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Life

Go West

Henty, the Grampians, Pyrenees and Ballarat – there are plenty of tasting treasures to be unearthed in the wine regions of Western Victoria.

We need Western Victoria and its wine. We need its different taste and the perspective it brings: a balanced, middle-weighted, pepper-infused, mint-garnished, spicy, smooth, sometimes savoury, sometimes rustic kind of alternative taste.

Vineyards are vast and isolated here, attached by dirt roads to country towns and sometimes just the smallest of hamlets. Wines are made by men and women of the land, people like John Thomson at Crawford River in the Henty region, who talks of his “peasant genes,” and who has four generations behind him who have farmed sheep and cattle on the land. He and his wife Catherine branched into wine in 1975.

“I didn’t set out to grow grapes,” he says. “I set out to make wine.”

There was, he adds, more money in the latter. It’s a common enough story around these parts.

Western Victoria is a collective term for four independent wine regions: Henty, the GrampiansPyrenees and Ballarat. This is home to Shiraz (plenty of it) and Cabernet Sauvignon (less of it) along with Chardonnay and a little Sauvignon BlancRiesling and Pinot Noir with a gaggle of Italian varieties bringing up the rear.

The Back Story

It’s the flagpoles out front issuing a kind of multi-national wave of welcome that stump first time visitors to Taltarni. There’s the Aussie flag to the forefront shouldered on either side by the American stars and stripes and the French tricolour.

What does it all mean?

 

Like a few wineries in Western Victoria, it’s all about history and foreign influences. Taltarni’s story involves a wealthy Californian owner who set up the operation in 1972, and his long-time French winemaker who laid the foundations for its enduring, elegant wine style.

The French were among the first to see the potential that lay in the Pyrenees, with Cognac-based Rémy Martin arriving at Avoca in 1960, ostensibly to make brandy, but wine quickly followed. They called their enterprise Chateau Rémy. We know it today as Blue Pyrenees Estate.

But the biggest influence on the region was gold. Discovered in the 1850s, it made towns like Ballarat and Great Western magnets for prospectors from around the world.

After the gold, people like Joseph and Henry Best stayed and moved into wine. Joseph built a substantial winery and used unemployed gold diggers to carve out underground cellars. It was the beginning of what came to be Seppelt, one of the biggest Sparkling wine producers in the country.

Henry Best planted vines fronting Concongella Creek at Great Western. But it was the purchase of the site by Frederick Thomson in 1920 that really saw the Best’s Wines story take off.

The Grampians

Western Victoria is a land of wide plains running smack up against some pretty spectacular hills and ranges, none more impressive than the rugged National Park that gives the Grampians its name.

Mountain walkers, climbers and cyclists really love this part of the world. With a range of B&Bs, hotels and camping sites to choose from, most make Halls Gap their HQ. Wineries like Mount Langi Ghiran and The Gap are just down the road.

Mount Langi Ghiran is best known as the producer of archetypal cool climate, peppery Shiraz, which first drew the industry’s attention to a budding new style in the 1980s.

How pepper gets into the wines of Western Victoria to such a degree that it might be called a phenomenon has only slowly been revealed by scientists at Melbourne University working with the winemakers at Mount Langi Ghiran (it’s got to do with a cool climate and wet seasons).

On paper, the region (19 vineyards, eight cellar doors) looks small, but its history and influence belie its size.

The Great Western sub-region was the commercial cradle of Sparkling wine production in Australia at Seppelt and is synonymous with a great Aussie icon, Sparkling Shiraz. Grampians Estate and Seppelt lead the pack, but for added gravitas, tour the Seppelt underground drives to feel the history and finish with a glass of spiced-up red bubbles.

One of the state’s great restaurants, the Royal Mail Hotel, can be found in a highway town called Dunkeld. Five and eight course degustation menus star local produce, alternatively there is an informal wine bar.

Or there are the local Mount Gambier wines to try, including up-and-coming Pinots, at Tosca Browns in Hamilton.

Henty is a developing wine region as far west as you can go before you bang into South Australia. Volcanic, gravelly soils over limestone are the key to some of the best Rieslings in Australia made here at Crawford River Wines.

And what a treat to find a one hat quality restaurant such as The Pickled Pig in Warrnambool.

The Pyrenees

Major Thomas Mitchell, the 19th Century explorer, was a bit of a romantic, clearly. He named this part of the Great Dividing Range, the Pyrenees, as the dense, blue-hued hills reminded him of the mountains dividing France and Spain. Given the hills outside the towns of Avoca and Moonambel rise to 800 metres compared to some 3400 metres in Europe, that’s a bit of a stretch, but point taken. This is a pretty part of the world.

It is here that the wine lover will confront the Pyrenean wine character known in academic circles as 1,8-cineole. The rest of us call it eucalyptus, aka, mint or menthol (the cineole is sourced from leaves and stems that find their way into fermentation), and it’s often found on either a red wine’s bouquet or flavour, or both. Its usual vehicle of choice is the Shiraz grape, which dominates plantings, but it can be found in any number of red wines.

That eucalyptus in wine should be such a powerful influence is not so surprising. Gum trees are everywhere around these parts. For those who applaud its inclusion in wine, it’s part of the land, a question of terroir.

The Pyrenean red winemaking style is understated, medium-bodied and earthy.

Best in Bubbles

And strange as it may seem when so many producers today seek the super cool regions like Tasmania for sourcing grapes for sparkling wines, the Pyrenees does an excellent job with bubbles.

Blue Pyrenees Estate 2010 Midnight Cuvee beat some of the country’s top Sparklings to be named World Champion Australian sparkling at the inaugural Champagne and Sparkling Wine World Championships in England in 2014. A 100 per cent Chardonnay Blanc de Blancs style, Midnight Cuvee’s success comes thanks to 10 years of refinement in the vineyard and winery by winemaker, Andrew Koerner. And, yes, the fruit is harvested at midnight at optimal coolness.

Taltarni is another leader in Sparkling wine, sourcing grapes grown on the estate in addition to Tasmania for its successful Clover Hill brand.

The region’s great white, whether for still or Sparkling, is Chardonnay. It has undergone changes over the last decade or more, moving away from a rich heavyweight to a more fruit-powered, streamlined number.

At Dalwhinnie, the importation of a Chardonnay clone from Champagne has served to highlight citrus and grapefruit qualities with sustained acidity and textural weight. It is a wine of great presence in the glass.

While Mount Avoca’s early reputation was built on Sauvignon Blanc and Shiraz, I suspect that it is the Italians coming through – Pinot Grigio, Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Lagrein – that now attract the drinker’s attention.

The adjoining region of Ballarat is smaller again, but its focus on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay indicates that it is heading in a different direction to its neighbour.

Eastern Peake Winery at Coghills Creek is a Pinot Noir maker par excellence, and is one of the few open for tastings seven days. Or, for a relaxed look at the wines of the west over a meal, head to Mitchell Harris Wine Bar in North Ballarat, part-owned by former Domaine Chandon Sparkling winemaker, John Harris.

Events Out West

Avoca Riverside Market  - Dundas & Cambridge Streets, Avoca, on the fourth Sunday of each month.

Blue Pyrenees Estate Avoca Cup  - Avoca Racecourse, Racecourse Road, Avoca, each October.

Grampians Grape Escape Food and Wine Festival  - Showcases regional wine and fare during a month-long festival in April, culminating in the Grampians Escape Weekend tastings, auction, grape stomping and live music in Halls Gap.

Staying out West

Pyrenees

Eagles Nest at Dalwhinnie Vineyard, Moonambel Redbank Chestnut Cottage

Mount Avoca Vineyard Eco-Luxe Lodges, Avoca

Warrenmang Vineyard & Resort, Moonambel

Grampians/Henty

Royal Mail Hotel, Dunkeld

Boroka Downs, Halls Gap

Aztec Escape, Halls Gap

Links Retreat, Ararat 

 

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Life
Cellar Doors Italian style
Words by Alessandro Ragazzo on 20 Aug 2015
Like most producers in the world, Italian wineries are constantly looking at making better quality wine. In Italy in recent times, this search has become a study of the ‘fashion of form’ – uncovering the intricate concept of structure of wine to help conceive that perfect drop. This thinking has also extended to ‘Turismo Enogastronomico’ (food and wine tourism) with spectacular results. Old estates have been transformed by a collection of famous Italian architects, so that the cellar door and winery has become as much the centre of attraction as the wine. It is a union between tradition and modernity, a road map that directs guests and the curious to an unexpected and beguiling journey. These new concept wineries have been designed by architects and engineers in conjunction with Italy’s most famous contemporary sculptors, and using biodynamic principles so their designs are at one with their environment. Gone are the boring rusty tinned walls of decaying estates, ushering in is a new era of engineering that utilises the natural shape of the landscape as the centre of attraction. Buildings don’t just go up, they also flow out, around and even down inside the earth. Natural inspirations The choice of materials, most of the made from recycled or sustainable products, and the sensitivity for the surroundings have been critical elements in this architectural revolution. The most precious inspiration for Arnaldo Pomodoro, one of Italy’s greatest contemporary sculptors and designers, was a turtle, a symbol of longevity and stability. In this case, the shell of the turtle became the domed copper roof of the Tenuta Coltibuono di Bevagna , a winery in Umbria. Pomodoro had produced many sculptures in his time, but this was the first for the wine industry and the success of the project reverberated on an international scale and set the tone for the design wave to come in the Italian wine industry. Other wineries followed suit, embracing the art of the concept and seeing it as a way to reinvigorate tourism to the wine regions. Designers and architects Paolo Dellapiana and Francesco Bermond des Ambrois collaborated to conceptualise the Cascina Adelaide di Barolo in Cuneo, Piemonte. This amazing structure has been built into the hills, and from a distance it almost disappears into the countryside, perfectly camouflaged with the rest of the habitat – almost like a Hobbit house full of wine, if you will. Structure and form While many of the structures are dazzling from the outside, just as much thought and design has been applied to the internal workings. Everything from barrel halls to crushing rooms have transformed wineries’ inner workings into virtual exhibition halls. The new Antinori Cellar Door in the Chianti Classico area near Florence is a perfect example. Designed by Mario Casamonti it is a truly unique structure. With a surface area of 24,000m2, it took eight years to construct, with an investment of 40 million Euro. The structure is developed horizontally rather than vertically, with the winery hidden in the earth. The production facilities and storage are spread across three stunning levels. And the interior design is simply breathtaking with terracotta vaults to ensure perfect temperature and humidity levels.   The new world order Where Italy once had wineries they now have monuments. And while there are still plenty of the old style ‘casale’ with moulded walls and giant dirty barrels, the way forward is for large, clean, bright and spacious structures with areas dedicated to each individual phase of wine production.   This concept of wine and design seems to be resonating around the globe with architects working on amazing structures   from California to Chile, from Spain to France, from Alto Adige to Sicily, and even right here in Australia – think Chester Osborn’s big Rubik’s Cube plans for d’Arenberg in McLaren Vale. The future is now and it is an exciting time for those who appreciate design in architecture and in their wine glass.
Wine
Margaret River’s 50th
Words by Danielle Costley on 12 Nov 2017
As WA’s Margaret River wine region celebrates its 50th anniversary, we celebrate the pioneers who brought it all to fruition. A hundred years ago, a couple of Italian immigrants arrived in the south west corner of Western Australia with some cuttings of a little-known grape variety called Fragola. These vines produced the first wines to be sold in Margaret River for the hefty price tag of two shillings a flagon. Fondly dubbed ‘red dynamite’ by the enthusiastic community, this wine was in high demand at the local dance halls where it was sold from the back of a truck. And it was said to pack quite a punch. Times have certainly changed since then and while other growers produced small batches of wines in the ensuing years, it wasn’t until the mid 1960s when agronomist Dr John Gladstones published a report identifying Margaret River’s vast potential for viticulture, that the region, as we know it today, was born.
The Gladstones report attracted the attention of budding vignerons and medical practitioners, Thomas Cullity and Kevin and Diana Cullen. In mid 1966, the Cullens organised a meeting in the Margaret River township of Busselton inviting Dr Gladstones to speak. It was the final push those attending needed. Soon after, the Cullens, in partnership with Tom Cullity, and Geoff and Sue Juniper, planted vines in Wilyabrup, which unfortunately didn’t survive. It was left to Cullity, who in 1967 purchased a mere eight acres of land, to plant Margaret River’s first commercial vines – Cabernet Sauvignon , Shiraz , Malbec and Riesling . He named his venture after French sailor, Thomas Vasse, who had drowned in Geographe Bay. Hoping for better fortunes than the Frenchman, he added the Latin word for happiness – Felix. His first crop, too, was all but a disaster, decimated by birds and succumbing to bunch rot. Undeterred, but determined, Cullity persevered. In 1972, Vasse Felix won a gold medal at the Perth Show for its Riesling. The following year, gold for its Cabernet. Happy days, indeed. The Cullens also persevered. In 1971 they planted vines on their own land where their current vineyard still thrives. At this stage, Moss Wood had been established for two years and within another two years, Cape Mentelle, Leeuwin Estate, and Woodlands had also been established. In what was a fledgling industry at the time, these founding wineries worked tirelessly to forge the region’s reputation as a premium wine producer. “I pay tribute to the winemakers and grape growers of Margaret River,” says Dr Gladstones, who is still a proud member of the Margaret River community today. “It’s one thing to have an idea and put it forward, it’s another this to be brought to fruition. The work and financial commitment that had to go into it has been a big factor in bringing Margaret River to its present world-class status.”
Left: Bob Hullock. Right: Cullen Wines co-founder Diana Cullen  An American influence While the pioneering wineries may have simply dreamed of making good wine, there was a certain Californian who knew of Margaret River’s enormous potential – Napa Valley wine baron, Robert Mondavi. As the story goes, Mondavi was searching the globe for the next great wine region. His search took him to Margaret River and a patch of land owned by Denis Horgan, a chartered accountant, and his wife Tricia. Today, it is Leeuwin Estate. “Mondavi arrived on our doorstep wanting to buy the place,’ says Denis. “We weren’t the selling type, so he became our mentor in setting up a winery. He and his son and winemaker, Tim, came out on numerous occasions to advise on what varieties we should plant, where to plant them, about oak treatment and so on.” Mondavi’s advice was also greatly accepted by Cullity and Kevin Cullen, who Denis befriended and met up with regularly to discuss all things wine. “You would have sworn you were in a dog fight,” Denis says of the trio’s rendezvous. “They used to swear and curse and talk about one another’s wines, and then we’d all sit down and have lunch like we were the greatest of friends.  “They were fabulous guys. It was the best education I could have had because they didn’t pull any punches. They set out to make wines that ranked with the best in the world, and they damn well did it.” A region evolved
Three generations of Credaros in their Woolston vineyard Fifty years on, Margaret River is indeed a world class wine region. While it only produces three percent of Australia’s wine, it contributes 20 per cent of our premium wine production. It is recognised internationally for exceptional Cabernets and Chardonnays, and also produces a stylish signature blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. The handful of wineries have now boomed to over 200 with most of them producing the flagships, while also experimenting with other varietals and blends that suit the Mediterranean climate, cooling sea breezes and rich gravelly soils. In the northern districts lies the family-owned Credaro Wines, where some of the region’s first vines were planted by the pioneering Meleri and Credaro families to produce the ‘red dynamite’. These days, they have over 140 hectares of vines spread across five vineyards and alongside the legendary Fragola, and Chardonnay, Cabernet and SBS, they are doing well with Pinot Grigio, Shiraz and Merlot. Thompson Estate is renowned for its Chardonnays and Cabernets, but is also finding favour with its Cabernet Merlot, Malbec and famed Four Chambers Shiraz. The 20-year-old vines are organically grown and produce impressive wines under the watchful eye of Bob Cartwright of Leeuwin Estate acclaim.
Hay Shed Hill, Margaret River At Hay Shed Hill, whose vineyards were first planted in the 1970s, the Block 6 Chardonnay is the star. Dry grown and located on a steep south facing slope, it is lean, light and fresh, but also has “flavour, aroma, body and textural interest,” says winemaker and owner, Michael Kerrigan. In concert with the Block 6, he is also giving plenty of attention to a stunning Cabernet Franc, as well as an intoxicating Shiraz Tempranillo blend. In the cooler, southern parts of the Margaret River, Sauvignon Blanc really finds voice as a single varietal. In close proximity to the Indian Ocean, you will find Redgate Wines, a winery that takes its name from a nearby property that once had a prominent red gate and was known for the production of a rather powerful moonshine. This estate, established by the Ullinger family in 1977, produces a sublime Sauvignon Blanc that is layered with gooseberry and lime. Their Cabernet blends are also beguiling, and they have a Chenin Blanc that is also turning heads. Even further south lies Hamelin Bay Wines, a quaint winery with a simply breathtaking outlook. It produces one of the region’s finest Sauvignon Blancs – fresh, vibrant and tropical, while their Rampant Red, a blend of Shiraz, Merlot and Cabernet, is winning fans. Something Totally New When Moss Wood winery was sub-divided in 1982, architect Bruce Tomlinson purchased the land and established Lenton Brae winery. Putting his talents to use, he built a striking rammed earth winery and cellar door with two towers that are home to quintet bells from Westminster and chime on the quarter-hour. A few years ago, the Tomlinsons introduced a new varietal to the region, Pinot Blanc. This unassuming grape is a mutation of Pinot Noir, yet genetically similar to Chardonnay. Winemaker, Edward Tomlinson, says he was drawn to the subtle charm of this early ripening variety. “Essentially, it is a Sauvignon Blanc for grown-ups,’ he says. “The decision to plant Pinot Blanc was a big call. Having seen my father wrestle with the implications of uprooting two hectares of Pinot Noir in the early days, I was amazed at how supportive he was for me to take a punt on Pinot Blanc.” And these are not the only newcomers to the region. There’s been an influx of plantings of Mediterranean varietals in recent years, with Fiano, Vermentino, Nebbiolo and Sangiovese finding favour amongst the growing band of winemakers. A Fitting Half Century
As the 50th celebrations kick off in earnest, it is heartwarming to see much love given to the traditions of the pioneers. Vasse Felix’ s ‘tractor bucket’ party recreated the spirit of founding producers who celebrated each of those crucial early vintages in style with tractor buckets turned into eskys, filled with ice and wine and enjoyed out amongst the vines, even serving as a bed on some occasions. “Anniversaries such as this are an opportunity to share with the world just how special Margaret River is. It is a wine paradise,” says current Vasse Felix owner, Paul Holmes a Court. The single remaining bottle of the 1972 Cabernet Sauvignon Malbec is on display in the Vasse Felix vault and to celebrate the winery’s 50th anniversary, they have released a Tom Cullity Cabernet Sauvignon Malbec made from those original vines. I am sure the good doctor would approve. And while he would be astounded to see how big the region has grown, he always knew how good the wines were going to be. “I knew because Mondavi told me so,” says Denis Horgan. “He always said that Margaret River was going to make wines that ranked with the best in the world. It was his catch cry.” The best is still yet to come says Dr Gladstones, who fittingly gets to have the last word. “I strongly believe that we’ve only seen the beginning,” he says. “This region has tremendous natural advantages for grape growing to produce top quality wines. “With its environments, experience and now increasing vine age, Margaret River is undoubtedly ripe to walk with the greatest.”
Wine
South Australian Wine Regions
Explore the South Australia regions that are keeping Australia on the world wine stage. Adelaide Hills Adelaide Hills ’ cool climate means vibrant whites are the lifeblood of the region with punchy expressions of Sauvignon Blanc and fine restrained Chardonnay being the two traditional white varietals. However, with its unique topography that creates several microclimates, the region is also perfect for Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio. The hilly nature of this beautiful wine region creates different levels of altitude and aspects. In the vineyards with a sunnier aspect, the style of Pinot G is rich and ripe, while on the sites with less sun, the Pinot G is lighter and crisper. Barossa Valley The Barossa Valley is arguably Australia’s most famous wine region. Classified as warm climate, the Barossa provides excellent conditions for full-bodied wines with Shiraz , Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache dominating the red plantings. Home to some of the world’s oldest Shiraz vines, the Barossa makes bold, earthy Shiraz with characters of currants, plums, mulberries and milk chocolate. 
  Yalumba , Australia’s oldest family owned winery has lead the charge into newer styles planting and developing alternative varietals like Viognier and Tempranillo . McLaren Vale
 McLaren Vale is one of the most geologically diverse wine regions in the world with unique interactions between geology, soils, elevation, slope, aspect, rainfall, distance from the coast and macro-climatic differences all contributing factors. With 3000 hectares of Shiraz vines, the milder nights and afternoon sea breezes create wines full of chocolatey richness with black fruit, violet, pepper and dark chocolate flavours. While its hero varietal is Shiraz, McLaren Vale’s amazing landscape of geology makes it a truly special place to create a diverse range of wines. Local wineries like d’Arenberg , Primo Estate , Stephen Pannell, Richard Hamilton and Serafino are growing alternative varieties like Tempranillo, Sangiovese, Touriga, Mataro and Montepulciano alongside classic varietals of Shiraz, Cabernet and Grenache . Clare Valley Riesling is the hero in Clare Valley , making delicious wines with great depth and intensity, which can be enjoyed in the freshness of their youth or cellared with confidence for many years, taking on greater complexities while retaining their vibrant line of acidity. Elevation is one of the factors that makes Clare such a prime region for grape growing and particularly for Riesling and Shiraz. Although not technically considered a ‘cool-climate’ area, most of the vineyards are planted at between 400 and 500 metres above sea level, meaning cool to cold nights during the growing season. Given its distance from the ocean, the region is also quite continental, so warm to hot during the day and quite dry while the vines are ripening their fruit. This diurnal temperature range makes for grapes with robust flavours and spicy acid freshness. Although Clare Valley is more famously known for its Riesling, it’s the same climatic conditions that help to produce its unique style of red wine with the three top varieties being Shiraz, Cabernet and Grenache. Clare Valley reds present a delicious contradiction. On one hand they're big and bold, yet on the other, underlying acidity creates beautiful elegance. Coonawarra There’s no doubt that Coonawarra is home to Australia’s classic Cabernet Sauvignon. With its warm, dry summer days, cool to cold nights and terra rossa soil, the Coonawarra climate is similar to France's Bordeaux, so naturally, it's perfect for Cabernet! 
 
Measuring just 12km long and 2km wide, Coonawarra’s famed terra rossa strip is some of Australia’s best grape-growing land. While the vines have to struggle to flourish, they produce small berries with naturally high skin to juice ratio, mind-blowing colour and flavour intensity, and wonderful tannin structure. When it comes to Cabernet, it creates unique expressions featuring cassis and blackberry characters with spice and minerally complexity. Along with Cabernet, the region also produces award-winning Riesling from wineries like Patrick of Coonawarra and Leconfield. Their Merlot is a must try along with the Di Giorgio Family Wines Sparkling Pinot Noir and Botrytis Semillon. Eden Valley The Eden Valley is an amazing region, capable of producing perfect cool climate wines from Chardonnay to Zinfandel, but it is more often recognised for Shiraz and Riesling. Bordering the Barossa Valley, the Eden Valley’s altitude, cooler temperatures and cool nights produce wines with elegance and good acid structure. For most wine lovers, Eden Valley is famous for dry, crisp Riesling and elegant Shiraz. But there are plenty of producers who are seeing success with other varietals. Yalumba has almost single-handedly made Viognier a household name, while also having great success with Chardonnay and seeing a future for Roussanne and Tempranillo. Thorn-Clarke are turning plenty of heads with their Pinot Gris while Henschke produce some stunning Cabernet when “the conditions are warm enough” as well as Nebbiolo and Semillon. Irvine Wines, who have long championed Merlot, also have substantial plantings of Shiraz, Pinot Gris, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Riesling and Zinfandel spread across six vineyard sites. Try some of South Australia’s stellar wines for yourself today!
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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