My trip to the east is over and I have a lot of memories from it. My week in Melbourne was extremely memorable for many reasons: the great people, The Melbourne Cup (Australian version of the Kentucky Derby) and the Yarra Valley. The work week was extremely busy but it ended with an opportunity to visit the Yarra Valley with some friends before I made my way to Hong Kong.
The Yarra Valley is one of the lesser known wine regions in Australia but it is gaining a lot of popularity. It is known for its cool weather wines like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay but also produces Australian staples like Shiraz and Cabernet. The region is surrounded by mountain ranges giving it a varied climate but it has been struggling with drought conditions for about 8 years. It is about 40 miles away and easily accessible from all points in Melbourne. There are some great wine resources on the area including: http://www.wineyarravalley.com which what I used for my planning.
The Yarra Valley has gone through two plantings of vines. The region was initially planted with grapes by Swiss settlers but there was little uptake of the wine they produced. The initially plantings were around 1838 but were abandoned in the 1920s. Plantings restarted in the 1960s and the region is now well established in Australian wine.
The wines that are produced are cool climate wines but it does it have its share of Aussie standards. However, the styles do reflect the cooler climate. The Shiraz aren't big and brawny but soft and subtle. The Bordeaux blends are more Bordeaux than the Californian Bordeaux blends. The Pinots are elegant and the Chardonnays rich and crisp.
Moet & Chandon think so much of the area that they have invested in it. They have established Domaine Chandon Australia. The sparkling wines that they do there mimic the range produced at Domaine Chandon in California. Nice and crisp but not as much depth or character as the Moet & Chandon wines from Champagne. Don't get me wrong, they are very good and refreshing but they are not going to be able to age for years and years.
My favourite stop of the trip was Giant Steps . It is definitely not your normal winery stop. Visiting the winery is more like going to a trendy restaurant. There is a small wine tasting bar but many people go there for the restaurant and beers. They also have a cheese monger and an artisan bakery. As for the wines … there are two different labels, Giant Steps and Innocent Bystander. Innocent Bystander is the value brand or second label. The wines here are decent and would make great everyday wines. The Giant Steps are the prestige label and are very, very good. The focus is on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay but there is a Bordeaux blend under the Giant Steps label called Harry Monster . The 2004 was light but the 2005 had some very good intensity. It was the wine I enjoyed the most during my trip.
In my previous post about wine in Australia I listed my first impressions. Now that I am home and thinking back I'd like to revise my impressions:
• There is much more diversity to Australian wine than I thought … Not everything is a big Two Hands or Molly Docker Shiraz
• Practicality is the name of the game … screw caps are wonderful
• They don’t take themselves too seriously … well most of them don't
• Dan Murphy's is an EXCELLENT wine store … the Beverages & More / Specs of Australia.
• Wines are more expensive at the winery than in stores …
My experience in Yarra has inspired me to look into other Australia wine regions including the Mornington Peninsula and Margret River. I will look at Australian wines differently and I'll try and look for the smaller regions. While I love my Coonawara Cabs and Shiraz, I just might pick a Mornington Peninsula Chardonnay instead.
John Andrews is a software product manager during the week and is a professional Tasting Room staffer at Loxton Cellars in Glen Ellen, CA on the weekends.
- Reply by Adam Levin, Nov 14, 2008.
John, sounds like a great trip. I have very little knowledge and experience with Australian wines, so I will keep an eye out for Yarra Valley.
- Reply by John Andrews, Nov 21, 2008.
Yarra Valley is great but also look out for Mornington Peninsula. Sampled some wine from there and it was great too.
What amazed me though was a wine I saw in duty free in Hong Kong from China called Dragon Seal:
Have no idea how good it is. I was tempted but resisted.