Tag Archives: Yarra Valley

Don Quijote De La Yarra

Let’s start with the similarities. Don Quixote was a wandering romantic on a Spanish quest, a noble sort with lofty ideals whose author lent him the epithet “ingenious”. And the differences? The man from La Mancha was vain, deluded and got his name on the cover of the book.
Andrew Marks, meanwhile, turned down the role of hero in his own story. When I ask where the Wanderer moniker came from, he tells me: “I just didn’t feel it needed to be eponymous. The wine has to speak for itself.” You hear that a lot in this game, but often the wines don’t get to do the talking. You sense an ego there, prodding the wine to perform. Wines raised to get themselves noticed, groomed for the limelight.
But the Wanderer wines, like Marks, are measured, modest and gently persuasive. They make no grand demands and then you note their welcome presence, stronger and more enduring than you’d expected. You nod and think, “Good trick,” but then realise it wasn’t a trick. It was good wine. And then you want some more.
Marks has been around wine since he was a child, with his parents planting vineyards at Gembrook Hill in the southern part of the Yarra Valley in 1983. After high school, Marks studied Oenology at Adelaide University and landed a job at Penfolds in 1998, a year after graduating. He stayed with the company until 2003, during which he fitted in vintages in Sonoma, Burgundy and the Languedoc.
Then came the time to expound some Marksist theory. “After working for Penfolds all those years, I just thought I’d be better off working on my own dream rather than someone else’s,” as he puts it. So he returned to the Yarra Valley, where he does his real job at Gembrook Hill.
Marks released his first Wanderer wines in 2005. He started with a pair of field blends – a Gewurztraminer/Chardonnay and a Pinot Noir/Chardonnay rosé – plus a frizzante Muscat he called Moscatito. He then started adopting, bit by bit, the sites that make up the current range. First came a single-vineyard Lower Yarra Pinot Noir in 2007. This was followed a year later by an Upper Yarra Pinot and brilliant Shiraz from single vineyards in Yellingbo and Dixons Creek respectively. In 2010 he added a lovely barrel-fermented Chenin Blanc.
Where a company like Penfolds has a glut of options when it comes to fruit sources, Marks is more exposed to the vagaries of nature at home in the Yarra. Perhaps it’s further sharpened his acutely sensitive touch. “With Gembrook Hill, working in the vineyard you learn year in, year out that you’re producing a wine that’s a product of the year and of the vineyard,” he says. “The most important step is getting the picking day correct. I’m looking for bright, sweet fruit flavours, with the acid balanced.”
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Then there’s Marks’s quixotic venture far from the Yarra, in Catalunya. El Wanderer traces its roots back to 2000, the year Marks met “legend” Anna Espelt while working in California. Her family has Carinyena (Carignan) vines planted in 1908 in the Empordà region of Spain’s Costa Brava. Marks worked a few months in the Espelt cellar in 2004, then spent a further six months there a year later, at the end of which he was invited to head up the winemaking. Needless to say he declined, but the annual pilgrimage to this second home continues.
Marks plans the trip to ensure he’s on Catalan soil comfortably in advance of the fruit hitting perfect ripeness. As with the Upper Yarra Pinot Noir, he sorts the Carinyena grapes in the vineyard. He then places them in an open fermenter (10% whole bunches), gives them three weeks on skins and likes to have them pressed to barrel before hopping on the plane back to Australia. “I feel pretty lucky to play with fruit of that character,” he says. “It’s a medium-bodied wine with good structure and balance, light enough to go with fine foods. As with all wines, texture is critical. Texture is what makes wines drinkable and smashable. Sometimes it’s a little bit overlooked.”
The Wanderer name wasn’t simply inspired by Marks’s globetrotting winemaking escapades. He was something of a searcher before all this began and, of course, it isn’t just about him anyway. “I’ve always enjoyed a sense of adventure, and as you get older you realise that pretty much everyone is on a journey in some respect,” he says. “I just want people to drink the wines and enjoy them. And people who look for a little bit more should find it.”

The Wanderer Upper Yarra Pinot Noir 2012 Yarra Valley

Clear pale ruby. Pretty nose, red fruits leaping from the glass accompanied by rhubarb and fresh mint. Crunchy red fruits – strawberry, raspberry, redcurrant – mark the entry, and the wine is shot through with subtle sweetness and spice across the palate. It’s medium-bodied with a somehow surprising intensity. The very fine tannins give a touch of grip and there’s lively acidity. A strong sense of unhurried, assertive flow, leading to a finish of juicy redcurrant and fresh herbs. Gorgeous.

Costs $55 from the Wanderer website – Alcohol 13% – Tasted 14/04/14 – Diam closure

El Wanderer Alt Empordà Carinyena 2010 Empordà DO, Spain

Clear medium ruby, bright and inviting in the glass. Red-fruited nose, raspberries and cherries, with fresh liquorice. It’s juicy and medium bodied in the mouth, with base notes of beetroot earthiness and cinnamon spice playing below buoyant raspberry and blackberry. Firm, chewy tannins and sprightly acidity fit like comfortable clothes. It has a sense of rusticity; candid with a country air to that wholesome fruit and earth. Not fussy and precise, but beautifully composed. Delicious and full of character.

Costs $55 – Alcohol 13.5% – Tasted 14/04/14 – Diam closure

Cabernet Reshuffle

I grew up in a time and place where “wine” meant Bordeaux. Sure as Champagne set the stage for a celebratory meal, Cabernet Sauvignon was the majestic protagonist brooding in the decanter, waiting to steal the show. It smelt at once of pretty things and the world of men: flowers, redcurrants, blackcurrants, dad’s cigar box and leather brogues. It filled your whole head.
Cabernet is not by any stretch an appropriate yuletide beverage in Australia. And yet some internal seasonal sensor set this particular pom yearning for it. Throughout the festive season it’s vital to know there are no chinks in your hosting armour; you need the right bottle at hand at any given moment. But we had no Cabernet of acceptable calibre and maturity hanging around.
That was when it dawned on me: in a year of wine, I’d heard sommeliers, winemakers, journalists and friends gush over just about every grape under the sun bar one: Cabernet.
At first glance it appears odd that this should be the case. Global plantings have doubled since the 1990s to make Cabernet Sauvignon the planet’s most popular grape. It makes some of the world’s most expensive, revered and long-lived wines. So why’s it getting so thoroughly dissed by people whose job it is to love and share wine?
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In a world where cult rules, ubiquity is uncool. Cab’s rise to top spot on earth’s vineyard prompted Time magazine to brand it “the Coca-Cola of viticulture”. “Cabernet is conformist,” young Sydney sommelier Julia Sewell tells me. “Buying Cabernet is buying into the commercialist aspect of wine.” Another young somm, Leanne Altmann of Cutler & Co in Melbourne, wonders if overfamiliarity has left drinkers unconvinced of the grape’s capacity to surprise. “The cool kids will drink Cabernet – if it’s Franc,” she jokes.
My fellow Cab-loving pom Dan Coward, currently a vintage cellar hand at Shaw + Smith, thinks it’s possible that Cabernet has rested on its laurels for too long. That means trading on its Bordeaux image, when for many Bordeaux is “boring and alienating”. “Cabernet Sauvignon’s not communicating itself well at the moment, so people are drawn to more seductive targets,” he says.
And there are plenty of those around. Cab’s world domination makes any grape exotic in comparison. And that’s before you go busting wine stylin’ moves. Other grapes get the full Kama Sutra thrown at them; Cabernet is strictly missionary.
And then there’s the perception of Cabernet drinkers as older people who “know what they like” – which is probably to have sex with the lights off and their clothes on. The herd of rude, red-faced old men who elbowed their way through a recent public tasting of Coonawarra wines did little to dispel this myth.
But Cab doesn’t just lack hipster drinkers; where are the with-it winemakers when you need them? Probably with their head in a vat of whole-bunchy Syrah or skin-contact Savagnin. Wherever, they’re certainly not standing on their soapbox for contemporary claret.
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If Chinese millionaires and imposing Châteaux lend Bordeaux an air of aloofness, Cabernet in Australia may suffer from a different kind of inaccessibility. Coward points out that Coonawarra and Margaret River, Australia’s finest regions for the variety – and the ones hell-bent on championing it – are also bloody miles from anywhere. The cellar doors of the country’s Chardonnay and Pinot havens – think Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula, Adelaide Hills and Tasmania – are abuzz with trendsetting daytrippers. There’s brilliant Cab tucked into the valleys of Eden, Clare and Yarra, of course, but it’s often overlooked.
And then there’s one other theory, perhaps one that could only have come from someone who’s slowly discovering he should have stayed in the Cabernet closet. But here goes: maybe they’ve forgotten that there’s nothing quite like great Cabernet because they haven’t had one in a while. And by “great” I don’t mean Bordeaux and I don’t mean expensive. I mean a good producer and region, good bottle age and an auspicious time and place – think food, company, even weather.
Looking at that, yes, it’s a demanding old bugger. In the age of “smashable” wines, that’s not going to win it many friends. “I guess it appeals to my head,” says Altmann. “But despite the delicious Cabernets I’ve been lucky to try, it isn’t a variety that appeals to my heart. I want a glass of Burgundy in my hand.”
But Coward’s still with me, lustily reminiscing about a “luxurious” 2001 Cabernet he and his wife recently enjoyed with lunch. The perfume, depth, complexity, length and chameleon-like quality in the glass: how could one not covet it?
“All retro habits eventually become cool again. I just don’t think it’s Cabernet’s time at the moment,” says Coward.
No, but that time will come; it has to. It’s taking over the world, or hadn’t you heard?

Contributors’ Cabs To Try:

Leanne Altmann

Oakridge Local Vineyard Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Yarra Valley $35 “Crunchy, bright, and oh-so-gluggable.”
Bellwether Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 Coonawarra $49 at Cloudwine in Melbourne. “Classically-styled, drinking so well now but built for the long haul.”

Dan Coward

Kilikanoon Killerman’s Run Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Clare Valley $20 “Good luncheon-claret style.”
Wantirna Estate Amelia Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2011 Yarra Valley $70 from Prince Wine Store, Melbourne. Cooler-climate beauty.

Julia Sewell

Man O’ War Ironclad Merlot Cabernets 2009 Waiheke Island, NZ $45 from Vinaffairs “I was once told by a very happy diner that it was like running with wolves through a pine forest.”
Yeringberg 2010, Yarra Valley $75 from Prince Wine Store. Bordeaux blend from historic Victorian winery.

Ed Merrison

Tim Adams Cabernet Malbec 2008 Clare Valley $24 Regional style released with bottle age; perfumed, approachable, delicious.
Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 Margaret River $90 at Cloudwine Profound Western Australian classic.

Suck A Punch Pet Nat

I couldn’t keep this bottled up. Not at this time of year.
The Friends of Punch Rurale Chardonnay 2012 is a social beast, a sparkler to celebrate – but not one that demands pomp and ceremony. Not a cheers-and-small-talk bubbles, more a sit-down-and-stay-a-while affair. “It’s not supposed to be a formal wine; it’s supposed to be a delicious wine,” says James Lance, as if reading my mind.
James and wife Claire kicked off Punch on 1 January 2005. That’s when they started leasing Lance’s Vineyard and Winery in the Yarra Valley from James’ parents, David and Catherine, who founded renowned Pinot and Chardonnay producer Diamond Valley there back in 1976.
Classic Yarra Valley Pinot, Chardonnay and Cabernet from Lance’s Vineyard remain Punch’s bread and butter. But from the ashes of the Black Saturday bushfires, which destroyed the 2009 crop, rose a phoenix or two from further afield. Friends wrote to ask what they could do to help. The response: Sell us some grapes.
Hence the Friends of Punch range which includes this unusual beauty, the fruit for which came from Beechworth’s celebrated Warner Vineyard. It’s a pétillant naturel wine – “pet nat” to the cool cats – made using the méthode rurale (aka méthode ancestrale), described by James as “the oldest, simplest, and purest way to make a sparkling wine”. In this case, it meant fermenting Chardonnay juice most of the way to dryness (leaving about 18g/l residual sugar) in stainless steel before transferring to bottle to complete the fermentation, with the resulting CO2 trapped for a natural fizz. The wine spent about 18 months on yeast lees, so what you’re left with is a bottle-conditioned sparkling wine – a slightly turbid, rustic thing that’ll throw a crust. But when all’s said and done, it merits two important and aimed-for epithets: “delicious” and “wine”.
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Friends of Punch Rurale Chardonnay 2012 Beechworth, Victoria

Cloudy straw in colour, the nose bears the expected stamp of its yeasty upbringing but there’s plenty of orchard fruit and biscuit enticing you to tuck in. The bead is creamy and relatively coarse and the texture across the palate thickish, though the wine has intensity and depth without being the least bit lumbering. Good fizz livens up the gorgeous Chardonnay fruit, apples and peach wrapped in brioche, culminating in an apple danish send-off. Drink with hog roast or scallops with pancetta.

Costs $22 from the Punch website – Alcohol 13% – Tasted 23/09/13 – Crown seal

Salo To The Angels

Each night, I bury my love around you
You’re linked to my innocence

A little creepy? Don’t worry: nothing creepy about this wine. Intriguing, yes, but really this lyric from the Interpol track Say Hello to the Angels serves only to provide a clever-looking headline. If you read this far, no harm done. If you listen to the song – and, even better, drink this wine – much good done.
We had this Chardonnay at a blind tasting for friends curated by Cameron Hogarth of Chateau Yering. Cam chose as his theme leftfield acts by Yarra Valley winemakers, and this was my white of the night.
One half of Salo is Steve Flamsteed, who can’t put a foot wrong at Innocent Bystander. And don’t even get me started on Giant Steps; if the feeling ever sets in that single-vineyard wines are a me-too exercise, return to these. The sites have something to say and are beautifully articulate. In fact the Applejack Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012 probably spoke to me more persuasively than any other Aussie red this year.
The other half is Dave Mackintosh, a winemaker of Kiwi/Scottish extraction who used to tread those Giant Steps. Mackintosh now spearheads Ar Fion, which translates as ‘our wine’ in Scottish Gaelic. He was last month a Young Gun of Wine finalist, in recognition of his vision and vino.
This wine was a joy to share. If you wanted to think about it, there was substance. But if you shut up and let go, it led you a merry dance. Great, gut-feel winemaking.
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Salo Chardonnay 2011 Yarra Valley

I found a lot of noise on the nose, with lemon curd and cashew wafting through a lees-and-banana funk. Then a clean and intense palate of apple, lemon, spicy melon, fleshy nectarine, nuts and marzipan. The mouthfeel is silky with generous curves, and it’s shot through with a beam of acid and minerality. Alive and dynamic, a wine to keep you guessing and drinking. Excellent Chardonnay.

Price: $40 from Barrique Wine Store, Healesville – Alcohol 13% – Tasted 04/11/13