The Quintessential Australian Winery Guide

A wine tour around Australia with editor Jade de Souza

By Robyn Lewis
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The Quintessential Australian Winery Guide

The Quintessential Australian Winery Guide [©Think Publishing]

 

From the famed Hunter Valley, Barossa and Margaret River, to the lesser known Pemberton and Henty wine regions, Australia is almost awash with vineyards and wineries – around 5000 at last count here on VisitVineyards.com.

But how do you pick the best? If you are visiting from overseas, or you’re a newbie wine taster, where do you start? Sometimes a book is a nice beginning.

For being limited in size to a couple of hundred pages, selection is required, and The Quintessential Australian Winery Guide does exactly that, featuring fifty eight vineyards and wineries over each of the six states.

The book is published by Gary Takle of Think Publishing, producer of Australia’s Best Winery Experiences. In this book, published earlier in 2011, there were notable omissions, so perhaps The Quintessential Australian Winery Guide picks up where the former left off, in a smaller and more portable format?

The introduction states that ‘in this publication you will be guided to and through some of Australia’s best wineries known not only for the exceptional wines they produce but also for the experience to be had with each visit’.

Other than this, once again, there is no indication of selection criteria – and specifically, did the included wineries and vineyards pay to be included? We aren’t told, although there is an online sponsor featured right up front.

The chapters start with NSW’s Hunter Valley, which for many overseas visitors is the first and perhaps only chance to go ‘gourmet gorging’ as the editor describes our national love of wine tasting. Here, we have Bimbadgen, De Bortoli Hunter Valley, Hope and Tintilla Estates, Margan, Tatler and Tyrrell’s Wines, the latter to my mind the most quintessential of them all.

Elsewhere are De Bortoli Bilbul (in the Riverina), Philip Shaw of Orange, Wily Trout at Poachers Pantry (Canberra Region), Shaw Vineyard Estate at Murrumbateman and Tom’s Waterhole Wines in NSW’s Central Ranges. The latter two, plus Tintilla, are also in Australia’s Best Winery Experiences.

Each entry gives some facts ‘at a glance’, opening hours of the cellar door and associated café/restaurant (if there is one), an introduction to the winemaker, and a helpful list of other activities. There are generally good descriptions, although the tired phrase ‘nestled in the …. Valley’ features a little too often; perhaps the fault of the contributing wineries?

As befits the architectural leanings of the publisher, they are well illustrated with interior and exterior photos, all provided by the wineries. Bottle shots accompany the ‘taste’ section, which for each entry lists grape varieties grown and some of the labels and vintages on offer for tasting.

But there are no ‘we particularly liked…’ (or didn’t like) and ‘look out for… ‘ sort of statements that lend credence to the team having visited – most of the copy reads like press releases or excerpts from websites. Which is fine, if that is what it is. But quintessential? I’m beginning to have doubts.

Queensland has three mentions of its total 235 wineries and vineyards: Clovely Estate in South Burnett, Preston Peak Wines on the Granite Belt, and Ocean View Estates Winery (the latter also a repeat from their earlier publication).

South Australia is next with nineteen entries, or a third of the total. It may surprise some readers overseas that even though South Australia has the reputation as Australia’s ‘wine state’, there are far more cellar doors located in Victoria than in either SA or NSW.

SA entries range from the iconic Henshcke (Eden Valley) and Penfolds Magill Estate in Adelaide, through a range of well-known names like Hahndorf Hills and Shaw + Smith in the Adelaide Hills, Leconfield and Koonara Wines in Coonawarra and Fox Creek, Hardy’s Tintara, Haselgrove, Hugh Hamilton and Richard Hamilton Wines (the latter also owners of Leconfield) in McLaren Vale, to Banrock Station in the Riverland.

No wine region book would be complete without mention of the Barossa Valley, and the book features Grant Burge, Kellermeister (both repeats from their earlier book) and Lou Miranda; somewhat scant coverage for the nation’s second most famous wine region with over 150 producers. Where are the genuinely quintessential Seppeltsfield, Yalumba and award-winning Jacob’s Creek?

Somehow too, West Cape Howe Wines, located in the Great Southern region of Western Australia, has slipped across the border into the South Australian chapter.

Turning to Tasmania, Bay of Fires has done a lot to put the gourmet state and especially the Piper’s River area on Australia’s wine map recently, especially with its sparkling wines including Arras, and MONA at Moorilla has leapt on the international art scene. But that's it, out of over 250. Surely Josef Chromy and Freycinet deserve inclusion this time?

Victoria follows with fourteen entries, and it’s pleasing to see that the northeast – world-famous for its fortified wines, and increasingly, new varietals – is represented by All Saints and Brown Brothers. But where is Campbells? And with with so many cellar doors to choose from, why repeat Port Philip Estate and Ten Minutes by Tractor in the Mornington Peninsula, and again omit several stunners in the Yarra Valley? (although De Bortoli and TarraWarra made the grade this time). Again, I wonder about the selection criteria.

The others are scattered round the state and include The Cups Estate, a vineyard located on almost pure sand near the tip of the Mornington Peninsula, the historic Tahbilk in Nagambie Lakes, Mount Avoca and Taltarni in the Pyrenees (bot repeats), Leura Park in Geelong and Ellender Estate in the Macedon Ranges (another repeat), plus others.

It’s a mere taste and visitors to Victoria would be urged to dig deeper elsewhere. Montalto still missed out; perhaps they are content with their several national awards for excellence.

And so to Western Australia, where eight are listed: the historic (and worth visiting for the barrel room alone) Houghton Wines in the heart of the Swan Valley east of Perth; Brookland Valley, Heydon Estate, Howard Park and MadFish Wines, Vasse Felix, the boutique Windows Estate and Wise Wine with its fabulous views all in Margaret River, and the Wine & Truffle co in Pemberton.

Still no Leeuwin Estate, Cullens, Cape Mentelle, Voyager Estate, Larry Cherubino and Lamonts. I guess we have different views on what defines quintessential.

Although each state could have a book on its own (and some do – see links below), and there is no room for everyone, more transparent criteria and an explanation of why these made the grade when others missed out would certainly help.

This is however a more portable version than their previous coffee-table size publication, but there are no maps, makes it useless for touring and difficult for those overseas or unfamiliar with the regions’ locations to conceptualise the layout and the distribution of the selected wineries. You’ll need to pick up regional maps and brochures, or use an app instead (see links below).

For A$39.99, I can think of better things to do with my money. But if you’re new to Australian wine, or want something to leave in your spare bedroom, waiting room or B&B, then it’s a nice dip into the Australian wine landscape, and I hope it encourages more people to get out and support Australia’s fabulous wine producers and taste their wines at the source.

 

The Quintessential Australian Winery Guide edited by Jade de Souza is published by Think Publishing (South Morang, Victoria, 2011; sc 192 pp) and retails for RRP A$39.99.

It can be obtained online via Booko.com.au here »

 

Regions

  • Melbourne (VIC)

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June 25th, 2012
 
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