The grape escapes

Fine foods and quality wines lure Winsor Dobbin south, west and north.

Long days, balmy evenings, fine food and affordable wines. It's time for picnics in vineyards, picking your own fruit and vegetables or dining alfresco overlooking the beach. With next year's vintage just around the corner, wineries are out and about showing off their wares at events such as Sydney Wine Week and the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, as well as at regional festivals around the country.

The most comprehensive event in the country is Melbourne's. Now in its 17th year, the festival includes dinners in Melbourne's intimate laneways and on its rooftops, the bustling riverside wine market Cellar Door at Southgate and barbecues at the Connex Sizzle. The Langham Melbourne MasterClass draws wine drinkers from across the country, while the World's Longest Lunch attracts more than 300,000 visitors.

The festival spans 16 days, from March 7 to 23, with more than 200 events in Melbourne and at 11 of Victoria's wine regions. Leading winemakers invited to attend include Austrian riesling expert Bert Salomon from Salomon Undhof, Michel Chapoutier from the Rhone Valley and Pierre and Sophie Larmandier from Champagne Larmandier-Bernier. The British it-chef Heston Blumenthal and leading US pan-handler Thomas Keller, both of whom are ranked among the top 10 in the world, are also expected to be there.

See melbournefoodandwine.com.au.

You can get into shape for Melbourne's festival at NSW Wine Week, Sydney's focus from March 1 to 7. Billed as the biggest celebration of NSW wine ever staged, it kicks off in Hyde Park with the Good Living Sydney Cellar Door. Almost 15,000 people tasted their way through the offerings at last year's event; in March 120 tasting stalls and 30 food outlets are planned.

Wines from 14 of the state's regions - from New England to Tumbarumba in the Snowy Mountains, as well as the Hunter, Mudgee and Riverina - will be on offer. The week also features food and wine matchings at more than 40 leading Sydney restaurants.

See nswwineweek.com.au.

Meanwhile, Hobart's waterfront is a hive of activity when the Sydney to Hobart yachts arrive. The docks also host Taste - Hobart's waterfront festival. It starts next Sunday and runs until January 4. The new festival is a merger of annual cool-climate wines and local produce. Its themed evenings include a slow-food night and a Moroccan-style tagine feast.

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See hobartsummerfestival.com.au.

The South Coast is home to several small wineries, so you might want to sample the medal winners at the annual South Coast Wine Show at the Milton Showground on January 24 from 6pm to 8pm. Sample brie from local cheese producer Unicorn while you're there.

See southcoastwineshow.blogspot.com.

The focus then shifts to the beautiful Adelaide Hills, just a 20-minute drive from the city, for Crush 09, the annual Adelaide Hills Food & Wine Festival. It starts on January 25, so wineries can participate before vintage. Visitors can taste winning entries from the local wine show.

See adelaidehillswine.com.au.

Summer is arguably the best time to visit Tasmania and Festivale, from February 13 to 15, is a great excuse to visit Launceston and the neighbouring vineyards of the Tamar and Pipers River valleys. This three-day event attracts up to 40,000 people for its food, wine and entertainment. Celebrating its 21st birthday, Festivale has more than 60 stalls offering gourmet produce and cool-climate wines, along with dance, music and street theatre.

See festivale.com.au.

On the same weekend, the Yarra Valley Grape Grazing Festival comes to life. It's such a popular event it pays to book accommodation as early as possible, as rooms are limited.

See grapegrazing.com.au.

In Western Australia, Taste Great Southern 2009 runs from February 25 to March 2, with guest chefs, cooking classes, long-table lunches, masterclasses, dinners and the chance to taste wines from several outstanding Great Southern producers.

See greatsouthernregion.com.au.

North-east Victoria is home to Australia's best fortified wines and is producing outstanding table wines. Tastes of Rutherglen, from March 7 to 15, is where 21 wineries celebrate the harvest and the region's flavours. Meet the winemakers and sample local produce.

See rutherglenvic.com.

Back in Tasmania, a Taste of the Huon, at Ranelagh Showground from March 8 to 9, is the place to go for Huon Valley and Channel region arts, crafts and foods. Cherries, mushrooms, salmon, wines, berries and truffles are on the menu, along with cooking demonstrations and cheese tastings.

See tasteofthehuon.com.

Several outstanding wineries, including Helm, Clonakilla, Mount Majura, Yarrh and Lerida Estate are near Canberra and the Canberra District Wine Harvest Festival, from April 4 to 5, celebrates the new vintage. Picnics, structured lunches and tastings of museum wines are planned.

See canberrawines.com.au.

Two popular events in rural Victoria will be held on the weekend of April 11 to 13 - the Brown Brothers Easter Festival at Milawa, with wine, regional produce and the work of local artists; and the Bendigo Winemakers Festival in Castlemaine Botanical Gardens on April 12. More than 30 Bendigo wineries are involved.

See brownbrothers.com.au and bendigowine.org.au.

The Hunter is famous for its crisp young semillons, which develop beautifully over 20 years or more. The Hunter Semillon and Seafood weekend, from April 17 to 19, comes at the end of summer and is a celebration of the semillon grape and its ability to match well with seafood. The weekend includes dinners, tastings and cooking demonstrations. Visitors can sample fresh, new-vintage wines alongside older releases and compare the best of the region at the main tasting on the lawn at Tyrrell's Winery on April 18.

See huntersemillonandseafood.com.au.

Also celebrating the end of summer is the Barossa Vintage Festival, which runs from April 11 to 19. Highlights include a "rare and distinguished wine" auction, a carnival in the grounds of the historic Seppeltsfield winery, the Yalumba Harvest Market and a free festival parade. Legends Behind the Barrel offers the chance to meet leading winemakers.

See barossavintagefestival.com.au.

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