If you’ve never visited Levantine Hill, a winery in the cool Yarra Valley region in the Australian state of Victoria, know that it’s perfectly normal to see a helicopter landing outside the restaurant beside the vineyards. In a dining room hugged by wraparound windows, three banquettes are set inside sleek wine-barrel sculptures that jut dramatically through the glass walls, adding curves to the building’s angular exterior and mirroring the structure’s gently arced roof and the surrounding hills. Wherever you sit, be sure to enjoy one of the stellar, Chef-Hatted (Australia’s equivalent of Michelin-starred) tasting menus. This is a culinary experience worth traveling across the world for.
In 2020, executive chef Vinnie Robinson, who got his start washing dishes in the café where his mom worked, revamped Levantine Hill’s menu, again with the goal of showcasing the wine. That is, rather than pair wines with recipes, he worked in reverse, building Mediterranean-inspired dishes around the winery’s top bottles. With the creamy, earthy 2017 Katherine’s Paddock Chardonnay—owners Colleen and Elias Jreissati name their wines after the women of Levantine Hill—Robinson pairs one of the restaurant’s most popular bites: goat’s curd cappelletti. Locally grown black truffles and chives complement the fresh pasta while the drizzle on top comes from pine needles sourced in the vicinity and pressed to extract their liquid. “The pine needles pair a leathery element with the Chardonnay’s silkiness,” Robinson says.
For the 2019 Estate Pinot Noir, a savory, floral wine the color of polished rubies, Robinson concocted the Yarra Valley gin pork belly. The pork comes from free-range “gin pigs” raised on a nearby farm, so-called because the pasture the animals feed on contains grains mixed with used gin botanicals. To re-create the wine’s mouthfeel, which Robinson describes as “sweet, plump and dry,” he marries the rich belly to dates smoked with sugar syrup and mountain ash while the Middle Eastern spice blend ras el hanout enhances the Pinot’s nutmeg and cinnamon notes.
And the helicopters? The winery offers heli packages ranging from $750 to $25,000 AUD (about $530 to $17,700 USD), the latter of which includes a round trip from Melbourne and lunch, with wine pairings and caviar service, for a group of up to six, plus 14 cases of wine.
If that doesn’t make it clear that Levantine Hill enjoys its over-the-top opulence, its two Optume, or Super Premium, bottles are Yarra Valley’s most expensive wines to date, at $800 AUD (around $565 USD). “It’s a fist in a velvet glove,” says assistant winemaker Peter Shone of the Optume Shiraz (there’s a Cabernet Sauvignon as well). “It’s soft, but it lets you know it’s there.”
Yarra Valley is known for the diversity of its soils and elevations, from the sediment on the valley floor to the red volcanic earth in the middle to the granite in the south. Working through the area’s 80-plus wineries’ tasting rooms (or cellar doors, as Aussies call them) makes for a compelling challenge, but after spending the better part of a day en route—a direct flight from Dallas is a 17-hour haul—you’ve earned a little extended relaxation.