Life & Style Weekend - - TASTE - WORDS: TRAVIS SCHULTZ ....................... Travis is a Sun­shine Coast busi­ness­man with a pas­sion for food and wine.

The Yarra Val­ley, an hour to the north east of the Mel­bourne CBD, is home to some of the big­gest brands in the Aus­tralian wine in­dus­try and is be­lieved to be Vic­to­ria’s old­est wine grow­ing district. The first vines were re­port­edly planted in the Yarra in 1838 on a prop­erty that is to­day known as Chateau Yer­ing. The re­gion ben­e­fited from the Vic­to­rian Gol­drush through the 1850s and by the 1860s viti­cul­ture was spread­ing through the district. There was a brief hia­tus when de­mand for for­ti­fied wines surged through the early 20th cen­tury, but by the late 1960s plant­ings be­gan to in­crease once more and to­day, the Val­ley is home to winer­ies in­clud­ing De Bor­toli, St Hu­berts, Yarra Yer­ing and Cold­stream Hills. So, in yet an­other self­less act of al­tru­ism, and en­tirely for the ben­e­fit of ded­i­cated read­ers of this col­umn (both of them!), I re­cently de­cided to take a day trip with friends and find out for my­self what all of the hype was about. Lo­cals claim that the Yarra Val­ley is Aus­tralia’s premier cold cli­mate wine re­gion, and on the day of our early Novem­ber visit, the Mel­bourne CBD had only been able to push the mer­cury to about seven de­grees overnight. By the time we ar­rived at Tar­rawarra for our first tast­ing at 11am, the sun had man­aged to find its way past the pesti­lent cu­mu­lonim­bus that clung to the val­ley walls like a 10-year-old with an iPad (yes Ash­ton, I’m talk­ing about you!) though the Antarc­tic southerly breeze kept fleece-lined jack­ets fully zipped. By mid­day and our ar­rival at Do­minique Portet, the skies were clear and the walk to the cel­lar door was in a com­par­a­tively “balmy” 13 de­grees. If you en­joy lean and lin­ear styles of wine, then the Do­minique Portet wares may be ideal for your palate. The re­cently re­leased 2016 Orig­ine Chardon­nay ($45) fared very well at the James Hal­l­i­day Chardon­nay Chal­lenge and was awarded 96/100 points. It presents a de­li­cious dis­play of peach, nec­tarine and cit­rus across the palate but also fin­ishes in a straw­berry and cream bliss that per­sists de­spite the nat­u­ral acid­ity of the ju­ve­nile fruit. The rest of the range wasn’t re­ally made in a com­mer­cial style as I couldn’t help but feel that the whites were fo­cussed on length and struc­ture, rather than the fruit. Of their lo­cally grown wines, the reds (in­clud­ing caber­net and mer­lot) were made in a Bordeaux style, but were clin­i­cal and lin­ear and the fruit seemed to me to have been bul­lied by the wine­mak­ing process to make it tighter and fit­ter than it wanted to be. Maybe a bit more petit Ver­dot and Caber­net Franc in the blend might have made the mer­lot and caber­net a bit more tempt­ing to my taste buds? We didn’t have to travel far for our next stop as the Rochford es­tate was less than a kilo­me­tre away. Rochford is one of the larger op­er­a­tions in the Yarra Val­ley, and has risen in promi­nence as a reg­u­lar host of the Day on the Green events – this month it’s Ste­vie Nicks and in De­cem­ber, you can see Hu­man Na­ture, Kate Ce­ber­ano and even KC and the Sun­shine Band! The es­tate restaurant is first class, but it’s the cel­lar door that we found par­tic­u­larly im­pres­sive. It wasn’t just that the wines were a notch above what we had pre­vi­ously tasted, but that their mod­er­ate price points put them in a sen­si­ble bracket that gave them broad ap­peal. Our host at the cel­lar door was Kish; an enig­matic and charm­ing (if not some­what lo­qua­cious) fel­low whose flam­boy­ance was al­most matched by his ur­ban-edged elo­quence. Our group loved the Re­serve Chardon­nay ($54 be­fore dis­counts) from Rochford’s Swal­low­field vine­yard, but it was the Re­serve Sin­gle vine­yard Pinot Noir ($64 prior to dis­counts) that had us search­ing for su­perla­tives and Kish rat­tling off id­ioms. The 2016 ‘Terre’ Pinot is made from lo­cal fruit and drink­ing beau­ti­fully de­spite its youth. The nose hints of vi­o­lets and spice, but once on the palate, plums, cher­ries and rasp­berry char­ac­ters un­fold in a bal­anced and pro­por­tional way and grace­fully soften in a silky con­clu­sion. As Kish says, “there’s an iron fist be­hind the vel­vet glove” with this one. If a dry style of red is your thing, the Rochford 2016 ‘Val del Re’ Neb­bi­olo ($36) could tickle the taste buds. The de­light­ful flo­ral per­fume on the nose of this one be­lies the deeply tan­nic back­bone of the wine that dom­i­nates the mid­dle and em­bold­ens through the fin­ish. Sure, there are hints of red fruit in the mid­dle, but the tan­nin could be over­bear­ing to some. Kish saved some of his best to de­scribe the dry­ness of the Neb­bi­olo as “it’s like be­ing in the Sa­hara Desert with a camel walk­ing on your tongue”! And he’s right. It’s not a volup­tuous “drink now” style, and nei­ther does it pre­tend to be. These days, many Yarra Val­ley wine­mak­ers are ex­per­i­ment­ing with new and ex­otic styles of wines. Some work, but oth­ers might strug­gle to be­come com­mer­cially vi­able. But af­ter a long and self-sac­ri­fic­ing day of re­search, I can con­fi­dently rec­om­mend just about any of the chardon­nay and pinot noir that are prod­ucts of lo­cal fruit. The caber­net was vari­able, but worth try­ing as although we did en­counter a few “se­cond 11” play­ers, we also found a few, such as the ones at Seville Hill, that might wear the baggy green one day.

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