Thursday, 5 January 2012

Wine tour experience in the Yarra Valley: Part 2/3 From France to Italy...

... after a little appetizer at the Chandon Domain we decided to head further down towards Healesville and aimed for Oakridge Winery.

Fifth stop: Oakridge winery

Awarded best winery 2012 by the Good Wine guide, this winery has got it! A family owned winery which combines beautiful views, great food and award winning wines. This is a growing business which has seen its sales increase by 20% from 2008 to 2010 and by 30% last year. The restaurant has a lovely relaxed and friendly feel and the two chefs work relentlessly to offer high quality food.
The aim is for Oakridge to be one of the only 3 restaurants in the Yarra Valley to receive the well renowned chef hat distinction.
There are also plans on the wall showing a forthcoming extension which  will will cater for many more customers, let's hope it does not turn into a massive tour operator industry and lose its charm.

Products to remember:
Chardonnay 864, gold medal 2010 and Pinot Noir 2008

Sixth stop: Tokar Estate
From Italy...

Where Yarra Valley meets Tuscani... It's hard not to associate the Tokar estate to the Italian hills of Tuscani when you first lay your eyes on the beautiful Mediterranean style mansion sitting comfortably in the middle of lavish vines, green trees and colourful flowers.
On arrival, we got introduced to Rita Tokar, the proud estate owner (with her husband Leon) who took the time to tell us a lot about this Yarra Valley jewel. It did not take long for us to realize how much pride and passion filled Rita's heart when she talked about her estate!
My stomach was far from full with a shared small Chandon salad and polenta chips and we decided to stay and enjoy a cheese platter and to share a glass of 2008 Tempranillo (Rioja style of red wine). The local cheeses were delicious and beautifully plated which certainly added to our true enjoyment.
It is (my) custom to finish any good meal with a coffee. There again, in a pure Italian tradition we enjoyed a real nectar accompanied by scromptious homemade chocolate truffle and pistachio fudge!

Products to remember:
2008 Tempranillo (Red), 2008 Joie de vivre Sparkling Chardonnay/Pinot noir/Pinot Meunier, 2007 Chardonnay.

Seventh stop: Dominique Portet Estate
... to France...

Home, sweet home. Allez les Bleus, etc, etc...  As a French wine lover, You can imagine the high level of expectation I had when I drove into the estate. My French senses were all over the place, ready to embrace the "Sud-Ouest de la France experience" in the Yarra Valley, especially when you know that Dominique's dad was André Portet, the régisseur (vineyard & winery manager) of Chateau Lafite-Rothschild in Pauillac.
For any Bordeaux connoisseur you cannot get better than that, maybe as good but not better!
Et voilà... Scorching heat and a "Pétanque" court (The Famous French boules game)  - all you needed to complete this re-enaction of South of France was a Pastis, a jug of iced water, olives and the crickets singing in the background!
However, I came back to Aussie reality when there was no French native there to be found inside the building which was a little disappoiting.
However, Stephen was there and welcomed us with a great "bonjour" and a big smile that made me instantly remember why I love Australia so much.
Ok, Stephen was not French but he knew his wine collection by heart and had the passion and experience you would rightly expect from the winery host.
Marian was invited to try the Fontaine Rosé which unfortunately was a little bit too dry for her.(I personally like it crispy as it was)
When told there was a wine very similar to Bordeaux, I had to try and see this with my own... taste buds! The 2008 Cabernet Sauvigon Merlot indeed brought  me back in time and reminded me that for as much as I like Shiraz,  I seriously miss Bordeaux. This was indeed as close as you can get. Verdict: 10/10...and you know what? For $45 the bottle, you don't even need to break the bank!
I look forward to meeting Dominique one day and tell him "in French" how much I enjoyed my visit there!

Products to remember:
André 2006 (blend of Cab-Sav and Shiraz), Dominique Portet 2008, Sparkling Brut Rosé NV and 2011 Fontaine Rosé.

Come back in a couple of days for our final chapter of our Wine tour experience in the Yarra Valley:
Part 3/3 via... Australia!

To book a wine tour in your own car, call 1300 We Drive (1300 9337483)
We also offer these tours in French and Japanese!

and follow us on twitter @driversonscoot and/or find us on

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Wine-tour experience in the Yarra Valley: Part 1/3 from charming to grand!

Isn't it great when people know what they are talking about... And what better way to know about the Yarra Valley Wineries than to take the time to visit them and find out about their particularities!

Word of caution:
I don't have the pretention to be a wine critic or to own "the" truth about the places we visited. Views are my own and are for the sole purpose of sharing my personal experience with you. The best way to make your own opinion about the Yarra Valley wineries is probably to call 1300 We Drive and and let us drive you and your car there! 

This first blog will focus on the stretch from Coldstream to Healesville via the Maroondah Highway.

Marian and I have both been a couple of times on organized wine tours to the Yarra valley but for some reason our memories from the places we visited seemed to have gone a little blurr - blame the wine, I'll say!
This time we take a note pad, a camera and... the breathalizer (just in case although we will limit the tasting to the very limited essential in order to remain way below the 0.5 legal limit!)

On a scorching 38 degres day we decided to head for the Yarra Valley and meet with the "locals" in order to perfect our knowledge of this magnificient region and discover some of its 80 wineries.

First stop: Coldstream Brewery

You could easily miss this place whislt driving through Coldstream as the front window is not particularly spectacular.
However, as soon as you step in the atmosphere is friendly, warm and buzzing and you will be struggling to find a seat at lunchtime on a hot day.
Hard to tell if the place was filled with local beer lovers or visitors stopping by but it certainly had that nice feel with very friendly staff moving around swiftly with massive jugs... of beer of course!

Special mention to the homemade pizza and the little water fountain on the wall... Oh, and great air conditionning system!

Products to remember:
Coldstream Pilsner, Coldstream Pale Ale, Coldstream cider (Gluten free) and a wide variety of local lagers.

Second stop: St Hubert's Winery

First impression: Charming and convivial! We arrive to a lovely little lake surrounded by very neat grounds, few trees and of course vines, vines and more vines! St Hubert's is one of the oldest estates in the region as  founded in 1861 and has won over the years a large number of trophies at regional and National wine contests.
Gayle welcomed us with a large smile to tell us about the winery and its trademark products whilst Marian enjoyed the tasting of a fantastic Pinot Noir sparkling ($30 the bottle).

St Hubert's bases its strong reputation on Pinot Noir, Cabernet and to a lesser extend Chardonnay. Gayle told us they don't really have an old "vintage" wine as they sell out every year i.e. none left to make a vintage product although they have few wines from 1997 and 2001 up for grab!

Products to remember:
2008 Hubert the Stag Pinot Noir, 2001 Pinot Chard Sparkling, 1997 St Hubert's Chardonnay.

Third stop: Punt road Winery

A long drive... few hundred metres down the road and we arrive at Punt Road Winery to read... "Cider sorbet only for adults" on the front door. Now, that's got to catch your attention! Scott & Kate welcomed us and told us about their very own Napoleone Cider. 
Napoleone is actually the Estate family name not to be confused with  Napoleone Bonaparte who was originally from Corsica and therefore had barely  anything to do with cider which was made 1,000 km further up north near the coasts of Brittany and Normandy!

By the way, did you know that the Yarra Valley has a Cider and Ale trail that starts... at the Coldstream brewery?
Punt Road is famous for their Chardonnay, Pinot and Cab Sav. They have a wide range of wines which includes Rosé and Semillon (A sweet dessert white wine similar to Sauternes). They also have some very nice locally made relishes and sauces such as road rage and traffic jam (Sounds much like Melbourne's Punt Road on a Friday night after the Footy, doesn't it?)

Products to remember:
NV Chardonnay Pinot Noir, 2010 Pinot Gris, Botrytis Semillon.

Fourth stop: Domain Chandon

First impression: Wow! When you come from France and obviously have a deserved respect from French Champagne products, you have a high level of expectation for anyone who would call themselves Chandon in Australia.
I will use Marian's words to qualify this place on arrival: "this has got to be the Louis Vuitton and Chanel end of the winery industry!"
However, like everything in life, this may not suit everyone's taste. If you are looking for a romantic, charming, intimate place to chill out in a relaxed atmosphere, you've hit the wrong road and for us the wow factor wore out as soon as we went inside the building.
Busy, very busy, way too busy... Buses loaded with tourists from wine tour operators are simply roaming the place. In the 50 minutes we spent there I counted 12 buses and over 200 people moving in and out. Queue to taste wine, queue to eat food and queue to buy anything. It's big, it's grand but it's not my cup of tea and a 35 minutes wait for a salad and polenta chips did not help the matter. To add to the desillusion, the waitress asked if we wanted to let a bunch of tourists sit a our table as all tables were full and the wait was getting them upset... so much for the romantic luncheon:(
Sorry Chandon but you lost me there! I'll still give you the credit you deserve for the magnificient views and a wide range of great wines.  

Products to remember:
Chandon Prestige Cuvée 1996, Chandon Yarra Valley Brut, Chandon Macedon Cuvée

Come back in a couple of days for our Wine tour experience in the Yarra Valley: Part 2/3
From France to Italy via... Australia!

To book a wine tour in your own car, call 1300 We Drive (1300 9337483)
We also offer these tours in French and Japanese!

and follow us on twitter @driversonscoot and/or find us on