WHEN TO HIT THE ROAD
The best time for a Yarra Valley drive is autumn, as the yellowing vine leaves and ripening bunches tell you. Winemakers will be busier if you visit during vintage, but someone will always be around to pour you a taste and share the year’s war stories. Stately oaks and elms abound, their blast of rich colour contrasting with the steep, blue-tinged hill-scapes. Finally, there is the autumn ritual: watching a languid sunset from the deck, pulling closed the patio doors, opening a savoury pinot and lighting the fire.
Of course, every season has its customs and rhythms and they, as much as the temperature outside, are your best guide as to when to visit. For foodies, summer means wild Upper Yarra berries; autumn, local chestnuts and wild mushrooms; winter, Meyer lemons; and spring, local asparagus, broad beans and fresh peas.
On a practical note, weekday mornings are the best time to avoid coach tours at the larger wineries, unless, of course, you enjoy feeling like an extra from Sideways.
WINES FOR THE BOOT
2007 Coldstream Hills Viognier, A$32
It has viognier’s nose of honeysuckle and musk. A lovely balance of generous fruit flavours, pleasing acidity and roundness from some barrel ferment. It definitely leaves you wanting more. Only 70 cases made. Cellar door only.
2007 De Bortoli Yarra Valley Estate Grown Sauvignon Blanc, A$32
More Yarra producers are playing with barrel-ferment sauvignon blanc, and De Bortoli’s is one of the best. Tart tropical fruit and mineral notes lead into savoury fruit flavours.
2006 Wedgetail Estate Single Vineyard Chardonnay, A$34
Complex barrel-ferment characters on the nose. Tight and austere at first but opens with time. Citrus, stonefruit and good acidity; an obvious nod to Chablis.
2006 Domaine Chandon Barrel Selection Chardonnay, A$46
Classic Yarra Valley chardonnay. Yeast, subtle spices and just a hint of creaminess on the nose. Good varietal flavours in the citrus-stonefruit spectrum. Spotlessly clean with mid-term ageing potential.
2005 Outlook Hill Reserve Chardonnay, A$30
A well-balanced wine with a nose of lime and herbs. The palate is mid-weight with impeccably clean citric and nectarine flavours as well as good acidity. Easy to enjoy.
2005 Tarrawarra Reserve Chardonnay, A$50
A big wine by current Yarra Valley chardonnay standards. Some new oak and lees-ageing provides shape and depth to seriously good citrus/peachy flavours. Mealy, creamy and well defined, this has plenty of elegance and the makings of a regional classic.
2006 Oakridge 864 Chardonnay, A$60
Winemaker David Bicknell clearly has an affinity for chardonnay. The nose is a complex mix of fruit and mineral notes. The wine then hits another gear, with the barrel characters playing off against fine acidity, stony minerality and primary fruit flavours. Great length.
2004 Shantell Pinot Noir, $A30
A haunting, lifted nose showing cinnamon, rose petal with some complex secondary earth and stone characteristics emerging. A layered wine on the right side of exotic. Reflects the wisdom of releasing wines with bottle age.
2005 Giant Steps Tarraford Vineyard Pinot Noir, A$40
Winemaker Steve Flamsteed loves to call this wine his feminine pinot. If he means delicacy and complexity, the description is certainly apt. Ripe strawberries on the nose lead into a finely structured – darker fruit, spice and some very velvety tannins.
2005 Coldstream Hills Limited Release Shiraz, A$40
This is an elegant, textured wine. The palate displays dark, peppery berry flavours and a mineral depth that is the hallmark of northern Rhône shiraz. Well integrated smoky oak and supple tannins round out the wine.
2005 Killara Park Shiraz, A$20
A teasing interplay of spice, ripe plummy fruit with floral, mineral and licorice notes. The wine is framed by supple tannins and toasty oak. It’s long and lingering.
2006 De Bortoli Yarra Valley Reserve Release Syrah, A$59
This could easily pass for a fine northern Rhône ST Joseph. The nose is all graphite, garrigue, smoke and spice. Silky and savoury across the palate, it keeps you guessing. A special wine.
2006 Yering Station Shiraz Viognier, A$26
Year after year this is one of Australia’s best shiraz viogniers. Rich and plumy flavours with spice and chary oak. It has great texture – silk or satin, you decide.
2005 Kings of Kangaroo Ground Frost Block Cabernet Sauvignon A$25
This is more restrained than King’s Di Paolo cuvee and the better wine at this stage. It shows concentrated, dark berry flavours with abundant black pepper and some floral notes. Will never be a shrinking violet. Needs time.
2005 Warramate White Label Cabernet Merlot, A$35
Made in the Warramate mould of finesse and restraint. It’s still quite closed, there’s cassis, tobacco and leaf notes with fine tannins and good length. Cellar with confidence.
2004 Oakridge 864 Cabernet Merlot, A$25
A classic Yarra Valley wine – think Yeringberg or Wantirna Estate. It clearly shows Oakridge’s efforts with cabernet to wonderful effect. Dark, briary, floral aromas lead into a complex palate of cassis and dried herbs. Supple tannins and restrained oak. Grab more than one bottle because this is definitely one for the cellar.
2004 Yarrabank Cuvée, A$38
This has an austere, piercing nose of granny smith apple. It’s really two wines in one without being at all disjointed. Very tight, nicely acidic with fine bead at one level; savoury, leesy qualities adding balance and complexity at another level. Thoroughly enjoyable.
2004 Domaine Chandon Z*D (Zero Dosage) Blanc de Blancs A$39
Designed as an aperitif wine, the nose is all cool-climate chardonnay with cut apple. The palate moves effortlessly through every stage of the citrus spectrum, finishing with an exotic touch of mandarin pith. Bone dry.
Great wine drives: Yarra Valley
To kick off our Great Wine Drive series, writer Paul Huggett gets behind the wheel to explore Victoria’s Yarra Valley. Breathtaking mountains, winding roads and top wineries, all only 1 hour from Melbourne, prove there’s a lot more to the Valley than exceptional pinot and chardonnay.
There is a wonderful asymmetry to Australia’s great wine regions; none more so than the Yarra Valley. Unlike the ordered march of the Rhône or Napa, the Yarra spreads outwards from the valley floor at Yering, running hard against a volcanic crater rim on its west and the peaks of the Great Divide on its northern and eastern flanks. Just as Melbourne’s hidden byways are the city at its very best, the Yarra’s nooks and crannies are the valley at its most scenic.
AM: CRUISING THE VOLCANIC RIM
There are two ways of getting to the Yarra Valley from the city and Melbourne Airport. The main route is on the Maroondah Highway. As the plan for the first day is to explore the western and northern part of the valley, it’s worth taking the alternative, scenic route via the Metropolitan Ring Road. This allows you to approach through suburban Greensborough and Eltham, where you will quickly encounter the Yarra’s volcanic and viticultural rim near Kangaroo Ground.
Climbing out of Eltham, the blue-tinged slopes of the Yarra, Kinglake and Dandenong Ranges emerge, as does Evelyn County Estate (03 9437 2155, Mon-Thurs 11am-5pm, Fri 11am-10pm, Sat 11am-midnight, Sun 9am-6pm). You can’t miss the place – a striking, modern cellar door and restaurant whose ski-jump roof neatly follows the downward slope of the vines, with north-facing views to die for. It also incorporates a small, quality art gallery and luxury-cottage accommodation overlooking the estate’s charming spring-fed dam.
New owners, Suzanne and Michael Whitten, are well schooled in the principles of sustainability, and are working hard to extend these important practices to the food of their Black Paddock Restaurant and the estate’s viticulture.
Not that the vines need encouragement. Most sites in Kangaroo Ground sit on what is referred to as chocolate cake – thick, volcanic soil that is the black equivalent of Coonawarra’s terra rossa. This terra negra is high yielding and needs careful management in the vineyard. Evelyn County’s 16-hectare site is one of the area’s warmest, and the estate’s reds – the merlot and cabernet especially – reflect this in their dark, black olive expression.
Three-minutes drive past olive groves, vines and sweeping views of the ranges, you arrive in Kangaroo Ground proper, home to Australia’s only post office winery, Kings of Kangaroo Ground (03 9712 0666, Mon-Sat 10am-6pm, Sun 12-6pm).
Tastings in the tiny post office are an intimate affair. Locals come in for the mail, are offered a glass and join in the ritual. Winemaker Ken King’s reputation rests on pinot, but since 2004 he has produced muscular, often aromatic cabernets. There are two single-vineyard cabernets, with a third to be added when King finds a suitable site. Even with production at 600 cases, King is a generous host and will open older vintages to place his current release wines in their proper cellaring context, stocks depending. This includes his earthy, multi-vintage pinot noir. The 1995-2002 release is available in tiny quantities.
Ten minutes winding drive from Kangaroo Ground lies Cottles Bridge, one of those peculiarly Australian towns where you never quite arrive. In fact, there is no town, just a modest bridge, cattle, apple orchards and vines. From here, on the north-west rim of the Yarra, Wedgetail Estate (03 9714 8661, weekends and public holidays 12-5pm, or by appointment) and winemaker/owner Guy Lamothe create iconoclastic pinot, chardonnay, shiraz and cabernet.
Lamothe came here from French Canada “for love”, following partner Dena Ashbolt with whom he established Wedgetail Estate on six hectares in 1994. Before this, he had done stints at Tarrawarra, in the Mornington Peninsula, and in Meursault, Burgundy.
His willingness to experiment in the vineyard is clearly apparent in Wedgetail’s wines. He is a committed terroir-ist with a fine wine mind and a tolerance of vintage variation. “The vines will do what the vines do. What can you do?” he says with a Gallic shrug.
Admittedly, all of this can make for some inconsistency in Wedgetail’s pinots, although at their best, they are very fine wines. For consistency and quality, I find it very hard to go past his chardonnays, which balance lean acidity and minerality with generous citrus flavours and deft oak handling.
PIT STOP: SAVOURY SOJOURN
It’s a 20-minute journey to the valley proper via the Eltham-Yarra Glen road. Descending, it’s truly gorgeous country, green and steeply pastoral. At Yarra Glen, turn left onto the Melba Highway and travel 10 minutes north for wine and lunch at Shantell (03 5965 2155, seven days, 10.30am-5pm).
Shantell’s owners, Turid and Shan Shanmugam, are undoubtedly the Yarra Valley’s finest Norwegian/Malaysian-Indian winemaking team. As Turid puts it, tongue firmly in cheek: “Coming from such great wine traditions certainly helps.”
Having a great site is also an advantage. The couple established Shantell in 1981 in the far northern reaches of the valley. It is a perfect lunch spot, only slightly off the beaten track. Turid and Shan deliberately oriented their vineyard restaurant to capture an easterly view of vine, bush and hill, which, in this traveller’s eyes, is unsurpassed for beauty in the valley.
None of which would matter if the wines weren’t up to scratch. Shantell’s strong suits are its chardonnay and long-lived cabernet. However, with vine age, Shantell’s pinots are increasingly ethereal – beautiful, bouquet-driven wines on the right side of exotic.
Turid oversees Shantell’s viticulture as well as its elegant 32-seat lunch restaurant, where the aromatic aspects of food and wine are to the fore. At the time of writing, it was savoury goat’s cheesecake, onion tart, chardonnay and pinot. Whether it is due to a warmer site, sound viticulture or good winemaking, the wines jump from the glass. Vine and bottle age help. The current-release cabernet and shiraz are from 2003, pinot from 2004 and chardonnay from 2005.
With so many cellar doors asserting that their wines are made for the long haul, Shantell isn’t afraid to have that claim tested where it matters – in the spittoon or at the table. So you can safely buy and dine with confidence.
PM: LEGENDS OF THE VALLEY
For an Australian wine icon, De Bortoli’s Yarra Valley cellar door (03 5965 2271, seven days, 10am-5pm), immediately below Shantell on the Melba, is a surprisingly simple affair. The emphasis is on the wine, rather than polished chrome and funky angles that you might find in other more audacious wineries. Back vintages, principally from the mid to late 1990s, are often available; currently, it’s magnums of the 1992 Yarra Valley Cabernet and older half-bottles of the great non-Yarra Noble One. There is also a wonderful restaurant and cheese room. And if you are wondering where all the inspiration comes from, you need look no further than Leanne De Bortoli and her husband, head winemaker, Steve Webber.
When I was there, Webber, who was the Gourmet Traveller WINE 2007 Winemaker of the Year, wanted to show me his baby: 260 hectares of vines on the valley’s north-west flank and surrounds. It’s a cooler, south-easterly facing block of shiraz. “This is shiraz that doesn’t like the sun. It’s just perfumed syrah. I think they call that perfume ‘charm’,” he mused. “I don’t think we use the word charm enough in Australia. I love that term – wines with charm.”
Back in the winery, Webber proudly poured the first of his pet projects – the Alsatian-inspired EZ or Edelzwicker, a single-vineyard blend of riesling, gewürztraminer and pinot gris. “We had a little play. With terroir, you are looking for the flavours and detail of the place more than the variety,” he says. “So why not have something that has the characters of this place made from riesling, gewürtztraminer or whatever.” It’s well worth investigating when you’re there.
His other favourite is the Melba project. This is the resurrection of an old De Bortoli bottling – the Melba Yarra Valley cabernet blend, this time with a rustic Tuscan twist in the form of some “pongy sangiovese”. “Rusticity is one of the most important things in wine,” Webber says. “I love it when people use that word. We need rusticity.”
DRIVER REVIVER: OPEN FIRE AND RABBIT TWO WAYS
After a day of talking and tasting, I reckon you will be more than happy to ensconce yourself in Balgownie’s stylish surrounds (03 9730 0700, seven days, 10am-5pm), a few minutes down the Melba Highway from De Bortoli. The complex is a bold venture on the part of the Forrester family, extending the Balgownie brand from its Bendigo base to the relative terra incognito of the Yarra Valley. There are 65 elegant spa suites, the Natskin Spa Retreat, a gym and an excellent restaurant, Rae’s.
Rae’s is a relaxed, spacious mod-Aus room with a feature fire. Seek out its warmth, and tuck in to the Rabbit Two Ways and a bottle of Balgownie Yarra Valley Pinot Noir. The food is great, the wine still striving for the regional expression and character that defines Balgownie’s benchmark Bendigo shiraz and cabernet. (The entire range graces the wine list and excellent cellar door operation, including some older Bendigo shiraz and cabernets). Then it’s a matter of setting the alarm; there’s a spa treatment on offer in the morning.
AM: PICKING UP INNOCENT BYSTANDERS
Ten years ago, Healesville was classic old-fashioned, country Australia with stately elms and oaks, and a famous animal sanctuary. The setting hasn’t changed, but the vibe has. Healesville is what they call hot. Three ventures are primarily responsible for this: the stunning Tarrawarra Museum of Art; the advent of the Healesville Hotel; and the arrival of the infectiously funky Giant Steps/Innocent Bystander complex (03 5962 6111, seven days 10am-10pm).
Friday lunch at Giant Steps/Innocent Bystander is a riot of pink. Whether by accident or good planning – and really nothing that winemaker-brewer-owner Phil Sexton does is by accident – Innocent Bystander helped pioneer the spritzy moscato wave that is swamping summer afternoons across Australia. All of which has 2008 Gourmet Traveller WINE Winemaker of the Year finalist Steve Flamsteed in a bit of a fizz. “I guess I’m a moscato maker now,” is his plaintive refrain.
Fortunately for Flamsteed, Giant Steps/Innocent Bystander has other irons in the fire also. First is the food. If wine brings you through the door, it is the food and buzz that keeps you there. Wood-fired pizzas, a bakery and patisserie, coffee roasting and grinding, a cheese room, Space Invaders and my favourite, the signage: “Unattended children will be given double espressos and made wild promises about what Santa is bringing them.”
Then there are the wines: the self-consciously “ripe, juicy and gluggable” Innocent Bystander range; single-vineyard expression in the Giant Steps range of pinot, chardonnay and shiraz. And there’s Harry’s Monster, a cabernet blend whose elegance certainly belies its playfully garish branding.
And so to lunch – pizza and a savoury Innocent Bystander Pinot Rosé is a recommended option. When I was there Flamsteed was sweating over an order for another 4000 cases of moscato, so I did my bit and drank the rival pink.
PM: THE ART OF DECELERATION
It’s a five-minute drive from Healesville to Tarrawarra Estate (03 5962 3311, seven days 11am-5pm) but a vast mental shift. The Tarrawarra Museum of Art (03 5957 3100, Tues-Sun 11am-5pm) is a gift by collectors and founders Eva Besen and Marc Besen that houses the couple’s collection of Australian art from the 1950s to the present.
The museum itself is a work of art, low and curved, sitting neatly in the folds of the surrounding hills and vines. Even if you have arrived from lunch in Healesville or the estate’s café, there is no excuse for museum fatigue. Between 40 and 60 works are mounted at any time, changing with the seasons. The icons of Australian contemporary art are well represented, including works from Arthur Boyd, Russell Drysdale and Sidney Nolan. Make a note of the dates 1 August to 9 November for the museum’s second biennial exhibition Lost & Found: An Archeology of the Present.
Not surprisingly, it is easy to overlook the initial reason for Tarrawarra’s existence: wine. The Tarrawarra cellar door is a classy, easy experience; just two reserve wines – pinot noir and chardonnay – and the Tin Cows varietal range. The current release 2005 Tarrawarra Reserve Chardonnay is a stunner, the Tin Cows wines are good across the board, none more so than the chardonnay and the savoury merlot.
According to this guide there should just enough light for a final detour, this time along the Old Healesville Road. There are stunning views up Long Gully and a collection of smaller cellar doors, many serving casual food or with restaurants proper.
DRIVER REVIVER: KING OF THE MOUNTAIN
The Mt Rael Retreat (03 5962 1977) on the Healesville-Yarra Glen Road can be mysterious at night – as it sits at the end of a steep road through heavy bush. But it’s worth the drive. In 2000, John Knoll and business partner Sean Lee bought Mt Rael and set about discarding the doilies and heavy antiques that marked its previous existence. Today, there are six intimate suites, sympathetically designed to reflect the garden setting and views, and a 120-seat restaurant, 3777 (Healesville’s post code), with Knoll as executive chef.
Mt Rael’s glory is its 270-degree views across the valley. By night, it is easy to slip into relaxed disorientation. Knoll’s food is hearty and regional. At the time, I dined happily on braised oxtail and parsnip dumplings, veal cutlets and Jerusalem artichoke gratin, and roasted winter Nelis pear with spiced gingerbread. The wine list runs to three pages of Yarra Valley and Victorian classics, with a sprinkling of Old World curios – white and red Sancerre and a vinho verde from Portugal’s damp north. Here, immersed in the valley’s history, it is hard to go past Wantirna Estate’s wonderful 2005 Amelia Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot. The Amelia, graced by a whimsical Leunig sketch, lasted well into the night.
An alternative place to stay is the Healesville Hotel (03 5962 4002) This is where hip Healesville began, and the quality of food, wine and service remain a magnet for foodies and wine lovers. There is the hotel restaurant – a lovely open dining room with lofty pressed-tin ceilings – with the Healesville Harvest Café next door. It also has seven fully restored rooms upstairs. Ask for the green-flecked room.
AM: HILLS, SPILLS AND CHURCH-INSPIRED THRILLS
Mt Rael has a fantastically sane 12pm check-out policy. It’s a race to pull up the blinds and finally get oriented as you sit on the private patio with breakfast and the weekend papers.
Coldstream Hills (03 5964 9410, seven days 10am-5pm) was the place James and Suzanne Halliday chose to plant grapes and make wine in 1985. The quality of its pinot, chardonnay and cabernet remain the benchmarks, perched high on a steep hill. The cellar door – overlooking the dam and vines that grace so many Coldstream Hills labels – is simple and scenic, with no distractions from the tasting experience.
It is hard to properly appreciate Coldstream Hills without climbing the hill to the winery (by special appointment only). From here you look down into the Amphitheatre Vineyard – all planted to pinot – which twists around the slope in different directions. It’s from this spot that winemaker Andrew Fleming draws much of the fruit for his Reserve Pinot which is among the valley’s finest.
Marcus Hutson organises the mammoth tasting sessions, which take place in the Halliday home on the hill, as well as working part-time at Coldstream Hills, so is well placed to comment on trends.
“Chardonnay and pinot have established themselves as the varieties that the valley will be best known for,” he says. “But we now have time to venture farther afield. The cabernets, merlots and shirazes – that is where the growth, intrigue and interest will come into play.”
Warramate (03 5964 9219, seven days, 10am-6pm), is Coldstream Hill’s immediate neighbour which is within walking distance down the hill. Of the vineyards open to the public in the valley, Warramate is almost certainly the oldest. It is also one of the most overlooked and underrated.
Jack and June Church were among the first to plant grapes when the valley made its comeback from viticultural oblivion in the late 1960s and early ’70s. In 1970, they planted the classic varieties – cabernet, merlot, shiraz and riesling – which are still made today, with pinot the only new addition since 2004. Tastings take place in a weatherboard extension to the Church family home.
Winemaker and local doctor David Church is fastidious in his commitment to his late father’s house style: medium-bodied wines capable of ageing gracefully. “We have always made medium-bodied wines and I am not interested in making full-bodied wines,” he says. “There are plenty of places in Australia that make very good high-alcohol wines and I don’t think we want to compete with those. If old fashioned means that the wines are not heavily oaked then I’m old fashioned.”
Warramate is claret country as is evident from tasting older vintages. The 1995 Cabernet Merlot is in great shape, all complex secondary flavours with a core of savoury fruit. The 2001 is still a baby with subtle black pepper, cloves, medium-weight fruit and great length. The current release 2005 Cabernet Merlot is in the same mould, including 5-per-cent cabernet franc, which further lifts the wine. These wines are worth the wait, regardless of fashion. To prepare the palate for the afternoon’s onslaught, you might want to limit lunch, as I did, to just bread and cheese.
PM: BUBBLES IN THE TANK
The afternoon’s itinerary includes Oakridge, Domaine Chandon and Yering Station. Be wary of Mt. Rael’s late check-out policy – it looks appealing at first but can catch you out.
Just down the road, it is good to see Oakridge (03 9739 1920, seven days, 10am-5pm) back in form after its troubled existence within the Evans & Tate Wine Group. Its cellar door-restaurant is immaculate, as are the wines.
Winemaker David Bicknell, a De Bortoli graduate and 2008 Gourmet Traveller WINE Winemaker of the Year finalist, and assistant winemaker Adrian Rodda have clearly worked hard to arrive at a house style with which they can both be happy.
Oakridge’s three-tiers of wine – the early drinking Over the Shoulder range, the more varietal Oakridge range, and the top-tier 864 selection (chardonnay, shiraz and cabernet merlot) – don’t shy away from fruit intensity, albeit with attention to balance and structure. Right now, the chardonnays and cabernets are the stand-out wines, especially the 864 cuvees.
Oakridge is the third estate on our travels that is treating Yarra Valley cabernet with due respect. Rodda might not have been born when Warramate made its first cabernet, but he’s clearly excited about the way the variety expresses itself in the valley. “I really love Yarra Valley cabernet’s definitive tannin profile,” he says. “Here, we can work our tannins a bit harder and be safe in knowing that they will be structured without tearing your mouth apart.”
It’s then time to drive the few minutes to Domaine Chandon (03 9738 9200, seven days, 10.30am-4.30pm). Fortunately, this is the valley’s pre-eminent producer of sparkling wines – the prescribed remedy for tart teeth and bird-cage mouth. It’s amazing how the first sip of bubbly can restart the day.
Standing in Domaine Chandon’s lofty cellar door, it’s easy to reflect on its significance in educating Australians about sparkling wine – from NV brut, to blanc de blancs and zero dosage. However, as it’s a Saturday evening, it’s best to drink sparkling, not analyse it.
But there is time for one final visit. It is to where the great Yarra Valley wine adventure began in 1850 at Yering Station (03 9730 0100, Mon-Fri 10am-5pm, Sat and Sun 10am-6pm). The historic cellar door is a cavernous mix of wine, art and gourmet produce. And although the history is palpable, I’m here to pay homage to a more recent milestone: Yering Station’s miraculous under-$20 shiraz viognier. This is the wine that taught so many Australians about texture. It showed us that we could have shiraz (or syrah) both ways – silky, elegant and spicy on one hand; richly fruited on the other. A quick taste of the 2006; it’s silky and very red. Time for bubbly.
DRIVER REVIVER: IDLING LIKE A KITTEN
Château Yering (03 9237 3333) is on the same site as Yering Station but under separate ownership. Inside, the mood is Country Life quiet, with ornate spaces for reading and private discussion. Here, your partner prepares for dinner at a dressing table. Men open doors for women.
Eleonore’s Restaurant is Chateau Yering’s centrepiece. Set in a grand but intimate conservatory, the food is all you would expect given the setting and ambience. The wine list is a blend of the young, classical and iconic. I can suggest the 2002 Yarra Yarra Syrah – the last vintage before its conversion to syrah viognier. It’s hauntingly beautiful, all elegance, restraint and complexity. If this is the past of Yarra Valley syrah, it should also be a model for its future.
AM: LA DOLCE VITA
By this stage, common sense and a groaning car boot are saying: call it quits. Instead, try driving south on the Warburton Highway on the trail of this cool-climate tip – Killara Park Estate (03 5961 5877, seven days, 10am-5pm). From a wine tourism aspect, this is the neglected neck of the Yarra Valley, and its coolest. If fine sparkling restarts your Saturday evening, then wood-fired pizza kicks off a Sunday afternoon. The wonderful smells hit the minute you enter Killara Park’s laid-back cellar door-restaurant, situated in a converted dairy shed.
When I was there, I ordered a pizza and talked about wine and life in this part of the valley with Calabrian-Australian owner Leo Palazzo. “This is truly la dolce vita; just look at that view,” he says, pouring a peppery 2005 Estate Shiraz as the clouds lifted over Mount Donna Buang. Cyclists, many with kids in tow, came in from the nearby Warburton Trail.
The restaurant was buzzing and the pinot grigio was flowing. I made a move to leave. “No hurry. There is always room for one person more,” Palazzo says. I stayed. And I’m sure you’ll do the same.
TEXT PAUL HUGGETT PHOTOGRAPHY KILLARA
This article appeared in the October/November 2008 issue of Gourmet Traveller WINE.