Yarra Valley

A valley of food and wine delights

yarra valley sunrise

As you hit the outskirts of the city of Melbourne and the shops are rapidly replaced by lush green fields and then perfectly manicured vines, it is easy to understand you have landed in one of Australia’s, if not the world’s, truly great wine regions – the Yarra Valley. 

The Yarra Valley is not only a rampant producer of fine and diverse wines (a cool-climate region known best for its chardonnay, sparkling wine and pinot noir), it is also home of some of the country’s most iconic and well-known winery restaurants.

But before we get to the outstanding food, quality wine and ever-plentiful vistas, for those who don’t know the area, the true beauty is it sits well within an hour of the heart of Melbourne’s CBD. An easy 25km drive heading north-east from Melbourne, it quickly lends itself to a window-down, deep-exhale moment as you surprisingly hit the Valley with a rush. What then becomes even more apparent is like all of the most famous wine regions of the world, the more you see the more you realise you haven’t seen.

The Yarra Valley has a heartbeat built off the Maroondah Highway with reputed wineries on both sides the road – Domaine of the Chandon global stable, Oakridge, Levantine Hill Estate and the now famous outdoor open-air concert venue Rochford. All are well known and respected, but veer a little off the main digs and you will be deeply surprised and rewarded by other less-known but equally hidden gems nestled throughout the winding back roads of the Valley.

The region is well-worthy of exploration and attention, but we have narrowed it down to five of the best, deliberately chosen for the fact that each is unique and varying in terms of size and scale, marking our must sees of the Yarra Valley, which is the first of Lunch Magazine’s, Great Wineries of Australia series.

Five of the best – great winery restaurants of the Yarra Valley

1. TarraWarra Estate

If there is one absolute must-do in the Yarra Valley it is visit TarraWarra Estate. This 400-hectare masterpiece is a deep mix of history and modern mastery. The layout of the cellar door and deck make sipping on an estate chardonnay or pinot a  delight, but the winery also has so much more to offer. A contemporary restaurant based all around produce sourced and picked seasonally from the 1/4 acre kitchen garden, Head Chef Mark Ebbels produces imaginative and awe-inspiring food that shocks and delights at every turn. But if the stunning architecture, the perfectly manicured gardens, or the lure of a restaurant at its prime aren’t enough, then you might decide to walk a few steps away from the restaurant to the eclectic TarraWarra Museum of Art. On any given night you could, for instance, join a celebration of art, music, food and wine by watching an ensemble from the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (MSO) before a private viewing of the Archibald Prize exhibition.

Why visit it?

If you like food, wine and art all in one of the most stunning picturesque settings imaginable, then TarraWarra is hard to beat. It defines what makes the Yarra Valley so special.

And the food and wine?

Seasonal set menus for two courses $70 and three courses $80, the food is local, innovative and very tasty.

TarraWarra Estate, 311 Healesville-Yarra Glen Road, Yarra Glen

2. Domaine

If sipping on award-winning champagne whilst feating on outstandingly crafted food is your thing, then look no further than Domaine Chandon, or as they refer to themselves where France meets Australia. An old dairy farm which since the mid-80s has been converted to become Australia’s leading methode traditionelle producer, the sparkling wines lay strong claim to being amongst Australia’s very best. A cellar door experience that is both welcoming and colourful, is matched by a restaurant that lives up to the high-standards Domain not only strive for, but comfortably reach.

Why visit it?

For the bubbles of course! If you like bubbles, good food, top-class service and outstanding views, veer left off the Maroondah to the ever-popular Domaine Chandon. It’s really not to be missed.

And the food and wine?

Try some perfectly seared scallops with a supremely matched Chandon late disgorged 2006, or a sublime Roasted beetroot tart with a glass of Chandon Vintage Brut 2016. A delight. The restaurant is A la carte or set menu and both come with matched wines if you desire. On the wine side of things, if you haven’t tried the Chandon late disgorged 2006, you’re missing out.  They also make a cracking Domaine Chandon Barrel selection chardonnay.

Domaine Chandon 727 Maroondah Highway, Coldstream

3. De Bortoli

The De Bortoli name is synonymous with winemaking in Australia and whilst it may not have the expensive trappings of a Oakridge or TarraWarra, if you’re after rustic hearty food produced with love, respect and a sense of pride for the place, then this is the winery for you. In the family for over 90 years, the mix of respect for their Italian history and a deep desire to stay ahead of the game is obvious at De Bortoli from the moment you arrive at their Yarra Valley estate. If you are at all interested in the history of wine, you love sharing wine and food with family and you prefer substance over style, head out to Dixons Creek and find your way to De Bortoli.

Why visit it?

Hearty food, quality well-priced wines and deep history and sense of place makes this not only a Yarra Valley favourite, but also an Australian wine icon.

And the food and wine?

Rightfully named Locale, this northern Italian inspired Trattoria provides heartiness, warmth and comfort in every dish served. The homemade pastas are legendary, the slow cooked meats a treat and the sauces are done in a rich, warming northern Italian inspired style. The wines are what make De Bortoli so popular – quality, well-priced and ever so dependable. The De Bortoli Melba Cabernet Sauvignon being the very best of the best.

De Bortoli Cellar Door and Restaurant, 58 Pinnacle Lane, Dixons Creek

4. Levantine Hill

Few wineries in the Yarra Valley receive as much attention as Levantine Hill. Is it because of its awe-inspiring family estate range of wines? Or is it because of its Teague Ezard signature restaurant? Perhaps even the groundbreaking avant-garde architecture throughout its dining and cellar door spaces?

I’d suggest it is for all those reasons and more that make Levantine Hill a must visit. But be prepared, the wines aren’t cheap – but wow, are they worth it!

Why visit it?

TarraWarra and perhaps Oakridge aside, no winery in the Valley pulls off food, wine and architecture like Levantine Hill. But why stands it alone from the others is the outstanding wines on offer – few, if any, are better.

And the food and wine?

The Signature restaurant divides opinion. Many, who utilise the landing deck to come in via a luxury helicopter in the most grandest of styles are more than willing to pay top dollar for the degustation extravaganza in the multi-hat winning chef Teague Ezard inspired winery restaurant, others are more comfortable sampling the ala carte menu in the all-day dining space. It may not hit TarraWarra standards on either fronts, but the food is quirky and charismatic in true Ezard style. The wines though are next level. The Samantha’s Paddock Melange Traditionnel is only matched by the Melissa’s Paddock Syrah, which are only beaten by the Colleen’s Paddock Pinot Noir and Katherine’s Paddock Chardonnay. All come in at $200 plus so they need to be good, but they are better. In fact, they are as good as any in the Valley.

Levantine Hill Estate, 882 Maroondah Highway, Coldstream

5. Oakridge

Recently rated 37th best restaurant in Victorian, Oakridge is a final must see at the end of a rewarding trek through the Valley.

Critically acclaimed for its creative deserts, Oakridge is another Yarra Valley winery/restaurant which is all about paddock to the plate food. Drawing from their ample gardens and in respect to the heritage of the land, chef Matt Stone turns kangaroo, quail and local rainbow trout into an art form. His main are fresh, vibrant and tasty, but it’s his deserts that change the game. Shiraz, citrus and poppy seed or Wattleseed, chocolate and stout are as good as you’ll taste anywhere.

Why visit it?

If wine and food aren’t your thing at a quality hatted restaurant, then go simply for the architecture. Designed by master architects Denton, Corker and Marshall, the Oakridge Restaurant and Cellar Door is truly one of the Yarra Valley’s most must-see and appealing sights!

And the food and wine?

The wines are quality. Try the 864 Pinot Noir Henk Aqueduct, or the Vineyard Series Barkala Ridge Chardonnay and you’ll understand what I mean. The wines are also beautifully matched with the food – you’d expect nothing less from an establishment that matches quality with refinement.

864 Maroondah Highway, Coldstream

Anthony Spargo

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