All the Bubbles! La Dolce Vita Festival November 15-16, 2014.


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If this picture is making you thirsty, there are number of fantastic ways to get your bubbles on, Italian Style, at the annual Dolce Vita Festival in the King Valley, November 14-16.

Brown Brothers is celebrating 125 years of wine making at their 28th annual Spring Wine & Food Festival Opening Dinner, where you can dine with members of the Brown family at Patricia’s Table restaurant in the Epicurean Centre at  Milawa.

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This exclusive members-only event features a delectable four course meal with matched wines created by  award winning Head Chef Douglas Elder.
Over the weekend you can also experience some fantastic wine and food matching at Patricia & Co Pop-Up Wine and Food Bar, visit Epicurean Express for mouth-watering dishes direct from the delicious kitchen, or simply grab a picnic basket and get comfortable on the lawns listening to some wonderful live acoustic music. You’ll also be one of the first to get the chance to take a peek inside the beautiful, newly restored historic barn, the place where the King Valley wine adventure started. Drop in, relax, explore!

Dal Zotto Wines in Whitfield are celebrating their 10th Anniversary of producing Australia’s first Prosecco at their Primavera del Prosecco event this year.

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New release wines include 2014 Arneis, 2014 Riesling, 2014 Vintage Pucino and N.V. Pucino Prosecco. They are also very excited to announce the return of the ever popular Barbera Frizzante and an exciting new variety to the Dal Zotto range – the 2014 Garganega.

The Prosecco Cocktail Bar will be open again from 11 am until 8pm on Saturday and 10 am – 5 pm on Sunday, and for the kids, clown fun, with  2 x jumping castles (for big and little kids), face painting and craft activities.

“Wine Flights” will be served with food matches in the Trattoria by the winemaker and Dal Zotto family and team.

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House made Pizza, kids meals, delicious spring produce, together with famous Gelato Messina treats are only a few of the food options on offer, there will be music by local artists Tom Kline, Paul William Ray & Band and you can groove away the night with DJ Emlyn Andres at the  “Prosecco Nights” event (Sat 4pm-8pm)  where they will be crowning the King and Queen of Prosecco – and you can be assured I’ll be back defending my title as Prosecco Queen!

After 5pm on Saturday, enjoy Otto Dal Zotto’s now famous Tuscan Pork Roll – succulent spit roasted pork (that’s Eric below from the Trattoria doing a test run a few weeks ago), lovingly cooked all day and served up on house made bread rolls with Italian slaw….Bellisimo!IMG_1630

 

Pizzini Wines

 

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Every year Pizzini put on their ‘Gnocchi Carnevale’ as part of La Dolce Vita Festival. Along with Katrina Pizzini’s famous homemade gnocchi, there will be pork belly, Zatar crusted BBQ salmon, roast pumpkin and caramelised onion cannelloni, as well as a huge array of amazing desserts, and kids get to try Nonna’s bolognaise. There’s also an ice cream bar, market stalls, music, giant sandpit and art space for the kids as well as kite making, and roving entertainers teaching the kids circus art like hooping, enthralling with balloon art, face painting and magical tricks. All this means you will be free to sit and enjoy the sunshine, and all the wine. There’s also the annual gnocchi rolling and wine spitting competitions,

Fred Pizzini has grown over 275 kilograms of Dutch Cream potatoes especially for the gnocchi. It would be rude not to help them eat it.

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Just 5 minutes down the road you’ll find Politini Wines and Chrismont Wines, in Cheshunt.

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(image from Visit Victoria)

 

This year Politini are serving up a sensational southern Italian feast of seafood with a Mediterranean twist by the team of ‘Rinaldo’s Casa e Cucina’, plus Nonna Josie’s home-cooked fare and delicious Italian sweets including her ever popular amici & dolce platters.

IMG_0990Chrismont are celebrating with a two-day, lively affair brimming with exciting new release wines, top entertainment and dishes inspired by a southern Italian holiday, all with the region’s majestic vistas as your backdrop.

You can also experience a touch of Venice at the Bellini Bar with cocktails of La Zona Bellini and La Zona Spritz showcasing Chrismont’s La Zona Prosecco. This dry sparkling wine made in the authentic northern Italian style is shaping up to be the drink of summer – so jump in while it’s still spring and enjoy Prosecco ‘viva la vita’ style.

You can check out the entire Dolce Vita festival program HERE

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It occurred to me whilst finding images for this post that I have taken A LOT of photos of prosecco. And the King Valley. And I’m ok with that. It’s pretty. And I love it, so remember:

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* I was not asked to write this post, I am not being paid to write this post. It’s a public service announcement about all the bubbles. That is all. Prosecco Queen out…

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Horsing around in Wangaratta

Regular readers of my blog will know how much I love North East Victoria, for its beautiful lush green landscape, gourmet food trails, warm hospitality, and of course the wineries of the King Valley, the home of prosecco. So it may surprise you to learn that I haven’t visited Wangaratta in about 2o years, despite it being located only 10 minutes from Milawa, the start of the King Valley Gourmet food and wine region.

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I was invited by the Rural City of Wangaratta to visit the area for a couple of days, my trip coinciding with the High Country Harvest, which runs for 10 days from the middle of May each year, and showcases the region’s food and wine producers, in a series of fantastic long lunches, picnics, wine dinners, and a couple of extremely special events, including one that particularly sparked my interest,  ‘Packing Prosecco’.

The opportunity to finally explore some of Wangaratta itself was too good an offer to refuse so I packed up Mr 9 for some ‘school of life’ adventures and away we sped up the Hume Highway to arrive just in time for lunch at Cafe Derailleur, which amongst other things such as a completely crochet-covered mountain bike (yes, really), does excellent coffee, and according to my junior foodie, very excellent pancakes.

FORGE’S FARM – PACKING PROSECCO

Lunch done, we headed out to Oxley, just 15 minutes out of town, to meet with our hosts Graham, Anne-Maree and Tup Forge, of Forge’s Farm.  Anne-Maree grew up on their current farm, and Graham is from nearby Edi. Between them they know every inch of the King Valley and regularly run trail rides around the area, give horse riding lessons, and run annual cattle drives and team penning competitions. These lovely people are so friendly we literally felt like part of the family the moment  we arrived, which made it all the more difficult to leave.

For the High Country Harvest event, they’ve combined local produce from the Milawa Cheese Company with Dal Zotto prosecco, and teach visitors the lost art of packing a horse, before taking them on a beautiful, easy ride thorough paddocks and along the King River for a picnic either on the shady bank, or in a nearby woodshed.  It’s hard to say who enjoyed this more, me or my son Dylan, who appears to have a natural affinity for horses, and was off and trotting after only 5 minutes in the saddle. Whilst there he also got to feed baby lambs from a bottle, as well as helping Graham and Anne-Maree unsaddle the horses and put on their ‘pyjamas’ (saddle blankets) before leading them off to the stables for the night.

Dylan has already made me promise to go back to Forge’s for another visit, and with accommodation on site for only $80 a night for a very cosy little shed with comfy double bed and bunks in the middle of all the action, it won’t be too long before we are back in the saddle.

You can follow Forge’s Farm on Instagram and Facebook. Make sure you follow Tuppy Forge as well – she’s the one responsible for the gorgeous styling of the prosecco picnic, and with an eye for beautiful detail and a talent behind the camera, her feed is sure to be full of loveliness. You can thank me later.

THE OTHER GOOD BITS

Tarrawingee:

The Plough Inn Hotel in Tarrawingee is another destination that’s been on my North East bucket list for a little while now, so it was fantastic to have this on our schedule. Chef and owner Andrew Roscouet, is ex Pure South, and Sofitel Melbourne, and  The Savoy and Berkley Hotels in London before that. His fine pedigree shines through in food that is neither fussy nor pretentious whilst impressing the pants off you at the same time. With a wine list that beautifully demonstrates the great talents of several local winemakers, an inviting dining room full of exposed brick and gorgeous light even on a dreary Autumn day, and an excellent value tasting menu (5 courses for $65 or $90 with matched wines) this is somewhere I’ll be returning to again for a long and leisurely dinner, with a designated driver next time so I can drink a whole bottle of the local Eldorado Road Quasimodo Shiraz Durif Nero D’Avola which is my new favourite wine crush for the cooler months. Warning: food porn ahead.


IMG_9617Slow cooked Chicken Terrine with Buttered Onion Brioche and Cauliflower Chutney.

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Roasted Sweet Corn Croquettes with Garlic Aioli

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Vanilla Creme Brûlée with citrus mint salad

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Wangaratta:

No longer a sleepy country town, Wang is full of stylish little stores stocking homewares, kitchen stuff, local crafts, and some pretty sweet boutiques. The food scene is also much better than you might imagine, with some excellent choices for dining out, from casual to more ‘special occasion’.  On this particular visit we tried Watermarc and Precinct for drinks and a range of entrees and Cafe The PreVue for breakfast. Apart from an excellent standard of food, what really struck me was the professional service, which was anything but provincial. I’m looking forward to another visit already.

 

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Poached egg with tomato, basil, fetta and chilli, and balsamic at Cafe The Pre Vue

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Sitting on the deck in the Autumn sunshine at Cafe the Pre Vue overlooking the Ovens River and boardwalk

We stayed at  Via Bella Vista – luxury boutique accomodation, close to the river, with a large terrace to catch the morning sun, beautifully styled with thoughtful touches like a coffee machine with milk and pods, a bottle of wine in the fridge and Mor toiletries in the bathroom (and even a hairdryer). The bed had the biggest, fluffiest pillows I’ve ever laid my head on, and was like sleeping on a cloud. Heaven!20140525-133838.jpg

Milawa:

There always seems to be so much to do in Milawa itself, and I never seem to have enough time to get around to everything. For example, if you start at Brown Brothers Winery, you can grab a bike and pedal up and down the country roads, in search of cheese, mustard, olive oil, honey, and ALL THE WINE. It’s a little initiative they like to call ‘Pedal to Produce’ and the bikes come equipped with a big basket that you can fill to the brim with all the delicious things. A highlight of this little expedition was trying the new ‘Bolle’ sparkling at Sam Miranda Wines. We also picked up some gorgeous creamed honey from Walkabout Apiaries.

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We stayed as guests of the Rural City of Wangaratta.

 

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Special thanks to the glamour farmer and tourism treasure, Emma Keith for hosting us so magnificently xx

 

My picks for Melbourne Food & Wine Festival 2014

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The Melbourne Food and Wine Festival is upon us again, which many of us have been eagerly awaiting since last October, when the program was first announced.

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It’s another fantastic opportunity to showcase the talents of our world-renowned hospitality industry, as well as showing off the beauty of our city, the always elegant Lady Melbourne.

This year the Festival theme is WATER and there are many clever and original ideas and events based around this to wet your whistle and whet your appetite.
Following are my picks for the Festival. Not surprisingly they feature a lot of wine.  But wine has lots of water in it, so it’s totally on topic…
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The clever people from Hassell who put together last year’s Urban Coffee Farm and Brew Bar at the Festival, are behind this state of the art structure nestling on the left bank of the Yarra River at Queensbridge Square.
Immerse yourself in foodie delights at the open kitchen from numerous chefs including Daniel Wilson and Adam Liston,  learn about growing your own food, and discover cocktail delights complete with chemistry lessons when the sun goes down and it transforms into a riverside bar.
This one has my interest due to my love of both chefs and photography. A chance to see some of Australia’s top chefs captured in their natural habitat, and out of it, with surprising and amusing results. It’s also FREE.
Sommeliers Long Lunch – Sunday March 2
Hosted by Sommeliers Australia, with a 6 course extravaganza from Pope Joan, and wines expertly paired by top Melbourne Sommeliers from Rockpool, Grossi Florentino and Attica, this is one lunch you won’t want to miss. Held at Ormond Hall, this is a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon, and funds raised help further the education of our local Sommeliers overseas. A fun wine-matching competition will take place across the event with the host sommeliers battling each other for crowd approval.  Just make sure you take the tram home!
Dreamily handsome Chef Luigi Taglienti shares his passion for Italian gastronomy in this Langham Masterclass.  Luigi, executive chef at the Michelin starred Ristorante Trussardi Alla Scala in Milan,  is known for blending traditional Italian flavours and seasonal produce with avant garde techniques, with spectacular results.  Add some fine Italian wine varietals from Dal Zotto in North East Victoria and you have yourself a winner here.
Regional Weekend March 14-16:  a long lunch, lilos and fly-fishing
St Leonards Long Lunch  Friday March 14
What’s not to love about a long lunch – especially in somewhere as gorgeous as Rutherglen in Victoria’s North East?
St Leonards are putting on a four-hour feast of epic proportions, and with a wine history stretching back to the 1860s, the refreshments will be as delicious as the local produce.
Lilos and Prosecco  Saturday March 15
Once you’re done here, stay the night and next morning scoot across to the King Valley and front up at Dal Zotto Wines at 10am for Lilos and Prosecco. A bus takes you to a perfect spot along the King River and after a safety demo you jump aboard a floaty pillow of fun and glide down the crystal waters that run through the picturesque valley of the Kings and home of Prosecco in Australia. Afterwards enjoy a beautiful lunch and plentiful prosecco at the Dal Zotto Trattoria.
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After the excitement of Saturday, you can try Fly-fishing on the King River on Sunday at Pizzini Wines.  Starting off with some fly fishing lessons, and then lunch and wine tasting with Joel Pizzini at the Cellar Door, you’ll head off to the river to try and catch your dinner. If you’re really nice Fred Pizzini might even share his favourite fishing spots with you.
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I’m excited and exhausted just thinking about all the fantastic events on offer this year, but I’ve been in training and my liver is ready and raring to go!
Buon appetito and look out for my Instagram feed for more fun and games from MFWF2014!
Disclaimer: I have not been paid for including any of the events listed here in my blog.  I am not attending any of these ticketed events for free. Any events I am invited to attend over the course of MFWF14 will be fully disclosed.

Volvo Prosecco-Road Trip

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A group of food and wine loving friends, and 2 brand new Volvos to test drive on a recent Autumn weekend saw us head to the King Valley in North East Victoria.

Just 3 hours from Melbourne, this is the birthplace of Prosecco, or Italian sparkling wine in Australia, and is aptly known as the ‘Prosecco Road’.  It is also home to a number of other excellent red and white Italian varietals. Our destination was Pizzini Wines, a family owned and run winery in Whitfield, in the heart of the King Valley.

The Cars
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Silverstone Volvo in Doncaster very kindly loaned us a brand spanking new XC60 R Design as well as the newly released V40, the latest in a line-up of sleek and sexy designs from the Swedish car maker who has undergone a revolution in recent years, amping up its image from safe but boxy and much maligned to what are now some of the best looking cars around.

At the recommendation of  Allison Walker  from  Mansfield Farmers Market , we went via Mansfield and tested out the cars on some wonderful curvy roads, driving through stunning countryside, past rolling green hills dotted with cattle, with a quick coffee stop at the delightful  Tea Rooms of Yarck .

The V40 is essentially a 5 door hatchback, but feels much larger and more spacious than your average hatch. It is a classy, sporty number (ours had a stunning cream leather interior) and is fabulous for city driving, especially with its additional features like park assist, a blind spot warning system, pedestrian airbag, and pedestrian detection with an auto-brake function. You’d be hard pressed to find a safer car. It’is also incredibly fuel efficient, and comes with start-stop technology (it turns itself off whilst you’re waiting at the traffic lights). I have a huge car crush on this little lady and did NOT want to give her back at the end of our weekend. She is also surprisingly affordable, priced at around $40K, give or take.

The XC60 R Design, a family-oriented crossover SUV, goes head to head with the likes of the Audi A5 size-wise and easily holds it own with looks, performance, and features, as well as offering value for money. We drove the petrol version, which has a turbocharged engine with plenty of oomph and goes from 0 – 100 kph in just 5.8 seconds. And from one bass-loving hip-hop fan I can confirm the stereo is in fact THE SHIZZLE.

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The Pizzini family have been in the King Valley for over 50 years, starting out in tobacco farming and then transforming the land into vineyards, initially growing Riesling grapes for Brown Brothers in Milawa in the late 70’s, then adding Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and Shiraz vines, the fruit of which was then sold to winemaking companies all over Australia.

In the mid 80’s, Fred Pizzini started experimenting with the Northern Italian grape varieties, Nebbiolo and Sangiovese, and eventually expanded into other Italian varietals, including Il Barone, Arneis, Pinot Grigio, Verduzzo, Brachetto, Prosecco and Picolit.

You will usually find Fred at the Cellar Door, sharing his passion for his wine, family and the region, together with winemaker son Joel, whose love of grapes has seen him complete vintages in Margaret River, Mornington Peninsula as well as in Italy at Marenco in Piemonte and Isole e Olena in Tuscany (one of the world’s top ten wineries and producers of one of the three top Sangioveses in Italy).

Check out wine writer, personal wine valet, and fellow road-tripper Catherine Whelan, aka Lady Of Oenotria for her take on our Pizzini Cellar Door experience.

The Cooking School – A Tavola

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Katrina Pizzini is passionate about the Italian recipes passed down from her mother-in-law, and her cooking classes are the perfect way to experience some of the flavours of the region, whilst learning some traditional skills like making gnocchi, pastry and pasta.

Katrina is the most gorgeous lady, patient and kind (and extremely diplomatic when you stuff something up!). Her cooking tips include some gems for even the most seasoned home cook, she makes everything look easy, and she’s so super lovely I asked her to adopt me (sorry mum if you’re reading this).

The commercial kitchen is equipped with everything you need to feel like a total professional, and to keep the magic alive you can also take home her beautiful cookbook, ‘A Tavola’. During our cooking class we made bolognaise, potato gnocchi, and apple strudel, (with fruit from Nonna Pizzini’s apple trees), and then sat outside in the Autumn sunshine and enjoyed the fruits of our labour with some Prosecco. Salute!

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The Dal Zotto family, like the Pizzinis, have a long history in the King Valley (the two families are in fact related).  Otto Dal Zotto and his sons introduced Prosecco to the King Valley in 2000, and indeed to Australia. Otto claims he has wine in his veins rather than blood, and he is infectious in his enthusiasm for Prosecco and how it brings people together.   He is quite simply my hero.

By 2011 there were another  5 wineries in the region all producing Prosecco, including Brown Brothers, Pizzini, Sam Miranda, Chrismont, and Ciccone. They formed together a gourmet food and wine trail now known as The Prosecco Road.  For me Prosecco is a wine that suits every occasion, is great with meals or on its own, is celebratory, fun, easy to drink and perfect shared with friends. It captures the spirit of Italian hospitality in a bottle, and I am working hard to consume as much Prosecco as possible in my lifetime. So far I’m pretty pleased with my efforts. Anyone who knows me will know that it is nearly always ‘Prosecco Time’.

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Apart from a great cellar door experience, the Dal Zotto trattoria is a must visit if you’re in the King Valley. The menu features Italian-inspired seasonal and regional produce, from simple yet stunning antipasto platters to delicious handmade pasta. The family matriarch ‘Nonna Elena’ is a keen gardener, and still works to produce fresh ingredients for the kitchen.

Dinner – the Mountain View Hotel

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The Mountain View Hotel is a boutique gastro pub owned by the Pizzini family, in the heart of Whitfield, and its modern European-inpired menu is the work of chef Scott Burness, who has worked in kitchens all over the world including New Zealand, Scotland, the United States and Australia.

The service  here is city standard with country charm, and the food is nothing short of delightful.

The highlights of our meal (apart from spending it in the company of Katrina, Nat and Carla Pizzini) included the Bundarra Berkshire pork belly special, the dry aged Black Angus porterhouse, with onion marmalade, baby carrots, truffle potato foam and jus, and a stand-out dessert of pistachio and olive oil cake, roasted peach and vanilla bean ice cream.

The Mountain View on its own is well worth the trip to the King Valley, and is also home to the ‘Lana’ label of food-focussed wines, made by Joel Pizzini.

 

Accomodation – Jessie’s Creek Cottage

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This gorgeous new addition to Whitfield offers beautiful modern accomodation, 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, luxury furnishings, a stunning fully-equipped kitchen, huge back yard and most importantly, is in staggering distance to the Mountain View Hotel. Cheers!

Thank you to the divine Pizzini family for hosting us so beautifully, and we can’t wait to see you again very soon!

You can also check out my Pinterest album for our all our Instagram pictures of the weekend here .

Bright Delight

We have become regular visitors to Bright in recent years, for a myriad of outdoor pursuits, including cycling along the ‘Rail Trail’, paragliding and mountain biking (those last 2 are Mr GastronoMel’s domain). 3 1/2 hours up the Hume, turning off at Wangaratta, driving through lush green countryside, giving way to rows of vines, Bright is not only stunningly beautiful, but is the epicentre of foodie-heaven, with some of Victoria’s finest food and wine being produced and served in the area.

Breakfast (and lunch):

One of our new discoveries during our last visit was Ginger Baker, without doubt one of the prettiest breakfast locations of my eating career. Run by Tim Walton, with a slew of suburban Melbourne cafes under his belt, his family’s tree change is one I’m grateful for, as we couldn’t get enough of the place, returning 3 mornings in a row for breakfast, and then again for lunch. With plentiful undercover outdoor seating, rough hewn tables and benches, lights in glass jars suspended from the rafters like fireflies, and a playlist of cruisy house music, I would have been happy to move in here. The coffee was perfect every time and Tim has tracked down some of the region’s best quality fruit, dairy and smallgoods to offer up some truly memorable breakfasts. A particular highlight was the bacon sourced from a butcher in Mt Beauty. Lunch was also fabulous, with an interesting range of tapas.

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Dinner:

Simone’s of Bright is perhaps the best known restaurant in the area, serving up beautiful Italian fare making the most of the local produce. It’s something of a special occasion place, with multiple small dining rooms complete with carpet, mantlepieces and artwork that give the impression that you’re in someone’s (rather lovely) home, rather than a restaurant.
Thoughtful, beautifully presented dishes served by exceptionally professional staff , Simone’s is a delighful, grown up experience, and you can even buy Patrizia Simone’s gorgeous cookbook to take home with you (or better still, enrol in one of her cooking classes at the new cooking school).

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What to drink:

Anyone who follows me on Twitter would be familiar with my obsession with prosecco, in simple terms, Italy’s version of champagne and my very favourite drink in the whole wide world. Already a huge Brown Brothers fan from way back, they made me particularly happy more recently by introducing Prosecco into their extensive line up, and a trip to the Cellar Door in Milawa (near Bright and home to the magnificent Milawa Cheese Factory) meant trying a few different styles of bubbles, as well as the Limited Release prosecco. My tasting notes for this little beauty read: ‘senfreakingsational’. Who are we kidding. I made no notes. I just drank ALL the prosecco and other delights that the lovely Ernie put in front of us. Next time we’ll stay longer and do lunch in the amazing Epicurean Centre.

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Local hero:

Anyone who’s been to a Melbourne Farmer’s Market will be familiar with the Myrtleford Butter Factory‘s wares, but if you are passing through picturesque Myrtleford, it’s worth stopping in to say hi to the very delightful and hospitable Naomi and her mum Bron (I thought they were sisters!) who are not only producing the best butter I’ve ever put in my pie hole, but they do a damn fine coffee and breakfast, and have loads of lovely crockery, artwork and cookbooks to buy whilst you’re there.

They also offer tours of the butter factory itself, which they restored from its neglected state, after continually driving past saying ‘someone should really buy that place and do it up’, so Naomi tells me.
If you’re on Twitter you can find both of them chatting about country life and tasty buttery snacks: @thebutterfactor and @butterbron

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Where we stayed:

The Boathouse, Bright complete with outdoor bath (superb for lying in at night with candles and prosecco looking up at the stars)

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What else we loved:

Lunch at Sam Miranda Wines outside on the terrace, plenty of space for the kids (if you’re dragging them to the wineries with you) to run around, and a truly fabulous spread of share plates

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What we’re doing next time:

Two words. KING VALLEY. The birth place of Australian Prosecco. Home of the Prosecco Road. Dal Zotto, Pizzini, italian varietals, and the Mountain View Hotel in Whitfield. We are coming for you next.

And where to refuel on the way home:

The multi-award-winning Fowles Wines , home to ‘Ladies who shoot their lunch’, and other splendidly named wines, they do a delightful prosecco, and have a great restaurant overlooking the vines, with some fantastic share plates of local goodness.

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Villa Gusto – La Dolce Vita

Around a sweeping bend on a road in the Buckland Valley (near Bright, about 3.5 hour’s drive from Melbourne) nestled under Mount Buffalo, you’ll find Villa Gusto – a little slice of Italy right here in Australia.

Offering divine luxury accomodation, taking inspiration from southern Italy and filled with gorgeous rich tones, authentic tapestries and centuries-old antiques (and Bvlgari toiletries in the bathroom), Villa Gusto has 7 suites to choose from, all looking out over different parts of the garden, with views to the majestic mountain above.

The ornamental garden also includes a large chook pen (nicknamed the Penthouse) full of lovely brown hens who obligingly lay their eggs for your breakfast, as well as a big organic veggie patch, overseen by a super-friendly lady by the name of Signorina Fellini, a large silky tabby-cat.

We arrive for dinner promptly, as our host Colin has advised us the meal begins at 7pm sharp. If you’ve had a wander around the garden or taken a seat on the terrazzo beforehand to take in the view, it’s likely he’ll have offered you a pre-dinner drink, and some Prosecco is definitely in order.

The King Valley wine region is right on our doorstep here, and its cool, even climate is perfect for growing fabulous Italian varietals like Nebbiolo, Barbera, Sangiovese, Pinot Grigio, Vin Santo and of course Prosecco. The first Australian-made Prosecco was in fact produced right here, at Dal Zotto Winery, and it’s easily one of the best we’ve had. Similarly one of the loveliest Sangiovese we’ve had the pleasure to imbibe comes from just down the road at Whitfield, courtesy of the delightfully affable Fred Pizzini and the team at Pizzini Wines.

But I digress. The dinner menu at Villa Gusto is thus: 4 courses, predetermined by seasonal availability, containing all locally- sourced ingredients, and based on traditional, rustic Italian fare, specifically from the south of Italy, and accompanied, if you wish (we wished), by matching wines.

We were treated to an apertura of shellfish broth, a recipe that had been passed down through the generations of one particular family in Amalfi, since 1864. This was a mouthwatering combination of vongole (pippies), mussels, a large bug tail, and a ladleful of delicate brodo. Even our non-shellfish-eating dining companion was moved to down this bowlful of goodness. This was followed by a housemade canneloni filled with local smoked trout from Harrietville, dill sauce, with black truffle (hello!) and flavoured with a splash of Vermentino, a white Italian varietal. A gorgeous combination of flavours, and the canneloni was a perfectly bitey aldente.

Secondi arrived – pollo di latte, which is quite simply, chicken in milk. But a Millawa free range chicken it was, and slow cooked all day so that it simply fell away from the bones, and served with a crunchy, crumbed eggplant slice, and some fresh steamed greens. There was a hint of chilli which warmed the cockles of my heart, and when enjoyed with a 2009 Vinea Marson Sangiovese from Heathcote, had the tastebuds doing the happy dance.

Dolci was a delightful combination of naughty and nice – some fresh local berries and nectarines, served with a canoli filled with local ricotta flavoured with limoncello (why not?) and a peach and nectarine gelato.

All the courses were spaced beautifully, leaving enough time between each for pause, reflection, conversation and digestion. The portions were perfect, the wines thoughtfully matched, and complimented nicely by some Sinatra swing, which had us all swaying and crooning (quite badly) by the end.

Whilst you can make a dinner booking without staying the night (the restaurant seats 22 comfortably), it’s hard to resist the allure of wandering down the hallway to your room to arise the next morning for breakfast at the very civilised hour of 9am to velvety poached pears, local yoghurt from the Myrtleford Dairy and freshly poached googs, with cherry tomatoes and asparagus picked from the garden, washed down with an espresso. La dolce vita indeed.

http://www.villagusto.com.au/

http://www.dalzotto.com.au/

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