Disclaimer: while this is in no way a paid advertisement, it will sound like one. These wine regions are special!
Boyfriend and I have a knack for cramming a lot into our holidays, and our Easter trip to the Beechworth region was no exception. Apart from dining our way through the region, enjoying a few beers, going on an epic drive and fitting in a few walks and a ghost tour, there was one thing we were really there for: the wine.
We got to know about these regions’ wines thanks to the Taste of Two Regions Festival in 2013, where Rutherglen and King Valley wineries came to Canberra (yay) to show off their hard work. It sparked an ongoing love affair to the point that we planned a whole trip around visiting the region. Fortunately, the Taste of Two Regions Festival is back in 2014 on 6 July.
In five days, we visited 20 wineries. One of the best things about the region is that you can visit on any day and almost every winery you want to visit will be open. How good is that? The other really good thing is that the prices are extremely reasonable. The regions are known for their good reds, great prosecco and out of this world fortifieds, but the poor white wines get ignored – in my favour! And you can pick up some very decent fortifieds for $20 – in fact, you’ll notice that most of the wines I recommend under “my picks” below are $20 or under.
And, we also went to a handful of wineries outside the Rutherglen and King Valley regions (they’re at the bottom).
Here are my thoughts on each one (and I’ve asterisked the ones coming to Canberra in July):
All Saints Estate, All Saints Road, Wahgunyah* (open 7 days, 9am-5.30pm, and open from 10am on Sundays)
All Saints Estate is a popular winery and it’s easy to see why. First, there’s the beautiful drive in (reminiscent of Poacher’s Pantry).
Then, there’s the castle.
Yes, a CASTLE.
Then there’s the beautiful grounds, the one-hatted Terrace Restaurant where we had lunch, and the cheese factory (what nicer than to lounge in the grounds with some wine and cheese?).
It’s easy to see why All Saints is an institution.
Inside, the wine tasting room is large and accommodating. But, this also means that wine tasters quickly outnumber the people available to serve wine, especially on a weekday (but this works for you, dear reader, because a lot of waiting around = a lot of photos!).
My picks: Try the 2013 Riesling ($22), Rutherglen Muscat ($22), Moscato ($18) and Chenin Blanc ($22).
Buller Wines, 2084 Federation Way, Rutherglen* (open 7 days, 9am-5pm weekdays, 10am-5pm weekends)
Buller Wines was in the news recently, and when we arrive, I’m surprised at just how few people are visiting on this Easter Monday morning.
There’s a large tasting area, which makes the emptiness even more prominent, but the service is friendly, and prices more than reasonable.
My picks: Portly Gentleman (Port) and Victoria Muscat
Campbell’s, 4603 Murray Valley Highway* (Open 7 days, 9am-5pm weekdays and 10am-5pm weekends)
Campbell’s is a must visit. While its range isn’t as extensive as Brown Brothers, its fortifieds are in most bottle-os – and for good reason: they appeal to most palates, and are reasonably priced.
Like All Saints, the service is just a touch slow (or maybe we’re just really anxious to get to more wineries!), but generous and friendly, and I’m encouraged to wander around the space and take photos.
The wine tasting list is looong, but only a few back releases are on tasting.
The sweet red, Amelie, stands out to Boyfriend and me – it’s not quite like anything I’ve ever tasted before, and while the Vintage Port isn’t on tasting, we’re offered a small sip given a bottle is open. It’s divine, and worth the splurge even though it’s our first day in the region!
My picks: Amelie ($16), The Empire ($25), Vintage Port ($40), as well as the usual Rutherglen Muscat or Topaque ($18)
Chambers-Rosewood, Barkly Street, Rutherglen* (open 7 days, 9am-5pm, and 10am-5pm Sundays)
Chambers is nothing like what I expect. I expect a winery similar to Campbell’s: a slick machine, with a wide variety of wines. While there’s a wide variety of wines, that’s where the similarities end. In fact:
There’s a lot of truth in this. There’s no one there to pour the wines. It’s self-pour. Many of the wines can be poured without having to tip them yourself – we press a contraption at the top of the bottle and it pours out in a measured way.
Other bottles – namely the fortifieds – we pour ourselves. Signs stress that small pours are appreciated. It feels a little like the Riesling Challenge, but without all the people.
I find it all a little bemusing, but Boyfriend declares it his favourite winery of the lot: there’s no need to make small-talk (the winemaker isn’t far away if we have questions, but is busy doing odd jobs around the cellar door instead of standing awkwardly), the wines are as well priced as the sign suggests, and – unsurprisingly – the fortifieds are a stand out.
My picks: 2011 Walnut Muscat ($18), Sweet Cellar ($15 for a flagon [!]), Light Muscat ($7), Rutherglen Muscat ($18)
Morris Wines, Mia Mia Road, Rutherglen* (Open 7 days, 9am-5pm weekdays, 10am-5pm weekends)
The Morris muscats and topaques are bottleo staples, but it’s always quite strange visiting the place where everything happens. Morris is one of the oldest vineyards in the region, and it’s huge. It’s fun to drive down the long driveway with vineyards flanking us.
The cellar door is tucked away in an enormous shed, and inside it’s well fit-out, with low lighting and dark wood – and a showcase of trophies for the wines.
This is the winery that Boyfriend has been most looking forward to visiting (he’s a big fan), but it’s the last one we go to. Boyfriend purchases a bottle of their classic liqueur muscat, but after leaving realises it’s cheaper at Dan Murphy’s. I’m surprised to see a moscato on their tasting list (available directly purchased only), and after a group comes in and buys a dozen having enjoyed a bottle the night before, I’m sold. It’s delicious.
My picks: Moscato ($17.50), Durif ($25 – Ainslie Cellars introduced us to this!) and their full range of fortifieds
Rutherglen Estates, 13-35 Drummond Street, Rutherglen* (Open 7 days, 10am-5.30pm)
Rutherglen Estates’ cellar door is right in the centre of Rutherglen, so it’s hard to miss it. Rutherglen Estates has the best moscato (I personally think it tastes like raspberry sorbet), and overall has a fun but professional feel.
Apart from the moscato, there’s plenty to like here (and the prices are again very favourable). It’s the one winery where we buy a dozen wines (okay, four of them are moscato, but still!). I think I won’t but do like the Sangipop – a spritzy sweet rose.
My picks: Moscato ($14.95), Sangipop ($12.95), Classic Muscat ($19.95), Bourgoyne’s Block (a Mouvedre, Shiraz and Grenache blend – $14.95), Arneis ($15.95), White (Savignin, Pinot Grigio and Sauv Blanc blend – $12.95)
We’ve been to a lot of wineries by the time we get to Scion Vineyard, but it’s full of surprises and remains one of the highlights on our trip.
The first stand out is the colour. I love that Scion isn’t traditional. It’s also one of few boutique wineries in the area, with a small but confident range. I love the labels.
Our host Jan flags that they – like Pennyweight – are descendants of Morris, and so Scion as the name makes a great deal of sense.
The wines are delicious, especially the gloriously dark and smooth After Dark, which is to be served chilled – it’s a bit like a small piece of dark chocolate to finish off a meal. Yum.
My picks: After Dark ($29), Affinity ($22, a part Durif) and Fleur ($19, a white wine from muscat grapes).
(PS – they’re doing a special dinner at The Artisan later this month, but it’s already sold out!)
Stanton and Killeen, Jacks Road, Rutherglen* (Open 7 days, 9am-5pm and 10am-5pm on Sundays)
It’s quiet at Stanton and Killeen when we enter, but that just adds to the experience. Stanton and Killeen has a great range of fortified wines, and it’s quite a lot of fun to have three poured from their entry-level to more expensive ranges of Muscat and Topaque to learn the differences (and where the price comes from!).
It’s Stanton and Killeen which also recommends this amazing (and short!) walk.
My picks: Rutherglen Riesling ($16), Rutherglen Muscat ($20)
Warrabilla Wines, 6152 Murray Valley Highway, Rutherglen (Open 7 days, 10am-5pm)
Warrabilla Wines are BIG wines, with big alcohol content. Memorably, another patron asks while we’re there, “So you have a wine that’ 14 per cent, right?” and the answer is that most of them are more than 16 per cent. That’s a lot. You can say we slowed our tasting intake right there and then.
I’m sure I’m being a little particular, but while I like the Warrabilla wines, it’s difficult to know where to start. With four different reserve shiraz and three durif, I’d love to have something like Stanton and Killeen, where we’re poured a few at once and try them. Instead, we’re asking to choose. I’ve no idea where to start, and as a result of our confusion we don’t get any of the reds. The wines are also some of the more expensive wines on our trip.
My picks: 2013 Riesling ($19), 2013 Marsanne ($19), Tawny ($19), 2005 Vintage Port ($23)
Brown Brothers, 239 Milawa Bobinawarrah Road, Milawa* (Open 7 days, 9am-5pm)
We head to the iconic Brown Brothers late on Saturday afternoon and the large grounds are absolutely packed. Absolutely packed. There’s so much going on here – it’s like a winery theme park. There’s a door prize where we’re given three tastes of wine and asked to write down on a slip of paper what’s what to go into the draw to win, and inside there’s a huge epicurean centre, and the grounds are packed with people enjoying food and wine, and kids running around. After visiting many wineries on this day, it’s actually a little overwhelming. So much so, that we walk in to the tasting area, and walk out after one taste.
My picks: I have no picks. This is nothing against Brown Brothers wines, which we like very much. This is a winery to devote a day or half day to; don’t head here on an Easter weekend when you’ve already been to a lot of wineries, or you might walk out with nothing, like we did.
Chrismont, 251 Upper King River Road, Cheshunt* (Open 7 days, 11am-5pm)
King Valley embodies the Italian spirit, and surrounded by mountain peaks but with bright yellow hues in its cellar door, Chrismont really seems to embody both the north and south of Italy on its property.
The location of the cellar door is like many of those home projects: temporary, but there for years. There’s a low beam so smack in the middle, so if you’re over six foot tall, consider this fair warning.
Chrismont’s got a house, premium and ‘La Zona’ range, and they’re all good. I’m particularly taken with the spritzy Fragolino and Marzemino Frizzante (both $20) – the former a more strawberry taste, and the latter with a line of dark cherries.
My picks: Prosecco ($22), Moscato ($16), Barbera ($26), Fragolino ($20), Marzemino Frizzante ($20), Riesling ($16)
Dal Zotto, 4861 Wangaratta-Whitfield Road, Whitfield* (open 7 days, 10am-5pm)
I ain’t gonna lie. Dal Zotto is probably my favourite winery of the trip. This is a successful winery, and I am already a huge fan of their Prosecco, but being there is something else. Amidst gorgeous grounds there’s an efficient operation (without being brusque).
We miss the pizzas, but hear again and again that this is a mistake – we should have made this our lunch stop!
My picks: Pucino Prosecco ($22), Rosato ($18), Pinot Grigio ($19) and Barbera ($25).
Gracebook, 4446 Wangaratta-Whitfield Road, Whitfield (open 7 days, 10am-5pm)
Gracebook’s like a smaller version of All Saints, with a lovely outdoor area, and a large but cozy restaurant with plenty of wood panelling. For this Easter Sunday they’re using the deck outside.
There are dry and sweet rieslings at Gracebook, and while I’m normally a sweet riesling fan, their 2005 Premium Riesling (the one with the awards in the photo) captures and keeps my attention.
My picks: 2005 riesling ($22) and Sangiovese Merlot ($18)
John Gehrig Wines, 80 Gehrigs Lane, Oxley* (Open 7 days, 10am-5pm)
John Gehrig Wines is housed in a large shed, and like other wineries in the region, has a small kid’s play area.
John Gehrig is all about their delicious riesling ($22 – I think) and Boyfriend gets a bargain with two litres of their ‘Dazed Duck’ port for $28.
Pizzini, 175 King Valley Road, King Valley* (Open 7 days, 10am-5pm)
Pizzini is another ‘absolute must-do’ for us. I love their Prosecco (stocked around Canberra), and I’m pleased to find Pizzini’s cellar door is as pretty as their prosecco is tasty. It’s on a beautiful property, surrounded by mountains, and there’s lush green grass, great outdoor setting and a huge tasting area indoors with food to purchase.
Sadly, not many of the other wines impress us, but I do like their brachetto (a moscato with strong strawberry flavour).
The Per Gli Angeli is another favourite of ours – probably the best fortified we taste, with a beautiful amber colour and like sticky date pudding in a glass – but at $65 for 375ml we talk ourselves out of buying it.
My picks: Prosecco ($19.50), Brachetto ($17.50), Per Gli Angeli ($65)
Politini, 65 Upper King River Road, Cheshunt* (Open 7 days, 11am-5pm)
Politini is a real surprise for us – I’m not expecting much, but I’m encouraged to try wines I wouldn’t normally go for, and I like them. As with most King Valley wines, they’re well priced – but a number of their popular fortifieds are out of stock (good for them, not so good for us).
The Amoroso is like liquid cherry chocolate, and Boyfriend likes their Tawny liqueur so much that he buys two bottles. It’s one of the few wineries where I prefer the reds over the whites.
My picks: Sangiovese Rose ($16), Amoroso ($15.50), Merlot ($14.50), Liqueur Tawny (now also out of stock!)
Sam Miranda, 1019 Snow Road, Oxley* (Open 7 days, 10am-5pm)
Sam Miranda is another of those cellar door experiences. The cellar door is almost under a little hill, and light streams through from skylights. There’s a lot going on when we arrive, with plenty of people making use of their restaurant.
This is something like our eighth winery on this Saturday, and – while unusual – I’m quite tired of drinking! But there’s so much going on at Sam Miranda and the wines are so lovely that it’s easy to perk up again.
Strangely, it’s not their prosecco that I like, but their crisp sparkling white – and it’s a steal at $14.
My picks: Semillon ($20), Sparkling ($14), Dolcetto ($20)
BEECHWORTH and other
Amulet, 1036 Beechworth-Wangaratta Road, Beechworth (open 7 days, 10am-5pm)
Amulet is a quaint winery with a large outdoor area, and plenty of room for the kids to run around. As well as producing a diverse range of wine, including prosecco in small 330ml bottles, they make their own cider.
My picks: Prosecco ($9 for 330ml) and Bollicine (a slightly sparkling red, $26)
If you’re thinking “wedding” and “winery” in the same sentence, this is the place for you. My photos don’t do justice to the stunning views toward Mt Buffalo, nor the beautiful gardens and the beautiful use of wood in and outside the winery.
On the morning we’re there, there’s a hive of activity and we think they’re preparing for a wedding, but it’s just preparing for lunch sittings over Easter (which are sold out!). You can see why people flock here for some food and a glass of wine with views like these.
My picks: Savagnin ($22 and 94 points from James Halliday) and Sauvignon Blanc – similarly written names but distinct flavours which show off the terroir
Pennyweight, 13 Pennyweight Lane, Beechworth (open 7 days, 10am-5pm)
Pennyweight feels a little bit secretive – and that’s not a criticism. There’s something a little bit hidden, a little bit classic – it feels like it’s tightly held. It comes highly recommended by Stanton and Killeen. The wines are biodynamic and corks are still used.
We’re the only ones there on this Easter Sunday. I do feel for the winemakers – it must be quite repetitive and surely boring to have the same conversations with people all day every day, and this must be amplified when you’ve just got the one group in front of you. But our host at Pennyweight – like most places – does this in a marvellous way.
And the wines are what you’d expect from a biodynamic winery: you can almost taste the care and thought put into them, and they’re delicious. Like Scion, the owners of Pennyweight are descendants of Morris.
My picks: Gamay (delicious red) and Beechworth Ruby port (and why not get two litres?)
Dates: 17-21 April, 2014
Where: Beechworth, Rutherglen and King Valley
Cost: Er, a bit. So many good wines! At such food prices!
Value for money: High
Worthwhile factor: Highly worthwhile