The initial plan for my third day on the Victoria High Country Food and Wine Trail was to go on a hot air balloon ride over the King Valley wine region. Unfortunately, the weather did not permit (cries) and I had to be content with a tour on solid ground instead. I was a tad disappointed, but quickly perked up when we visited Australia’s very own Prosecco Road, where five prominent winemakers have set up their vineyards. Some of these are run by second or third generation Italian immigrant families, and a few of the owners of separate vineyards are related.
We stopped by for a quick wine tasting at Chrismont Cellar Door, a modern building perched on top of a hill with beautiful architecture and gorgeous views of their vineyards. First established in 1996, Chrismont carries four brands, namely the Chrismont, La Zona, Riserva and Casa, each with their unique wines.
We tried the classic European varietals from the Chrismont range,which included well-loved favourites like Riesling, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Their La Zona (Italian for the zone) range, on the other hand, carried the signature Prosecco NV, along with Mediterranean varietals such as Nebbiolo and Moscato. Riserva are for the older vintages dating back to 2005-06, while Casa offers the cheaper blends.
251 Upper King River Road, Cheshunt
Operating hours: 10am-5pm
Next we came to Pizzini Wines, which also houses the A Tavola! Cooking School, where we had a cooking class scheduled. The school was located in a long, low building with a few tobacco drying sheds and flowers lining a pretty little creek. Very picturesque, like a scenery you’d find on a postcard.
There was still some time, so the friendly manager at Pizzini’s took us up to the vineyards in his car. It was quite the ride as the car bumped and jolted through uneven paths. The lane was just wide enough for us to pass, and at times grape vines would brush against the vehicle.
After a 10 minute ride, we parked at the top of the hill to look down onto the scenic valley, flanked by rings of mountains as far as the eye could see. Large swathes of land were covered in vineyards, or were kept as pastures for cattle and sheep. The air was fresh and clean, and we leaned back against the hood of the car while sipping on a few glasses of Pizzini wines (how am I not drunk yet? It’s 11 in the morning).
It was early autumn during our visit, so the grapes had not been harvested. They looked plump and juicy.
The taste of wine depends a lot on the weather and climate, which affect how well the grapes grow. Certain conditions can cause the grapes to be sour/sweeter/have more acidity/etc. It’s not easy being a winemaker !
Time to head into the kitchen! We were met by the friendly proprietress, Katrina Pizzini, who learnt the art of making Italian food when she married her husband, Fred, and joined the Pizzini family. Her hands-on classes are small and intimate, with an emphasis on hearty local/Italian fare that uses fresh ingredients.
Now I’m not much of a cook (I prefer eating lol), but Katrina has a very patient, motherly vibe to her and the classes were easy enough to follow, even for beginners. Our first dish? A classic vegetable stew, with ripe and juicy chopped tomatoes, eggplants and peppers tossed into a huge pot and left to simmer on low heat.
Katrina showing us the ropes.
We prepared the apple strudel before our main course, as this had to be baked for some time. The recipe was handed down by the Pizzini family’s matriarch, Nonna, who learnt it from an Austrian chef.
We kneaded and rolled the pastry into sheets. The filling was made up of thick, sweet slices of apple, as well as raisins and currants that was then sprinkled over with cinnamon and cloves before it was rolled up into a fat, log shape. Then, it was the basting process for aroma and shine. In it went into the oven!
For our mains, we prepared gnocchi(a chewy potato/dough dumpling) and hand-made pasta. It was quite an experience making my own pasta – I’m so used to buying ready made ones that you can just chuck into the water – so to actually make the mix, blend and knead the dough, roll it out and shape it made me realise why ‘hand-made’ food tastes better: you’re in control of the whole process. Also, it’s a ‘labour of love’. 😀
A quick salad was drenched in liberal amounts of olive oil and tossed.
We had lunch on the verandah overlooking the field and nearby creek, complete with a chequered table cloth ! Katrina had put together our pasta with some simple dressing and garlic. The dish was smooth and fragrant, and the noodles had an al-dente texture. Amazing what a little guidance in the kitchen can turn up 😛
The gnocchi was chewy, cooked in a thick and rich tomato-base sauce. Although the shape was a little off (some were bigger or smaller), it turned out well overall, especially when sprinkled over with some cheese. The apple strudel that we made was a perfect sweet ending to the satisfying meal: flaky, rich and chock full of apples and currants.
We had a visitor at the table! Although Katrina asked us not to feed him…. He made puppy eyes throughout lunch.
It was a great experience at A Tavola ! Cooking School, and I recommend it to anyone doing the food and wine trail in the King Valley. Classes are available for booking online.
A Tavola! Cooking School (inside Pizzini Wines)