Australia: New worlds down under
Touring Australia means covering vast distances, but the sheer variety of landscape, wildlife, and cosmopolitan cities rewards the investment of time and effort handsomely. For wine lovers, it makes sense to get in a car and take a road trip—the best way of exploring one of the world’s most vibrant, diverse, and dynamic wine scenes.
Things have changed in Australia. A wine industry that shot to international fame in the 1980s and 1990s with a recipe based on big ripe fruit and no little oak and alcohol, has been moving into all manner of new and exciting directions. The original style hasn’t disappeared, but it’s joined by a new wave of wines of real finesse, lightness of touch and freshness.
The best way to gain an understanding of what’s going on down under is by setting off on that most Australian of experiences—a road trip. Choosing one or both of two itineraries should give you plenty of insight. The first takes you on an inland journey from Sydney to Melbourne, while the second is focused on South Australia, the heartland of the Australian wine industry.
Sydney to Melbourne
The first couple of hours of the trip south from Sydney follow an unexciting stretch of the Hume Highway. Once you’re done admiring the gum forests that line the road, as well as the vast expanse of blue sky, there’s little to catch the eye. Bear with it, though, because the first winery of the trip is worth a bit of tedium. Clonakilla pioneered the trend toward peppery, smoky, cool-climate varieties of Shiraz in Australia, and its Shiraz/ Viognier has become a classic of the style.
From Clonakilla you’ve got a chance to contemplate the vastness of the Australian countryside once again as you head south to Beechworth, which should become your base for at least a couple of days spent exploring Victoria’s rich viticultural diversity. This charming little town is home to some of Australia’s most iconic wineries, including Castagna and Giaconda (www.castagna.com.au; www.giaconda.com.au—both open by appointment only), and also offers a number of good places to eat and drink.
It’s an easy drive from Beechworth to Rutherglen, source of Australia’s best fortified Muscats and Topaques, as well as the King and Alpine Valleys, whose hilly vineyards are planted with an extraordinary diversity of grape varieties. From this point onward you have a choice of itinerary. If time is short, push on to the Yarra Valley, but if you have time, it’s worth meandering south via the Goulburn Valley, Nagambie Lakes, Heathcote, and the Macedon Ranges, all areas known for their boutique wineries. If you decided to explore these regions, make sure you check out Wine by Sam (www.winebysam.com. au), Fowles Wine (www.fowleswine.com), Jasper Hill (www. jasperhill.com.au), Bindi (www.bindiwines.com.au), and Curly Flat (www.curlyflat.com) on your way through. These are all fairly small wineries, so it’s best to make an appointment before dropping in.
As you near Melbourne, diversity of styles and grapes gives way to a tighter focus on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay (with a few notable exceptions). The most famous region in the Melbourne Dress Circle (the wine-growing areas located in a tight ring around Melbourne) is the Yarra Valley, epicenter of Australia’s trend for leaner, tauter Chardonnays. The best place to base yourself for an exploration of the valley is Healesville. Kids will love the zoo, with its opportunities to get up close and personal with kangaroos and koalas, while adults may prefer the huge diversity of wineries, many of which have terrific restaurants.
Once you’re done with the Yarra, allow yourself a couple of days to explore Melbourne before traveling on to the Mornington Peninsula, a spit of land that curves around Port Phillip Bay. Here, vineyards benefit from the cool air that blows in from the Antarctic, tempering the warm summer days and creating the ideal conditions for making elegant, aromatic wines. And if you fancy a bit of time on the beach after your tasting, the Peninsula is the place to do it—as weekending Melburnians are well aware.
South Australia’s heartland
Get to grips with the lay of the Barossan land by switchbacking your way across the folds and ridges that contribute so much to the area’s terroir. Many of the wineries nestled among the hills and plains of the Barossa and Eden Valleys—and, just to the north, the Clare Valley—are among the most iconic in the whole of Australia.
Some of the vineyards you’ll pass on the way are home to a fair proportion of the oldest commercially grown vines in the world. The Barossa Old Vine Charter has a tiered classification system that celebrates these illustrious vines; at its apex are the 100-plusyear- old Centenarian Vines and the venerable Ancestor Vines (of which there are around 240ha/600 acres), which clock in at a minimum of 125 years old. No wonder producers enforce rigorous anti-phylloxera measures for all vineyard visitors.
The majority of these grandfather vines are Shiraz, planted to create the fortified wines that built the local viticultural economy and now used to make the area’s hallmark rich, dry reds, but many other grapes also thrive in these vineyards.
The veneration of arrow-straight, lime-tinged Riesling in the region creates a direct link to the German immigrants who settled here in the 19th-century, bringing with them not only a love for the grape but also the hearty, Teutonic-style charcuterie still beloved by their descendants.
As both the Adelaide Hills and McLaren Vale are a short commute by car away from Adelaide, it makes sense to base yourself in the city for daily excursions to the wineries. On your way out to the Hills, stop off at the lookout point at Mount Lofty (a name that makes most Europeans laugh, given that its summit reaches a mere 2,385ft/727m). On a clear day you’ll get a great idea of the lay of the viticultural land. The Hills are home not only to a range of cooler-climate styles—from sparkling wines, to fresh whites and lush reds—but also to a good number of South Australia’s trendier wineries, including Vinteloper, BK Wines, and Ochota Barrels. McLaren Vale, which runs oceanward along the Fleurieu Peninsula, is perhaps more conservative in winemaking terms, but locals have, nonetheless, been experimenting with a greater diversity of grapes: d’Arenberg may be renowned for its eclectic range, but it is far from alone in exploring the potential for wines based on Italian and Iberian varieties (www.darenberg.com.au).
Of course, if you’ve got a bit more time to spend in Oz—and you’re not too wined out after your two road trips—you could always hop on a plane to Perth, a handy jumping-off point for a weekend in Margaret River, or Hobart, from where you can explore the region’s up-and-coming wineries.
Sydney is one of the world’s best restaurant cities, and this hipster hangout is a hot favorite for cutting edge cuisine and a carefully curated wine list.
46-52 Meagher Street, Chippendale, NSW 2008 | +61 2 80 68 82 79 | www.ester-restaurant.com.au
A futuristic estate that combines food, art and wine, with a 134ha (331 acre) property housing a restaurant, cellar door tasting facilities, a vineyard and a sculpture park, all overlooking the Western Port Bay.
3649 Frankston-Flinders Road, Merricks, VIC 3916 | +61 3 59 89 90 11 | www.ptleoestate.com.au
Named after the mythical half jackrabbit, half antelope, the Jackalope winery also plays host to two restaurants and a modern hotel with sleek black architecture set among the vines.
166 Balnarring Road, Merricks, VIC 3926 | +61 3 59 31 25 00 | www.jackalopehotels.com
This five-star property is an icon of the Yarra Valley, founded in 1838 by the Ryrie brothers, who planted the vine cuttings that grew into Victoria’s first vintage. The heritage-listed Victorian mansion offers delightful accommodation, with each room individually and lavishly designed.
42 Melba Highway, Yering, VIC 3770 | +61 3 92 37 33 33 | www.chateauyering.com.au
This enterprising producer pioneered Italian and Iberian varieties in the Mornington Peninsula, so offers a fairly unusual range at the cellar door. Book early to nab a stay in one of the three luxurious lakeside self-catering villas.
25 Harrisons Road, Dromana, VIC 3936 | +61 3 59 81 83 66 | www.crittendenwines.com.au
It’s difficult to find a bad restaurant in Melbourne. While there’s plenty of gastronomic joy to be had at more informal spots, Vue de Monde is widely considered to be a pace-setter.
Level 55 Rialto, 525 Collins Street, VIC 3000 | +61 3 96 91 38 88 | www.vuedemonde.com.au
Accommodation in the Barossa comes in two flavors—rough and ready or The Louise. This is the ultimate place to unwind after a hard day’s tasting, and the on-site restaurant, Appellation, offers several hundred bins of Australia’s finest bottlings, as well as a sophisticated menu based on local ingredients.
375 Seppeltsfield Road, Marananga, SA 5352 | +61 8 85 62 27 22 | www.thelouise.com.au
After you’ve toured the vineyards of the recently restored Seppeltsfield on a Segway and tasted your birth year’s Tawny in the Centennial Cellar, enjoy lunch at the on-site restaurant, Fino. The menu offers vivid Aussie flavors, as does the wine list.
730 Seppeltsfield Road, Barossa Valley, SA 5355 | +61 8 85 68 62 00 | www.seppeltsfield.com.au
Adelaide’s hotels are incredibly anodyne, but there’s plenty of life in the restaurants that line buzzing Gouger Street. Even if you find what you’re looking for there, try also to make it to Mother Vine, a terrific wine bar.
22-26 Vardon Avenue, SA 5000 | +61 8 82 27 22 73 | www.mothervine.com.au
Pulling into the car park here gives a guaranteed lift to the spirits. Who wouldn’t enjoy sitting down at a table overlooking the pristine beach and tucking into spankingly fresh local whiting, or the salt and pepper squid, all washed down with a bottle from the surprisingly extensive wine list?
1 The Esplanade, Port Willunga, SA 5173 | +61 8 85 57 74 20 | +61 8 85 57 74 20 | www.starofgreece.com.au
For more restaurants with award-winning wine lists click here.
It may offer only a tiny tasting room, but every bottle sampled packs a punch. As well as the world-famous Shiraz/Viognier, visitors can try other Shiraz bottlings plus fresh, aromatic Riesling, Viognier, and Chardonnay.
3 Crisps Lane, Murrumbateman, NSW 2582 | +61 2 62 27 58 77 | www.clonakilla.com.au
There’s something reassuringly humble about the tin-roofed shed that houses this winery. The Campbells—as down to earth as their winery’s architecture—have been growing grapes here since 1870, and their range features some of the region’s best fortifieds, as well as dry whites and reds.
4603 Murray Valley Highway, Rutherglen, VIC 3685 | +61 2 60 33 60 00 | www.campbellswines.com.au
The Dal Zotto family originally hailed from Italy, and like many King Valley winemakers, they focus on grapes indigenous to their ancestral home. Don’t miss their take on undisgorged Col Fondo Prosecco or their juicy Barbera, best enjoyed with a home-cooked meal at the family’s trattoria.
4861 Wangaratta-Whitfield Road, Whitfield, VIC 3733 | +61 3 57 29 83 21 | www.dalzotto.com.au
Chief winemaker Steve Webber has a reputation both for iconoclasm (he’s been in the vanguard of many of the key trends in Aussie winemaking) and for fostering the next generation of talent—some of the country’s hottest winemakers got their start working with him.
58 Pinnacle Lane, Dixons Creek, VIC 3775 | +61 3 59 65 22 71 | www.debortoli.com.au
This producer makes some of the Mornington Peninsula’s most refined Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays.
1333 Mornington-Flinders Road, Main Ridge, VIC 3928 | +61 3 59 89 60 80 | www.tenminutesbytractor.com.au
An elite group of six Barossa wineries, among them John Duval Wines, owned by Penfolds’ former chief winemaker, and the highly rated Spinifex. The focus here is on handcrafted, terroir-driven wines, and special tastings from the premium list take place on site at the Artisans Lounge every weekend.
Corner Light Pass Road & Magnolia Road, Tanunda, SA 5352 | +61 8 85 63 39 35 | www.artisansofbarossa.com
The VIP tour and tasting here is a must for any lover of fine Aussie wines. Not only will you get a comprehensive tasting of the range, you’ll also have the opportunity to get up close and personal with the gnarled old vines of the Hill of Grace.
1428 Keyneton Road, Keyneton, SA 5353 | +61 8 85 64 82 23 | www.henschke.com.au
Owner-winemaker Stephanie Toole has been diligently crafting some of the Clare Valley’s most pure, intense Rieslings since the early 1990s. Taste these—and more—at her cellar door (open at weekends only).
The Old Railway Station, Curling Street, Auburn, SA 5451 | +61 8 88 49 22 02 | www.mounthorrocks.com
One of the oldest wineries in Tasmania is home to a renowned museum, and offers a wine-tasting tour featuring 10 different Moorilla wines.
655 Main Road, Berriedale Hobart, TAS 7011 | +61 3 62 77 99 60 | www.moorilla.com.au
A striking five storey white and green building that looks like a Rubik’s Cube, Australian wine institution d’Arenberg’s home offers public and private tasting rooms, a wine museum, a Willy Wonka-esque room filled with jars of different aromas and even a “wine fog room” where visitors are immersed in a “mist of wine.”
Osborn Road, McLaren Vale | +61 8 83 29 48 88 | www.darenberg.com.au