If you think you know Australian Wine, think again!
The Yarra Valley is an Australian wine region located east of Melbourne, Victoria, and close to the Mornington Peninsula wine region. Its cool climate – especially in Australian terms – makes it perfect for Burgundy’s main grapes Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Proximity to Melbourne has encourage lots of visitors and investors in the Yarra.
De Bortoli Wines was established in 1928 by Vittorio & Giuseppina De Bortoli and rapidly expanded under the direction of their son, the late Deen De Bortoli. Today the company is run by the third generation including MD Darren De Bertoli and his sister Leanne, plus Leanne’s winemaker husband Steve Webber. The main operation is based in the Riverina, central New South Wales, which is where their world famous botrytised Semillon Noble One comes from.
Leanne and Steve Webber moved state in 1989 to set up a winery for De Bortoli’s Yarra Valley vineyards that the company had purchased in 1987. I was lucky enough to visit in 2003 including a delicious lunch at their Italian influenced restaurant “Locale”. The Yarra is now an excellent source of mid-tier and premium wines for De Bortoli.
Steve recently gave a masterclass in Dublin. Not only were the wines excellent and the information interesting, Mr Webber is also a highly entertaining speaker! A few of the key themes included the evolution of wine styles over the past decade or so and choosing to make “edgy” wines.
La Bohème Act 3 Pinot Gris & friends 2013
This is a blend of approximately 87% Pinot Gris (vines from the Upper Yarra which sit in a misty hollow where a lot of the cool air from the peaks flows down to) then Gewurztraminer, Riesling and Pinot Blanc from the slightly warmer Dixon’s Creek in roughly equal proportions. 2013 was the 3rd release and 2014 the 4th.
It is taut, mineral, racy and lean – it only has 3g/L of Residual Sugar but tastes like there’s a bit more from fruit sweetness, until the finish which is almost bone dry. This wine has plenty of texture so is a versatile option for the table – apparently Melbourne sommeliers are going mad for it at the moment.
Steve also makes a single vineyard Pinot Blanc in Dixon’s Creek
Windy Peak Chardonnay 2012
Some new oak used here (conditioning the barrels so they can be used again for the estate Chardonnay) but also older casks of different sizes and stainless steel.
Natural yeast is used rather than commercial, and no acid is added (very uncommon is Australia where Chaptalisation is seldom performed but acid is added to large commercial blends for balance.
In the Yarra, above 12.5% all the green characteristics are lost from Chardonnay, so De Bortoli like to pick while the grapes are still on the cusp.
The oak stuck out a bit for me – another year would see it nicely integrated.
Estate Grown Chardonnay 2012
Although Steve wasn’t setting out to compare the two Chardies, the (sensible) tasting order meant that we did just that. So what’s the difference? As you might guess if you don’t have the memory of a goldfish, there’s no new oak in the Estate Chardonnay – yet it tastes less overtly oaky – it’s just more smooth and integrated. Again the casks are of different sizes giving slightly different results, from 225L barriques through 500L right up to 5700L foudres. 60,000 L is made of this v 400,000 L made of the Windy Peak.
Grapes are selected from 4 different plots on the “Winery Vineyard” at Dixon’s Creek with an average age into the mid 20s. The soils are a mix of sandstone, siltstone and limestone. There is a little bit of “struck-match” reductive quality – this is especially common with screwcaps. Steve is looking for a dry, bitter finish. He always uses a screwcap for Chardonnay, the results are far better for consistency when ageing. After 5 years the development would be linear, with a touch more roundness and nuttiness.
Due to the ridiculously high taxes on wine in Ireland, this premium wine is something like €28 on the shelf compared to €20 for the junior sibling – it really makes sense to trade up!
Windy Peak Pinot Noir 2013
The Windy Peak Pinot Noir has the new oak barrels to condition them for the Estate Syrah
It shows lots of fruit on the nose and palate, particularly cherry and strawberry, but maintains savoury, with a dry finish.
Estate Grown Pinot Noir 2012
This is from older vineyards averaging around 25 years of age. Steve calls it “a bit grubby”. 20% was whole bunch fermented so there’s some extra tannin and greenness from the stalks. Not too much pigeage was performed – probably only 4 punch downs during maceration and fermentation, and perhaps pumping over a couple of times.
This is very savoury with funky and wild flavours – no jam here! It’s a grown up, interesting wine. If you have an autumnal dish in mind then this would be an amazing partner for it.
La Bohème Act Four Syrah Gamay 2012
This is a rarely seen (on front labels at least) blend consisting of 70% Syrah and 30% Gamay – 50% of each went through carbonic maceration, similar to the process used in Beaujolais for extracting fruit flavours without too much tannin from the skin. Steve compared it to wines from the Ardèche in southern France.
So much acidity, this really makes your mouth water – it’s the Opal Fruits of wine. Along with red and black fruit there’s a real dark chocolate sensibility and a bit of an edge. Definitely a food wine – many may find it a bit full-on by itself, but Steve doesn’t mind that!
Estate Grown Syrah 2010
The flavours I got from this included dark berries and graphite – what could be more mineral than that??
This is definitely a Syrah and not a Shiraz, in antipodean nomenclature – it wouldn’t look totally out of place in Hawkes Bay but it’s more Northern Rhône than Barossa. With a tasting sample in the glass it’s possible to read text through it – even at 4 years old that wouldn’t be possible with an inky black Barossa brute.
Plunging is done only when necessary – when it seems like it needs a little more tannin, otherwise they leave it alone and drink beer. It has some whole bunch character – green stalkiness – though bizarrely this was less apparent in a year when 100% of the grapes were whole bunch.
Given the family’s ancestry it’s not surprising that Italian varieties are being put through their paces at the moment, though the team are refining their winemaking approach when dealing with them.
Grenache Gris and Grenache Blanc are also believed to have potential in the Yarra – watch this space for more funky wines!