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Australia’s best wineries

From vineyards in the Gippsland to Margaret River, some of the country's top sommeliers share where to go for a good drop.

Photo: Lean Timms

Lean Timms

All around the country, under the Tropic of Capricorn, Australia is blessed with vineyard regions within a few hours’ drive from our cities. For the uninitiated, a road trip into wine country serves as a sampling board of local experiences. Dig deeper and the journey will weave together complexities of scenery, hospitality, food, and wine to become the ultimate expression of terroir. We asked six of the nation’s leading sommeliers to guide us through their favourite wine region in their state and where to find the most delicious drops.

Orange, NSW

Guide by Chris Morrison, group wine director, QT Hotels and Resorts

Young, cool and high as a kite, the Orange appellation is defined by a boundary line that wraps around Mount Canobolas starting at 600 metres above sea level. Less officially, it’s also distinguished by creativity. As Chris Morrison explains: “As one of Australia’s newest wine regions, Orange is progressive and open-minded.” When grapevines started taking off on the upper contours of the retired volcano in the 1980s, there was no blueprint for winemaking at such altitudes. Just opportunity and a willingness to innovate. “It’s a magnet for younger winemakers who are drawn to making contemporary wines and establishing themselves as winemaking evolves.” For Morrison, who has racked up 25 illustrious years in the wine business, there is always a special place for Orange’s “elegant, fresh wine styles” on his esteemed wine lists.

The astute wine taster will be able to pick up the steep volcanic slopes by the glass, but the sheer beauty of the terrain is more pronounced in person. Morrison starts his best buying trips by checking into The Byng Street Boutique Hotel, which is every bit as elegant and fresh as the local wine style. The Oriana. Racine Bakery and The Second Mouse Cheese Company are next. “You’ll need to load up on snacks,” says Morrison.

Lunch reservations are made at Union Bank Restaurant & Bar, Sister’s Rock Restaurant at Borrodell Vineyard or the terrace at Swinging Bridge Wines and dinner at Charred Kitchen & Bar, “which has the best selection of local wines in the region”. Cellar door-hopping is the main event and Morrison will always stop by Swinging Bridge Wines, Rikard Wines, Bloodwood Wines, Logan Wines, Philip Shaw and, for a change of pace, Badlands Brewery and Small Acres Cyder. An obligatory stop is made at Ferment the Orange Wine Centre to sample the work of more than 20 local wineries who don’t have cellar doors.

Morrison says drivers, who are rationing sips, should set aside time and blood-alcohol allocation for Philip Shaw’s No19 Sauvignon Blanc, No 17 Merlot Cabernet Franc and 2021 ‘The Wire Walker’ Pinot Noir. “At Logan don’t miss its 2021 Hannah Rosé and 2021 Clementine de la Mer and at Printhie I recommend its Swift Brut Cuvée and Swift Blanc de Blancs Sparkling.” Cue the spittoon.

Best Orange, NSW pairing: The Second Mouse Cheese Company Frieda washed rind cheese and 2021 Logan Clementine de la Mer

Where to stay: The Oriana or Byng Street Boutique Hotel

Orange, NSW

Canberra, ACT

Guide by Andy Day, owner, Rizia

Just a short joy ride from our nation’s capital on the halfway point between Sydney and Canberra, the tidy green rows of the Australian Capital Territory’s wine region reveal themselves as a road-trippers’ mirage. For first-time detour makers venturing off the Hume Highway, the likes of Clonakilla and Lark Hill are a revelation. For Rizla wine bar owner Andy Day, a regular in these parts, there’s an honesty to the region, though it seems “too good to be true”. “It still has the charm of being a ‘hidden gem’ compared to most wine regions within driving distance of the capital cities,” he says. “The quality of wines and value exceed expectations. Oh, and Canberra riesling is off-the-chain good.”

Murrumbateman Road is the fastest way to get between the two main sub-regions of Murrumbateman and Bungendore, while according to Day, “A drive along Wallaroo Road out to Brindabella Hills Winery rewards you with an afternoon looking out over the Murrumbidgee River.”

Lake George Winery and Collector Wines are high on Day’s sip list as well as Sapling Yard in Bungendore. “Hound them for an appointment till your voice is hoarse,” he says. “Their wines are phenomenal, and the fact the people serving you are more than likely the people who picked it and made it makes it super special.” Of the bigger hitters, he believes Clonakilla lives up to the accolades. “You’d be met with raised eyebrows if you returned from a weekend visiting Canberra wineries and didn’t have a bottle of something from them,” the sommelier says. “I’d put Helm Wines (Rieslings – all of them), Mount Majura (for their Iberian red varietals especially) and Lark Hill up on that pedestal as well.”

The wineries are close enough to the city to merit a stay in town. Day recommends Avenue Hotel or Midnight Hotel(both in Braddon). “Or you could also do something super cutesy and ‘glamp’ at Mount Majura, only about 10 minutes from the CBD.”

For dinner, the Canberra insider recommends XO in Narrabundah for its “perfectly short wine list”. For an elegant long lunch, he’s headed to The Boat House by the lake. “Their wine list is extensive, food intricate, service relaxed, and as good a water view as Canberra can offer.”

Best Canberra pairing: A bone dry Canberra riesling with freshly shucked Clyde River oysters. Or with fried chicken. Equally delish.

Where to stay: Avenue Hotel or Midnight Hotel

The Lake House, Canberra

Gippsland, Vic

Guide by Chris Ryan, head wine buyer, Cumulus Inc

Yarra Valley, Mornington, Geelong. Victoria has its pick of wine hotspots. But for those seeking a vineyard aisle less travelled, Gippsland is the place to be. Among them is Chris Ryan. “The landscape is just so beautiful with rolling green hills, access to stunning beaches and a real energy in the wine and drinks industry,” he says. “It takes a little more effort than the more popular spots, but you feel a real sense of discovery as you taste your way across the region.”

A road trip to Gippsland prioritises the journey right alongside the destination. And as such, Ryan favours an early pit-stop at the Loch Brewery & Distillery a little more than 100 kilometres from Melbourne. “A cleansing ale is a great way to start, punctuate and finish any good wine adventure and produces truly outstanding ales. I’m a big fan of their Best Bitter,” he says. “Pop into the Loch Grocer too before you leave to get inspired by all the beautiful local produce.”

An Airbnb cottage sets the tone nicely. And while there are no monumental hotels putting Gippsland on the map, there is also an absence of helicopters and hens’ parties vying for elbow room at the cellar doors. Not even at Dirty Three Wines in Inverloch, Ryan’s pick of the bunch, where the complex notion of ‘terroir’ is distilled into a series of wines made from three key Gippsland soils: ‘dirt one’, ‘dirt two’ and ‘dirt three’. “Tasting the pinot noirs next to each other gives you a peek into why pinot noir can be so captivating. My favourite is the ‘dirt two’.”

He rates the Bass River Winery at Glen Forbes as another must-see cellar door. “The 1835 Chardonnay doesn’t concern itself with being a ‘classic’ or ‘modern’ expression of chardonnay – it’s just a great chardonnay,” he notes. “Also, ask if the sparkling wine is open for tasting.”

In Leongatha, The Wine Farm showcases wine by a family with a commitment to nurturing the land. “The wines are always interesting.” As a rule, Ryan also says anything labelled under the unofficial ‘Baw Baw shire’ subregion should pique your interest. “They don’t have cellar doors but you should be able to find the wines of Patrick Sullivan (try the chardonnay) and Bill Downie (any of his pinot noirs) in several of the outstanding local bottle shops in the region.”

Dinner reservations on this ideal Gippsland getaway will be made at Hogget Kitchen in Warragul and then it’s off to The Borough Dept. Store in Korumburra “for a breakfast suitable for the morning-after a wine adventure”. A trip to Kilcunda Beach establishes balance before the journey home.

Best Gippsland pairing: A chunk of any of the local cheeses and a funky Gurneys Cider.

Where to stay: AirBnB

Gippsland, Vic

McLaren Vale, SA

Guide by Dan McEvoy, sommelier, 2KW Bar and Restaurant

Every Australian sommelier has one perfect road trip in their apron pocket to show off their state to out-of-towners. For Dan McEvoy, who grew up on the Fleurieu Peninsula, the destination is always McLaren Vale and the first stop from Adelaide is the Clarendon Bakery. “I always like to taste amazing McLaren Vale wines after enjoying some of their delicious pastries.”

Yangarra’s Ironheart Shiraz and High Sands Grenache are among McEvoy’s top McLaren Vale drops. Not to be outdone by Coriole “I have spent many a Sunday afternoon sipping on their delicious alternate varieties from their beautiful vantage point of the Fleurieu Peninsula. Their flagship Lloyd Shiraz is stunning and always worth asking if a taste is available.” SC Pannell is another insider’s favourite, “There isn’t a wine made by Stephen Pannell I don’t like.”

McLaren Vale is pure sunburnt country and it capitalises on the warm climate and sweeping plains with velvety shiraz and flavourful grenache. It may be one of Australia’s flagship wine regions, but McEvoy assures us there are still emerging innovators to discover starting with Bekkers’ cellar door. “Their shiraz and grenache led wines are some of the best in the region, and the Chablis Emmanuelle [Bekkers] makes when she returns to France each year, is a perfect way to finish,” he says. “If you can get a tasting with Uffe [Deichmann] the owner/winemaker at Poppelvej, it will change your mindset on how wine can (and should) be made. The skin-contact viognier is a highlight. Camwell also has amazing wines. They don’t make a whole lot, but the care and attention to detail over every decision made in both vineyard and winery makes it worth picking up a phone and requesting an appointment.”

On the restaurant front, the 2KW Bar sommelier has the options narrowed to d’Arry’s Verandah – “I can remember dining there in my youth and being blown away and then dining there recently it still managed to blow me away.” – and The Currant Shed – “I just love to settle in there and work through their ever-changing wine list.”

He wraps up a long day on the grape with an ice-cold Never Never Gin & Tonic at Chalk Hill winery. And for the driver? “A 2018 Bekkers Syrah, this vintage is a masterpiece and one that can be appreciated by all.”

Best McLaren Vale pairing: The Lake Albert carp spring rolls from Simon Burr at the McLaren Vale Hotel, paired with a vermentino from Oliver’s Taranga.

Where to stay: esca.com.au

McLaren Vale, SA

(Credit: Lewis Potter)

Derwent River and Coal River Valley, Tas

Guide by Alister Robertson, sommelier, Sonny

In the cool, crisp heartland surrounding Hobart you don’t get the gutsy reds Australia is known for. Instead, something a little subtler, lighter, and more elegant is fermenting. Tasmania’s cool climate has made it a darling of the premium wine scene. The longer grape-growing season lends itself to higher acidity and more complexity in the glass. According to Alister Robertson, it’s also making Derwent River and Coal River Valley a day-tripper’s paradise. “There are great antique stores nearby in New Norfolk, and it’s an easy proximity to see Mount Field and the nature surrounding, still leaving plenty of time to explore.”

Naturally, the first stop on his wine odyssey out of Hobart would be some fizz at Stefano Lubiana Wines. Then a crisp riesling at Pooley Wines. It’s no surprise that Domaine A at MONA gets a mention. Robertson points out, “They produces some awesome booze.”

On the smaller scale, his inside secrets include Anim, Sailor Seeks Horse, Dr Edge, Made By Monks, Rivulet Wines and Wine By Baby.

A return to the city dinner rewards diners with a wine experience at Institut Polaire, “where you can eat anchovy toast and drink stunning chardonnay, right near Salamanca.” Robertson’s favourite long Sunday lunch in the area is at Fico while Peppina by Massimo Mele at The Tasman is “a very promising new hotspot”.

Robertson always thanks his driver with “a tank of petrol and a six-pack of Boag’s XXX” but not before conquering another walk listed on the 60 Great Short Walks website by Tasmania Parks.

Best pairings: Dunalley Fish Market fish ‘n’ chips and ginger beer.

Where to stay: Henry Jones Art Hotel or The Tasman

Margaret River, WA

Guide by Emma Farrelly, director of wine, State Buildings

With its beaches, forest, vineyards and caves, Margaret River is a smorgasbord of scenery. A place as topographically blessed as our girl Margaret shouldn’t have to try so hard to please. But that doesn’t stop the Western Australian beauty from delivering a deeply satisfying array of food and wine goods.

Taking the scenic route, Emma Farrelly will take Caves Road for the most views between cellar doors. “It runs between Cape Naturaliste in the north and Cape Leeuwin in the south. Not only do you pass the A list of wine producers, but you get a real sense of the land, as the geography changes quite dramatically as you head south.”

She is a fan of Xanadu for chardonnay and cabernet and always takes interstate visitors (when she can) to Cullen Wines. “After a wander through the biodynamic gardens, I would be keen to show off the ‘Amber’ Sauvignon Blanc Semillon…a skin contact wine that is full in interest and complexity.” At McHenry Hohnen she says Japo Dalli Cani’s Marsanne Roussanne blend is exceptional, as is his BDX Malbec blend, and the straight syrah. “Anyone who says Margaret River cannot produce great shiraz needs to try this.”

Cloudburst, Si Vintners, Windows Estate, Blind Corner and Glenarty Road are also on Farrelly’s radar.

As is LAS Vino. “If you can get some time with Nic Peterkin you would be lucky,” and the Dormilona winery/disco space.

Food in Margaret River is just as rewarding especially if you nab a table at Vasse Felix for lunch or Lady Lola in Dunsborough for dinner. On the humbler side, a Saturday morning at Margaret River farmers markets is a lovely way to get acquainted with the area especially if you’re staying at one of the local privately owned holiday homes, which can be booked through a management company such as Private Properties. Farrelly says booking a house is the best way to experience Margaret with a group. “Otherwise, Smiths Beach Resort is delightful.”

Best Margaret River pairing: Local marron with local chardonnay. Cannot beat it.

Where to stay: Properties or Smiths Beach Resort

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