Christmas Day 2016. I flew to Australia for the first time. My friend and I were hiring a camper-van and driving from Brisbane-Adelaide-Melbourne along the coast. The purpose of the trip…why not? We did have a few criteria for our trip; stop off in Byron Bay, New Year’s Eve in Sydney, ending each day with a beer on a beach, and of course wine tasting!
The first two weeks consisted of driving south from Queensland into New South Wales, the craziness of New Year’s in the most watched city on earth Sydney, a detour to one of the most boring (sorry) cities on earth Canberra, shark sightings, horrendously huge spiders and lots of beer. By the time we hit Victoria I was very ready to try the wine.
First stop was a very quaint town in the Yarra Valley called Healsville. The historic Yarra Valley tends to be a ‘cool climate’ region which means they can grow thin-skinned grape varietals like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Here we stopped in the cellar door of Giant Steps whose 4 different types of Pinot Noir from 4 different parcels of land were outstanding, with all their wine seeing oak – just a tiny portion of the barrels used can be seen in this photo.
Having stayed in a very dubious campsite within the Cathedral Ranges we continued our journey towards Bendigo and through a town we had been recommended called Heathcote.
Here we visited the cellar doors of Mitchelton and Heathcote Estate. Heathcote has a history of Italian settlers and so have an extraordinary range of Italian grape varietals grown in this warmer climate area. I tried an interesting Nero D’Avola rosé here.
Our tour continued as we drove back down into Melbourne for a long weekend full of skydiving, boating up the Yarra River, cricket at the MCG and obviously this time a pre-booked Yarra Valley wine tour (to allow for actual drinking rather than sipping!)
Our awesome guide Brett took us along with 22 other Americans, Italians and Scottish tourists to 4 wines and lunch. The first was called Yerring Farm, which made their own cider as half their plantation was orchards.
The second lunch stop was called Soumah which had a blackboard with the history of one the grapes they grew, Savarro. It was an aromatic wine similar to Gewurtraminer.
We then moved onto Punt Road which, like most of the wineries, are famous for their big juicy Shiraz. On this occasion, however, it was the Cabernet Franc that really caught my eye.
The Cabernet Franc was a truly gorgeous, rounded, juicy and elegant wine. If you ever a come across it you shouldn’t hesitate to buy it!
Lastly on the tour was the oh so romantic Chandon.
An extension of the Moet brand, we tasted a fabulous range of sparkling wines made in the Method Tradionelle at Chandon, against the stunning backdrop of the Yarra Ranges.
Our tour guide originally hailed from Adelaide, so when he found out we were spending our last week driving 750km along the Great Ocean Road to McLaren Vale and back again, he gave us great suggestions.
McLaren Vale is an intensely planted region, all based around one small grid of the town. Easy driving around the hills meant that I could stop off at 5 wineries, although I had to give up at 2pm as my taste buds were shot to pieces! Llyods, Shingleback, Kay Brothers and Woodstock all produced their own interpretations of Sauvignon Blancs, Semillons, Shirazs and Cabernet Sauvignons.
A well know winery, D’Arenberg was on the taste list, and luckily I arrived the day after a trade tasting, so managed to taste a lot more than anticipated. With no room left in my suitcase I paid for the top range tasting instead and was blown away by the difference in different parcels of Shiraz that can be grown in a small area. Old vines and wine making techniques have kept this winery at the top of their game for over 100 yrs…which is OLD for Australia! Stunning views meant this was a fitting end to my Australian wine tour.
Even though I did not manage to visit any of the wineries that we stock on this trip, being able to drive 5000kms across a tiny portion of the country has given me a great understanding and appreciation of Australian wine that admittedly (as a South African!) was lacking.
Stay tuned for my blog post next month exploring the rise of rosé including an exploration of some great examples from our own wine list – until then I’ll leave you with this thought from J.R.R Tolkien:
‘Cellar Door’ is one of the most beautiful things to say in the English Language!