Not far out of Melbourne is the Yarra Valley Wine region. We explored a handful of recommended wineries to get a flavor for this cool region’s wines.
- Yearing Station Winery. We didn’t have the palate to appreciate many of their very light-bodied entry-level “Village” wines, but did enjoy a number of their more premium wines. These included their 2013 Estate Shiraz with 3.5 percent Viognier (a combination that we particularly enjoy), two 2014 Cabernets (an Estate and especially the very expensive, $120 Reserve) and two 2015 Estate dessert wines, a late harvest, Cane Cut Viognier and the frozen (in the style of an ice wine) Cold-Pressed Riesling. Also scattered through the grounds and a couple of the complex’s buildings, a display of the winners from the 2016 Yarra Valley Arts Exhibition.
- TarraWarra Estate, where we also enjoyed a number of this winery’s wines including a 2015 white Rhone blend (roughly equal percentages of Viognier, Roussane and Marsanne) and one of their two Italian red varietals (2015 Barbara). More characteristic of Yarra Valley wines were the light-bodied, but still very nice 2014 Estate Shiraz, and our favorite of the tasting, a light 2014 Estate Pinot that maintained a nice balance between deep red fruit and mineral.
- Coldstream Hills, which focuses on pinot noir and chardonnay with smaller amounts of sauvignon blanc, pinto gris, merlot and shiraz. The 2013 sparking pinot noir chardonnay and especially the minerally, full-flavored 2015 single vineyard Deer Farm pinot gris were our favorites of the tasting. We also appreciated the fruit of the light-bodied 2012 merlot and the dark fruit of the highest-altitude of the single vineyard pinot noirs (2016 Deer Farm), although neither were among our favorites of the Yarra expressions of these fruits that we tasted.
- Yileena Park, a very small family-owned winery that is very close to organic in its practices (other than an annual spray of weed killer), manages to very low yields (two tons per acre for some of its red grapes) and that maintains the unusual and expensive practice of aging its red wines four years before releasing them—and of closing the bottles with an expensive processed cork that eliminates the risk of TCA. The result was a number of unusually highly extracted wines with deep colors and flavors that are not generally characteristic of such cool-climate regions. We particularly enjoyed all four of the reds we tasted: the 2012 pinot, 2010 Cabernet/Merlot blend and two particularly big, powerful wines: the 2010 Merlot and not-yet-released 2012 Cabernet. And then there were two excellent non-vintage dessert wines which the winemaker sources from much warmer vineyards of northeast South Africa; a Botrytus Semillon and a fortified (to 18 percent alcohol) Aged Topaque (a renamed Tokai to comply with trademark laws). And as if the Topaque was not good enough on its own, he served it with samples of stilton, aged garlic cheddar, smoked almonds and smoked Kalamata olives. Overall, a wonderful tasting experience from a winemaker who is dedicated to his craft.
- Yarra Yearing Vineyards is a premium producer (with prices to match, starting at $86 for the reds and reaching $258 for the amazing 2008 Carrodus cabernet merlot) of traditional Yarra varietals and also syrahs, Bordeaux varietals and even a number of foot-crushed Portuguese grapes. The winery, a vision of European PhD plant physiologist Dr. Carrodus, is now in the hands of Sarah Crowe, the 2017 Australian Winemaker of the year (as per premier, Australian wine critic, James Halliday). After tasting her wines, we can see why. The winery is known primarily for its Bordeaux Blend (Dry Red #1 from grapes from its first planted vineyard) and especially for its Carrodus-labled premium aged wines. We are, apparently, in the minority in finding its unusual, widely praised 50-50 pinot shiraz blend to be light and without sufficient body and structure. We were, however, quite impressed with the 2014 Underhill shiraz and the 2014 Agincourt cabernet malbec. We found the Dry Red blends to be a mixed bag. We were most impressed by the 2014 #2, a 96% shiraz-based wine that was softened with splashes of viognier, marsanne and mataro, aka mouvedre) and felt that the #1 Bordeaux blend (70% cab, 15% merlot, 10% Malbec, 5% petite verdot) will be become a lovely wine as its tannins soften. We were not, however, able to appreciate the #3 Portuguese field blend. Then there are the elegant, extremely well-balanced, very drinkable, but still age-worthy Carrodus reds. Although quite expensive relative to some of the other premium wines we have tasted in other Australian wine regions, these are beautiful wines. Although we thoroughly enjoyed the 2012 pinot noir and 2012 shiraz, the 2013 cabernet and 2008 cabernet merlot stand out as superb wines. The 2010 merlot, meanwhile, is a huge wine that still needs to be laid down for a few more years.
- Giant Steps winery was unfortunately closed for renovation during our time in the valley. We did, however, have a very nice chardonnay (a 2016 with restrained oak and little Malolactic) from the winery at one of our Melbourne restaurant stops. .
Yarra Valley Restaurant
- Meletos, the valley’s premier restaurant and resort, is also home of the Napoleone Cider House and Brewery. We had two dishes and a sampling of four ciders. The barbequed local (Wandin) quail with lemon, garlic, smoked almonds, cracked wheat and mixed cres, with a skordalia (an almond garlic puree) was very good. Less so, our wood-fired pizza (prosciutto, tomato, artichoke, parmigiana reggiano and parsley. Although the crust was perfectly crisp and tasty, we found the tomato acidic and the rest of the ingredients lacking in taste.