Melissa Brauer’s fascination with Italian wine began two decades ago, but it was in 2010 during a trip to Italy when her love for prosecco really took off. On her return, she beelined for Australia’s home of prosecco, the King Valley, and became fast friends with the Dal Zotto and Pizzini families – two of the most recognisable names in Australian prosecco – and read everything about the grape she could get her hands on. In 2016, after months of further research on Italian prosecco, she visited the Valdobbiadene, Conegliano and Asolo regions during harvest, and ended up importing DOCG prosecco, expanding this range over time. Melissa then earned her WSET2 certification, created the annual Prosecco Festival, (now headed into its seventh year) and began hosting wine masterclasses all over Australia.
These days she can be found sharing her latest drink discoveries on her social media pages, running wine events and doing a little freelance digital marketing consulting and wine writing on the side. This is what she drinks when she’s drinking Victorian.
The last three delicious Victorian things I drank were…
– Little Reddie Chardonnay – I had the pleasure of meeting Pat Underwood recently at a wine tasting organised by the team behind Cam’s Kiosk and the new fine diner Julie at the Abbotsford Convent. His Chardonnay, with fruit from out Harcourt way, is elegant and balanced, with a white chalk minerality, good acid and lots of lemon.
– Cavedon Wines Sparkling Whole Bunch Gewurztraminer. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t just the environment, but standing on a hilltop overlooking the vines rolling down into the King Valley with Young Gun winemaker Gabe O’Brien and partner in crime Pia Cavedon was definitely a vibe. That their extensive range of prosecco is outstanding simply goes without saying, but this crazy number was something out of the box entirely: a challenging, taste bud-provoking mouthful of rich, ripe tangelo and rosewater, with a stunning sunset hue; bonkers good.
– Box Grove sparkling roussanne – arguably the first of its kind in the world. Sarah Gough is one of my favourite Victorian winemakers and growers, and she started making this wine over a decade ago. My penchant for good bubbles knows no bounds or borders, and Sarah’s roussanne is a delight of a wine, so the sparkling iteration was always going to be incredible as well, full of glorious depth, with toasty notes, ripe pear, and golden delicious apple.
When someone hands me a drinks list, I head straight for the Victorian Chardonnay page.
The wine region I can’t get enough of, apart from the King Valley, is Beechworth. There’s a concentration of winemaking excellence here, from Mark Walpole at Fighting Gully Road, to Tessa Brown at Vignerons Schmölzer and Brown,Keppel Smith at Savaterre, and so many others in between. The soil, the microclimate and the sheer beauty of the place, not to mention ace locals like Michael Ryan with his two-hatted Provenance Restaurant, (and now he’s added a fancy wine bar upstairs), and the Beechworth Bitters Co that he started during lockdown which has gone from strength to strength; Naomi Ingleton, formerly of Myrtleford Butter Factory fame with her FarmacyCo store full of Ayurvedic elixirs and tonics; Billson’s Brewery kicking all the spirits goals; gorgeous Eldorado Road with their cellar door in the main drag; and Project 49 (Rocco Esposito’s chardonnay is superb, as is his providore of the same name) – there are literally never enough hours in the day to get around to everything I want to eat and drink whenever we visit.
As far as I’m concerned, the defining place to get a drink in Victoria is City Wine Shop because there is always something new and different to try, it’s always a hive of activity, the bar snacks are deluxe, and the staff really know what to put in your glass if you can’t decide. It’s cosy in winter, seated on the shared table inside making new friends, and glorious on a summer afternoon when you take an early mark and park yourself and spend a good few hours working your way through all the things.
There’s no better value on drinks list or in a bottle-shop in this state than any of the King Valley reds, which usually offer great bang for your buck – like Pizzini’s Nonna Gissela sangiovese: easy drinking, fresh and vibrant and definitely won’t break the bank for Tuesday night’s pasta at home.
My favourite place to buy booze is Vinoshi’s Beverage Shop in East Ivanhoe. Run by the most divine couple, winemakers Jasmine Wakely and Yuri Zinenko (who also have a pair of borzois who hang around bewitching the locals) this is a tiny bar as well as a banging bottle-o and they have an eclectic mix of natural and classic wines, together with their own labels (Le Timbre and Calyx), which are always fabulous. It’s easy to go in to grab something to take home and then get waylaid: “just try a glass of this…” – next minute you’re walking home and coming back for the car tomorrow.
I’d love to see us planting more Italian and Spanish white varieties: they are perfect for our climate, they thrive without too much water, they will become important when global warming starts to encroach on some of our cool climate regions, and they are simply brilliant with all the food we Victorians love to eat, including Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese and Italian and Spanish of course! Oh, and more chardonnay. Because… chardonnay.
My guilty pleasure at the bar is… Look, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love an Espresso Martini to kick off a night out…. there’s something about that Martini glass and the hit of coffee after a long day at the laptop.
The Victorian spirit I’m loving most right now is Beechworth Bitters’ Yuzucello – we’re limoncello lovers so this was always going to be a hit at our place – using yuzu grown in the nearby Ovens Valley and some local jasmine and lemongrass for good measure, this is an absolute doozy of a digestif.
The best or most important change to the way we drink in Victoria in recent years has been… I think people are becoming more and more interested in where and how their wine is made, and really seeking out, and having an appreciation for the smaller labels, and we’re also taking more of an interest in sustainability – with the help of social media we’re able to engage with, influence and educate people like never before, so it’s easier to educate the drinking audience about the efforts that are being made to care for the soil and the environment.
For me, the most inspiring person in the Victorian drinks world is the gorgeous Kate Goodman. I met her at the 2018 Australian Women in Wine awards in Sydney when she won Winemaker of the Year and I’ve been following her journey closely ever since. She makes bloody excellent wine, has turned Penley Estate’s fortunes around in the Coonawarra, all whilst kicking breast cancer’s ass, not once, but TWICE. Her Yarra Valley Nikkal rosé is not only delicious, but proceeds go towards breast cancer research. She’s bloody lovely, smiles in the face of adversity, and then ends up this year being named Halliday Wine Companion Winemaker of the Year. Inspiring stuff indeed.