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Take advantage of the strong US dollar and start planning your trip to Australia. Here, TPG Special Correspondent John Walton takes us on a delightfully delicious journey from Sydney to Melbourne, stopping at local wineries along the way.
As the third busiest air route in the world, you’ll be one of about eight million passengers flying between Sydney and Melbourne, but driving between the two cities is another option if you’ve got the time — the trip takes less than nine hours on good roads through some of Australia’s most beautiful landscapes and charming small towns. The Hume Highway (M31) also takes you within striking distance of two of Australia’s little-known wine regions: Rutherglen and the Alpine Valleys.
The Rutherglen region’s most striking wine is Durif, also known as Petite Sirah. It’s a big, bold red with inky purple characteristics and a lot of fruity, peppery and berry flavors. It’s reasonable to say it’s Syrah/Shiraz writ large but without the length in your mouth. The region’s elegant, grown-up Muscat and Topaque dessert wines are also a real keeper. No sickly sweet stuff here. This is proper gold on the palate — a mix of German and Austrian varieties combined with the heat of inland Australia to make some truly beautiful wines. The cooler climate of the Australian Alps means grapes can branch out and create really interesting varietals and styles, but it’s the relaxed, sleepy mountain time feeling, summer or winter, that makes this region so delightful to visit.
If you like bubbles, try the sparkling reds, too — these are rarely exported and best drunk on a hot, sunny day with friends. Shipping rates from the wineries are usually pretty reasonable across Australia, giving you the perfect excuse to send a care package to the hotel in the next city you’re staying in.
Here are my recommendations for five must-visit “cellar doors” — that’s Aussie for tasting rooms.
1. Cofield Wines — A Real Family Operation with Great Views
Make Cofield Wines in Wahgunyah, Victoria your first stop. With four sparkling wines, four whites and eight reds, this friendly cellar door is right at the winery and gives a great overview of the wines produced in this part of the world. Some of its cool-climate grapes are also brought in from the Alpine Valleys region.
Make sure you try: The minimal footprint Malbec, the Marsanne–Roussanne blend and the Sparkling Shiraz.
2. Pfeiffer’s — For an Incredible Range of Wine
Plan to spend a long time tasting your way through Pfeiffer’s delicious range of wines in its fun, funky and historic winery, but don’t wimp out before you get to the dessert wines. The extensive outdoor area and turtle-feeding zone are a great way to entertain the kids (or your designated sober driver) while you work your way down the list.
Make sure you try: The classic Durif; the unusual Frontignac; the gorgeous Gamay that knocks Beaujolais’ socks off; the Rosé Apera, which is gorgeous over ice or half-and-half with a spritz of soda water; and the entire range of Muscats, Topaques and Tawnys.
3. All Saints’ Wine — Characteristic of Australia’s Rutherglen Region
After those two wineries, you’ll definitely want some lunch. Call ahead to make a reservation at the Chef Hatted (that’s the Aussie version of one Michelin star) restaurant at All Saints, which sports a beautiful garden and battlements on its brick buildings.
Make sure you try: The Chardonnay, the Cabernet Franc and the brilliant Wahgunyah Shiraz.
If you opt to stay overnight or want something a little less intense than All Saints’ restaurant, grab a bite at Cofield’s café or stay at the beautiful Circa 1936 hotel in Corowa, a converted Art Deco bank building with a fascinating mix of classic and contemporary art. Brunches, late lunches and afternoon tea are also available — a great way to soak up some of that wine and keep yourself hydrated in the Australian heat.
4. Gapsted Wines — Your First Stop in the Alpine Valleys
Not only is Gapsted Wines in a beautiful spot, it’s the first winery you’ll come across en route from the highway and there are an amazing range of grapes available — some are grown only in this region besides in its original home. Take the Saperavi, for instance, a red grape from Georgia (the country) you’re unlikely to try anywhere else, or the Petit Manseng — also called the new Viognier, as if Viognier were passé.
Make sure you try: The Sparkling and regular Saperavi, plus the Italians — Barbera, Sangiovese and Nebbiolo — and the Petit Manseng white wine variety.
5. Boynton’s Feathertop — An Overview of Alpine Valleys’ Wines with a Gorgeous Restaurant
Toward the center of the Alpine Valleys region, you’ll find Boynton’s Feathertop Winery and its restaurant, located under leafy trees offering plenty of shade and great views of the valley.
Make sure you try: The red blends, the aromatic Savagnin and the 20-year-old Tawny.
If you’re driving through Australia between Sydney and Melbourne, it’s worth some time to stop at one — or all — of these fantastic Australian cellar doors. You’re guaranteed to find something that satisfies your taste, whether that be the classic Durif or the interesting tastes that come from the Australian Alps region.
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