Thursday, January 27, 2011

Yarra Valley Wine Welcome

The week before I left for Australia my trip was marred by changes and cancellations thanks to a certain TV host (whose name happens to begin with “O”).  It seems she swept through Australia, leaving a wake of hotels, restaurants and tourism boards tired and broke. Most of my plans had to be changed and I have been relying on the kindness of strangers a lot more than I ever had before.  Yarra Valley was one of the places that invited me with open arms at the last minute and they couldn’t have been more sincere.

I’ve done a lot of trips that included the Moet-Hennessy group, including Cognac, Napa and Champagne, so they were the first I contacted when I made the decision to go the Yarra Wine Region.  Mat Janes arranged for me to be picked up in Melbourne and I arrived at Domaine Chandon early evening after an enjoyable ride through the Victoria countryside.  Even at a quick glance, the vineyards were beautiful, lined in yellow roses. The winery has only been here since the 1980s and is a lot more modern than most of what you see in regions like Napa.

Chandon has a brasserie on the premises with views of the vineyards to enjoy while sipping their wine with small bites like cheese platters. The draw here is sparkling wine and all of theirs is made with Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, or a combination of the two. Not all their grapes are grown here, though, as they also use some from other regions, including the colder Tasmania.

The property Chandon is on was a dairy farm at one time, but it’s all about the wine now. This place was built with wine tourism in mind and they welcome 200,000 people per year with three guided tours each day.  There is also a “Sunday School” that is all about wine education.  After touring the grounds and learning how Chandon machine picks their grapes for sparkling overnight, when they are the coolest, I got to taste a few of their wines.

The Chandon Z-D is a Blanc de Blanc, which means it is made 100% of Chardonnay. It is bone dry, but definitely zesty. The Tasmanian Cuvee is a single vineyard wine that is light and fresh, with hints of peach and nectarine.  The Chandon Prestige Cuvee (2002) is very fruity and rich, while the Pinot Noir Rose has a strong strawberry nose and holds the berry taste in a semi-dry finish. In contrast, the Pinot Noir is a dry wine that is fruit forward, with a tobacco and spice finish.  I noticed that the Pinot Noir from this region is drier than what I am used to in California, but that wasn’t the case with Chandon Chardonnay, a 2008 vintage that was citrusy and light, almost like a Sauvignon Blanc.

Mat and I left the winery and headed over to Chateau Yering, where I was staying the next two days. This Relais & Chateau property has the feel of an old country inn with a touch of luxury. My room was warm and inviting, with a balcony that offered perfect views and a bathroom that combined the old (stand alone tub) with the new (modern shower).   I also loved the soft, cuddly stuffed cat that was actually the “do not disturb” sign when he was placed outside the door.

We had a lot more wine to discuss and taste, so we did it over dinner at Chateau Yering's exclusive Eleonore’s Restaurant, where Chef Mathew Macartney works magic with the freshest ingredients, even when he has to deal with my allergies and need for well cooked meat.  Even the entrees (the word for appetizer in Australia) were exotic as Mat feasted on Char-Grilled Baby Snapper with Nori Vinaigrette, Spanner Crab Maki Roll, Daikon Spaghetti and Avocado Puree.  I had a “Vegetable Garden” of Organic Radishes, Artichokes, Truffle Jelly, Potato Couland Nasturium and Coulis Parmesan Mousse.  Both were delicious, as were our main dishes: Milk Fed Yeringberg Lamb, Heirloon Carrots, White Bean Puree, Olive Jam,. Eucalyptus Emulsion for Mat; and Roasted Grimaud Duck Breast, Smoked Banana Puree, Foie Gras Pacel, Pumpkin Pie and Baby Figs in a Pedro Ximenez Glaze. The desserts were just as exotic (and tasty) and, of course, it all went down best with Chandon’s Brut.

Whether it was the wine, the fresh country air or the comfort of the Chateau Yering, I had my best night’s sleep in preparation for my first full day in Yarra Valley, starting with a full, European style breakfast at the Chateau’s Sweetwater CafĂ©, followed by a tour, tasting and lunch at Yering Station Winery, and my introduction to the hospitality of the Webbers and their De Bortoli wine, all friends that Wine Australia introduced me to.

To visit the Yarra Valley check out 


  1. I have heard that yarra villey has famous wine history too. Actually one of my friend has brought the best wine from Yarra villey.

  2. The Yarra Valley is extremely famous for its wine and your post is great at portraying this. It really is a stunning place and its great to hear your enjoyment of it come across.

    A Yarra Valley Tours Guide