The Yarra Valley – home of Napa styled glam sham tourist region of drunken bus trips, perfectly manicured Rose gardens & forking out to taste average Pinot’s.
Or at least that is what I thought. After 3 days ensconced in this famous wine region I can attest that this isn’t the case – what a happy surprise for that I spotted nary a drunken Bucks party on the whole trip & only paid to taste once. I think we picked a good, albeit chilly, time of yr to visit, as we were often lone visitors at cellar doors (and hence got remarkably good service from behind the counter).
Besides the wines we managed to visit a fair handful of Yarra eateries and (thanks to some helpful local advice) really scored some wonderful dining experiences. More on that below.
As an aside, being a Sydneysider I was amazed at how close the Yarra is from Melbourne – its basically outer suburbs!
We finished off our few days in the Yarra at the Craiglee open day (glad I went) and a drive down the Great Ocean Road (didn’t make it to the damn Apostles though).
Day 1 started at lunchtime, which for us was the first stop on the road from Eltham to the Yarra valley – the iconic Chateau Yering and Yering Station. Lunch was at the Chateau’s Sweetwater Cafe, which prepared a near perfect char grilled scotch fillet ($28) and some of the best service we encountered in the entire trip. Couple this with a lovely old building and the ambiance is set. Top notch.
From here we sauntered across to the Yering Station cellar door. The service here was enthusiastic and we basically had the place to ourselves. The 04 Yarrabank Sparkling ($40) was the starter and I think it is suffering from the vintage, as it lacked the richness and complexity of previous releases. In the Yering Station range the 06 Chardonnay & 06 Shiraz Viognier ($25) where both standouts for value and style – well made wines at good prices. The range is suitably extensive & I was entertained by the spicy, fortified Shiraz to finish. The 06 Pinot ($25) was less enamouring: dry, lean and lacking in generosity (Could be a bad bottle though).
Onto the Reserve wines starting with the 06 Reserve Chardonnay: A good worked style, though not worth anywhere near the $75 asking price. The 06 Reserve Shiraz Viognier is just a tad too simple and ripe for me – I can understand why it wins show awards, but it could be from almost anywhere, and its poor value when placed next to the ‘standard’ wine.
Overall though this was a positive cellar door experience, with genuinely interested staff and a consistent range of wines. Well worth a visit.
Next stop was Oakridge Estate, which had all its trophies written up on the wall for the 06 Chardonnay (6 at last count) yet it wasn’t for tasting. Thankfully the rest of the range was, with the cheaper ‘Over the Shoulder’ Cabernet Merlot 06 ($20ish) impressing for its perfumed, easy drinking interpretation of Yarra red, the 06 Pinot ($32) also impressing for its purity & pinosity. The winner in this lot though was the Shiraz 06($32ish) – A lighter, quite delicate white pepper style in a mould that I have also seen in the 06 Hunter reds (and rather like). As Gary Walsh says, these are ‘wines that work hardest for you on the dinner table’. Even Dave Bicknell’s Sauvignon Blanc was articulate and tasty – he’s a talented man.
A minor crowd at this cellar door (3 people) and the cellar door staff again were friendly and accommodating. Sorely missed the taste of the 06 Chardonnay & the 864 wines though. Especially as the stuff was stacked up in a pyramid of wine, resplendent with its trophies sitting on top, dispelling any ‘we are almost out’ theories.
That night saw us at ‘The Terminus ’ in Healesville – a forgotten nightmarish flash back to an 80’s bistro that only had three wines in the place ‘A Merlot or a Semillon SauvignonBlanc or a Chardonnay’ of unknown parentage – or at last unknown to our friendly waitress, who also informed us that she would not recommend the Salmon as ‘A lot had been coming back lately’!
We should have run for the hills, but we stuck it out, and the food was actually quite edible.
With not a drinkable wine in sight, even in the attached bottleshop (smack bang in the middle of a wine region, with a winery literally at the end of the street) we then ended up at the Healesville Hotel which felt like returning home to a warm house after digging ditches in the snow – a solid wine list, a knowledgeable local behind the bar and what looked like fine food. Damn it!
Here I enjoyed a Clonakilla Viognier 2007 ($15 a glass) – from the ravaged 07 Canberra vintage, yet not suffering on the quality front. Tim Kirk’s Viognier is such an impressive wine in the lighter, fragrant end of the Viognier spectrum (as opposed to the more richer, textural style of Condrieu) but without losing any intensity. Peach fragrance, with a dry, even chalky apricot skin edged palate. Top stuff.
To follow this was a Macforbes Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2006 (also $15 a glass – steepish) which was everything as expected – a deep, firm & slightly stalky Pinot with stewed plum and red cherry fruits. It just had this murky depth to it that I very much enjoyed.