TarraWarra Estate in Yarra Valley. (Photo via wikimedia)
I like my wine. But how much do I really know about it?
Well, there’s red and white, Riesling is from Germany, Shiraz is sort of spicy, like a lady it has legs and body, and a swirl and a sniff is crucial to the flavor. Before my trip to the Yarra Valley in Victoria, Australia that was pretty much all I knew.
The Yarra Valley, is an ideal place to learn more about wine. It’s the home of Victorian wine making, located about 90 kilometers east of the City of Melbourne, along the Yarra River, flowing towards the city and out into Port Phillip Bay. Rolling hills and lush greenery, butterflies dancing and birds cooing, it’s a fresh, vibrant and verdant area. Apples, pears and cherries grow all over this region. It’s fertile ground for some of Australia’s best exports. Not Tim Tams and Crocodile Dundee but wine, cheese, and fruit. The Yarra is particularly known for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The cooler climate is perfect for the crisper acidity of these varieties. I was there to learn about wine. And as all education experts know, the best way to learn is by doing. In this case, this means drinking wine.
You might not think of fruit as one of Australia’s key products, but where does that wine come from otherwise? This region alone produces $175m dollars per year. So I started my day in the Yarra Valley, early (and responsibly) at Wild About Fruit. Apparently fruit cleanses the palate; it definitely tastes good. The home-run business began in the 1930s and grows organic fruit and vegetables. In a world full of supermarkets it is rare to only consume food grown in season, but the taste of their fruit suggests it is more than worth it. Producing everything from cherries (did you know there are 27 varieties?) to cucumbers, potatoes to pears, and pressing juice that is as healthy as the whole fruit, its a place to appreciate good food and simple production. The Yarra Valley is not just about fruit and its fermentation. Coconut, courgette, roasted pepper goat cheeses and garlic and chili all grow here.
At the De Bortoli winery fresh air and grassy smells hit us, but the scent of wine is soon to be the main offlactaory experience. Noses deep in the voluminous glasses, we sup the striking Pinot Noir and the assumption challenging Riesling and Chardonnay, finishing on their famous Noble Man a dessert wine more akin to honey. It’s a good morning. Wine tasting is a truly multi-sensory experience. The scent is more important than the immediate taste. It’s surprisingly difficult to master: a swift and deep swirl to release the scent and the tannins, a short sniff and a savored sip are what is needed to get the full flavor of the wine. There are numerous wineries in the region, and The Rochford is well known for being a venue to enjoy, with a restaurant and events happening throughout the year. We enjoyed a three course meal including delicate cheeses, a hearty portion of chicken, some rich chocolate, and wines chosen for each. Here the food is delicately proportioned, perfectly presented, and delicious.
There are over seventy wineries in the area, but we only had time to visit three. My next stop was Oakridge Winery, which has earned numerous awards, and even for a novice wine taster as myself, I can tell these folks know what they’re doing. The views alone are worth the visit, with neat rows of vines giving way to green trees on the rolling hills. The rich, full-boded Shiraz is a highlight here, as is the original Fumare, a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc. Legs of wine run down the glass, arcs of color building, and the detailed tasting notes means that I feel I am deepening my knowledge, although by this point who knows. I’d had a couple glasses of wine.
It’s difficult to know whether I have learned the lessons of the sommeliers, the growers, or the Australians and their appreciation for good wine. Either way, I go home feeling more educated. And a little tipsy.
Francesca Baker is a freelance writer currently wandering the world with her eyes wide open and scribbling about. Partial to music, reading, culture, walking, cycling, travel, wine, off kilter events, smiling, and life!