Shelflife Special Tasting: A Walk Through Yarra Valley

13 October 2010

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yarraJohn McDonnell of Wine Australia has been overseeing a run of tastings over the past couple of years, highlighting the qualities of Australia’s wine regions. The timing, perhaps, hasn’t been the happiest; distinctive regional wines don’t generally appear at the lowest price points and, at present, virtually all markets are struggling with customers who are demanding cheapness above all. Nevertheless, thanks to this Regional Heroes series, the trade has become increasingly familiar with the diversity which Australia has to offer, and has given them the information they need to help them hand sell the wines. The festive season is approaching and it’s a good time to promote wine to customers as a budget gift option – after all, even fine wine is cheaper than many of the luxury gifts people were buying at Christmas a few years ago. And what could be finer than the wines of the most recent Regional Heroes session – those of Yarra Valley?

Yarra, which is about an hour away from Melbourne, is a true classic region in the Burgundian style. It’s relatively small with a cool climate and though it isn’t subject to extreme weather variation between districts, there is noticeable vintage variation to make the wines complex and interesting. There’s a strong affinity between the wines across makers and districts so that there’s a distinctive style. Finally, the wines are produced from a fairly limited range of grape varieties which also underpins the strong regional identity.

And here’s what you get. Chardonnay with well defined citrus character and firm acidity which responds well to judicious, but not excessive oaking. Sauvignon blanc which is a little soft and is sometimes lightly oaked. Cabernet which tends not to ripen fully in some vintages, so that there’s sometimes a greeness to the tannins and a leafiness to the blackcurrant fruit, reminiscent of Bordeaux or, in cooler years, the Loire. Pinot Noir which has clear summer fruit and berry character, with good structure and sometimes a lick of savoury. And splendid Syrah/Shiraz with Rhone-like black olive, custard and liquorice aromas and flavours, yet with a generous streak of plum on the palate, which you won’t generally find in the French expression. In warmer years the plum can intrude just a tad too much for those that love the most classic syrahs- but that isn’t often.

So here’s some of what was sampled at the Heroes seminar. Prices approximately retail.

Sherlmidine Chardonnay 2008 (Tindall Wines €22.95). Quite Chablis in style but with natural acidity that’s just a little softer than the French region. Nicely defined citrus and good balance.

Giant Steps Tarraford Chardonnay (£17.50) This wine is not on sale in Ireland but Giant Steps has become quite trendy in Australia so it’s worth considering for anyone that has a suitable gap in their list. Punchy citrus flavours, while nicely used oak lace it lightly with toast.

Innocent Bystander Pinot Gris 2009 (Liberty €14.99). From the same stable as Giant Steps but available here. Using a grape uncommon in the region, there’s a hint of Alsace style fatness but sufficient acid to balance. A sturdy wine, perfect for roast white meats.

Innocent Bystander Chardonnay 2009 (Liberty €14.99). Decent acid and alcohol balance and just a hint of that Burgundian wax and soft lemon touch. Glides across the palate nicely – good on its own or with food.

Giant Steps Gladysdale Pinot Noir 2008 (£17.50). A strikingly harmonious pinot, with well defined summer fruit, and excellent alcohol balance. Again, not available here but it delivers well on its UK price and it’s likely a suitable Irish price could be struck.

Jamsheed Silvan Vineyard Syrah  2008 (A$40). Lots of classic Rhone style with black olives and sloe fruit flavours which the warm vintage didn’t kill off. Not available here, but certainly worth considering for a list, its Australian price should translate into around €22.

Yering Station Shiraz Viognier 2006 (Bubble Bros €18.99). This is a softer style and it’s tempting to wonder if, in this vintage, it mightn’t have had more edge if the shiraz had travelled alone. That said, it is enjoyable and if you aren’t especially a syrah buff, you won’t be quibbling.

Little Yering Shiraz Viognier 2008 (Bubble Bros €13.95). This is very pleasant and good value, too. With ripe plum and just a little black olive beneath, it seems to straddle the Yarra and the French style and to very appealing effect.

Innocent Bystander Shiraz 2008 (Liberty €14.99). Approachable yet with decent structure and classic black olives and damson notes – easy but elegant and very good value.

Domaine Chandon nv (Dillons €19.95). Busy sparkler with bouncy green apple and citrus fruit and just a touch of  baked bread. Great value at the price.



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