King Valley Wine Region (within the zone of North East Victoria)
The King Valley has extremely varied terrain with some of the highest grape growing areas in Australia. Situated within the watershed of King River, it is a very important wine region in Victoria, supplying approximately 30% of premium wine. It is flat in the north and mountainous in the south with good drainage. Fertility is high and growth can be vigorous. Vines were first planted in the late 1880s.
The King Valley started as a tobacco growing region in the 1950s supported by predominantly Italian farmers (such as the Pizzini, Dal Zotto, Chrismont, and Politini families). In the 1970s a quota system was introduced for the growth and sales of tobacco, which led to many of these families diversifying into grape growing, through the strong encouragement from Brown Brothers.
International varieties sit beside Italian varieties and it is Prosecco and Sangiovese that are being developed as the regional flagship wines. Our visit to the region was no more than 24 hours, so we had a long day ahead having left the Yarra Valley at 7am to meet our 10am appointment at Chrismont.
No sooner had we tumbled out of the tour bus than we were being escorted into the winery, to discover our first master class of Prosecco awaiting our arrival. There were eight Prosecco on offer in which each wine had its own character and style. The symbolic ‘Prosecco Bottle’ embossed to flag the region of origin, being a common goal to make the King Valley ‘King of Prosecco’ in Australia.
Top picks for me from the ‘Numero Uno Degustazione: Prosecco’ - and all excellent value for money were the following:
Chrismont’s La Zona Prosecco NV
Sam Miranda Prosecco NV
Pizzini Prosecco 2013
Dal Zotto L’Immigrante Prosecco 2013
(This one is a new release and sits outside the typical style of a Prosecco as it is made Methode Champenoise, BUT would be worth pairing with food to see what is really going on)
The second master class was all things Pinot Grigio, and showcasing the influence of micro-climates on the region. Nine wines were presented to us and most of them from the brilliant 2013 vintage (heralded as one of the best in the region). What struck me from the bracket of wines was the textural component along with varietal definition.
The first five wines struck me from the ‘Numero Due Degustazione: Pinot Grigio’ - again all excellent value for money:
Brown Brothers 18 Eighty Nine Pinot Grigio 2013
Sam Miranda Pinot Grigio 2013
Dal Zotto Pinot Grigio 2013
Chrismont’s La Zona Pinot Grigio 2013
Pizzini Pinot Grigio 2013
The first glimpse of the true ‘Italian Spirit’ followed this tasting with a delightful morning tea arranged by the team at Chrismont’s, including a cheeky grappa post coffee to warm my extremities!
Our next stop was at the Dal Zotto cellar door in which we were guests for lunch and shown a few additional wines to accompany our meal. Michael and Christian were great hosts and their staff very accommodating. The food, ambience, wine and company were just delightful, and it took a little reminder as we headed to the bus that we were on a working trip!
We were then taken to the Pizzini cellar door to re-group and head for the hills to take in the vista and true ‘lay of the land’. Nothing beats visual impression as far as I am concerned and Joel Pizzini kindly showed us the directions of various micro-climates within King Valley. This was followed by another master class at the cellar door, being all things Sangiovese.
The top picks for me from the ‘Numero Tre Degustazione: Sangiovese’ were hard to select because I wrote so much and appreciated every wine in the line up…..but here goes:
Dal Zotto Sangiovese Cabernet 2012
Chrismont La Zona Sangiovese 2012
Dal Zotto Sangiovese 2013
Pizzini Sangiovese 2012
Sam Miranda Super King Sangiovese Cabernet 2010
Then as a special treat we were shown how Sangiovese in the region ages - and boy does it age. The Pizzini Sangiovese 1999 was simply delightful; Pizzini Rubacuori Sangiovese 2008 with time on its side and the Chrismont Arnaldo Sangiovese Cabernet 2005 simply belies its age on the nose and in the glass. I should also mention the Brown Brothers Cellar Door Montepulciano 2012 as this wine is a great little quaffer at around $20 if you are prepared to visit the cellar door!
From here we were taken to the very contemporary cellar door / restaurant at Sam Miranda to take on the fourth master class, ‘Numero Quattro Degustazione: Nebbiolo & other full bodied reds’. We arrived to a roaring fire, long table full of glasses and an antipasto board to keep us going through the acid and the tannins!
As we were nearing the end of a very long day, the challenge was raised to take on a bracket of Nebbiolo and two blends. Despite this several wines displayed great varietal definition and with time on their side:
Dal Zotto Nebbiolo 2009 - defined and varietal
Sam Miranda Nebbiolo 2010 - poise, drive and in control of its destiny
Chrismont IL Re Nebbiolo 2005 - still so youthful
Pizzini Coronamento Nebbiolo 2005 - looking great now
Running short of time, we just had enough time to check into our accommodation, Lindenwarrah at Milawa before a slow stroll across the road to join all the hosts from the day at Brown Brothers. This was a very fitting end to the day, not only to have the final master class in the cellar door, but to then dine in the Epicure Centre, and be given a walk amongst the old and very historic cellars beneath the buildings.
It has to be said that as I stepped into the cellar door to embrace ‘Numero Cinque Degustazione: sweet wines’, I was hit with the real spirit of the King Valley - the ‘Italian Spirit’ that is the tagline of the region. All our hosts from the day had turned up to support the final master class, and being a Sunday they were all taking time away from family obligations right on the back of vintage. Did this influence my experience at the tasting? Maybe it did, or maybe it was the history that surrounded me at Brown Brothers, a winery and family that have had such a positive influence on the industry for over a century.
The bracket was so intense and so exciting that I simply could not keep up with my tasting, notes and group discussion (although I tried really hard). Top picks for me were brilliant wines worthy of a position on a wine list or in a retail store:
Sam Miranda Moscato 2013
Chrismont’s La Zona Fragolino 2012
Dal Zotto Elena 2008
Brown Brothers Patricia Noble Riesling 2009
Pizzini Per Gli Angeli 2007 (Vin Santo Style)
This amazing tasting was followed by a great dinner in the restaurant at Brown Brothers, followed by the generosity extended by Ross Brown in a tour of the heritage cellars and a few samples from the museum stock (eg; R.K Cabernet Sauvignon 1980; Vintage Port 1988). Thanks must be extended to all those who hosted us and gave up their time to make this such a special trip. This includes the families and staff from Brown Brothers, Chrismont, Dal Zotto, Pizzini and Sam Miranda.
A huge thank you is also extended to Wine Australia for making this possible and to the other Sommeliers I travelled with, who brought their own knowledge, tasting expertise and experience to the trip.
For those of you who have not yet visited the King Valley wine region, the Queen’s Birthday Long Weekend is a great time to visit. You will see the Italian Spirit in action with live music, home-made gourmet food, premium wines and cellar door events all weekend. For further information on accommodation or other facilities please contact the Wangaratta Visitor Information Centre on 1800 801 645 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org and for more information about what is on offer visit www.winesofthekingvalley.com.au