Saturday, 4 August 2007

Passing through the Yarra Valley

Visit to the Yarra Valley
1st August

Driving north-east from Melbourne you pass through the Yarra Valley; a fantastic area packed with some of Australia's best wineries. On our way to visit friends we stopped to checkout a couple of wineries and snuck in a pizza for lunch.

Giant Steps / Innocent Bystander

336 Maroondah Highway, Healesville (website)
This new winery/cellardoor is less than a year old. The huge building is pretty hard to miss situated on the main street of Healesville. The team behind these two wine labels are also responsible for the Fremantle brewing project Little Creatures; at the cellardoor they offer food, coffee, a bakery, cheese room and wine tastings, and also host regular music nights and speciality dinners.
The restaurant is an open space, with huge wooden tables and views through to the winery's vats and barrels. We were served by a friendly and knowledgeable lady and decided upon a 'Calabresse' pizza topped with spicy salami, gooey cheese and fresh oregano. For $18 the pizza wasn't cheap, but it was tasty, Naomi however did comment that the base was a little thin for her tastes. I accompanied lunch with a cafe latte and Naomi had a chai; any winery that serves pizza is onto a winner, but when they also make such good coffee they go a long way towards impressing me.

After lunch I walked the ten odd steps to the well setup tasting area for a little sample. The first sip had Naomi very excited; light, sweet and with slight, tickling bubbles the Innocent Bystander Pink Moscato was a refreshingly moreish. At only 6.5% alcohol and topped with a crownseal it was a pretty cool package, but $12 for 375ml seemed a bit much. Next I tried the Giant Steps range of Chardonnays; the Chardonnay 2004, as well as a two single vineyard realises - the 'Sexton Vineyard' and the 'Tarraford Vineyard' - and the premium Sexton Bernard Clones Chardonnay 2004. Though I enjoyed all the wines, I thought the winner was the rich and complex 'Tarraford Vineyard'. The easier drinking Innocent Bystander reds offered excellent value; my favourites were the light, fruity Pinot Noir 2005 and the dry, herbal Sangiovese Merlot 2005. My favourites from the Giant Steps reds were the 'Tarraford Vineyard' Pinot Noir 2005, which exploded with sour cherries and an intriguing little shake of pepper and the Sexton Harry's Monster 2004, a Cabernet blend that oozed class with impressive tannins and a smooth soft palate. All up a large, but good selection with some interesting comparisons possible between their different single vineyards wines.

Dominique Portet
870 Maroondah Highway, Coldstream, Victoria
A little bit back towards Melbourne, the Dominique Portet winery is set in a lovely location amongst aches of vines. The cellardoor has an outside seating area that would be lovely in summer, but we contented ourselves with the log fireplace inside. The man Dominique Portet has been in Australia making wine since 1976 and comes from a family entrenched in the French wine industry.

We tried an excellent selection of wines. The sparkling rose we started with was fantastically fresh and refreshing. The Yarra Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2006 I thought was lovely, a richer texture in the mouth than expected and a nose awash with crisp pears and peaches. Dry, spicy and crisp the Fontaine Rose 2006 was a good wine that would go very well with breakfast or lunch. The Fontaine Red 2005 was an accessible blend of Cabernet, Shiraz and Merlot with plenty of sweet fruit on the nose and soft smooth palate. The Yarra Valley Merlot 2005 was an absolute cracker of a wine; elegant and stylish with refined tannins, a very high quality interpretation of Merlot. Sourced from Heathcote, the Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 and Shiraz 2005 were both outstanding wines, though getting a little pricey at over $40 each. I was very impressed with Dominique Portet.
Visit Yarra Valley tourist website

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