The Yarra Valley is a cool temperate area 1 hour outside of Melbourne that is famous for its wineries and as an ideal location to produce Sparkling Wines of the highest quality – Domaine Chandon (of Moet &, for all you non-high rollers.) I booked myself a full day tour and starting dreaming of all that wine....
See, in our teens my best friend Heppy and I would pool our money and ask an older buddy (a 'boot' in Canadian slang) to procure us a bottle of the worst wine money can buy – a sweet white German monstrosity called Schloss Lauterheim. My seventeen year old palate could not distinguish between the sickly sweet bile taste of the cheap hooch and the magnificent reds my mum was drinking – had the good stuff been cheaper we probably would have drank that instead. It was about getting off our face, nothing more.
The full truth is that Schloss (if you drank too much we called it "Getting Schlossed") mixed well with Sprite and clove cigarettes and we split many a bottle of the gut-rot before I finally had had enough and could stomach no more. "I am finished with wine." I announced, reaching for vodka (a trend for me for many years) "It's gross."
It is with a red-stained mouth that I shake my head in horror at the memory, for now I am a Wino.
That is not to say I drink copious amounts of the stuff (although sometimes....) I now simply love to truly savour and enjoy a beautiful, special glass of wine. I love to learn about the different vintages, oaking processes and grapes, and I have a fascination with meal pairing.
Before the Yarra Valley, I had only been on a wine tasting tour of the Okanagan Valley in BC – my mum, S and I popped by 3 or 4 vineyards 2 summers ago. At that point I definitely loved wine, but knew little about it. S was often entrusted with the selection process in the liquor store or at restaurants – at that point the only thing I knew was that I didn't like Cab Savs.
How things have changed. I now worship at the altar of Zinfandel, adore a spot of Shiraz and a glass of Pinot Noir. I confidently order Malbecs and Pinot Grigios, Bourdeaxs and Valpolicellas....and still don't like Cab Savs.
Step One - We will have lots of fun.
Our first stop of the day was at an adorable heritage winery, St Huberts (Aussies pronounce in St Hugh-bitts, but my Canadian brain repels that and insists on St Ooo-bear – the proper, French pronunciation.) It was there that my awesome guide Nick walked us through the steps of basic tasting:
b) swirl it around (holding only by the stem to avoid heating the wine) and 'open it up'
c)first sip, quick and straight down
d) second sip, slosh it around all luxuriously over your teeth, tongue, lips and gums – 'chew the wine'
e) third sip, ignore your pride and slurp it up into your mouth like a little mini-gargle and 'smell the wine from the inside' as the aroma fills your mouth with wonderful boozey fumes. (This one is my favourite.)
We sampled four wines – a 2008 Sauvignon Blanc that tasted light and green apple-y, a nutty Chardonnay that reminded me of popcorn (I generally do not like Chards – 'Cougar Pop" as my mum calls them) a 2006 Cabernet Merlot (plasticky and too oaky for me) and a great Pinot Noir called The Stag – I liked this one so much I bought a bottle.
Now it was 11am, I was drinking wine on an empty stomach and let's face it – was a little tipsy. We moved on to Rochford. This is an unbelievably gorgeous vineyard that also hosts major concerts in the Spring and Summer – recent acts include Chris Isaak (!) Leonard Cohen (!!) and the B52's (!!!) I am sorry to say I didn't love their wines as much as the other wineries offerings, other than a great Muscato with honey-ish fizz that I could see myself accidentally getting plastered on a hot Summer patio day... I will also say that they have the closest thing to a Cab Sav that I would consider drinking – not too oaky and with a strange-in-a-good way gruyere cheese flavour.
Frankly Rochford didn't need to have the best wines because the lunch that they presented (incredibly included in the tour!) was spectacular – I actually moaned while eating it. A few times. Of the four choices (a kangaroo ragout, a chicken dish, a pumpkin lasagna and a fish) I reliably chose the fish. (Of course I did – have you met me?)
It was a Red Emperor Fillet served with chat potatoes and a pesto cream sauce – it was firm and wonderfully cooked, and the potatoes were roasted to perfection. I was so expecting a schlocky "included lunch" that the perfectly seasoned and unique dish completely caught me off guard. It was delicious – worth at least 30++ in a Melbourne restaurant. We were served a full glass of our choice of wine – I bucked tradition and chose a full bodied Pinot Noir with my fish – always gotta do things differently!
The next stop was the (in)famous Domaine Chandon – one of only four outside of France (the others are Argentina, Brazil and Napa.) This high end sparkling wine (it cannot be called Champagne because it is not produced in the one eponymous valley)comes in three varieties – a sparkling Shiraz (red champagne-ish! Who knew?) a dry, more traditional white and a golden coloured sweet Cuvee Riche. Nick took us through the entire fascinating process of how sparkling wine is produced (and just how long it frickin' takes!) and then we headed for the tasting.
I learned something valuable that I did not know about myself – it is not purely the cheap Baby Duck sparkling wine that I do not like – I even hate the most expensive. This suspicion has been in my brain for a long time – S's brother likes to sit in the VIP areas of LA clubs and a bottle of Moet or Kristal inevitably gets doled out, but each time I gagged on that I blamed it on the copious amounts of Grey Goose I had imbibed earlier in the evening. This time I sampled all three and they still tasted of bile and wine coolers to me. Call me unedumecated – they make me want to yak.
The final stop of the day was my favourite – the small, family owned Yering Farm. There was a real sense of tradition and a respect for doing things differently here – we sampled our delicious wines on the grass of the winery, soaking up all of the spectacular scenery and peering out for kangaroos in the distant fields. By this point in the day we were all tipsy and now friendly with one another and Nick even got behind the counter to do some pourings. A perfect end to a perfect day.
I arrived back at Lindsay's house and opened the bottle of The Stag that I had bought at St Hubert's – she and I had been planning on going to a Drag Night in St Kilda but the day caught up with me and instead we relaxed and ate good snacks, talked girlie shit and by gum, we finished that bottle.
No surprise there.....