Wednesday March 25, 2015 Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia
Yarra Valley just outside of Melbourne is Australia’s premier region for the production of Pinot Noir. Its cool and maritime climate influenced by Port Philip Bay and the Antarctic Ocean to the South as well as the Great Dividing Range to the North makes it not too dissimilar to the Willamette Valley of Oregon, with just a bit more sun. The region also has a steady moderating breeze from the ocean and the Yarra River running through its gentle hillsides. Wine making is a tradition here dating back all the way to the 1860s when the first vines were planted by Italian and Dalmatian immigrants. Aside from Pinot Noir, the region also boasts a great diversity of grapes and styles from Moscato to Merlot to Riesling and even Nebbiolo! We visited two wineries that represent two ends of the spectrum when it comes to style and size, yet both showcased the high quality nature of the wines produced here.
Soumah Winery– We started at a small family-owned boutique winery recommended to us by the local wine shop. Soumah is in its 9th year of production and really focuses on purity fruit and interesting varieties. The Pinot Noir is still king, but we were pleasantly surprised to see Dolcetto, Cabernet Sauvignon, Lagrein, even Nebbiolo that just recently went into the ground. The whites were no slouch either. A great crisp dry Riesling, unoaked Chardonnay, and our favorite the Savarro. Savarro is the local synonym for Savagnin, a grape usually associated with the Jura in east-central France. The French tend to produce this wine into a savory, nutty, sherry-like style, but Soumah true to the Aussie style, produces a bright and clean version with just a bit of extra body due to aging on spent yeast cells (lees). The grape is planted throughout Victoria as it was for a long time mistaken for Albarino. The wine maker, Scott McCarthy and Director Brett Butcher, are big believers in noninterventionism and purity of fruit. It is also evident in their Cabernet Sauvignon, which has bright and herbaceous notes to go along with blue fruit and a great 12.8% alcohol level. Definitely not Napa, more Bordelaise in style, but great with food! We are currently in the process of getting Soumah to the US, look for it in 2016!
Key Wines: Savarro (Savagnin), Pinot Noir, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon
Innocent Bystander/Giant Steps– Our second stop was at the opposite end of the spectrum, at the big, modern winery that is Innocent Bystander. For anyone the finds themselves in Yarra Glen, it has a great restaurant too! The winery makes two distinct lines. The Innocent Bystander line is geared toward everyday consumption and incudes the Pink Moscato that accounts for over 50% of the winery’s total production. While not the most complex of wines, it does allow the winery to also produce Giant Steps. This is a high quality line that produces powerful, juicy, and structured Pinot Noir, Shiraz, and even a Bordeaux Blend, “Harry’s Monster”. We were quite surprised to see Merlot being brought in from harvest, a testament to the range of Yarra Valley. The winery also produces a killer sweet vermouth made from Viognier.
Reeds’ Wine List: 2013. Giant Steps “Sexton Vineyard” Pinot Noir. Yarra Valley. $68, $45 to go, Missouri Exclusive.
Key Wines: Pinot Noir, Shiraz, “Harry’s Monster” Bordeaux Blend