Yarra Valley White Wine Varieties
Widely regarded as the Yarra Valleys premium grape variety for the production of white wine, this grape variety, formerly thought of as grape that was all about commercial production methods rather than vineyard and and growing conditions has made a remarkable comeback. This once darling of the Australian wine industry that consumers embraced then turned their backs on is now back in fashion, but in an all together different and premium outfit.
Yarra Chardonnay was always cut from a different cloth compared to the really commercial examples produced by the big companies predominantly from fruit grown along the western half of the Murray River, but until the late 1990’s and early 2000’s most Chardonnays from the Yarra had a fleshiness and richness that, once again was a slightly more elegant style than that produced in other parts of Australia.
Since the early 2000’s a number of Yarra producers started to work towards a much more fine boned, restrained style of Chardonnay. As, over this decade, these chardonnays lost more and more weight, and were also subjected to much less oak flavour and other winemaking techniques that drive the flavour outcomes. The responsible winemakers detected that the resulting wines, even though they were made in the same way were starting to exhibit differences from each other depending on where they were grown. Chardonnay started to look like a variety that was responsive to growing conditions and vineyard.
Yarra Valley winemakers started searching for vineyards that would grow chardonnay with even greater character, a pursuit that lead to the most experimental and inquisitive of the winemakers looking to vineyards in the cooler, higher altitude vineyards of the southern side of the Yarra Valley.
Somewhere in all of this period of change visitors to the Yarra Valley stopped turning there nose up at Chardonnay. Cellar door staff and other hospitality workers in the region developed the confidence to challenge visitors to taste the chardonnays before making up their mind as to wether or not they liked them, and they did like them. movement was afoot.
A number of Yarra Valley winemakers were also prominent wine show judges though this period. Over time they managed to convince other judges of the legitimacy of these styles, which in turn resulted in the best examples of this style of Chardonnay winning awards all over the country. Some of these other judges were also influential including wine journalists, and industry leaders in both restaurants and wine retail and they became champions for the style.
After more than a decade of toil, experimentation and determined story sharing, the new, “Yarra” style of Chardonnay became an overnight success. Chardonnay now shares the mantle for the flagship wines of the Yarra Valley with Pinot Noir, and while there are those that try to emulate the Yarra style of Chardonnay, there is sense that other regions versions are always just a little bit different.
New Style Chardonnay characteristics
These wines are much lighter in weight and much less oaky than the older style of Australian Chardonnay. The wines are made from grapes that are typically picked at lower levels of sugar ripeness and with higher levels of acid. The aromas and flavours are much more citrus, early harvest stone fruit, mineral and floral. Some have a faint gun smoke edge. With age, they fill out and take on fresh fig flavours and a savoury dimension that is as delicious as it is difficult to describe.
Producers of bigger and fleshier styles of Chardonnays
Of course, there are still Yarra Valley winemakers that prefer to make a broader and more fleshy style of Chardonnay. Warmer sites in the Yarra Valley, again, those at lower altitudes can tend to produce fruit that has a tendency to favour a bigger and richer style, with more evident oak character and riper stone fruit flavours. This of course is a good thing, as we value diversity of wine styles in a region that is so defined by variation and diversity of growing conditions.
There is a lot of Sauvignon Blanc planted in the Yarra Valley. Most of the Yarra’s Sauvignon Blancs tend to have roundness and fruit generosity that sets them apart from wines associated with the South Island of New Zealand. Yarra flavours include fresh tropical fruit, guava and cape gooseberry. A number of Yarra producers utilise oak barrels, typically older neutral barrels, in the production of Sauvignon Blanc to achieve a more savoury outcome, particularly suited to drinking with food.
Pinot Gris / Pinot Grigio
A grape with two names. Two names suggest two styles and loosely speaking the variation of name is generalised to distinguish between a lighter, dryer and crisper style of white wine (Pinot Grigio) and a rounder, richer and more fruit rich style (Pinot Gris). This grape variety is almost always made in the simplest possible way, so often represents the most affordable of a Yarra producers white wines. Look for the hallmark Yarra Valley sense of elegance and freshness.
Other White Grape Varieties
Other varieties grown in the Yarra Valley include-
Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier, the three premium white varieties of the Rhone River area of Southern France. Some of these varieties have a strong historic context in Victoria, particularly Marsanne. In style, Viognier and Roussanne are aromatic and medium bodied. Marsanne can produce wines that are fuller in body with a honeyed richness.
Semillon and, to a lesser extent, Muscadelle is also grown but are primarily used in blended whites with Sauvignon Blanc.
Other white varieties that are grown in the Yarra Valley include Arnies, Chenin Blanc, Gewurtztraminer and Riesling. An Austrian white variety, Gruner Veltliner has also had some recent plantings.