The marriage of vine and dine is blessed. What better way to cap off a cellar door tasting than decanting oneself into a fine dining room?
Janne Apelgren, co-author of globe-hopping guide to gastronomical genius and former editor of The Age Good Food Guide, certainly agrees: "Wineries are often in beautiful places and the restaurants give you an excuse to linger."
Based in Melbourne, she's spoiled for choice with Jack Rabbit on the Bellarine Peninsula, Polpero and Ten Minutes by Tractor on the Mornington Peninsula and Oakridge in the Yarra Valley. But one of her absolute favourites is Foxey's Hangout in Red Hill, where she says the passionate owners have crafted an Aussie-style Dejeuner Sur L'Herbe.
"Hopeful diners crowd into the casual, airy room and onto the deck and grass to sup on small plates of substantial deliciousness," she says. "You can't book, and it can get frantic at weekends, but if you snag a spot, ask owner-chef Tony Lee to just feed you. He won't let you down."
A recent trip to South Australia's Barossa Valley found her bamboozled by Hentley Farm's compulsory set menu. "Fabulous produce cooked with care and imagination, spot-on service and a gorgeous glass-walled dining room perched above a river red, gum-lined creek. There's a second dining room in the attached 1880s stables, but for my money, the creek view is Australia encapsulated."
Must-visit winery restaurants
Red Hill's Montalto boasts a fascinating sculpture park amid the manicured vines for added culture and the food in the sleek restaurant is daring and artistic, with casual and high end options. The new menu from head chef Gerard Phelan, formerly of Lakehouse and Rockpool, features a centrepiece six course degustation with matching wines including red mullet with dashi broth or beef shortrib with burnt eggplant. There are sweet private nooks for couples to enjoy romantic gourmet picnics, too.
Port Phillip Estate, VIC
Though the Yarra Valley often hogs the limelight, the Mornington Peninsula, where the surf meets the vines, provides a stunning backdrop and never more so than at the Wood/Marsh Architecture-designed Port Phillip Estate. Awarded one hat by The Age Good Food Guide, head chef Stuart Deller trained under Marco Pierre White and flexes his European influences.
Ezard @ Levantine Hill, VIC
Celebrated chef Teage Ezard set up this Yarra Valley outpost of his famed Melbourne restaurant in union with Levantine winemakers. Scoring one hat, the emphasis is on locally grown produce and the joint looks pretty spiffy too, thanks to Karl Fender of Fender Katsalidis Architects.
Awarded one hat by The SMH Good Food Guide, Margan has been bringing diners to the Hunter Valley in droves for a decade. Embracing agri-dining, co-owner and chef Lisa Margan, who trained under Robert Molines at The Cellar, has a one-acre kitchen garden and orchard. They rear their own lambs and chooks. More info
Nestled within Hungerford Hill Winery at the entrance to the Pokolbin, the two-hat awarded Muse is the le work of husband and wife team Troy and Meagan Rhoades-Brown. Beautifully plated, the Saturday night six-course tasting menu includes dishes like Petuna ocean trout sashimi and red deer tartare.
St Hugo, SA
While the first vines were planted by the red wine experts at St Hugo's' way back in 1847, the restaurant, housed in a stunning ironstone cottage, is a dynamic new addition, with chef Mark McNamara returns to cooking after leaving Appellation four years ago. As well as some of the best Cabernet Sauvignon in the country, you'll find dishes such as twice-cooked duck with black sesame and molasses.
The Source, TAS
Coupled with an awe-inspiring tour around the subterranean galleries of MONA, the glittering glass space of The Source rounds up a day well spent in Hobart. Named for the John Olsen painting hanging in the foyer, it looks out over Moorilla's vineyards. Chef Vince Trim offers Norfolk Bay oysters, carpaccio of kingfish and seared wallaby fillet.
Vasse Felix, WA
Kick starting Margaret River popularity as a wine region, Vasse Felix is counted amongst the top 100 restaurants nationwide. Chef Aaron Carr has been producing the goods here since 1995 and shows no sign of slowing. There's an art gallery on site too.