Whether you’re into veteran vintners or trailblazing taste makers, there’s a plonk for every palate in these short-break spots.
You could tackle the Yarra Valley – an hour’s drive from Melbourne – in a day or you could do justice to this dynamic culinary gem by staying a while longer. Start at De Bortoli, where an endless quest for purity delivers clean and fresh regional classics, such as chardonnay and riesling, alongside unexpected offerings, including a deliciously savoury nebbiolo rosato.
Almost hidden amid rows of gnarled vines, Yarra Yering has a similarly impressive devotion to simplicity: experience its best expression with a tasting that features the iconic Bordeaux and Rhône blends (Dry Red Wine No.1 and No.2) that put the Yarra Valley on the map.
See what the region’s next generation is up to at No.7 Healesville, in a converted furniture factory. The staff are adept at pairing natural wines with regional Mexican cuisine – that might include coriander laden birria tacos or crisp flautas with smoky chipotle crema. Then dial the opulence up to 11 at Chateau Yering Hotel, a 170-year-old homestead stuffed with enough gilt mirrors and four-poster beds to make Louis XIV blush.
Winter snows are not uncommon in mainland Australia’s coldest wine region, just over an hour’s drive north of Melbourne. Here, rugged granite peaks a nd d ense o ld-growth forests hide vineyards producing delicate, perfumed wines.
In a broad basin ringed by state forest, the weekend-only Cobaw Ridge cellar door pours wines that are grown, made and bottled onsite. Pluck out the generous Il Pinko, which is as complex a rosé as you’re likely to find anywhere. Lyons Will Estate is only a few kilometres away as the crow flies but it takes half an hour by car to reach its tasting room flanked by vines, where a refreshing riesling captures the feeling of biting into a fresh Granny Smith.
If you base yourself in Kyneton, you can enjoy dinner at the hatted Midnight Starling, an intimate French bistro that one-ups most kitchen gardens with a field full of edible flowers and a menu that hinges on game, from quail to spatchcock and wild venison. Afterwards, stroll down an avenue of pin oaks to The Old Rectory, a three-bedroom 1850 bluestone cottage with a wisteriadraped verandah that can accommodate up to six adults.
The Mount Lofty Ranges, the backbone of the Hills region, are best admired while driving on the winding roads that weave through cherry orchards, patches of dense bush and hills striped with vines. The area’s rumpled topography creates myriad microclimates but most locals agree that the highest vineyards here, half an hour from the CBD, produce the best wines.
Test this theory at Deviation Road, where some of the finest sparkling this side of Champagne is made in the traditional method then aged for up to 12 years to develop an irresistible biscuity edge. If you’d prefer to taste the vinous components separately, head to Nepenthe’s sandstone and hardwood cellar door for textural chardonnay and floral pinot noir.
Linger over small plates with a subtle Sri Lankan influence on the three-tiered deck at Mt Lofty Ranges Vineyard (mtloftyrangesvineyard.com.au), with views of the pinot noir vines that plunge down the adjacent hillside. Finish the night in serious luxury at adults-only Sequoia, a sanctuary sporting 14 elegant suites with sunken lounges, spring-fed heated pools and intimate dining room. Every inch of the property is designed to maximise the outlook, a charming patchwork of farms below.
McLaren Vale gets plenty of love for limestone-ringed coves reminiscent of the Greek Islands but the ancient dunes of the elevated sub-district of Blewitt Springs, about 45 minutes drive south of Adelaide, are also responsible for some of Australia’s most sought after grenache.
Few do it better than Yangarra, where an airy new cellar door appears like a mirage, the silica-rich vineyards glisten in the sun and the pinnacle High Sands Grenache beckons. Broaden the scope by stopping into a timber-clad shed at the bottom of Blewitt Springs Road where Geddes serves a punchy shiraz, plus a petit verdot and a carignan that nod to the Vale’s propensity for alternative varietals.
Wedged between lush vineyards and a small citrus orchard at McLaren Flat, The Currant Shed nails the relaxed fine-dining brief while serving riotously colourful dishes, such as purple congo gnocchi and roasted beetroot. Indulge before heading to the region’s highest point to recharge at Hillenvale, a restored sandstone coach-house that straddles both McLaren Vale and the Adelaide Hills (and offers sweeping views of both).
You can barely swing a golf club without hitting one of the 150 cellar doors in Australia’s oldest wine region, where many of the most recognisable names were already well-established generations ago. The result is an abundance of ways to spend a weekend among the vines just over three hours by car north of Sydney.
Founded in 1970, Brokenwood is a relative newcomer but makes up for lost time with a Modernist 1400-square-metre cellar door complex featuring two on-site restaurants, a lounge, wine museum and tasting pods, perfect for sampling regional benchmarks including the Graveyard Vineyard Shiraz and delicately honeyed ILR Reserve Semillon. Across the road, the avowedly non-traditional Tempus Two cellar door is housed in an angular structure where tangy, tropical verdelho is treated with as much reverence as a floral prosecco gin.
Perch at the spotted gum bar in EXP. and you’ll have a front-row seat to the 15 or so courses of a delicate dégustation that might include the umami tsunami of sunflower seed and mushroom miso purée with pickled shiitake and mushroom consommé. Afterwards, make your way to Spicers Vineyards Estate, a tranquil retreat where kangaroos hop around a dozen French-accented suites that are almost as beautiful when seen from above on a sunrise hot air balloon ride.
First things first: don’t confuse skin contact “orange wines” with the elegant Orange wines grown high on the slopes of an extinct volcano in the Central Tablelands, a one-hour flight or about four hours drive west of Sydney.You can taste the difference at organic producer See Saw, which has a cellar door with four labels. They range from ultra-approachable drops to the seriously funky Incubator line, featuring a skin-contact sauvignon blanc and marsanne marriage called Samm, plus a pinot noir and gamay blend known affectionately as Marge. Move onto ChaLou, where you’ll enjoy a literal overview of the area surrounding Gaanha-bula (Mount Canobolas) from 900 metres above sea level while sipping a glass of fine-grained riesling or chardonnay.
If you’re still thirsty, try one of the 40 options by the glass at Charred Kitchen & Bar as you feast on a parade of regional produce emerging from a wood-and-charcoal oven named Lucifer.
An insight into the region’s agricultural credentials can be found at Basalt, where a cherry orchard with 12,000 trees shares space with three design-forward studio suites. The rammed-earth walls, natural tones and crisp French linens provide a snug backdrop as you watch the sun burn off the morning mists.
Flowing north from Launceston, the broad Tamar River cuts through an idealised pastoral scene of lush dairies and emerald meadows before emptying into Bass Strait. Start your tour of the district, a 15 minute drive south of Launceston, in a restored 1880s homestead and answer the siren call of Josef Chromy’s crisp Brut Finesse before learning to make your own sparkling. Next, head to hilltop Tamar Ridge, where swoon-worthy pinot noir is the first, second and third priority. You can sample five expressions of the regional hero while gazing out over a broad stretch of the river.
Stop for lunch at Timbre and watch locals deliver produce ready to be smoked, roasted and grilled into winners such as toasted flatbread with ’nduja and pickled nasturtium pods. Make your way back up the valley to stay at Stillwater Seven, where original sandstone and Oregon pine augments deliciously moody furniture, such as blackwood minibars stocked with enough local cheese, charcuterie and craft booze to survive the apocalypse.
Fill your lungs with pure air blown down from Cape Grim in this sprawling region that stretches out between the Bass Strait and the brooding mountains of the interior. It’s fortunate that the strawberry pink field blend pét-nat at Ghost Rock, less than 15 minutes from Devonport, is good in any weather, because the patch of coast the cellar door overlooks can turn from glittering blue to moody grey in an instant. Head inland and follow several friendly labradoodles through The Truffle Farm before learning how to grade your finds and, later, devouring them freshly shaved on pizzas straight from the woodfired oven.
The chocolatey soils grow even darker as you approach Leven Valley vineyard, where views over the namesake river are matched by ultra-boutique pinot noir and chardonnay. And it would be a shame to stop before you saw Tasmania’s most famous peak from Peppers Cradle Mountain Lodge, a charming chalet filled with leather and a roaring fire that feels even more welcoming after a brisk walk around tranquil Dove Lake.
Three hours south of Perth, this region appeals to wine-lovers and wave-chasers alike, thanks to a generous sprinkling of vineyards hidden between lofty jarrah forests, fields of wildflowers and glittering white-sand beaches. Leeuwin Estate helped put “Margs” on the map with its opulent Art Series chardonnay. Elsewhere, the legendary Cullen Wines is worth a visit, with lovingly tended biodynamic vineyards that make the ideal setting for tasting the benchmark Diana Madeline cab sav merlot blend.
Pop next door to pioneering Vasse Felix and discover the latest dining trends on a mod-Ozmeets-Asian menu where cumquats and kombu are equally at home. Then head north until the eco-luxe Barn Hives appears above the horizon like a Neolithic monument. Settle in and watch from your private deck as a troupe of ducks waddles back from a busy day of “pest control” in the neighbouring vineyards.
Swap surf for serenity on a journey through the ancient landscape of the South West, 90 minutes from Margaret River, where marron-filled streams flow through skyscraping forests of karri, jarrah and tingle on their way to idyllic swimming holes, such as the tree-ringed Pemberton Pool. That wild beauty is on full show at Smithbrook, located in a magnificent natural amphitheatre, where the nebbiolo packs a tannic punch. With a cellar door resembling a French farmhouse, it’s no surprise that Picardy focuses on Burgundy varietals but don’t miss trying the plush, Côte-Rôtie style shiraz viognier.
Visit Hidden River’s charming cellar door restaurant for modern European fare with a Middle Eastern twist before sinking deep into a chesterfield at Jaspers, a cosy whisky bar with some 200 bottles on offer and several stylish on-site cabins with decks shaded by mature jacaranda trees.
Best of the rest
Forget sun-kissed beaches and swaying palms: the Granite Belt, less than three hours from Brisbane, is a rocky plateau dotted with colossal outcrops, sharp spires and boulder-strewn slopes that disappear under a mosaic of colourful wildflowers each spring. Founded by the Puglisi family in 1932 and now run by the third, fourth and fifth generations, Ballandean Estate pays tribute to the region’s Italian migrants at a rustic cellar door, where arched doorways lead to a barrel room pouring Mediterranean varietals, such as fiano and malvasia. Bent Road takes a more left-of-centre approach to produce wines under three labels – think marsanne aged under flor and Georgian qvevri buried in the grounds of a pretty timber church.
The anything-goes vibe continues at Essen restaurant, where chef Clarissa Pabst infuses colourful small plates with flashes of her Austrian heritage. And at the end of the day, there’s a vaguely alpine feel to the giant, wine-barrel-shaped Barrel View Luxury Cabins that look out towards Girraween and Sundown national parks.
Beginning just minutes from the airport, the Canberra District is ideal for oenophiles who aren’t keen on long drives. You don’t even need to leave the Territory to visit Mount Majura Vineyard. Follow kangaroos through the vines before arriving at an outdoor tasting pavilion where robust tempranillo is the undisputed star. Then venture north across the border to Clonakilla’s reclaimed wood-and-stone cellar door for a taste of its silky shiraz viognier blend.
Be sure to save space for dinner at Pilot, in Ainslie, where the seven-course dégustation includes cheeky takes on comfort food, such as prawn toast tacos and a Hawaiian pizza tart with chunks of fermented pineapple, crisp fried salami and ’nduja paste. Afterwards, settle in for the night at the polished concrete-and-glass Midnight Hotel in hip Braddon, where apartment-style rooms are decorated with edgy contemporary artworks and gleaming copper.
Image credit: Jonathan van der Knaap. Chloe Smith