If you are a monogamous wine lover – and by that we mean in love with just one region – you are truly missing out. Given how easy it is to quickly travel by air between Sydney, a stone’s throw away from the Hunter Valley, and Melbourne, on the doorstep of the Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula, you would be crazy to not experience the flavours and possibilities of all three regions in a wine lovers’ mini-getaway exploring the east coast.
WHY EXPLORE BOTH STATES?
The Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula, meanwhile, are cool climate regions. Again, pinot noir and chardonnay are signature varieties, but with distinct differences. Reds are lighter again, with a fine tannin structure, and the whites, especially the chardonnay, have a brighter, fresher, acid-driven style to them resembling early harvest stone fruits or apple. Again, it’s a fresh, exciting and modern style that’s sure to please.
While you can get there and back in one day, with enough time for some wine tasting and lunch, most Sydneysiders know the best way to experience the Hunter is at a leisurely pace. Drive there, enjoy all the wine it has to offer, then make the return the next day. With great accommodation options on offer – hostels, caravan parks, country cottages on Airbnb, luxury resorts – there is definitely something for everyone.
The area boasts more than 150 wineries and produces more styles of the good stuff than you could possibly drink in a lifetime. Head to some of the 45-plus cellar doors open to the public, mostly in the Pokolbin area.
With so much to choose from it really makes sense to look into joining a tour with a local guide. The cellar doors and attractions are quite spread out and can be tricky to navigate since phone and GPS reception can be patchy. Whether you are after an experience that focuses on wineries or would prefer a snapshot that also includes craft breweries and distilleries creating vodka and liqueurs, you will find a variety of tour options to tempt.
If you are short on time, here are a few options showcasing the best of the region.
You won’t find a warmer welcome or more knowledgeable sommeliers than at Scottish-inspired Capercaillie Wines. You’ll find it hard to walk away without a delicious dry rosé with candy-like notes of strawberries and cream or a medium-bodied chardonnay that brings to mind a vanilla custard. Try the Shimmering Chambourcin, a sparkling, slightly sweet red with hints of maraschino cherries and black forest cake.
Ernest Hill Wines
On Pokolbin Hill, you’ll find Ernest Hill Wines, steeped in family tradition and a passion for the grape. Father-and-son team Ross and Jason Wilson make the wine that has captured the hearts and the palates of many a wine fan and visitor to the area. The Chicken Shed Chardonnay – don’t say it too fast after a few wines – has a lightly oaked character with melon hints and, of course, is perfect with chicken. The Cracklin’ Rosé has distinct cherry notes rather than the usual strawberries and cream, but the real treat is the family’s dessert wines. Their Luna Rouge and Luna Spark are distinct from most dessert wines thanks to their only slightly sweet character – neither is thick or syrupy – and slight carbonation. Sometimes you even get a surprise pop when you open the bottle.
At the top of one of the most picturesque hills in Lovedale, overlooking the endless rows of vines and a troop of kangaroos, you will find Wandin Wines‘ cellar door and restaurant. One of the most exciting aspects of dining here is you can combine a tasting experience and lunch. The tasting-plates lunch features four chef-selected, mini versions of the mains paired to four of the winery’s drops, with an introduction from a sommelier at the commencement of your meal. Finish off with a glass of gorgeous pink moscato in the cellar door.
Carved into a hillside at the base of the Christmas Hills is inviting Yileena Park. With its endless views over the Steels Creek mountain range and one of the warmest welcomes in the valley, you’ll fall in love with the wines and atmosphere of this humble cellar door. You’ll find a premium selection of drops here, most of which are aged for a minimum of four years before release, with the reserve range aged for six years before becoming available at the cellar door. There’s also a delicious assortment of treats available for purchase, including olives, cheese, mustard and olive oil, all of which have been smoked using old oak wine barrels.
Authentic Northern Italian cuisine – that’s what the kitchen at Trattoria d’Soumah creates for its returning guests. With a menu that’s designed to suit every taste – choose from the likes of vegetarian orecchiette, duck ragu tagliatelle, swordfish caponata and slow braised lamb – it’ll be hard to tear yourself away from the table. For something more casual, there’s also a great selection of delicious wood-fired pizza. The captivating views over the vineyard can be enjoyed from every corner of the restaurant, making it an ideal spot to while away an afternoon.
Heading down the driveway to the immaculately landscaped property at Ocean Eight, you know you’re in for a treat. The manicured vineyards and perfect English garden are the envy of other wineries on the peninsula. The cellar door, winery and underground barrel room are custom built to produce the best wines and experience. The wines here are equally as amazing with a premium range of the Mornington Peninsula’s staple classics: pinot gris, chardonnay and pinot noir. These are some of the best wines on the Mornington Peninsula, so they aren’t cheap, but it’s so worth taking a souvenir from your day home.
Driving into this property, beneath the willows draped over the driveway, you come out from the shade and into one of the most beautifully secluded vineyards on the peninsula. The winemakers here are fanatical about their pinot noir and it shows in the range of small batch, single vineyard wines. It’s a real family affair at Merricks Creek, with father and son as the winemakers and front-of-house team, and mum and aunty in the kitchen creating small plates to perfectly match the wines. The food here is an undiscovered gem and one of our favourite spots to dine. There’s a great range starting with cheeses, pates and terrines, moving onto hot dishes like slow-cooked lamb and meatballs, and finishing with some delicious desserts, including a crowd-pleasing deconstructed tiramisu.
These suggestions are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the possibilities when you visit the Hunter Valley, Mornington Peninsula or Yarra Valley. So don’t count your future travel bucket list as full until you include an east coast Aussie wine adventure in the mix. Your tastebuds will thank you for it.