Archie the Jack Russell terrier greets wine tasters who visit winemaker Paul Bridgeman, right, and Levantine Hill Vineyard in Australia’s Yarra Valley.
“Would you like some more wine, Mr. Anderson?”
That’s a question I heard several times on my business class flight from Los Angeles to Sydney on Qantas, an Alaska Airlines Global Partner. (My first time flying business, actually, and hands down the best 15 hours I’ve ever spent on a plane!)
“Yes, please” I quickly responded to the sommelier in the sky, after she gave me several recommendations, and told me all about the wines and where in Australia they’re from.
I nodded along in agreement, and expressed my extreme appreciation for the wine she recommended. The truth is: I literally didn’t know anything about wine. Absolutely nothing. I can’t emphasize that enough.
But after flying with Qantas and spending the most incredible day wine-tasting in Australia’s Yarra Valley — I’ve definitely become a beginner wine connoisseur.
But my absolute favorite day was wine-tasting in the Yarra Valley! Sometimes the best moments on trips are the unexpected ones.
Follow me to the tasting room
Our day begin just like any other in Australia – with a delicious breakfast and cup of coffee. (I only really drink coffee when I’m in Australia or New Zealand, because it’s 10x better than anywhere else in the world!) After demolishing my acai bowl, we made the quick one-hour drive from Melbourne to our first stop — Oakridge Winery.
My first impression of this place was that it is simply picture perfect, so it didn’t surprise me at all when we were told it’s a popular venue for weddings and fancy banquets!
We were greeted with warm smiles and glasses of “bubbly” (which complemented the Champagnes I tried in the extensive and unique range at the Qantas First Class lounge at LAX), and quickly began our private tour of the property. We explored the lush gardens where they grow vegetables to serve in the restaurant, the large wine-cellars, and of course the scenic vineyards.
Our Oakridge wine-tasting guide was an absolute legend, and I could really feel her passion for her job. When we arrived back at the tasting room (with a beautiful view overlooking the vineyard), she gave us a print-out of their wine list with a map (of the vineyard), and began pouring us glasses of wine, and then pointing them our on the map where the grapes were grown.
Since I had no idea about the wine-making process, it was really cool to learn a bit more about the industry. For example, learning about the different temperatures needed to grow certain grapes, estate wines, and all the various award processes.
One of my favorite videos I have during my time with Oakridge was when she said, “We are so famous for chardonnay … so you have to try a few chardies!”
I’m a big fan of the Australian accent, and their obsession with shortening everything, and this just made my first Aussie wine tasting experience! I’ll now forever call chardonnay a “CHARDIE”
The tasting continued, and I was blown away by with the entire Oakridge collection! It was also great to learn about the Oakridge 864 series, all they’re exciting award winners, and of course the 98 points winner!
While we wish we had time to stick around for lunch, and enjoy some of Matt Stone’s famous ethical food — we were already running late for our next wine tasting appointment.
To end our time at Oakridge though, the wine expert asked this important question: “Do you guys like to cheese? Get into this with some blue cheese and you’ll be approaching the pearly gates. Delicious!”
Yes, PLEASE. I’ll never say no some dessert wine!
‘Easily the best wine I’ve tried in my entire life’
To continue the our, day we drove just a couple kilometers down the road to the Levantine Hill Vineyard.
Well, actually not the vineyard or main tasting room … but at the wine cellar! Thanks to the wonderful people at Qantas and Rockpool (the sommeliers who select the wines served on board Qantas flights and in the Qantas lounges), they organized an incredible private tasting for us, and spent about an hour trying 12 or so different wines!
I’ll just get this out of the way now — this is easily the best wine I’ve tried in my entire life.
I think one of the reasons why I’ve never had too much of interest in wine is because I just didn’t know much about it — and I kind of thought that “that all wine tastes the same.” Oh, how I could not have been more wrong!
All the Levantine Hill wines we tasted had their very own distinctive aroma and palette, and I can honestly say I had never tasted wine so unique. It’s exactly this that made me fall in love with Levantine Hill so quickly.
“I’d rather have you hate the wine rather than thinking it’s just all right” one of the Levantine Hill wine experts told us.
Most importantly — it was at this wine tasting in which I learned my new favorite word when it comes to explaining wine.
Smashable: a wine that is so delicious and easily drinkable that you can drink or “smash” an entire bottle.
After the tasting, they gave us a quick tour through the wine cellar, and taught me so much about the barreling process, cleaning, bottling, etc. I have a whole new appreciation for it, because it truly is an art form.
Time for lunch
Hunger starting kicking in though, and we were recommended to check out the Healesville Hotel for a feed. We ordered a pretty massive spread, and enjoyed a lovely lunch outside on the beautiful patio area before making our way to our final wine tasting of the day.
We walked inside the Giant Steps Cellar Door and Restaurant, and was in awe about how beautiful of an establishment it is. We made our way into the tasting room, and didn’t waste any time before opening up some bottles.
Giant Steps is predominately focused on chardonnay and pinot noir, and once again I was in “wine paradise.” As we discussed different climates, grapes, barrels, and oxidation — we sampled six different wines that were simply fantastic.
My personal favorite was definitely the 50/50 blend of their pinot noir and syrah. It was really different compared the other we sampled, and was super smashable. In fact, I’m really regretting not buying a bottle because I’d love to sipping on some right now!
While our Yarra Valley wine tasting adventures had sadly come to an end, we did have one final stop to make before checking into our hotel. We arrived at the Four Pillars Gin Distillery, walked inside, and I immediately fell in love with the place.
It’s a beautifully designed modern tasting room with big glass windows that look into the bright, shiny, and gorgeous gin distillery. Once again — I’ve got to share that I’ve never actually been a big fan of gin … until now!
It reminded me of when I traveled to Amsterdam for the first time, and completed the incredible “Heineken Experience” tour. I never drank Heineken before, but once you learn more about the company — you definitely gain a much bigger admiration for it.
We were fortunate enough to meet the owner of Four Pillars, and it was truly amazing to learn all about the history of the company, the gin-making process, and do an awesome twenty-minute gin-tasting. Four Pillars is named because of the four main components of the company: the CARL Stills, Yarra Valley water, the trademark botanicals, and the passionate Four Pillars team.
While I could honestly write an entire separate article about my visit, what I’ll say is that this really was the cherry on top of my perfect day exploring the Yarra Valley. It’s the smoothest and most delicious gin in the world — and I haven’t been to bar since without asking the bartender if they keep it in stock .
The gin tasting costs $10, but you can put that towards the price of a bottle if you decide to purchase one (which I hope 100% of the people do). Four Pillars were kind enough to give me a bottle to bring home to California, and I was so happy to share this gin with my family, and tell them about this experience.
Fun fact — the Four Pillars “Rare Dry Gin” took 18 months of trial distillations before settling on the trademark botanicals, and it is Australia’s most awarded dry styled gin! While most people visit Healesville and the Yarra Valley for the wine tasting — it’d be a huge mistake to not check-out Four Pillars as well! This place alone is worth the one-hour drive from Melbourne!
The rest of our day was spent relaxing in this cute apartment we found online, grocery shopping for dinner at the local Woolworths, and going for an evening sunset drive around the Yarra Valley. When I climbed into bed, I felt nothing but peaceful and happy thoughts running through my head. It’s hard to explain — but this day was something special.
Everyone we met was fantastic, everything we tasted was phenomenal, and everywhere we went was absolutely beautiful. A perfect day.