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Yarra Valley: Australia's pinot palace

 

 

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Not far from Victoria, the Yarra Valley is an excellent destination for a wine-tasting day trip. While shiraz is what most people associate with Australian wine – the country’s hot climate and old-vine legacy makes it often the best choice – the Yarra Valley is dominated by chardonnay and pinot noir.

 

Many of Australia’s fresh crop of young, vibrant winemakers have flocked to the Yarra Valley, and as a result it is home to some of the most innovative, creatives wines in the country. The cool climate, widely-variated terroir, and easy-going spirit of the Valley have led to some of the most-awarded, high-quality wines in Australia. Highlights include Coldstream Hills (whose 2010 Reserve Pinot Noir won Best Pinot in the Australian National Wine Competition) and PHI (whose 2010 Pinot Noir won Best Dry Red Wine).

 

Chardonnay is the region’s most widely-planted white grape, and comes in a diverse range of styles. From traditional Burgundian chardonnay, to hard-hitting, highly-oaked chardonnays, there’s something here for everyone. Sauvignon blanc, pinot gris, gewürztraminer, riesling, viognier, and rousanne are also planted throughout the region – sauvignon blanc and semillon are found blended for a fuller body in many wines that age with grace.

 

Pinot noir is the star of the Yarra Valley. Relatively rare in Australia, Yarra pinot flourishes. Although tricky to grow in the narrow climate range offered by the valley, successes are magnificent, and in recent years the country has developed something of a reputation for unique New World pinot noir – largely on the merits of Yarra Valley wines. Of course, being Australia, the Yarra Valley is also home to ample shiraz and cabernet sauvignon.

 

The Yarra Valley is also Australia’s premiere location for sparkling wines – the bulk of premium sparkling in Australia is produced in this small region. The sparklings of the Yarra Valley are primarily chardonnay based, with pinot used to add richer flavor, and occasionally a pinkish hue. 

 

True to the iconoclast nature of the Yarra Valley, one of the regions largest festivals – the Gumboot Season – is held not during the warm summer months, but rather during the torrential rains that make the vines flourish. During the month of July, visitors are encouraged to don their “gumboots” (high rubber boots) and tromp through the mud and rain from winery to winery and restaurant to restaurant. Wineries have open fires, and winemakers are especially open during this season to speaking with visitors about their wines. It is truly a unique experience.