and several art galleries. It is a popular weekend destination.
How to get there
Orange is about 206 kilometres, or 3½ hours, west of Sydney by road and can be reached by air or rail. The railway station is served by daily CountryLink XPT services and the Regional Express (Rex) airline has daily scheduled services between Sydney and Orange.
Best cellar doors
The Philip Shaw cellar door - a winery run by the former international winemaker of the year and his family - is actually part of the family home. Shaw was once chief winemaker for Rosemount Estate and Southcorp but now handcrafts wines on a much smaller scale.
At Patina, check out the works of local artists and sample wines made by the innovative Gerald Naef. Patina is a real French-style garagiste operation, with Naef making his wines in a shed behind his home. His labels are designed by his artist wife, Angie.
Cargo Road winemaker James Sweetapple specialises in two very different grape varieties - zinfandel and gewurztraminer - and his cellar door features a cafe and art by Tanya Loviz, whose work also adorns the wine labels. Visitors can pick cherries during the season.
The Printhie cellar door is well out of town in the hamlet of Molong, but the wines are good and winery tours are occasionally available. A lovely garden overlooks the vines.
Also try Belgravia, Mayfield Vineyard, Brangayne of Orange, Dindima, De Salis, Borrodell, Gordon Hills, Orange Mountain Wines and Small Acres Cyder. Phone ahead because many cellar doors are open only at weekends. Wineries including Cumulus (Rolling and Climbing) and Stockman's Ridge do not have cellar doors but their wines are available at liquor stores and on wine lists.
Where to eat
Racine at La Colline is the vehicle for star chef Shaun Arantz, whose wife, Willa, runs front of house. It has a bistro ambience and a menu with a French accent. Local produce and wines feature heavily. Think dishes such as poached freshwater trout with apple jelly, squid-ink crumbs and yoghurt; or whole pressed duck with radish and beetroot puree. Two courses cost $65 and three are $75. Lolli Redini is the regional flagship, with chef Simonn Hawke's sophisticated, European-influenced dishes matching the elegant setting in an old Federation building. The menu features local produce such as Mandagery Creek venison and Ross Hill farmed snails.
The Union Bank Wine Bar and Wine Store is a hangout for winemakers and foodies. The heritage-listed bank building serves as a cellar door, wine bar, cafe and live-music venue. It has a lovely courtyard and lunches and dinners are served every day except Sundays.
Bistro Ceello is a casual restaurant on the site of former hatted downtown eatery Selkirks. Chef Scott Want worked at Selkirks and Union Bank and serves what he describes as "simple, relaxed food featuring local flavours".
Eighteen 70 is the new kid in town. The former Harrisons restaurant is run by three enthusiastic locals who describe their food as "contemporary country fusion". All produce is sourced locally where possible and vegetarian and gluten-free options are available.
Also try Anything Grows, ProVista Woodfire Pizza, Sweet Sour Salt, Sister's Rock, The Rocking Horse Lounge and Highland Heritage Estate.
What to drink
The 2010 chardonnay at Bloodwood is outstanding and Canobolas-Smith also specialises in fine chardonnays. Perhaps try something different such as the zinfandels and gewurztraminers at Cargo Road, or maybe a barbera, sangiovese or tempranillo at Angullong.
The wines at small wineries, such as Brangayne (try the signature Tristan red blend), Word of Mouth and Ross Hill, are also well worth seeking out.
Where to stay
The boutique de Russie Suites are regarded as the best accommodation in town and feature a range of stylish serviced apartment options, from two-bedroom suites to studios, all equipped with king beds, minibars, airconditioning, pay TV, kitchenettes, refrigerators and wireless broadband.
If you enjoy traditional bed and breakfast-style accommodation, then Cotehele - a former magistrate's house with six bedrooms, all with en suites, airconditioning and an open fire to keep guests warm over a glass of free port in winter - will appeal.
Duntryleague guesthouse features country house-style accommodation in the grounds of a golf course just a short stroll from downtown. Built in 1876, Duntryleague is a gracious mansion but the deluxe rooms feature modern facilities.
Arancia Bed and Breakfast is one of several good B&Bs in and around town, with spacious rooms surrounded by landscaped gardens and orchards.
Also try The Black Sheep Inn, Town Square Motel, Camelia Cottage and the cottages at Mayfield Borrodell vineyards. The website stayorange.com.au features 26 regional accommodation providers with a range of choices.
Slow Summer is held in late January or early February, the annual F.O.O.D. Week is held each April (April 5-14 next year), Frost Fest is held in August (August 3-12 this year) and Orange Wine Week takes place each October (October 19-28 this year).
The Orange Region Farmers Market is held on the second Saturday of each month. From May to October it is at the Orange Showground and from November to April behind the Orange Regional Art Gallery.
A Slice of Orange is a provedore who specialises in regional gourmet produce and makes up special picnic hampers for customers.
The picturesque village of Millthorpe, a 15-minute drive from Orange, is home to cafes, boutiques and antique stores, along with Tonic restaurant, a regular hat winner in The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide; the Millthorpe Wine Centre and Angullong cellar doors; and the chic Basalt @ The Commercial Hotel.