Thursday, February 21, 2008

Australia: Wine Tasting in the Yarra Valley

The Yarra Valley, only an hour outside of Melbourne, boasts vistas of grapevines marching in rows upon rows followed in the distance by towering mountains, a hazy brown on the horizon. We are in the country – kangaroo crossing signs, wombat crossing signs and farmhouses dot the landscape. The weather is breezy, 70’s, sunny at this time of year and a perfect day for exploring the heart of one of Australia’s famous wine growing regions. To introduce us properly to the Yarra Valley, we hired Paul Robinson with Link Tours who led us on a four vineyard adventure: Kellybrook, Yering Station, Domaine Chandon and De Bortoli. Paul’s burgeoning knowledge and passion for Australian wine proved to be a huge advantage and his personal connections with local winemakers gave us VIP access to people and places we normally wouldn’t have been permitted on our own.

First stop of the day was Kellybrook Winery. This place has heart – it’s a small family vineyard that still hand picks their grapes. With a quaint restaurant using local produce and herbs from their garden outside, a shady French petanque court (where people take glasses of wine to linger on beautiful afternoons) and a tasting room that opens to the outdoors, you get a real feel for what the Yarra Valley is all about. Darren Kelly, one of two winemakers, was kind enough to walk us through the wine making and distillation processes (as they also make apple brandy here). After tasting nearly everything they had to offer, it’s evident that Kellybrook boasts a huge variety of eminently quaffable wines, but my favorite had to be the 2004 Chardonnay ($24) rated 93 points by James Halliday, the Australian wine authority. Stop here to really learn about wine from the winemakers themselves and to enjoy the feel of a European garden on a gorgeous day – there are no huge tour buses or impersonal experiences here – just an authenticity and Australian friendliness that sets it apart from some of the other vineyards in the region.

Next up was Yering Station, with its expensive manicured grounds and chic modern architecture. This is one of the most famous and impressive Yarra Valley vineyards and for good reason – their wines are sophisticated and delicious. The food at their spectacular restaurant (with floor to ceiling windows giving unparalleled views of the countryside) is to die for and considered the best in the area. While dining on barramundi and duck with glasses of wine, someone landed a helicopter on the property – apparently a big shot was flying in for lunch. And yet, the price list here is accessible. The Yering Station Cabernet Sauvignon ($24) was deep red, tasting of currant and chocolate is delightful now but should also cellar well until 2016.

After lunch we popped over to Domaine Chandon for some bubbly and weren’t disappointed by the wine (although the tasting room is gorgeous and looks out over the vineyards, it’s a bit loud and impersonal). My favorite was a Sparkling Pinot Shiraz (yes, sparkling!) which I’ve never seen before in the States – it’s the perfect thing for an outdoor bbq or to serve with some roasted lamb. It’s not too sweet and I’m looking forward to popping a few bottles of this exotic wine when I get home.

Our final stop was at De Bortoli, where we indulged in some wine and freshly made cheeses. Their Yarra Valley Estate Shiraz Viognier ($35) was silky and tasted of berries and pepper – I loved the flavor and was excited to try a blend I’d never experienced before. However, De Bortoli is perhaps best known for their Noble One ($58), a dessert wine made from Semillion that tastes of apricots and vanilla oak. It’s regarded in Australia as one of the country’s top dessert wines and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Their freshly made cheeses are also incredible – we took away a creamy blue called Saint-Agur and some goat cheese in olive oil and herbs to refrigerate in our cabin for an afternoon snack.

The day ended with a fabulous fireworks display in Melbourne Harbor. We sipped cocktails on deck as the colorful explosions illuminated the sea and night sky as we sailed towards Sydney – if only we had a few more days here – this is one place we’d definitely love to come back.

Details: If you love Australian wines, are planning on traveling here, or just want to know more I’d suggest picking up a copy of James Halliday’s Australian Wine Companion. Paul Robinson from Link Tours is an incredible guide and resource – if you’re thinking of touring the Yarra Wine Region he comes most highly recommended. Our day simply wouldn’t have been the same without him.

1 comment:

rae said...

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