Day 2 and it was an early appointment at Hillcrest Vineyard – A micro vineyard of just a few hectares in the heart of the new uber sub region of Worri Yallock. The emphasis here is on the classic stars of the Yarra – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet, with some seriously old (38yr old) vines on show. We tasted from barrel, we tasted from bottle, but the results were the same – consistently high quality. An artisinal producer doing top things. My favourites were the 06 Premium Cabernet & 06 Premium Chardonnay, with both needing genuine cellar time to show their best. Hillcrest are a name to watch in the Yarra – David, with the help of Phillip Jones, is doing amazing work – but they don’t need my praise, the wine sells itself (and quickly too – check out their website and get in before its gone – http://www.hillcrestvineyard.com.au/
The only wine that didn’t do it for me was the 04 Estate Pinot Noir – its stemmy, ripe and unmistakeably Pinot but it lacked the x factor – the fruit is just that little bit weedy, the palate that little bit austere & there is a meatiness to it that is not completely convincing.
This leads me to a couple of generalisations about vintages – The more 04 Yarra wines I tasted, the less I like them. The 04’s are thinner, meatier, developing quicker and unbalanced compared to the vintages around them. I can’t say I tried an 04 wine that did it for me during the entire 3 days. The 05 vintage on the other hand is marked by rich and vibrantly full wines – in the riper end of the spectrum , for reds in particular 05 was a stellar vintage (in my books). There seemed to be some smokiness though that we picked up in a couple of 05 Pinots that jarred, but it was confined to only a few examples (just try before you buy).
Comparing this to 06 and 06 seems to be the purists vintage – like 99 was to 98 in much of south Australia or 91 is to 90. The wines as a whole (and the Valley was awash with new vintage 06’s) where tighter, lighter and without the ripeness of the 05’s yet also without the obviousness too. For some producers this just translated as lighter, lesser wines. For others this meant more fragrance and more structure. As a whole I like the 06 vintage wines. As for 07 and 08? Many producers made almost no 07 – a challenging yr in the Valley, with widespread frosts combined with drought, although many championed the quality. I would be reserving my decision until more wines are released (we only tasted a handful of 07’s, mainly whites, none where terribly impressive) but it definitely seemed like a lesser vintage. 2008 looks like a return to the norm, with good weather and good yields.
Anyway, I digress. Next port of call was a step back in time. From an ultra modern producer embracing old methods, to an old producer that embraces old methods – Yarra Yering. It seems we where fortunate to find the place open, as this cellar door is often not. We where even served be the man himself Dr Carrodus!
Everything about the place was old school – the handwritten wine board, the 70’s wine chest, the very old (for the Yarra) gnarled vines. The wines are equally a step back in time, with minimalist packaging (none of that screwcap shit here!) and wine styles that seem etched in stone. But there is also a little magic too: Magic that comes from knowing your vineyard and your own wine intimately. Rockford have exactly the same thing going – Its a ‘This is how wine should be made’ type aura that eminates from the place, and from very first sniff its obvious. The wines are something else (and brutally, sometimes riduculously, expensive).
The first wine was the 06 Chardonnay ($75) – carrying some bizarre oxidative, flor like aromatics and backed by a faintly cheesy, rustic, yet texturally brilliant palate. A peculiar wine, I am still undecided about whether it actually ‘works’ or not. The next wine was the 06 Viognier (a staggering $150 a bottle, making this the most expensive Viognier in Australia & up there with the worlds most expensive). Again it has some oxidative handling on the nose, with an ingrained Viognier varietal Apricot character that is powerful, yet restrained. The palate is textural, rich and mouthfilling, charismatic & unquestionably varietal, yet riddled with odd, sulphury flavours. Its probably a better drink, but the dollars are flippin ridiculous. From here we took a tour of the bewildering blends – No.1, No.2, Agincourt, the Underhill Shiraz and a Merlot (a $150 Merlot), with Dr Carrodus installed behind the counter giving curt explanations about the unusual blends. Suffice to say I loved the wines – the Cabernet blends where these perfectly formed tannic reds with a savoury absolute perfection about them. No OTT fruit richness here, just perfect balance. The Dry Red No.2 Shiraz Viognier/Marsanne was one of the most impressive Australian Shiraz Viogniers I have had in a while (topped only by the 06 Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier I had in March), the Potsorts an unusual fortified with character and flavour.
I escaped with just a bottle of Dry Red No.1 under my belt (at $75) but I would have readily bought more of the Potsorts, Dry Red No.2, Underhill Shiraz and the Agincourt. I just couldnt afford it!!
Next stop was also in ‘Gruyere’ (though I think this is the Coldstream sub district – just to confuse things) and to a winery that I thought would be one of the highlights Coldstream Hills.
Now I have enjoyed more than one bottle of wine from this label before and came with high expectations. Expectations that I’m sad to say, didn’t eventuate. The cellar door is modern, well set out and they have the super duper gas machines that make sure you never have an oxidised wine at the cellar door. Kudos also to the very friendly staff.
The range stretches from sparkling right through to Cabernet and there is no doubting the consistency – the base wines in particular are typically bright, polished and fresh, with the Chardonnay & Pinot showing as good examples of the grape, the Cabernet is normally a favourite of mine.
But on this occasion, everything was lacking.
The reserve wines are just expensive ($75) the Reserve Chardonnay the only highlight. The Reserve Pinot to me seemed worked, light and simple. Even the standard Cabernet seemed lighter and lacking concentration. We left disappointed (not helped by the $5 tasting charge) and I was worried – the wines seem manufactured and ‘big company-ish’ without the restless hand of James Halliday stamped upon it. Especially when compared to next door….
Next door to Coldstream Hills is a little winery known as Warramate – A very small operation with some fabulous old vine (planted in the 70’s) resources at hand. The vines are dry grown and the original owners bedroom comes off the cellar door. Its all quaint, hands on and even the labels are a little old fashioned. But don’t be fooled, behind the superb view lies some vinous intent – The Shiraz here is some of the Valley’s best (and best value) and the rest of the range is smart and exceedingly well priced ($20ish a bottle!). The Cab Merlot is sinewy and lovely, the Black Label Shiraz and Cabernet are good drinks. But its the Shiraz that steals the show. – The $45 2005 Shiraz is beautiful – savoury, spicy, full of licorice and dark fruits. Its balanced, with understated power and @$45 its a fair bargain compared to its neighbours. Highly recommended indeed.
From here it was back to Healesville and the new monolith to wine that is the Giant Steps megacomplex. Its a winery/restaurant/bar/fine fooderie/cellar door all rolled into one. And at lunchtime on a Saturday it was cranking. The beats permeating through the great hall were loud, the waitstaff young and very tidy, the pizzas flowing (there is even a proper Fromagerie). If anyone has been to the Little Creatures brewery in Fremantle, then you will see alot in this Giant Steps cellar door/winery/restaurant thing. Phil Sexton, the genius behind Matilda Bay, Devils Lair & Little Creatures is the man who made this and he really, really knows how to sell things. The winery itself lies the other side of a glass wall, the stainless tanks and concrete floor staring through the glass as if they were in another world in outer space.
Anyway, the pizza was good, service was enthusiastic and some of the Giant Steps wines were worth a look. In particular the Giant Steps Tarraford Vineyard Pinot 2006($35) – an alluring and sexy pinot with depth and style. Ditto the Sexton vineyard Chardonnay. Good stuff. Another nice shiraz here to top it off – a peppery Miller vineyard Shiraz($27) that whilst it wasn’t quite up to the Warramate, was a nice enough drink. Stop here for lunch, and don’t miss the Moscato if you need a change. Its open till 10 at night too, and the wine list is good (and they have some yum Little creatures beer too thanks to Mr Sexton’s WA connections).
After too much Pizza, it was time for an afternoon nap before the nights instalment of excess….