The Yarra Valley

After an exciting time exploring the Gold Coast, Brisbane and taking in the sights of Sydney, which just so happens to have a very famous bridge in the very same image of one closer to home! It was time once again to spread our vinous wings.

Speaking of said bridge, Guest Wines felt more ‘home from home’ when we had to find shelter from a downpour under said bridge. We could have been on the quayside in Newcastle for all we knew!

And what fabulous wines we have enjoyed in the Hunter Valley, Semillon, what a joy!

Flying back to the now familiar surroundings of Melbourne, this time saw us heading a little further inland from our previous foray all the way down in Mornington Peninsula, with our new home being that of the Yarra Valley. This would be our last stop prior to embarking on the long journey home. A journey made even longer when you have a three year old in tow who needs to be entertained – cue two very exhausted and wired parents by journeys end!

However, Guest Wines junior now possesses the wine tasting skills of sniffing (no drinking – for now), swirling and then spitting (no wine actually touched his lips – before anyone writes in!); something we are sure he’ll be teaching the other kids at his nursery.

Anyway, what about the wines of the Yarra?!?

The climate being that bit warmer than Mornington did not prevent the wines from having finesse and freshness – oh no! They had this, but had that little bit more when it came to body. Rounder, but still with that crisp texture, and that sense of place, which we had by now really begun to see that the Aussies have really paid attention to their land and its unique qualities.

We had set up home in the town of Healesville which, like our previous accommodation choices, was surrounded by vines on all sides – perfect then!

Even more so as the sun was a shining and warm as we set off for our first winery visit of the stay.

Just down the road from us was Yering Station with it’s cool tasting room, dotted with pieces of artwork and facilitated by knowledgable and enthusiastic staff.

And we like enthusiasm when it comes to wine, if what you have in your glass doesn’t stir such passion, then pour it away and try something different. Here, we were educated by staff who obviously loved these wines and who cared about them, and hoped that we would too.

We were rather taken by their 2018 Village Riesling. This off-dry example at only 9.8% abv was nicely balanced with its fresh acidity, showing an interplay of lively lemon citrus notes and white blossom, this was quickly followed by the 2014 Village Shiraz/Viognier with its brooding blackberry fruit, earth and meat stock, hints of cloves and pepper with just a touch of sweetness from the oak on the finish, and the pièce de résistance came in waves of sensual pleasure brought to us by the 2018 Cane Cut Viognier. Ssssssh! Just a moment… Oooo! Hang on.. Mmm Mandarin orange, marmalade, apricots, honey…. followed by a lemon and orange citrus bite… sssh! Still going… You may need to come back later…

After all that, it was time to get fizzical, and as such, we invite you to join in on the fun as well!

Since 1986 Chandon have had a presence in the Yarra, continuing with their tradition of making top-class sparkling wines. However, today we discovered that there was more to this producer than just fizz by coming away rather taken by not only a still wine but a red one at that!

Prior to getting to the said red, it is worth giving mention to the rather wonderful Blanc de Noirs 2014, made from 100% Pinot Noir with ample stone fruits, red plum and earthy nose embodied within a soft velvet mouthfeel.

And it simply wouldn’t be right to be in Australia and not to have had a dabble with a glass of sparkling red. This came in the form of a 60% Pinot Noir 40% Shiraz bland NV and supported by 30g/l RS, exuding soft dark cherry fruit, wafts of ripe plum that is enhanced by a touch of sweetness and supported by wonderful freshness – great for sitting out in the sunshine with.

Remaining on the sweeter side of life, the Cuvée Riche NV weighing in with 50g/l RS was all about balance and texture, enhanced by pineapple and mango tones.

If the last two were still a bit on the dry side, then we would recommend going for the Le Petit Extra Riche NV with 12 years on the lees and a whopping 119g/l RS. Apparently the guys at Chandon Yarra required the permission from the guys at Moet & Chandon to produce this rather excellent and damn right luscious sparkling wine, and we are so glad that they did. It was fabulous to have a fizz that really does go against the grain, especially as nowadays fizz has become drier and drier, and perhaps even giving a glimpse into how many of the sparkling wines of the past would have tasted when folk back then had a sweeter tooth.

Coming in a 375ml bottle and packed to the rim with orange marmalade served on honeyed pastries – go on, give us another glass or the bottle, yes, just leave the bottle!

And finally, we left to take back with us and to sit out on the veranda of our holiday home in Healesville, a rather lovely bottle of 2015 Shiraz Barrel Selection with 30% new French oak. Mouth-filling, as well as mouth pleasing – lush ripe plum and blackberry fruits, supported by sweet baking spices, and kept in check by smooth tannins and fresh acidity – definitely winner with us.

We left with a smile on our faces as we set off along the driveway where the leaves on the trees were just beginning to show sign that autumn was on its way, with hues of gold and red, rather fitting we thought.

We now found ourselves in what looked like a massive Lego brick of a building set amongst the vines in the sunshine. This was the family owed OakRidge who have been making wine since the late 70’s.

Again, we were met by friendly and knowledgable staff, which has been a constant theme throughout our Aussie Adventure so far – great to hear folk talk dearly of the wines, and also really helpful when the geekier side of wine can be answered as well.

Our attention was caught as we were immediately faced with a rather good glass of 2017 Arneis. Usually found amongst the hills of Piedmont in north-west Italy, but today it gladly grows well in the Yarra.

With 60% of the fruit being fermented on its skins for 3 months, and undergoing a full malo in old French oak, this really did raise an eyebrow or possibly both. Lifted cooling herbs such as mint with hints of nettle, textured and layered with a pleasant dryness balanced by the freshness.

Something that had had no malo but instead 15 months on its lees was the Single Block Chardonnay 2017 bursting with lemon curd with a dash of vanilla, lemon citrus and undertones of cashew nut – well hellooooo!

Staying on the single vineyard theme, it was the 2017 864 Pinot Noir Henk Aqueduct that had us drooling with its use of 10% French oak, wild ferment, followed by 10 months on its lees, that was trying not to shout out about its earthy redcurrant, rosehips and woody peppery notes, wrapped within delightful raspberry jelly babies, but it did!

We left sacking our lips with the taste of the 864 Cabernet Sauvignon Oakridge Vineyard 2017, which had been aged in new French oak for 15 months, giving it a wonderful oiliness in the mouth that supported dense blackcurrant fruit, capsicum and spice.

Next it was to an estate that obviously wants to make its mark and be a stand out amongst the crowd. This was evident by the grandeur of the modern building with its many sculptures scattered around the surrounding vineyard area (a tip from Mornington perhaps?), or was it the private helicopter that landed soon after we had arrived?!?

Well, it could be all of the above or it could just be that the wines are actually worth a mention as well!

Upon entering the building and finding ourselves in rather plush tasting room area, we were greeted by not only yet another very friendly wine advisor, but by a big gleaming trophy that proudly sat showing off to the world that this estate had won the prestigious IWSC 2017 Trophy for their 2014 Shiraz.

So, where were we? Well, non-other than the Levantine Hill Estate, and yes, they did have some really nice wines to go along with the fine decor and shiny trophy.

We began with a 2013 Blanc de Blancs Traditional Method sparkler that had spent four years on its lees in order to give it that autolytic richness, which sat amongst vibrant citrus fruits, freshly sliced almonds and glazed pastries.

This was duly followed by the Estate Rosé 2017 produced from Cabernet Sauvignon and fermented to total dryness to be followed by a period rounding off in old oak, resulting in rather pleasing fresh wild strawberry fruit laced with fresh herbs, and held in check by fine dry tannins – certainly a grown-ups sort of rosé!

And we couldn’t have left without trying the shiny trophy winning Estate Shiraz 2015 with its crunchy blackberry fruits, black pepper spice, lead pencil shavings and herb, entwined in really fine tannins leading to a lasting finish, now could we?

But that wasn’t quite the end, as we still had the 2014 Samantha’s Paddock Mélange Traditional to give a go, made from a blend of 91% Cabernet Sauvignon with the rest being made up from Petit Verdot, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec, each spending around 17 months in French Oak prior to final blending.

Now displaying hints of garnet and releasing a sensuous and perfumed nose which captured leather and spice, dusty woodlands, meat savoury roast amidst dark cherry fruits, all held together with a sense of robustness.

All aboard!

Would we run out of steam or would the Yarra run out of wine!?! Well, neither, as our next stop was to the Yarra Yering Estate, now celebrating its 50th year, and where we also got the opportunity to say hello to the estate’s fine winemaker Sarah Crowe, who was James Halliday‘s 2017 Winemaker of the Year, we’ll have you know.

Meanwhile, Guest Wines Junior was far more interested in one the the estates cats, this being Condaleeza, who was having none of it from a 3 year old child, and took great feline pleasure with being able to jump onto a tasting table higher that said child, and then being able to look down upon child with a degree of moggie displeasure and satisfaction.

Meanwhile for us the pleasure came in the form of the wine.

This began with the Dry White No.2 2017, made from a blend of 60% Marsanne, 25% Viognier, 15% Roussanne that then spent a short while in oak. Lovely fresh tropical fruits incased within a smooth body of just morish-ness.

The 2017 Chardonnay which was made predominantly from vines planted in 1969, and had spent 10 months ageing in French oak – 30% new and seeing itself through a malo. This really did hit the spot with its light toast set against a taught citrus grip balanced beautifully with creamy edges.

Dry Red No.2 2016 was next to set off pulses racing. Shiraz that has been co-fermented with Mataro (Mourvedre) and white varieties Viognier and Marsanne, with some of the plantings dating from 1969 vine stock, then aged for 12 months in French oak (30% new). Perfumed and svelte, suave violet and dark cherry spice, poised and elegant, whilst being firm and grippy.

This was aligned against the 2009 which has 98% Shiraz and 2% Viognier. It started off as a bit closed on the nose, but shone through on the palate with squashed tomatoes, meat stock and spice, as well as the 2011 which was the heaviest of the two with essence of liquorice and blood!

Dry Red No.3 2017 – An unusual one here being that it is made from a blend of traditional Portuguese grape varieties, namely: 45% Touriga Naçional, 28% Tinta Cão, 9% Tinta Roriz, 7% Tinta Amarela, 7% Alvarelhão & 4% Sousão. This exuded lovely dark fruit character with smooth velvety tannins that had a sense of lightness and honesty about it.

And finally it was the 2016 Underhill Shiraz matched alongside its 2011 accomplice, with the 2016 showing generous vibrant fruit, white pepper spice and meaty undertones, against the leaner savoury 2011 with tones of raisins, vegetal elements, all incased in earth and meat

We had almost come to the end of our Aussie Wine Adventure (well, for now at least), but we still had a couple of stops in mind before our tasting time, and palates, where done for the day.

Here, we headed back to Healesville and close to our residence, so that we could not only complete the day with the taste of fine wine embossed onto our palates, but to also for one final time of taking a dip in the communal pool that was situated just across from our holiday home, a great way in which to cool down and relax prior to our final evening in town.

So without further ado, it was one small step onto taking in Giant Steps winery right on the very corner of the road were we were based.

Here, we decided to take-in the ‘Single Vineyard Tour Of The Yarra Valley‘ that had no less than twenty wines on the list to do!

And being the professionals that we are (professional what we hear you say?!?!), we of course, gladly accepted the challenge.

And these especially took in our fancy:

2018 Tarraford Chardonnay with its wild ferment and 20% new oak that it had been immersed for 8 months, giving clean ripe fruit with a subtle edge of spice.

2018 Ocarina Chardonnay – Ocarina referring to the concrete eggs, which could be seen through the window of the winery from we were stood at the tasting bar, of which, this particular ‘Chardy’ had been fermented in. Bursting with vibrant freshness, vivid, clean bright citrus with tension aplenty.

And for something ‘that bit different‘ then the 2017 TOSQ Vineyard Pinot Noir certainly fitted the bill. Hailing from the organic Tosq Vineyard in Central Otago New Zealand, which is worked and owned by the Thompson family. They have made this wine especially for Giant Steps using a wild yeast ferment from selected clones before being shipped to the Yarra for malo and barrel maturation (25% new for 10 months). Think cranberries, watermelon and pomegranate with hints of vanilla.

Now if that wasn’t enough, then the final two Shiraz really did bring things to a grande finale. Firstly with their 2017 Tarraford Vineyard Syrah, showcasing bright fragrant fruits with underlying floral notes, polished, rounded and lingering. And finally the 2017 Unknown Pleasures Shiraz, which incidentally has a label not that dissimilar from a certain band who go by the name of Joy Division – good taste in music and excellent taste in wine! Darker, more brooding Syrah now in its Shiraz form (well, it would have to be), with baking spices laced amongst the vibrant violet hues and blueberry fruit, lifted and harnessed by pleasing acidity.

And that was really just about it.

Although, we did manage to take the rather tiny leap across the car park and into Innocent Bystander. A producer well known to us, especially for their low alcohol sweet moscato fizz, which we have enjoyed showing on many a wine tasting, and this is what we decided to go with whilst there, but with a slight twist, as this one came in a ‘slush’ strawberry cocktail, and accompanied by pizza, whilst catching up with a cousin that we only got to know about once we had arrived in Australia, and was a great way in which to bring down the final curtain on what has been a truly remarkable, as well as, unexpected wine adventure for us at Guest Wines.

Had we not got our dates mixed up in the first place, which had then lead us to the wines of Mornington Peninsula at Australia House in London last summer that in turn got us to enter a certain competition whilst there, then all of this would not have happened, and we can certainly say, that this has been a time when we have been glad to have had our dates and schedules screwed up. At the time it had been very frustrating, but now looking back, it has led to one heck of a journey.

We look forward to our return!

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