We all like a little bit of convenience in life, and being less than an hour drive from Melbourne, Yarra Valley definitely ticks this box for many people. Which is why day trips to the Yarra are so popular amongst busy city dwellers. It provides a picturesque escape to a different world, one where things slow down, and you can enjoy a glass of wine while taking in beautiful rolling hills and breathing in the fresh Yarra Valley air.
Yarra Valley is a unique wine region for a couple of reasons, firstly because of its soil. A mixture of red and grey volcanic soils across gentle slopes of the Yarra hills provide good drainage and promotes great varietal intensity, making the Yarra Valley a good region for a vast array of vine varieties. Secondly, while deemed a cool-climate region in generic terms, Yarra Valley boasts a large diversity of sub-climates, allowing producers to be creative with where they plant grapes, again adding to the range of varieties grown in the region.
Chardonnay lovers, you’re in luck! The flagship Yarra Valley white is on the rise in popularity once again, but this time it is better. After decades producing butterscotch, oily chardonnays your aunt used to drink, Australian producers are going back to the original European style of production, which exhibits more fruit-driven characteristics of chardonnay grape, while giving it some complexity with mild oak. So if that was the original chardonnay style, why did we change our chardonnays so much, you ask? The answer goes back a few years.
Before production was well established in Australia, most wines were brought over from Europe. The bulk were transported in barrels to save space and then bottled upon arriving. This meant the delicate whites sat in oak for months until reaching Australia, slowly losing fruity primary aromas and flavours to dominant oak characteristics. This was the wine that became the norm in Australia, and once ‘culture’ sets in, it is very hard to change and possibly this is why we had such a long grab on oaky chardonnays.
Luckily globalisation made its mark the last couple of decades and finally broke that trend. We now make chardonnays how they are meant to be — complex, long lasting and fruitful.
To achieve all of these in one wine, a commonly used technique of partial oaking is used. Around 30 per cent of overall chardonnay volume gets put into new oak to pick up complexity and softness, while the rest receives old oak (barrels that have been used for over five years), which doesn’t give out as much flavour, preserving the grape’s fruity aromas and flavours.
At the end of ageing process, the two are reunited in the bottle to produce an elegant wine with well-expressed fruit characteristics, balanced acidity and layered complexity. If there was ever a time to fall back in love with a chardonnay, it’s now!
THE PERFECT PINOT
Pinot noir is a flagship variety in the valley amongst the reds. I am a little biased, but I feel the classic Yarra Valley pinot provides consumers with the best of all worlds, with the lush but delicate fruit aromas and flavours at the front, savoury and earthy on the mid palate and a spicy finish to top it off. When you go for a pinot from even a fraction warmer climate, it has soaked in a lot more fruit forward flavours, without developing the mid palate intricacy. If you go to a cooler place than Yarra, you get a lot of punch on the mid palate with plenty of savoury notes, but not so much fruitiness on the front. For me this is why the Yarra Valley Pinot Noir is the perfect middle ground, providing layers of complexity that reveal themselves with every new sip you take.
THE BIG REDS TAMED
Traditionally known as hot climate varieties, producing bold ‘in-your-face’ aromas and flavours in wine, the big-reds duo of Shiraz and Cab are far more docile in the cooler climate of Yarra Valley. That is not to say they are any less interesting — quite the opposite, in fact.
In hot climate grape ripening happens very fast, resulting in big fruit expression and a lot of natural sweetness, which translates to bold fruit driven reds with more alcohol. The cooler climate of Yarra Valley, on the other hand, results in slower ripening, allowing for more complex flavours and tannic structures to develop. So, you get a delicate, lighter approachable red that doesn’t need as much ageing to show the fine characteristics of fruit mixed with savoury notes of mid palate and silky tannins.
A POINT OF DIFFERENCE
The range of sub-climates in the Yarra Valley allows premium producers to play around with alternative varieties and produce ‘interesting’ wines. When visiting, I highly recommend trying wines you may have not heard of. Among the top on my list would be varieties such as Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne, which are often blended together, as well as Arnise and Chenin Blanc.
A good example of red would be Northern Italian varieties such as Nebiollo. The end of the season in Yarra Valley sees a lot of fog, which creates perfect conditions for prolonged ripening of the grapes — an absolute must for producing a good balanced Neb.