From L-R: 2020 Empire of Dirt ‘Valkyrie’ Aromatic White Field Blend; 2019 Bodega Marañones Picarana Albillo Real; 2020 Irrewarra Pinot Noir; 2020 L’Anglore ‘Prima’ Rosé; 2020 Ar.Pe.Pe Rosso di Valtellina Nebbiolo against a springtime sky at Brae.

IT’S A LONG YET GRATIFYING journey every time I’m fortunate enough to ride along the rolling hills and visit Brae, lauded as the best restaurant in Victoria. Here, Brae’s ornate kitchen gardens conjure a sense of something holy—and holistic—while the farm-to-plate thesis unravels inside the dining room like a nuclear shock to the senses.

Food critics have long celebrated three-hat chef Dan Hunter’s clinically precise weaving of ingredients, and for this I can vouch. I recently celebrated my birthday there and etched in my mind are sizzling skewers of pork jowl barbecued with smoked eel washed down with a very seductive, spicy and silky bottle of Leon Barral’s Faugeres.

But Brae’s wine list is also world class. Just like its rotating food menu, sommelier Lyndal Taylor bases her list on the changing seasons, and spring is one of her favourites. Taylor joined Brae as Head Sommelier in January 2022 and has over 20 years of hospitality service in Melbourne, the Mornington Peninsula and London. 

“I basically fell into working in hospitality,” she explains as we walk by the cellar on my recent visit to the restaurant. “I didn’t come from a hospitality or wine family. Wine wise, I guess my interest slowly formed.” Working with the renowned sommelier Jane Lopes at Attica, another titan of Victorian dining, was a major influence. “I was super junior, and put my hand up,” says Taylor with a smile. 

A few years later, she moved to regional Victoria to live with her partner in Colac and took up a job as sommelier at Brae. “Having long chats with Dan [Hunter] really sort of helped me understand the process, the concept of an organic, regenerative property and why the attention to detail matters.”

But today, I want to ask Lyndal how she would define springtime drinking from Brae’s perspective. She points out the window. “You can watch the seasons here. Literally, sit here and watch everything come to life, and become more colourful, vibrant and warm. And I think that’s reflected in the wine list; we want to bring the outside in—through energetic wines that are light, bright and have fragrance.”

Here, she guides us through some of her favourites, as well as how to best pair them with seasonal ingredients this spring.

A team member harvesting in the Brae garden. Photography: Natalie Jurrjens

Spring wines by the glass

This season at Brae, you’ll find a vast selection of wine by the glass, from a local field blend at $16 a glass all the way up to the highly-sought after Ganevat Savagnin La Barrique for $64. 

“The Ganevat Savagnin smells like the garden, it’s really beautiful if you want to just sit and ponder,” explains Taylor. “The Josh Cooper Dash Farms Chardonnay is another example of a wine we only have a limited number of, but we believe is a very important producer to show.”

Taylor is also a big supporter of local makers, featuring them on the Brae wine list alongside more established names. “I brought on Tash Webster. She’s a winemaker that works at Bannockburn Estate, but also has her own label Empire of Dirt. We have her field blend ‘Valkyrie’ on by the glass.”

Another rarity by the glass is the perpetually out of stock L’Angalore’s Prima Rosé, a cool and angular wine of tender opulence.

“We’ve put Koerner’s Watervale Riesling on with spring in mind, because it’s just yummy, fresh and bright. Along with the Marañones Picarana Albillo which is mineral, textural and has a bit of salinity. I think when people feel the sunshine, they just warm to both these wines.”

Brae also makes its own beer. Photography: Natalie Jurrjens

Like so many of us, in the warmer months, some of my favourite bold and muscular red wines often take the back seat in favour of an altogether more delicate drop.

But Taylor assures me there’s something for everyone, and that not all reds need to be shelved come September.

“We have the Syrahmi Mourvedre which is made in a ceramic egg. It’s deep; all spice, texture and fragrance,” she says. On the lighter scale, the sommelier points to the Irrewarra Pinot Noir. “The vineyard is ten minutes away and Nick Farr is the winemaker. It’s really silky, fragrant and bright.”

If you’re thirsting for something else that’s lighter, brighter, and fresher in style, Taylor recommends looking for the Nebbiolo from Ar.Pe.Pe. This one comes from Vatellina Superiore DOCG, a renowned wine zone located in various villages in the province of Sondrio, Lombardia, Italy.

Plating up in the restaurant. Photography: Natalie Jurrjens

The best food and wine pairings in spring

Almost half of the patrons at Brae opt to embark on a sensory adventure by having wines paired with their courses, with wines cycled out daily to suit the best offerings on the day.

“The pairing changes every day; we’ve sort of built a little pairing library, so that we can pull from stock. The integrity of the kitchen is so high and if something’s not good enough the dish can change on the day. So we adapt to that.

“At the moment we’ve got about a 50/50 split of international and Victorian in our wine pairings,” adds Taylor. “We’ve got an Etna Bianco by Girolamo Russo with a cod and lemon butter sauce dish. We have Clos Cibonne Cuvee Caroline with a mussel saffron dish. We like to show By Farr’s Pinot Noir if we’re having duck with plum and coco. And if we’re plating venison we match it with Cobaw Ridge’s Lagrein.”

Personally, the Cobaw Ridge Lagrein is among my favourite Australian wines to drink in the warmer months; an elegant wine that infuses the velvety elegance of the Alto Adige varietal, the typical plum and dark cherry characters, with a lingering smoke-filled colloquial atmosphere of peppercorns and liquorice, it’s a spellbinding addition to Brae’s plate of venison. 

The team relax with a beer after a day’s work in the Brae garden. Photography: Natalie Jurrjens

Sierra Reed is another local winemaker we’ve been working with. She’s been doing some beverage pairings exclusively for the match here, which is really exciting and a really lovely relationship to build,” says Taylor. “She made 150 bottles of a sparkling riesling from fruit from Geelong in the traditional method and I love it. We’re pairing that with our signature dish, the Brae farm vegetable garden.”

On my way out, we walk into the newly-built cellar lined from floor to ceiling with a diverse range of bottles that are bound together by a simple philosophy. “It’s really important for us to work with thoughtful wineries that operate in a sustainable fashion and align with our values here; like just having respect for the land, making sure they leave it in a better place than they found it,” says Taylor, as we pour out two glasses of that Ganevat Savagnin La Barrique. Indeed, it tastes just like spring.

See the first edition of Uncorked, where Mahmood reviews the peerless Giaconda chardonnay, here, and the second, where he meets Australia’s most enigmatic pinot noir, here.

Mahmood Fazal is a Walkley award-winning investigative reporter. On the outskirts of his crime writing, Mahmood is currently compiling a book about wine. It is an extension of his Instagram page semiautomaticwine — where he experiments with journalism, automatic writing and poetry to demonstrate the meaning of his favourite wines. Uncorked is his take on a wine column; a romp through the bottles, varieties, phenomenons and personalities that colour the world of wine today.


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