Food has been the main reason most city slickers drive the three and a half hours to Dunkeld's Royal Mail Hotel in Victoria's west. First under the command of Dan Hunter and, for the past three years, Robin Wickens, the Royal Mail's restaurant has attracted attention and accolades via its championing of creatively cooked local produce. But after a recent renovation that has opened the restaurant's incredible cellar - housed across the road from the restaurant in an outwardly uninspiring warehouse building - to the public, wine might become as much of drawcard as the kitchen.
As any self-respecting wine buff would be aware, the Royal Mail's wine list is one of the best in the country. The list draws from the 30,000-bottle cellar that the hotel's owner, Allan Myers, has been assembling for nearly 50 years. The cellar is estimated to be worth $2.8 million and includes the largest privately owned collection of wines from Burgundy and Bordeaux in the southern hemisphere.
The Royal Mail's wine cellar.
Before the renovation, the organised chaos of the climate-controlled warehouse was mostly off limits to restaurant patrons. But now new hardwood floors, custom-made shelving, a tasting area and a Coravin system that enables rare and aged wines to be tasted mean that the Royal Mail's wine collection is ready for its close-up.
Sommelier and food and beverage manager, Matthew Lance, felt it was time the cellar was paid more attention.
"This is an incredible collection and we've never really had a way of showing it properly before," he says. "Now people can come in, talk about the wines, get some of the history of the collection, have a look around and taste some incredible wines."
Royal Mail Hotel food and beverage managers Peter Dillon and Matthew Lance.
To coincide with the renovation, the Royal Mail is running two new "wine experiences".
The first is a comparative tasting ($20 for hotel guests, $25 for visitors) where guests get to taste New World chardonnay alongside white Burgundy or a definitive local cabernet blend with the best that Bordeaux has to offer. The Coravin system means wines that have been in the cellar since the 1960s get to be part of the experience.
The second offer is called the French Collection: Lance chooses five wines from the cellar's admirable stash of French wine - starting with Champagne and finishing with Château d'Yquem - and matches them to Robin Wickens' multi-course tasting menu in the Royal Mail's dining room.
"The Royal Mail's wine list has always been a labour of love and the care put into it over the years and the depth of the collection makes you proud to be a part of it," says Lance. "It's satisfying to be able to show people just how good it is."
French Collection with dinner and matching wine, $200 per head; Royal Mail Hotel, 98 Parker St, Dunkeld (03) 5577 2241, royalmail.com.au