Whether it’s champagne – “Bolly sweetie..” – or a more modest bottle of bubbles, there’s no better month than December to add some sparkle to your life. So, in the name of ‘research’, we’ve driven 40 kms east of Melbourne to the picturesque Yarra Valley to get some sparkly tasting tips.
Sweeping manicured valleys, distant smoky ridge lines, sheep nibbling on parchment grasslands, the Yarra Valley offers the service and sophistication of a metropolis with pastoral pleasures. Home to a golden triangle of wineries, its cool micro-climate produces elegant sparkling wines, crisp Chardonnays and smooth-as-silk Pinot Noirs and gutsy Cabernet Sauvignons.
A self-guided ramble is one of the most popular ways to roam the Valley and we start where it all began in 1838 at Victoria’s first vineyard, Yering Station.
Visiting wine aficionados from Asia and Europe line-up along a century old wooden bar at the historic winery building.
At the adjacent Produce Store, local larder luxuries are showcased or can be shared as a tasting plate upstairs at Matt’s Bar, a casual lounge with panoramic views over the vineyard.
Taking it one step further, TarraWarra gives visitors a snapshot of art, food and wine from a uniquely Australian point of view. Standing in the elegant Alan Powell-designed TarraWarra Museum of Art, vistas of countryside, vineyard and dams are artfully framed along with exhibited works. Changing seasons are reflected in its approach to art and food with exhibitions and menus created to complement the calendar while its Estate Pinot Noir is consistently listed in critics’ top 100 wines.
The region’s cool valleys, hillsides and the influence of the Great Southern Ocean make it perfect for growing grapes with elegance and freshness. Nowhere is this better experienced than at Domaine Chandon’s cellar door where a range of wines are expertly matched at the seafood, anti pasta and cheese bars. With such tasty treats, it’s little wonder Domaine Chandon attracts 120,000 visitors a year.
Observing the beads rise in a glass of bubbly while experiencing its effervescent colour and yeasty aroma as it gently swirls around the glass, the riddle of how the bubbles get into the bottle is solved. As the yeast ferments the added sugar, carbon dioxide gas dissolves into the bottled wine. This is when the time-honoured profession of turning the bottles, known as riddling, to disgorge the yeast takes place. We discover this while walking the riddling hall’s 50m length lined with 52,000 bottles of Prestige Cuvee ready for sparkling occasions.
Sparkling Tasting Tips
· Sparkling wines are created to excite all the senses so hold the flute by the stem to keep the glass cool.
· Watch the bubbles rise and experience the effervescent colour.
· Gently swirl the wine around the glass and smell the yeasty aroma, the character of the wine.
· Look for bubbles around the rim of the glass; fine beads are an indication of a good sparkling wine.
· Roll wine in the mouth and dispel discreetly into individual spittoon.
The Yarra Valley is a 50 minute drive northeast of Melbourne’s CBD and offers food and wine trails, atmospheric cellar dinners, celebrity chef cooking classes and concerts amongst the vines. www.visityarravalley.com.au
Meet, Eat and Sleep
· Chateau Yering Historic Homestead is Australia’s only member of the Relais & Chateaux group and has an impeccable pedigree, spacious suites and an elegant dining room where executive chef Matthew Macartney’s food is imaginatively enticing. 42 Melba Highway, Yering. T (03) 9237 3333 www.chateauyering.com.au
· Stay and play at The Sebel Heritage where local vineyards get stiff competition from the Jack Nicklaus-designed championship golf course, retreat and spa center. Heritage Avenue, Chirnside Park T (03) 9760 3333 www.mirvachotels.com.au
Yering Station: www.yering.com
Domaine Chandon: www.domainechandon.com.au
Must See and Do
· Take a pre-dawn hot air balloon ride over the Yarra Valley with Global Ballooning (03) 9428 5703
· Fill-up a picnic hamper with Yarra Valley produce from Healesville Harvest, 256 Maroondah Highway, Healesville (03) 5962 2044
· Line your stomach with hearty fare from Yarra Valley Dairy Café, McMeikans Road, Yering
· Enjoy a concert amongst the vines at Rochford Winery: www.rochfordwines.com
· Experience some wild life encounters at Healesville Sanctuary: www.zoo.org.au