I’m working my way around Australia vineyard by vineyard. Victoria has four major holidays throughout the year and in the past two years I have spent each holiday discovering a different wine region.
The great thing about Australia (and what we don’t do very intelligently in North America) is that wine-tastings are usually free. The benefit of this model is that within the wine list, the customer will usually find a bottle they quite like and, even if they don’t, they are so charmed by the free tasting that they will graciously buy a bottle of the second-best. It’s a win-win situation for customer and winery! Why don’t we do this in North America? Even given Australia’s drunken culture, wine tastings should still be about finding something you like to take home, it’s not only about drinking as much wine as possible on the first day.
Someone recently pointed out the hilarity of tasting white wines through to ‘stickies’ (a sticky is the Australian term for ‘port’ which is a Portuguese style of a fortified wine usually drank after dinner with coffee—yes, ‘yum!’) and then going from vineyard to vineyard tasting in this cautious order intended to not let the sugar content of the fortified wines ruin your palate for the whites—doesn’t work so well after the you’ve hit all the shirazes, tokays and Muscats of the last winery, does it?!
None-the-less, wine-touring throughout the regions in Australia has been one of my favourite past times in the past two years that I’ve lived here. And I’ve compiled a list (and I will continue to add to it) of memorable tasting experiences to excite you to take part.
Yarra Valley – VIC
Rochford – fudge and wine tasting plus coffee and lunch, need I say more about this brilliant location? You should definitely go here.
Stone Ridge – beautiful view; as you can tell from my repeated comments in the guestbook, the ten-year aged Tokay is my favourite! They also have great-looking pies in the window but I haven’t tasted them (yet).
Train Tracks – while unable to get a spontaneous table for lunch at TarraWarra we, in the Overseas Club, happened upon this new favourite! They have the most incredible wood-fired Italian-style (complete with the olive oil in the sauce) pizzas. A great big shed out back (with a very Canadian ornament—OK, it’s Alaskan, you’ll have to go there to see what it is though) allows you to taste their ’04 Pinot Noir which has that earthy Yarra taste I love.
TarraWarra/Tin Cows – rolling up this leafy drive, you’ll see the tin cow sculptures responsible for this shared vineyard’s name. TarraWarra is in Victoria’s ‘hills’, near the Healesville golf course (a guest/business centre which is not quite completed yet, but looks like it will be awesome). This vineyard has the most famous Victorian vineyard view—it is one you will see in all the Tourist mags. They also have an art gallery on site, quite cleverly. On a Saturday, lunch is $55 for 2 courses…
Rutherglen – VIC
Admittedly, out of the eight wineries I frequented that day, my mouth dried up and started crying at some point. And watch out for the heavy pourers!
The Rutherglen region was introduced to me as being famous for its Durif and Shiraz red wines. However, it’s pretty good at them all!
Unlike the wooden tasting benches that characterise most of Australia’s vineyards, in Rutherglen many places have a white counter to help you see the colour of the wine more clearly. This is a great feature to help those interested in seeing the characteristics of the wine as well as tasting them! I still prefer the oaky counter (I know, it’s not environmentally friendly, but I like it).
(PS. If you are like me and happen to think that wine-tasting and golf go well together…) If you are looking for a game of golf, they get a bit more rain in Yarrawonga which is nearby and has a 45-hole public course near the holiday park to which you can pretty much just turn up!)
And Another Thing…
On the Queens’ birthday weekend (~June 10th) Rutherglen is the place to be with its Walking Wine Festival.
Rutherglen Tasting Experiences:
Campbell’s – has a massive tasting list; many inexpensively priced decadent wines. They had live jazz music and nice looking lunches on the lawn.
Jones – an aesthetically-pleasing quaint wooden shed venue, with an art gallery. Their tasty clean-skin cab-shiraz is $7.50/bottle so you can afford to get a case; however, some people have to be a bit careful with cheaper wines that tend to be tannin-heavy…if you are allergic you could loose sleep in the middle of the night.
Bullers – quite liked, another big tasting list. Their Shiraz and Durif I’m told best characterise the flavours of the region’s famous grapes.
Andersons – Taste in a farmer’s shed and see their wine collection at which you can look but you can’t touch. The staff have lots of informative help to discuss character of the wines, there was 1-2 I might have bought there but didn’t.
Pfeiffer – the big ego is a bit assaulting once you walk inside (I personally wouldn’t refer to myself as “the big chief” twice in the same brochure, especially when my daughter is the one making the wines…). However, most people that I’ve spoken to are very fond of this vineyard because of it’s cute little bridge over the river on site. Perhaps they felt inspired to sit down on it and strum along to “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” They do have a very cute marketing scheme with their ‘Pfine Pfood…’
St. Leonard’s – this hilltop view is worthwhile alone. There is also a big eating room and many picnic tables beside the vines which have most picturesquely eucalyptus trees in the background. I don’t remember the wines as much as I couldn’t taste much at that point and sat on the picnic table admiring the view and roses. My wine connoisseur friend was there for her second time and still bought a bottle, so that’s telling.
ALSO: make sure you eat at Parker’s Pies—wow. I had the Tomato, cheese, bacon and chicken pie—nicest-ever pastry. And the Indian beef pie. Parker’s Pies will not disappoint you, even if you don’t like pies.
Macedon Wine Region-VIC
Big Shed – I love their décor: glass bottles filling the holes in their tasting shed’s oak door, fireplace burning with a very loveable (and sleepy) dog lying on the hearth, and tall stools to pull up and have a yarn with the really interesting Welsh owners—their new vineyard career in their retirement stories will leave you buoyant with inspiration as well as their famous “Sticky Stuff” (which besides being a great introduction to the genre of “stickies” also tastes awesome on ice cream!)
Paramoor Wines – I didn’t mean to go here–but I’m so glad I did! Set on the quaintest farm which anyone in their right might would be excited about living on, with cozy wood-fire smoke fuming from the chimneys and a saddle-filled comfy chair with a loft lounge inside, this is my favourite wine-tasting experience in this region. It might be a bit cold in winter, but if you bundled up, I could spend a long time sitting by their open fire drinking their Pinot Noir (which I’m kicking myself for not having bought a case of) and trying their cabernet mix. Great hosts, great snacky lunches and great knowledge and wine blends.
Hanging Rock Winery – An extensive wine tasting list, you can spend a long time here! I remember tasting an excellent sparkling here last year, but it was quite expensive. I didn’t seem to feel the same way about their sparkling this year, but I was more selective in my tastings admittedly. A really interesting shiraz was a highlight here, as well as the Yabby burgers–which you must try!–tent.
Mount Macedon Winery – set up a long drive, this classy building always has a rocking band and is a good time for Budburst Festival. They take their wine pretty seriously, too. I particulary liked the Gewurtz which has a delicious nose.
Next week: Hunter Valley – NSW