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Mini Victorian Tour Diary 2005

 

Chapter Two: The Yarra bloody Valley - click here for Chapter One

 

Wednesday

 

It was an early start for Brian and I this morning; my train left from Wangaratta at 7.30 am and naturally, I didn't want to be late, so we left Rutherglen at 6.30 which gave us plenty of time to get there. The train originated at Wangaratta and it was scheduled to take two hours and forty minutes to get to Melbourne. After my extremely inexpensive $13 ticket from Moss Vale to Canberra, a trip that takes approximately 2 hours, I decided to splurge and go first-class, but was surprised when the ticket was just over $50.

 

Having travelled on the Canberra to Sydney train regularly, I do know that whilst the food is not gourmet fare, it is edible and the drip coffee, in a pinch, drinkable. As it was breakfast time and I was hungry, shortly after we left Wangaratta I headed up to the buffet counter. The food certainly didn't look anywhere near as appetising as that found on the New South Wales Railways and when I asked what was available for breakfast, thought I had picked a fairly safe option with a bacon and egg muffin.

 

However, when I saw the only coffee that was available was instant, I drew the line and decided to wait till Melbourne. Let me tell you dear readers, it takes a certain level of genius to be able to produce food that is this bad. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it would take more work and downright ingenuity  to come up with a plan to make food taste this bad, than it would to actually make something that was halfway edible. I took one mouthful of this most disgusting, greasy concoction, and luckily as there was no one sitting next to me, I was able to spit it back into the bag from whence it came.

 

The rest of the journey was uneventful, and I even managed to grab an hour’s sleep. When we arrived at Spencer Street Station, the place looked like a bomb had hit it; the station is being totally rebuilt whilst remaining open and functional. Considering the disarray, the station was still functioning perfectly, with extra staff on duty to assist and direct people; it's a pity they didn't put one, one thousandth of this amount of this effort into their food. The good news was I found a coffee kiosk with a long queue that was doing a thriving business. I figured that people wouldn't line up for a cup of crap and that this place was probably a safe bet. Indeed it was, the double short black espresso was perfect, and the sandwich fresh and tasty.

 

The train from Melbourne city to Lilydale took just over an hour and I arrived there around 11:30 a.m. The plan was to stay with my good friends, William (aka Mr Bill) and Karen (aka Mrs Bill) Pond for a few days at their new retirement home in the Yarra bloody Valley. I would have much preferred it if they would have moved to the Barossa, or even the Clare Valley. Mrs Bill was kind enough to pick me up the station; it appears that Mr Bill was playing farmer and needed to see a guy about a fence to keep their three organic lawnmowers (cows) where they were meant to stay.

 

Mr Bill certainly looked the part of the farmer, Blundstone boots and blue overalls; certainly a far cry from the corporate suit and tie I have seen him in for so many years. After a light but satisfying lunch at home, we wandered around the property, Mr Bill played at being a farmer with the cows, and we generally had a relaxing time.

 

This part of the trip was meant to be a mini holiday, prior to the busy period in my business, so not much in the way a detailed notes were made, except for my visits to the local wineries and a few standout experiences which were worth sharing with you.

 

Thursday

Today we had planned to start visiting some wineries, and after not having sampled any wine, except with dinner for a couple of days, I was starting to go through withdrawal symptoms and was looking forward to getting back into it again. Despite Mr and Mrs Bill’s delightful home, designer kitchen and ace sound system, the coffee making implements, whilst functional, are rudimentary, and as I was left to my own devices this morning to make coffee (because that slack bastard Mr Bill was sleeping late,) and because I was not familiar with the strength of the grind,   the coffee I made was not exactly great. I suggested to Mr Bill, that prior to visiting the first winery; a good strong espresso was probably in order so we hit a little bakery in Yarra Glen. The coffee was certainly drinkable, but unfortunately the pastry that I ordered was so sickly sweet it was inedible. Not as bad as the Vic Rail food, but then nothing is that bad.

 

The first port of call was the Punt Road Winery. Past experience has shown that I usually enjoy the wines here, and Alison, the cellar door manageress, is knowledgeable, friendly and always very helpful.

 

Punt Road 2004 Pinot sells at cellar door for $27. The bouquet shows spice, cherry, milk chocolate and mushroom. With enough smooth tannins to hold the wind together and fresh acid, the wine is lean, the consistency firm but supple; the structure solid, and the complexity simple. Spice, bitter almond and cherry flavours finish with reasonable persistence; it's a pretty light wine but okay now. Rated as Agreeable with *** for value.

 

Punt Road 2003 Merlot sells for $27 at cellar door. The wine exhibits a subtle bouquet with lightly perfumed musk and plum. Silky-smooth tannins, balanced acid and delicate fruit combine to form a medium-weight wine with a supple consistency, seamless structure and plain complexity. And off-sweet wine with a green edge, flavours of plum, cherry and musk finish with slightly bitter tannins. An easy-drinking, light style, inoffensive wine, it is rated as Agreeable with ** for value.

 

Punt Road 2003 Cabernet Merlot sells for $27 at cellar door. The lightly-perfumed bouquet showing blackcurrant, mint and mushroom notes, is attractive. Pure fruit combines with smooth tannins and balanced acid to produce a well-made, well structured and balanced wine. Lovely, ripe up-front sweet fruit loaded with mint flows through to a slightly bitter finish that has good length and persistence. Medium-weight with a firm consistency, it has a very solid structure that is both tight and elegant; flavours are layered with a sweet initial hit that is dominated by an off sweet undercurrent. Rated as Recommended with ** for value, the wine will probably peak between 2009 and 2012.

 

Punt Road 2003 Shiraz sells for $27 at cellar door. Spicy white pepper, perfumed fruit and new car leather aromas are replicated on the palate as white pepper and plum, finishing with a touch of bitter, unripe character. Silky-smooth tannins and pure fruit produce a well-balanced wine with a good mouth feel that is easy drinking and lingers well. Medium-weight with a supple consistency, elegant structure and agreeable complexity, the wine is rated as Recommended with *** for value.

 

Whilst the wines were okay, my previous experiences with the wines from this winery were better. It possibly has something to do with three of the wines coming from the 2003 vintage.

 

The next winery is one of the biggies in the region and one I've had very little experience with, but at Mr Bill's suggestion, we decided to give it a try. When we arrived, it struck me as a very commercial operation, a complete contrast to many of the small, cute operations found in the valley. Rochford, like many of the wineries in the district, rely to a great extent on tourism; and to some extent on the service of food, for their survival. The cellar door sells a big range of both wine-related and food type products. There is also a fairly large restaurant.

 

The very clever design of this winery did not strike me until after I had tasted a few wines and headed off to the little boy's room. As soon as I walked out of the tasting area, my nose was positively assaulted with a very strong array of pungent food scents. Trying to taste wine seriously against of these pervading aromas would be damn near impossible so the winery has done well in managing to keep the smells out of the tasting area.

One of the gourmet food items at Rochford ....

 

Rochford 2002 Yarra Valley Pinot sells for $27 at cellar door. Some varietal Pinot characters showing typical cherry, lightly perfumed fruit, spices and milk chocolate are found on the bouquet. Distinct, ripe fruit combines with balanced acid and smooth tannins to produce a lean wine with a supple consistency, almost seamless structure, and agreeable complexity. It's easy-drinking, quite slurpable and a good wine for the price; five spice, chocolate and earthy Pinot characters finish with excellent persistence. Rated as Recommended with *** for value.

 

Rochford 2002 Macedon Ranges Pinot sells for $38 at cellar door. A much more intense bouquet than the Yarra Valley wine, it shows black cherry, spice and milk chocolate. Dark chocolate wafts through the palate with black coffee and loads of cherry which finishes with a herbaceous character. The tannins are a touch green and the wine seems noticeably tart. It's big for a Pinot with excellent intensity and persistence; the flavours hang around the palate for ages. Medium-weight with a firm consistency, solid structure and developed complexity, it is rated as Recommended with ** for value and will probably be better in another year or two.

 

Rochford 2003 Yarra Valley Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $27 at cellar door. A lifted bouquet showing typical Cabernet characters; a slightly herbaceous tobacco leaf with blackcurrant and milk chocolate flavours; it showed excellent complexity. Smooth, silky tannins and fresh acid combine with pure, distinct fruit to produce a fruit-driven wine with an attractive mouth feel that finishes with good persistence. Blackcurrant, blackberry, some herbaceous characters and a little bitterness to the finish produce a very drinkable package that can be enjoyed over the next three years. Medium-weight with a supple consistency, an almost seamless structure and harmonious complexity, it is rated as Recommended with *** for value.

 

The next wine tried was the Rochford 2002 Shiraz, which to me had a feral nose that was either an overdose of H2S or “another problem.” Not to put too fine a point on it, I thought it was crap but according Steven Worley, the National Sales Manager who was kind enough to be looking after us, the wine was sound and it was the way it was meant to be; although Steven did admit that it polarised people and they either loved it or hated it.

 

Rochford 2003 Yarra Valley Reserve Pinot sells for $44 at cellar door. This wine is normally not available for tasting at cellar door, but Steven was kind enough to open it for us. An attractive, vibrant bouquet that is slightly feral; it shows milk chocolate with spicy, mocha oak noticeable. Silky tannins combine with youthful, fresh acid to form a medium-weight, well-balanced and constructed wine with a good mouth feel. Consistency is supple, and the complexity is well developed and sophisticated but the wine needs a couple of years to integrate and gain further complexity. Its off-sweet with milk chocolate and cherry; the spicy mocha oak and chocolate flavours finish with excellent persistence. It's a good wine, rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value.

 

We only sampled a very small number of wines from a very extensive range. This winery is a fairly large producer and certainly knows which way is up; they appear to do a good job marketing their products and services. It should be noted, members of their wine club received a 15% discount and apparently they also have frequent specials for members. It is probably fair to assume that a fair amount of the wine that they sell is sold to members. Mr Bill joined on the spot and bought a mixed dozen. He was also muttering something about going back later and buying a case of the Reserve Pinot.

 

By now, it was lunchtime and we headed down the road and were just in time to meet Mrs Bill at Riverstone Estate. This winery is located on a hill, (now that is a surprise in the Yarra Valley) and the cellar door has a wonderful panoramic view. As well as the wines, like so many of the wineries in the area, this one serves food too. One of the major attractions of having lunch here was the ability to sit outside on the deck and bask in the view. We decided to share a large antipasto platter and whilst it was good, it wasn't particularly exciting. We thought there was an awful lot of food on the platter when it arrived and when I paid the bill, I found out why. I had ordered a platter for two, but we had been served and charged for a three-person serving. Mr and Mrs Bill shared a bottle of Riverstone Chardonnay, but as it was a c-through and I wanted to taste more wines in the afternoon and be able to make sense of them, I passed on the alcohol.

 

Lunch was very relaxing; looking at the view it couldn't be anything else. From there, we headed next door to Warramate Winery. Before we got there, Mr Bill told me this winery has the oldest grape vines in the Yarra Valley; I am glad to know that Mr Bill has been doing his vinous homework.

 

We were met by a lady of senior years, who very much epitomised the old-fashioned Australian farmer's wife, and I say this with the greatest respect. As it turned out, her husband and winemaker, Dr David Church had recently died and it was evident that although Mrs Church was surviving, she desperately missed her partner and appeared a little lost. During our conversation, we found out winemaking runs in the family and for a few years their sons have been doing their own winemaking thing too. The white label wines are the original estate wines, and the Black label wines are the new wines being made by their sons.

 

Warramate 2002 Cabernet Merlot (white label) sells for $30 at cellar door. A ripe, black and blue berry spectrum bouquet that also showed milk chocolate. Smooth tannins combine with fresh, lively acid to produce a well balanced wine with an attractive mouth feel. A firm, solid wine with an agreeable complexity, sour cherry, milk chocolate and herbaceous tobacco (with a green edge) finished with good persistence for its weight. The doughnut should fill in with time. Rated as Agreeable with ** for value.

 

Warramate 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon (black label) sells for $19 at cellar door. For my money, this was the best wine in the line-up and the only one that was good value. Sweet Cabernet fruit aromas with dusty notes, chocolate and cigar box produce a combination of sweet and off-sweet flavours on the palate. Drying, dusty tannins, lively acid and distinct, obvious fruit deliver a big mouthful of intense blackcurrant, blackberry, dark chocolate and milk chocolate flavours and whilst the fruit flavours seems to be mostly ripe, there is a touch of unripe character to the wine as well. Ample-weight with a firm consistency, solid structure and an agreeable complexity, it is rated as Recommended with *** for value.

 

Warramate 2003 Shiraz (white label) sells for $38 at cellar door. A little VA, mushroom compost and chocolate aromas lead to a palate showing blackcurrant, chocolate, cherry and a green, unripe herbaceous streak. Fresh, sharp acid, smooth tannins and obvious fruit combine to form a medium-weight wine with a firm consistency, solid structure and agreeable complexity; it is rated as Acceptable with * for value.

 

The winery may have access to the oldest vines in the area, but that does not guarantee good wine will be produced. If the younger generation can keep producing wines like their 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon at the price, the winery should be in good hands in the future.

Riverstone's local resident short-arse horses ...

 

What's a visit to the Yarra Valley without a visit to Coldstream Hills? A couple of the wines that I tried last year were still available; so I only tried three wines.

 

Coldstream Hills 2004 Pinot retails for $26.90 at cellar door. The bouquet showed earthy mushroom, some feral notes, cherry and truffles. Smooth tannins, fresh acid and delicate fruit contributed to a lean bodyweight, firm consistency, solid structure and agreeable complexity. Chocolate, raspberry, sour cherry, more chocolate and bitter coffee flavours finish with excellent persistence. A well and truly drinkable, well-made clean wine with a good mouth feel, it is rated as Agreeable with *** for value.

 

Coldstream Hills 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon sells for about $24. When I first nosed this wine, although I could not detect any cork taint, the nose was so muted I asked the person serving us to check it. I was quickly informed that it could not be corked as it was sealed under Stelvin. As I have stated on a number of occasions, the length of time that it takes many young wines open up and show their true colours, when they have been sealed under Stelvin, as far as I'm concerned, is a downside to this closure. The nose was deeply brooding and showed very little except some tomato leaf characters. On the palate the wine showed stewed fruit characters of plum, chocolate, dark cherry and cassis but the youthful acid gave it a lift. Medium-weight with a firm consistency and solid structure, this easy-drinking wine is rated as Agreeable with *** for value.

 

Coldstream Hills 2003 Limited Release Shiraz sells for $35 at cellar door. Coffee and mushroom oak characters dominate the white pepper fruit. Smooth, silky tannins and pure fruit contribute to an attractive mouth feel and the wine is clean and well made. Subtle white pepper, mulberry, chocolate and chary coffee flavours show stewed fruit characters. Ample-weight with a very firm consistency and a solid, tight structure, the wine is rated as Recommended with ** for value; the ratings should increase as the wine matures around 2008 and beyond.

 

And that was the end of the days tasting; overall it was not a particularly exciting day and whilst there were some attractive wines, a lot of them were very ordinary or represented poor value. Hopefully the next lot of wineries will be yield more impressive results.

 

We had a quiet night at the Ponds’ Ducks Lane property; only Mr Bill would find a street so aptly named to live in. Prior to dinner, we sat outside enjoying the view and the occasional glass of wine. Mr Bill decided to barbecue some steaks so we ate and drank well.

 

Friday

 

When I arranged this visit, Mr Bill had forgotten that he had made an appointment in the city with his dental hygienist to have his fangs cleaned and polished. That gave me a few options. I could always go and visit a few wineries by myself; I could spend the day annoying Mrs Bill, or I could spend some quality time (and hour each way on the bloody train) with my good mate. Discretion being the better part of valour, I opted for the third option with an ulterior motive.

 

I definitely needed to buy a new bag to carry my camera and all the other personal paraphernalia I take with me on these tours, and Melbourne has a fantastic selection of camera shops, all located within one block. In addition, I wanted to get a gift for Lynne to thank her for looking after my children whilst I was away.

 

The train left Lilydale at 9:45 a.m. and we arrived in Melbourne an hour later. That was perfect timing as Bill's appointment was at 11 o'clock and would take about an hour, which gave me time to scan the camera shops for the perfect bag. Most of the stores carried the same bags, with some having a bigger range than others, but a couple of the stores seem to have a better selection with some obscure brands. Checking out these bags reminded me of the story about the Three Bears; some were too big, some were too small and trying to find the right one was not proving to be as easy as I had hoped. Eventually, I found one that I thought would be up to the task and provided I use a pneumatic compactor, I can just about get everything into it.

 

Mr Bill and I met up just after 12 o'clock and decided to check out the newly renovated, (old) GPO building to see if we could put some dirt on his newly polished fangs. We found a little Japanese place that seemed incredibly popular, and as it turned out for good reason; and although it was not as inexpensive as many of these places, the food was worth the money. I certainly enjoyed my light lunch. Ummmmmm and the reason I only have a light lunch, was that whilst the Mr Bill was having his fangs sharpened, I felt peckish and had a couple of California rolls.

 

After lunch we hit the famous Haig’s chocolate shop and I bought lots of goodies for Lynne, as well as enough for me to ensure an extra kilo on my waistline.   

We all know it's a small world, but oh, how small it really is. As we were walking back to the station, and bear in mind Melbourne is a city of nearly 4 million people, and Mr Bill no longer even lives there; as two young lads in school uniform approached us, one had a face full of scarlet red embarrassment: it was Mr Bill's grandson! Now Mr Bill being a caring, loving, grandfather that is full of understanding when it comes to young people, shook hands with his grandson, gave him a kiss and immediately shone the spotlight upon him and asked him (grilled would be more like it,) what he was doing out of school so early. His excuse was perfectly valid, his exam for that day was over and they had come into town to look around. As we walked off, Mr Bill muttered something about “perving at chicks when he should be home studying”; which was probably true, but I fondly thought back to my childhood and smiled.

 

We took the train back to Lilydale and I realised I had spent more time in trains in the last few days, then I had in the last 10 years and on reflection, realised what a waste of good wine tasting time it actually is, but such is life.

 ........... ...... Honey - Mrs Bill's pride and joy

As a reward for my good behaviour, Mr and Mrs Bill decided that we should go out for dinner. The Healesville Hotel supposedly has an awesome reputation and has won all sorts of awards for its wine list and food, so we decided to try it. Bookings were not easy to obtain, so we had to opt for a 6.30 reservation. The main dining room is certainly has an olde worlde character and charm, and even at 6.30 the place was almost packed.

 

The food menu was fairly limited with approximately six entrees and six main courses, as well as a few daily specials. The wine list is as extensive as advertised with a large selection of both local (regional,) Australian and imported wines. As far as having a good selection of aged wines, most of those in the Australian category were from poor vintages like 2000. Mark up on the majority of the wines was approximately 100% above retail, although there were a few standout exceptions. I decided to order the Moss Wood 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon at $120, which considering the retail price, was a veritable bargain. Mr Bill decided to start with a glass of Grosset Riesling ($12) and Karen had a glass of Western Australian Sauvignon Blanc ($7).

 

For an entree, Bill and I both ordered a variation on a very old theme, sardines on toast, although on the menu, it was described with much more glamour and panache. In fairness, the flavour was anything but as simple as sardines on toast. The sardines had been marinated and were served warm; and whilst they were delicious, they were not particularly exciting. Karen stuck with the fish theme, and ordered oysters to go with her Sauvignon Blanc. They were served with an exotic vinaigrette sauce and Karen thought they were delicious. Unfortunately I cannot verify this fact and she was too mean to share them with me, although I did offer her some of my sardines.

 

For a main course, I ordered duck prepared two different ways. The first was in the traditional French manner; it was served rare with couscous and other bits and pieces; it was very well presented, the filling was shaped in a half ball with the duck wrapped around it. The well cooked component of the duck, although enjoyable, was not as well cooked as it should have been; there was still some fat in the duck. The pomegranate sauce that accompanied the dish complemented it reasonably well. Mr and Mrs Bill both ordered lamb, and although Bill thought it was tasty, he also thought there was an unnecessary amount of fat in it.

 

Whilst the lamb was served with a side dish that contained veggies and a few bits and pieces, my duck was basically served nude, with no accompaniments at all. It would have been helpful if this would have been pointed out at the time of ordering, so that I could have ordered a side dish of vegetables at the time, rather than waiting until the meal was served. I eventually received side dishes of both broccoli and potatoes, and they were the highlights of the meal.

 

For dessert, Mr Bill ordered a chocolate roulade which I tasted, and whilst it was all right, it was nothing to write home about. I ordered fresh mulberries with vanilla mascarpone, from the specials board that was behind me, but unfortunately I have not been blessed with eyes in the back of my head, so I did not see the mulberries had been doused in rosewater. Had I've known the dish was going to be so sickly sweet, that to my taste it was inedible, I would never have ordered it. As the dish was "as advertised" there was no point in complaining and it was my fault for ordering it. One thing did concern me; although the plate had hardly been touched, when it was cleared, the waitress did not ask if there was anything wrong with it, or if I just didn't like it. To me, this always speaks volumes about the attitude of the staff (and possibly the management.)

 

With dessert, we had a bottle of De Bortoli 2002 Noble One which was excellent. On the menu, there was a bottle of Mount Horrocks 2003 Cordon Cut which I had originally ordered. Unfortunately when the wine was presented it was the 2005 vintage. I don't know if there was a misprint on the menu, but to be two vintages out is not a good look.

Sugar - Honey's sister and Mrs Bill's other pride and joy....

but that cat has a warped idea about what's relaxing..... 

 

Speaking about “not a good look,” when the Moss Wood arrived the waiter/manager asked if I would like it decanted. I accepted the offer and he brought a decanter to the table and did his work. The only problem was that as a conservative guess, there was still about a third of the wine left in the bottle. The short time in the decanter did/would help the wine breath and open up, but if you are going to do the job, do it properly!

 

Entrees averaged about $17 and main courses about $28. Overall, the meal was good but not great. For upmarket, pub food it is certainly acceptable but it should not be confused with a gourmet restaurant. It would be worth going to again, just ignore the publicity and don't have ultrahigh expectations.

 

Mrs Bill was our designated driver and did an excellent job of driving us home safely, despite Mr Bill joining me in the backseat driving department. When we got home, Mrs Bill decided a quiet little drink was in order, as she had consumed very little with dinner. After the incredibly stressful day that I had had, well I had spent all of it with Mr Bill,    I decided to let Mrs Bill have some quality time with Mr Bill and I went to bed.

 

Saturday

 

We had decided that today would be “the” day of wine tasting but before we could get into that, there are a few things that needed to be achieved. Firstly breakfast; but it's a bit hard to make bacon and eggs without the cackle berries, so it was off down the road to see the local “egg lady.” There is nothing like buying eggs that have come from feral chickens that are allowed to roam wherever they like and get to eat all sorts of good stuff, rather than just processed pellets. When we got there, Mr Bill got out of the car, helped himself to a dozen eggs, and left the money in the honesty box. I guess he doesn't look too honest as "the egg lady" came out whilst we were there. Mr Bill asked to where the chickens were, as we couldn't see them wandering around the property. It turns out; they had been locked up temporarily, as "the egg lady’s" husband was not particularly pleased with them taking up residence all over the decking around the house, and he was in the process of working out a “handyeggman” solution to the problem.

 

When you live in the country, these sorts of conversations can take on deep and meaningful proportions, and are often as important as discussing the weather. After discussing the state of the chooks, Mr Bill sought the “egg lady's” advice on another very important topic, this time cherries. As well a growing grapes and googy eggs, the Yarra Valley also grows loads of other produce and there are many cherry orchards in the area. It turned out there was a cherry farm a few properties further up the road that grew a huge variety of exotic cherries, including white ones. (C-through cherries, what is the world coming to!)  Finally, after taking longer to buy a couple of kilos of cherries than it did to buy the cackle berries, we headed for home.

 

Now dear readers, you may well ask why I have gone into so much detail about such trivial matters. After you have read this detail, you will know why, despite my intention of starting the days wine tasting activities early, it was 11 o'clock before we got to our first winery, and that was without a coffee stop.

 

Last year, at Wine Australia, I was very impressed with the wines from Yarra Yarra Vineyard and was looking forward to trying their wines at the winery if possible. Normally they are not open, except by appointment, so I rang to see if a visit could be arranged. On this day, no appointments were necessary. The winery was holding its annual open day to allow its mailing list clients the opportunity of coming to the winery and trying the new releases. Talk about getting lucky.

 

The winery is off the beaten track and on a dirt road and as it is not generally open, there are no signposts. Nevertheless, it was easy to find and we were there a few minutes after it opened at 11 a.m. Both Ian and Anne MacLean were there to greet their guests, and I chose those words deliberately. I have been to many wineries, and have had all sorts of interesting and different experiences over the years, but none quite like this one.

 .......................... A spotless winery

As people arrived, the majority of them were greeted by name and with a familiarity that made their customers seem more like friends than merely people coming to buy their product. It reminded me of a family gathering. The winery has been going for 23 vintages and clearly over that period of time, they have built a loyal following of regular mailing list customers in Victoria. As I sit here and type this, I'm still amazed when I think about the familiarity and friendship between the MacLeans and their loyal customer base. They certainly must be doing a lot right to engender this feeling.

 

Yarra Yarra 2003 Shiraz sells for $40 a bottle direct from the winery. The bouquet is bright and vibrant with lifted, perfumed aromatics and is bloody attractive, but that is not very surprising given there is a little Viognier in the mix. Pure, deeply seated fruit and smooth dusty tannins combined to produce an ample-weight wine with a firm consistency, solid structure and well developed complexity that should age well; drink from 2008+. The mouth feel and fruit purity are impressive and the cherry, plum, spice and pepper flavours build slowly across the palate and finish to cumquat like marmalade; and the finish has terrific length. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, surprisingly enough this was my favourite in the line-up.

 

Yarra Yarra 2003 Cabernets sells for $45 a bottle direct from the winery. An earthy bouquet showing cherry, currant and clean sawdust notes. Fine, dusty tannins back a well-balanced, well-made, solid wine with an agreeable complexity. Cherry/blackcurrant, milk chocolate, aniseed and cassis flavours complete an attractive flavour profile but there is an unripe green note evident. Rated as Recommended with ** for value, it will benefit from another three or four years in the bottle.

 

Yarra Yarra 2003 Reserve Merlot sells for $65 a bottle direct from the winery. When I first sniffed this wine, I thought I detected a faint whiff of TCA and asked Ian to check it. He gave it a quick sniff and declared it was sound, although I'm reasonably sure it was suffering from low level cork taint. The bouquet was perfumed showing dark fruity notes, dusty oak and earthy characters. A very solid wine, there is certainly nothing wimpy about this one. Ample-weight with a firm consistency, solid structure and agreeable complexity, it is well-balanced and well-made, with dusty, smooth tannins backing its deeply-seated, persistent, pure fruit. Chocolate, musk, and multiple black fruit flavours complete the package. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, this is one of the better straight Merlots available. I wonder what this particular bottle looked liked after it had been opened for a few hours. If my suspicion about the cork taint was right, it would have been pretty ugly, and I was lucky to have tasted it just after it had been opened.

 

Yarra Yarra 2003 The Yarra sells for $65 a bottle direct from the winery. A beautifully perfumed subtle bouquet, it also showed vanillin oak characters and flinty/leathery notes. A fine wine with an excellent structure; the pure, deeply seated, strong fruit delivers sour cherry, milk chocolate, vanilla mint and earthy notes. It finishes with excellent persistence and length but there was an unidentifiable edge to the wine, and whilst I didn't find it particularly attractive, it’s possible it may recede with age. Ample-weight with a very firm consistency, solid structure that is as tight as a drum, and a sophisticated, well developed complexity, the wine has terrific power for its weight. Rated as Highly Recommended with ** for value, the rating may improve as the wine matures around 2010 and beyond.

 

Visiting the winery on opening day was a unique experience and one I am glad I experienced. Although the wines were good, generally I didn't find them as attractive as the previous vintage and was not tempted to buy any, although prior to going into the winery, I was prepared to put by credit card limit to the test. Ian looks like he is a perfectionist and one could happily eat from the winery floor. At one stage a single drop of wine hit the floor, and before you could say Chux, Ian had mopped it up.

 

The next winery we visited was conveniently located just down the road, and although the map stated the road was suitable for four-wheel drives only, almost any car could have navigated the dirt track without any trouble. I had never heard of Allinda Winery, but Andrew Sutherland-Smith recommended a visit. These are truly estate wines, with everything being done on the premises.

 

Allinda 2003 Pinot sells for $24 at cellar door. The bouquet shows a touch of VA some funky Pinot notes, blackcurrant, mint and milk chocolate. Silky-smooth unobtrusive tannins and distinct fruit combine to form a medium-weight wine with a supple consistency, and an agreeable complexity; it's an easy-drinking wine with real Pinot character and good value to boot. Intense cherry and blackberry; there is also a touch of char noticeable, with a minty, slightly sappy finish and strong cold tea character on the tail. Rated as Recommended with *** for value.

 

Allinda 2000 Cabernets sells for $24 at cellar door; it's a blend of 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Cabernet Franc and 6% Merlot. The bouquet showed chary oak and was a little stinky with H2S character. And easy-drinking wine with reasonable power for its lean weight, the structure is elegant and the complexity agreeable. Delicate fruit, fresh acid and unobtrusive smooth tannins make up the structural components. Black cherry, milk chocolate, mulberry/blackberry and a strong tea character are evident, but there is an unripe component to the flavour profile. Rated as Agreeable with *** for value.

 

Based on the two wines and I tasted, I have no idea why Andrew recommended this winery above all others in the Yarra, because the wines were nothing special.

 

It was lunchtime: the restaurant at Shantell Winery had been recommended and it was only five minutes from Allinda so we decided to have a look. Many of the wineries in the Yarra that have restaurants that look down or over the view, but the view from Shantell was across their manicured vines and up to the hills. The menu looked reasonable and the ambience was attractive, so we decided to give it its shot.

 

The service was more than efficient, it was very thorough and professional; our water glasses were kept topped up and the waitress, who was of mature years, certainly tried to be helpful and attentive. Once again, we decided to share a platter. This platter was so far in front of the one we had shared a couple of days ago, it wasn't funny. The quality of the cheese, as well as the varietal selection was first class. It also showed excellent imagination in the choice of the non cheese components as well. Overall, it was one of the best platters around. The espresso coffee was wonderful. All in all, it was a most enjoyable lunch and was definitely worth a visit. We then decided to try the wines.

 

Shantell 2001 Pinot sells for $35 at cellar door. Minimal irrigation is (used as needed,) which is an excellent strategy and the grapes were cropped at 1.1 tonnes to the acre. The bouquet showed lifted alcohol with earthy notes and rose petals; there was nothing feral about the wine. The palate is better than the nose suggests and shows cherry, sappy characters and milk chocolate that finish with good persistence. Deeply-seated fruit, fresh acid and almost silky tannins combine to form a medium-weight wine (it’s bigger than many) with a supple consistency, solid, almost seamless structure that is still tight, and a well developed complexity; it's a good wine and is rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value.

 

Shantell 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $28 at cellar door. Sour cherry, milk chocolate, blackberries and a touch of green capsicum flavours are found in the wine, despite the fact that it seems ripe. Almost silky tannins, piquant acid and distinct, strong fruit combine to form a medium-weight wine with a supple consistency, open structure and agreeable complexity. Rated as Recommended with *** for value.

 

Shantell 2001 Shiraz sells for $28 at cellar door. The nose was unyielding and seemed a bit dumb, but there was an EA like character evident. (As VA or EA were found in the first three wines, I'm wondering if it's a stylistic thing or if it is actually a characteristic of the type of oak used.) Blackberry, plum, blackcurrant, and chocolate flavours are off-sweet and combine with char on the finish. Tannins are unobtrusive and tight whilst the acid is fresh. This is an elegant wine with an agreeable complexity; a supple consistency and its medium-weight makes it attractive and easy drinking. Rated as Recommended with *** for value.

 

Shantell 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $28 at cellar door. A touch of varnished oak on the palate flows through to the palate which also shows sour cherry, milk chocolate, cassis, blackberry and mint. There is a green streak through the wine but it is not unattractive. Its medium-weight with smooth tannins, fresh acid and obvious fruit; there is some elegance to the structure and the complexity is agreeable; and it's very drinkable due to the soft finish. Rated as Recommended with *** for value.

 

I'm glad we stopped here, besides having a most enjoyable lunch, the wines were all good, clean and well made, and stylistically consistent across the range. The wine prices are reasonable and it's good to see them being sold with a few years bottle age. If you're in the area, this is worth a visit.

 

Someone had mentioned that Tarrawarra Estate was worth a look so we decided to call their next. Whilst I don't have all the fine details, this is apparently a small part of a very large holding, and even the vineyards on the estate only represents a small percentage of the total acreage owned by the company. Twelve hectares are planted to Chardonnay, and seventeen hectares to Pinot, but there are a four hundreds hectares on the estate. Depending on circumstances, they run between four hundred and a thousand head of cattle on the property too. As well as the winery which has two different labels, Tarrawarra Estate and Tin Cows, there is a large restaurant, a wine bar, and a thumping, great big art gallery. There are some serious dollars behind this operation and it's no Ma and Pa Kettle winery in a tin shed. The buildings are good-looking, modern, bright and brassy and have been professionally set up.

 

Tin Cows 2004 Pinot sells for $20 at cellar door. Varietally correct Pinot characters with attractive floral scents, very dark earthy spectrum notes and strawberries are also found on the bouquet. A well-balanced wine with a good mouth feel, it is almost medium-weight with a supple consistency, solid structure and agreeable complexity. Smooth tannins, lively acid and distinct fruit combine to form an easy-drinking wine that is good value for the moderate tariff. On the palate, as expected it is varietally correct with good “pinosity”, cherry/strawberry flavours, some herbal influence and a dark chocolate finish. Rated as Recommended with **** for value.

 

Tarrawarra Estate 2002 Pinot sells for $50 at cellar door. An attractive, sweet nose showing strawberry, herbs and cloves; the palate shows herbs, strawberry, milk chocolate and the clove from the oak is very noticeable. Tannins are smooth, the acid fresh and lively, and the fruit, both persistent and deeply-seated. Its medium-weight with a firm consistency, a solid but tight structure and well developed complexity; the wine is very still youthful and needs another four years to show its best. Rated as Highly Recommended with ** for value.

 

Tin Cows 2002 Shiraz sells for $20 at cellar door. Crisp, lively acid and distinct fruit combine with silky smooth tannins to form a medium-weight wine with a supple consistency. Black cherry, and chocolate fruit flavours are dominated by flavours that are derived from the oak, including spice, clove and varnished oak. An easy-drinking wine that will go well with an oily pasta sauce (due to the acid); it's rated as Agreeable with ** for value.

Roger Morgan and Mr Bill ................. 

 

The final winery for the day was located less than a kilometre as the crow flies from Mr and Mrs Bill's place. Morgan Vineyards is a one man and his dog operation and is owned by the eccentric Roger Morgan (and his wife), who is a POME by birth but now that he has been in Australia for awhile, and seems to be a regular human being.   They purchased the property in 1987 which had vines dating back to 1971 planted. Over the years, plantings have been increased and they now have about 12 acres under vine.

 

Whilst the cellar door is reasonably attractive, the winery is as rustic as they come. No expense has been spared on the winery; in fact no expense has been undertaken period!   You will find no industrial winemaking equipment in this place and I had a great deal of fun climbing over all the “stuff” in the winery and tasting barrel samples.

 

 ..."Stuff" you don't often see in a winery; but its normally there

 

Morgan 2004 Pinot sells at cellar door for $28. The nose which was initially very dumb opened up to reveal lifted, perfumed fruit and milk chocolate. The pure, distinct fruit is fully ripe and delivers spice, pepper, chocolate, dark berry fruit, and earthy dark flavours, and whilst it does not have a huge amount of “pinosity” it is very drinkable. Almost silky smooth tannins produce a good mouth feel and balanced acid (unlike so many wines tasted over the last few days,) doesn't stick out like a sore thumb. Medium-weight, the complexity is very agreeable and although this wine could easily be described as a crowd pleaser, it is better than that description. Rated as Recommended with *** for value, this is worth seeking out.

 

If you find yourself the Yarra, seek out Morgan's; their current Pinot is worth buying (Mr Bill did) and the barrel samples I tried show that some of their up and coming releases will be well worth consideration. Their wines are reasonably priced too.

 

After leaving Morgan’s, Bill decided to experiment with the four-wheel-drive capabilities of his Nissan by driving up the fire trial, which runs up the side of Morgan's and comes out at the top of his street. It might have been a shortcut, but given the amount of time it took to navigate the ruts and gullies, it probably would have been quicker going a long way.

 

We had an “interesting” evening planned, and one that I looked forward to about as much as root canal therapy. In order to try and break into the local Yarra Valley Society, Mr and Mrs Bill had accepted an invitation to attend a Rotary fundraising trivia night at the local community hall. Oh what joy; I had been conscripted to join in the festivities.

 

As it did not start until eight o'clock, we had dinner before we went, but we were told that everyone should bring “a plate” and something to drink. No doubt about it, I was going to need a drink.    As it was a community event, one of the Mr Bill’s neighbours picked us up and drove us there. The local community hall is a converted, huge old Nissen army hut, which was in surprisingly good nick. The owners of the hall were "very brave" in allowing the use of the hall on this night; the timber floor had just been sanded and had yet to be sealed.

 Mrs Bill enjoying herself ............

 

Organisers must have been happy with the roll up; there were thirteen tables with an average of ten to twelve people per table, and the tables were groaning under the platters of food. There was absolutely no need to have eaten dinner first; there was enough food on our table to feed an army platoon.

 

A professional spruiker had been hired, together with his entourage of computer/video operator and “barrel girl.” They did an excellent job and certainly earned their money and whilst the experience wasn't as bad as root canal therapy, I wouldn't go out of my way to attend another Yarra Valley Trivia Night. However, Mr and Mrs Bill achieved their objective of meeting new people, and that was the main thing.

 

Believe it or not, it was the last night on this trip, and whilst it may have been the most memorable, it certainly was not the best. But what use are friends if they can't drag you along to events like this once-in-a-lifetime; (Mr Bill, please take note you have had your once-in-a-lifetime chance. )

 

Sunday

 

Early the next morning I said goodbye to Karen, and once again she promised that it would be their turn to visit me next, but with their heavy retirement schedule of holidays all over the world, I will believe that when it happens. Mr Bill was kind enough to drive me to the airport and dropped me with plenty of time to obtain a good seat. This time I lucked out and got 1C.

 

As I had left my car at home, the plan was to take the direct train from the airport to Campbelltown, where I would catch a connecting train to Moss Vale. Unfortunately my “joy” (sic) with train travel was not over and things were not going to be that easy. When I got to the airport train station, it was closed due to track maintenance on the City Circle Line. A "free" bus service was provided that took me to Central Station. So much for being free, the fare from Central to Moss Vale is actually more expensive than the fare from the airport, and to add massive insult to injury, besides having to waste time going into town to catch the train, the train had to go the "long way round" to get to Campbelltown. Instead of getting home just after three, I arrived at the Moss Vale Station at 5:20 p.m. It had taken about 10 hours to get home.

 

The first thing I did was to go to Lynn's place and pick up the dogs and when I got home, I noticed that Red, my Golden Retriever, had developed a very nasty skin infection around his neck; but that's another long story.

  And so ended my last trip for 2005, but if the worst thing that happened to me were attempted murder by “Trivia Night boredom,” train delays and yet another vet bill, it had not only been a pretty good trip, but a great series of trips over the last eleven months. And, I have booked a full-on trip to Western Australia in February, so there is something to look forward to already.

Copyright © Ric Einstein 2006

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