Slow down. Life was made to meander, to gently pace between hither and yon; not rush, rush, rush, hustle and haste the days away. When was the last time you took the wheel and let go at the same time?
It’s time to take a wine drive. To the King Valley - Australia’s Little Italy - in the foothills of the Victorian Alps. It’s a small, sleepy and utterly unique wine region, located in north-eastern Victoria; Taungurong country.
King Valley is the home of Australian prosecco, but there is plenty more to uncover beyond this fantastic Italian fizz. Glorious food, for one thing. And generous, family-led hospitality, for another. Once upon a time, this place was scattered with hops and tobacco farms, worked by Italian immigrants. Then, almost overnight in the 1990s, tobacco farming was outlawed in Australia. With inimitable spirit, these same Italian migrants looked to their homeland roots for inspiration. They planted vineyards, first, with French varietals, like chardonnay, riesling, and merlot. Soon, they planted Italian varieties; a few rows of sangiovese, some verduzzo, and a bit of barbera, just to see what would happen. A little slice of il bel paese was soon to grow, here, in Australia. By the end of the decade Otto Dal Zotto had planted prosecco, and, well … you know what happened next.
Whether flying or driving, getting to the King Valley is easy. Fly to Albury from either Melbourne or Sydney. From touchdown, it’s about 90 minutes by car across the flatlands of Milawa and Moyhu, to Whitfield in the King Valley. From Melbourne, drive north on the M31 before heading east at Glenrowan on the C522 towards Oxley. Take the C521 south. Be sure to stop in for some lunch at the Milawa Kitchen (facebook.com/themilawakitchen) – try one of their gourmet sandwiches, made using their delicious, house-baked sourdough bread, and grab a coffee for the road. All up, the trip takes a tick over three hours.
If driving from Sydney or Canberra, load up on podcasts and music, hit the Hume and follow it south to Wangaratta, until you see the signs directing you towards Whitfield. The drive from Sydney takes around seven hours, and five hours from Canberra.
Despite its relatively small size, there are plenty of places for you to rest your head upon a comfy bed in the King Valley. The region is abundant with boutique accommodation, both in and out of town, including, cute cottages, privately owned Airbnbs, hotel rooms, and even a yurt on top of a hill, if that takes your fancy.
Less than five minutes from the nearest winery, in the main street of town, King Valley’s premium place to stay is Lusso KV (lussokv.com.au), a brand new, two-storey loft style accommodation with sleek industrial interiors, a huge kitchen and roaring gas fireplace. There’s a large dining room, a cosy lounge room, two bathrooms, and three king-sized bedrooms. Forget the weekend, you might want to stay at Lusso KV for the week.
Alternatively, just up the road, the Mountain View Hotel (mvhotel.com.au) has cute and cosy rooms with old Victorian charm. There are big comfy beds and fresh, fluffy towels. In the morning, enjoy the breakfast hamper filled with goodies, including granola, coffee, tea, and fresh bread or toast.
If you’re relatively self-sufficient, try camping by the King River at Gentle Annie Camping Reserve (gentleanniecaravanpark.com.au), on the outskirts of town. Wake up with the dappled light streaming through gorgeous old gums. Otherwise, perhaps, you might like to camp up on top of a hill, overlooking the King Valley proper. The Yurt Alpine Retreat (theyurtalpineretreat.com), near Myrrhee, offers luxury camping with magnificent valley views, and marvellous stargazing beside the fire at night. The Yurt is located only 20 minutes from town, situated on a working farm filled with sheep and cattle, goats and alpacas, and a vineyard, too.
Start your adventure with a visit to the fantastic restaurant and cellar door of Sam Miranda (sammiranda.com.au). Look for the tall wooden spire, spearing out of the ground beside Snow Rd, at Oxley, at the entrance and northern tip of King Valley wine country. Sam Miranda’s cellar door and restaurant is the perfect place to unwind after a long drive, with a fantastic ‘field-to-fork’ lunch and a tasting of his outstanding wines from around the region.
Field-to-fork is inspired by Sam’s Italian family heritage and the history of his childhood, when his father would grow and harvest fresh veggies from the garden and serve them to his family. The restaurant’s menu changes as swiftly as the seasons, while the colours and flavours of the fresh garden produce are used to prepare dishes that go well beyond scrumptious.
Before you sit down to eat, however, take time to taste a selection of Sam Miranda’s marvellous wines at the cellar door bar. There’s prosecco, of course, and prosato, which is a deliciously bubbly blend of prosecco and rosé. Sam also crafts riesling, shiraz, barbera, sangiovese, nebbiolo, and more. Taste as many wines as you like – don’t forget to spit – before choosing a glass of your favourite to drink with lunch.
Post-lunch, make a 30-minute beeline south on the C521/Wangaratta-Whitfield Rd, where a visit to one of the King Valley’s premium wine producers awaits. Over the years, Alfredo and Katrina Pizzini have built a gorgeous, family run cellar door at Pizzini Wines (pizzini.com.au). It’s often busy with weekend events and other entertainment that goes well beyond the traditional cellar door wine-tasting experience. Consider taking a winemaker’s journey to see how wine is grown – from grape to glass – before enjoying a tutored tasting of some of their best wines in the magnificent barrel room.
By now, it’s likely that you are as exhausted as you are excited to be in the King Valley. Check into your accommodation, take a nap, or make a cup of tea or coffee, before heading out for dinner at the Mountain View Hotel, right on the main street of Whitfield. Dine in at the old-school bar, in the charming dining room, or outside in the tree-filled beer garden by the creek. The menu is full of new and old pub favourites, including antipasti, parmigiana, and more. The house-made gnocchi with amatriciana sauce paired to a glass of slinky Pizzini sangiovese is perfect; just like your first day in King Valley. As day turns to night and the cool katabatic winds descend down the valley, revitalise your palate with a local beer from King River Brewing (kingriverbrewing.com.au).
When on a wine holiday, it’s nice, sometimes, to get the body moving well before sunrise. If energy levels are high, start your day bright and early with a quick trip up to Power’s Lookout, before the sun rises over the Victorian Alps. This spectacular lookout gives you a birds-eye view of the region, with its neat patchwork of verdant vines spaced out across the valley floor, below. After sunrise, make an early morning move to The Oven at Cheshunt, on King Valley Rd, owned and operated by Austrian permaculture farmers, and sourdough enthusiasts, Gabi and Thomas Moritz, and their two daughters, Viviane and Sabine. The Oven at Cheshunt is both rustic and modern in equal measure. Here, they mill their own flour to bake their own bread. They also make great coffee, cookies, cakes, pastries, tarts and many other tasty things, besides.
After brekkie, take a short cruise south, along Upper King River Rd, to your first wine tasting of the day. Follow the road until you see the impressive entrance to Chrismont vineyard and cellar door (chrismont.com.au). Arnie and Jo Pizzini (Arnie is a cousin of Alfredo Pizzini, of Pizzini wines) have been growing wine in the King Valley since the 1980s. Arnie planted Australia’s first commercial barbera vineyard. Inside their stunning cellar door, you’ll find quality, cool-climate King Valley wines, made from classic Italian, French, and Spanish varietals, including fiano, riesling, tempranillo, and rare marzemino.
Grab a glass and take in the daytime views from the panoramic balcony outside. The vista is incredible, elevated and expansive, from the Chrismont vineyards below to the dramatic mountains in the distance, and beyond. The restaurant adjacent is one of the best in the valley, but more on that later.
Next, pay a visit to Politini Wines (politiniwines.com.au), nigh on next door to Chrismont, on Upper King River Rd. This fantastically cute family run cellar door feels like coming home, with a glass of wine and one of Nonna Josie’s incredible cannoli waiting for you on the table. Make a point of tasting Politini’s wonderfully textual grecanico, alongside the equally excellent nero d’Avola, both of which are fantastic with food.
Back on the road, head north back towards The Oven at Cheshunt, then take a left onto King Valley Rd. Follow the road back through town, past the Mountain View Hotel, past Lusso KV, past the King River Brewery, until you reach the left-hand turn onto Honeys Lane. See how pretty the rolling hills are? It’s little wonder why Italian immigrants, like Gino Corsini, settled here to live out their days, making wine in the King Valley. The Corsini family’s La Cantina cellar door (lacantinakingvalley.com.au) is built from local Glenrowan stone in a lofty, Tuscan style. All La Cantina wines are made using traditional methods; they’re unfiltered and preservative-free.
No rushing around today. Wake slowly, sip coffee, drink tea, and sit under the covers until check out. Or, perhaps head back to The Ovens for seconds.
As you drive up Whitty Lane, you’ll discover one of Australia’s unsung wine producers, Darling Estate (darlingestate.com.au). The Darlings have been farming their property, Koombahla, in the King Valley for more than 100 years, growing anything and everything, from apples to tobacco, farming sheep and cattle, and, of course, growing grapes. Their family run vineyard and make-shift cellar door is an authentic, down-home experience, matched to some of the most interesting French varietal wines in the region. This includes their bracing riesling, gorgeous aligoté, and age-worthy gamay too.
Back down Whitty Lane, lunch time awaits at your final and most anticipated stop in all of King Valley – Dal Zotto Cellar Door and Trattoria (dalzotto.com.au), just behind Lusso KV, on Wangaratta-Whitfield Rd. Famous for being the first commercial producers of prosecco in Australia, there’s much more to Dal Zotto than fizzy wine. From the cloudy Col Fondo, the floral fiano, and pretty pinot bianco, to more serious reds, like spicy sangiovese, juicy barbera, and the superb L’Immigrante Nebbiolo. Stay for lunch at the Italian tavern, next door to the cellar door. Dal Zotto’s Trattoria features an Italian-inspired menu of local seasonal produce. Expect antipasto, gnocchi, and handmade pasta, plus fresh veggies picked straight from the garden and grown by Otto’s wife, Nonna Elena.
All of Dal Zotto’s wines are available to drink by the glass over lunch. Take your time tasting in the cellar door, next door, so that you may seek out your favourite Dal Zotto vino a pranzo.
Last stop, before you can bring yourself to leave King Valley, must be Brown Brothers (brownbrothers.com.au) in Milawa. The history here is as palpable as the wines are numerous. There’s literally a wine for all tastes, made in a place that is as important to the story of Australian wine as Australian wine itself. The cellar door gets busy, but there are plenty of places to stand and taste through their enormous range. No two visits to Brown Brothers are ever the same. Be sure to drop into Patricia’s Table Restaurant for one last bite to eat before hitting the road home. Home: with a belly full of food, a head full of memories, and a boot full of wine from the gorgeous King Valley.
Bottles for the Boot
2018 Dal Zotto Col Fondo Prosecco, A$29
Fermented in bottle, beyond the NV, lees swell up from the bottom – ‘col fondo’ – providing the wine with a delicious dimension of textural undertow over which rolls over a bright citrus zing and light green apple crunch. Finishes dry and lingers long.
2017 Politini Wines Vermentino, A$23
Clean and classy, this star of Sardinia shines in the King Valley. An abundance of lifted yellow citrus scents drift over white florals and savoury traces of crushed sunflower seeds; slightly saline too. Tight acids provide leanness, line and length.
2018 Pizzini Wines Verduzzo, A$28
While a little more skin would be a good thing, it’s not difficult to see why this hard-to-say white grape variety from Friuli, Italy, is one of those King Valley white wines for the ages. Ocean spray, fresh stone fruits, lime and lily whites, while plucky phenolics provide the textual pleasure.
2018 Darling Estate Aligoté, A$25
Burgundy’s ‘other’ white grape may well have found a home within the King Valley; if only there were more examples to explore. Yellow apples, fleshy honey, almond blossom and summer peaches play among an almost unctuous texture of creamy pear skin and mealy pollen. Gorgeous, actually.
2018 Politini Wines Grecanico, A$24
Sometimes known as garganega, the baseline for Soave, this refreshing Northern Italian alternative packs a tropical punch of passionfruit and melon, with orange zest and blossom, too. Textually oily… well… slick, shifting to a mealy, talc-like close for an utterly unctuous paradox of moreishness.
2017 Chrismont La Zona Arneis, A$22
Another Italian immigrant who’s found a welcome home in the King Valley. This, the ‘little rascal’ of Piedmont, wields fragrant florals, plus melon, plus lemon, plus apple. Savoury flavours, somewhat nutty and honeyed, neatly balanced by a terrific drive of mouth-watering acidity.
2016 Dal Zotto La Nebbia Col Fondo Nebbiolo, A$68
A pét-nat by any other name, this blushing red-apricot coloured sparkling ‘neb’ is enticing from the first sip. Savoury citrus, pomegranate and sour cherry; redolent of Negroni, with a zesty orange peel zip and a deliciously long, dry finish. Super smashable. Lots of fun.
2019 Sam Miranda Dry Rosato, A$20
Pretty, fairy-floss pink composed by combining the Aussie-alternative-Italian triumvirate of barbera, nebbiolo and sangiovese. Sweet musk, pink grapefruit, and tart strawberry, give in to a slippery, slinky mouthfeel with firm acidity.
2016 Pizzini Wines Forza di Ferro Sangiovese, A$55
Strength from iron, joy from wine; vibrant, racy, powerful and present. Soft plums, sweet berries, beech orange, leather and spice; layer upon layer, building complexity. Fine, powdery tannins and elegant acids indicate intrinsic finesse, and age-ability for decades.
2004 Darling Estate Koombahla Gamay, A$40
Rumour has it, Barry Morey of Sorrenberg got his cuttings of gamay from the Darlings’ of Koombahla, back in the day. Ageability ensured, this gamay has still got it. Opalescent red, opulent and juicy, bright jewellery fruit; raspberry and secondary strawberry scents lifted up upon a slippery and joyful mouthfeel.
2015 Sam Miranda Black Label Myrrhee Nebbiolo, A$65
Grown around the ridgelines of Myrrhee, just outside of the King Valley proper, with all the hallmarks of nebbiolo’s soft power. Jewelled carmine with high toned and lifted red fruit perfumes; tart loganberry, cherry, tar and rose redressed with anise and herbal tannins; hostile yet fragile.
2016 Chrismont La Zona Marzemino, A$30
Mozart’s Don Giovanni thought this big red and relatively unknown wine from Trentino in the north of Italy – marzemino – was “eccellente”, and who am I to disagree? Intense crimson red, inclining to purple, layered with plums, blackberries, briars, and spice, crushed violets, and coarse tannins too. Let the wine pour. Eccellente marzemino!