Drinking Victoria: Jeni Port

Published on 19 November 2020

Photo: Wine writer, author and judge Jeni Port

Your guide to what’s in the glass from the people in the trade.

Jeni Port is a wine writer, author and wine judge who lives in Melbourne. She is a trained journalist whose proudest achievements include starting the first wine column in The Sun News-Pictorial (now The Herald Sun) and being the longest-running wine writer for The Age. During her career, she has written for every major Australian wine magazine and continues to write regular stories for Winestate,Halliday Wine Companion and Winepilot, among others. She is also correspondent for Meininger's Wine Business International, published in Europe. Porter is a regular wine show judge and is deputy chair of Australia’s Wine List of the Year Awards and China’s Wine List of the Year Awards, as well as a member of the Halliday Tasting Panel for the Halliday website and annual best-selling Halliday Wine Companion. She was named Wine Communicator of the Year in Australia in 2014, is a founding board member of the Australian Women in Wine Awards, and was inducted into the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival Legends Hall of Fame in 2016.

The last three delicious things I drank were Tahbilk’s 2019 marsanne, a wine that I have been drinking – and enjoying – for decades. It’s completely nude, no oak, so all you see is the beautiful fruit shining through: honeysuckle, jasmine aromatics, lemony bright acidity and apple-citrus freshness. From Bendigo, Sutton Grange’s 2018 aglianico is a super exciting red wine. It has a distinctive tannin/acid presence but that’s not the entire story: deep, dark, dense black fruits fill the mouth, too. This Italian variety is new to Australia but it has huge potential. I also tried the Curlewis 2018 Reserve Pinot Noir. This variety is increasingly viewed as the red wine of the Bellarine Peninsula and this is the reason why. It’s all about the concentration of fruit, earth and spice with a savouy personality. Hard to go past.

As far as I’m concerned, the defining place to get a drink in Melbourne is City Wine Shop. You can drink well and watch Melbourne go about its business. Grab a table on the footpath, order a glass of great Victorian wine and watch the comings and goings at Parliament House opposite or at the Princess Theatre next door. It’s the complete Melbourne immersion.

My favourite place to buy booze is Armadale Cellars. I’ve known the owner, Phil Hude, for years and followed him from his old stamping ground at Eaglemont Cellars to Armadale. The reason is simple: he’s one of the most passionate and professional wine merchants I know. He’s a champion of the small winemaker, whether they be in Victoria, New Zealand or Italy. His recommendations are always worth listening to.

When someone hands me a wine list in a restaurant, I go immediately to the wines by the glass section. That is generally where I dwell because I can discover a whole raft of wines to explore and since it’s just one glass, I’m not committing myself to an entire bottle. For every “wow” wine there is sometimes one that fails to excite, but that’s the challenge – the drama, if you will – that accompanies the wines by the glass section. Thankfully, it rarely disappoints.

The Victorian spirit I’m digging the most right now is resilience, hope and creativity.

There’s no better value on a wine list or in a bottle-shop in this state than Victorian riesling. Think anything from Henty, Upper Goulburn and the Grampians in particular. Our minds are often conditioned to look to the Clare Valley, the Eden Valley or the Great Southern, which are undeniably great regions, but resist the temptation and my! you’re in for a big surprise. And it won’t just be the price.

I’d love to see us planting more marsanne in Victoria. This Rhone Valley grape is a natural in our climate and soils. Tahbilk has some of the biggest plantings in the world and while it has its fans, word has been slow getting out to other makers about its great beauty and personality. Its time has come!

My guilty pleasure in the drinks cabinet is the always restorative, invigorating, sensual and utterly original Rutherglen muscat. Guilty pleasure? You bet. It’s my late-night movie accompaniment, my go-to when it’s hot (just add ice), often the best match with the cheese platter even when there are some excellent reds available… in other words, I’ll open a muscat at almost any time other than when you’re expected to. Indeed, tradition dictates when it should be opened but I think it’s kind of fun to shake up expectations.

The best or most important change to the way we drink in Victoria in recent years has been embracing sustainability. It’s the future – indeed, it’s all of our futures.

For me, the most inspiring person in the Victorian drinks world is Otto Dal Zotto of Dal Zotto Wines in the King Valley. As a young Italian migrant, he and his wife, Elena, settled in the King Valley and looked to grapes that reminded them of their origins, in particular the prosecco grape. He was the first to plant this variety that is now taking Australian drinkers by storm, making it a top-selling national sparkling wine category. It was followed by other Italian grape varieties, then a cellar door, then a restaurant. The King Valley vignerons owe him and his family a huge debt, as does all of Australia.

You can find Jeni’s writing on Winestate, WinePilotand Halliday Wine Companion, and keep up with her latest thoughts on Twitter at @jeniport.


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