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Golden Grampians a journey into Australia’s rich wine history

If you venture a little further past the ‘dress circle’ of Melbourne wineries, you start to discover the intertwined pathways of rural development, gold discovery and grape growing. One such area is the Grampians, some two-and-a-half hours west of Melbourne, and which includes towns like Ararat, Great Western and Stawell.

It is an area I know well, given my wife’s family has a sheep farm in the region. The early days of travel from Queensland to Victoria seemed such a drudge until I discovered the area, with its many great wineries, in relatively close proximity to Melbourne. VB and Carlton Draft were quickly replaced by Best Bin 0 Shiraz, Seppelts St Peters Shiraz and others.

The wines in the area vary according to the micro-climate and locale.

Having said that, Grampians Shiraz is somewhat consistent, with well-developed dark fruits – though it has white or black pepper notes, depending on vintage conditions. Among the whites, aromatic Riesling is probably the most consistent variety, and exhibits lovely florals and acidity.

Some of the oldest vines exist in these areas and are quite diverse; including, for example, Vermintino, Dolcetto, and Menieur.

The more recognized wineries in the area, such as Seppelts, Bests, Mt Langhi Ghiran and Montarra, produce top shelf table wines. But there are also a number of emerging stars, such as Mt Cole Wineworks, Grampian Estate and Michael Unwin wines.

Seppelts, with 150 year-old vineyards, is best known for benchmarking Australian sparkling wines, and has won many accolades overseas. They practically invented sparkling Burgundy.

It is rumored Dame Nelly Melba wanted to take a bath in champagne, so the boys at Seppelts obliged by filling a tub up with 213 bottles of fizz. It is rumored that when she had finished the wine was too good to waste so it was rebottled, and they ended up with 214. Work that out.

There is a palpable sense of history at Bests of Great Western, established in 1893.

It’s semi-retired winemaker Viv Thompson is a true gentleman of the industry. He has handed the reins to the fifth generation of the family to run the place, his son Ben Thompson. When Viv takes you on a guided tour of the winery, it is akin to a mother hen tending her developing hatchlings.

For accommodation, the renowned Royal Mail Hotel in Dunkeld stands as a beacon to the weary traveler. High class rooms, degustation menus and a 100-plus page wine list that always ranks top five in Australia.

It’s a great place to use as a base for your travel in the region which, if you want to do something quirky, can also include a visit to Ararat’s notorious J Ward, which at one time served as an asylum for the criminally insane. While in Ararat, there are plenty of good eateries to check out.

Wines Tasted

Best’s Great Western Bin 0 Shiraz 2012

Colour – deep red to purple

Nose – spicey plums and floral notes, with French oak influences and hints of leather

Palate – big, juicy wine from fruit oak and tannin integrated. A splendid drink now, but leave seven to nine years to peak. Have with steak tartare.

Mt Cole Fenix Rising Shiraz 2010

Owned by colleague Dr Graham Burtuch, this is an award-winning wine.

Colour – deep red/purple

Nose – dark berries, savoury notes and white pepper

Palate – luscious, with a lingering tannic finish. 10 year keeper. Have with game pie.

Seppelt Great Western St Peter Shiraz 2012

Colour – very dark purple

Nose – savoury dark fruits, more spicy and peppery than most local Shiraz

Palate – controlled fruit expression. Tannins and oak effect a balance of fruit flavors. Still very young. Leave at least five years to make full sense of this wine. Have with smoked beef strips.

Michael Unwin Tattooed Lady Shiraz 2012

Colour – medium red

Nose – more cherry and lighter fruits, but elegant rose petal nuances with white pepper

Palate – abundant fruit that is balanced well with its own medium body structure. Quite a velvety and ‘drink now’ wine. Have with crispy skin Vietnamese duck.