Monday, December 21, 2009

New from Australia - Yabby Lake wines

Had it not been for the arrival of samples on my door step, I might never have heard of the Yabby Lake Winery.

It is one of the hundreds of Australian wineries created in the gold rush of that country’s winery proliferation in the 1990s. Since then, some have closed and others have been absorbed by conglomerate wine groups.

Yabby Lake remains family-owned and, judging by the quality of the wines, will come through the current cycle in that industry successfully.

You could look up Yabby Lake on the web. Since I have already done that, let me save you the time by providing a tiny snapshot about this winery. (There’s not much more on their website, anyway.)

What makes the wines exciting is the vineyard’s cool climate location on the Mornington Peninsula, about an hour south of Melbourne.

This region has emerged as something of a playground for Melbourne’s wine lovers, with about 30 wineries in close proximity of each other. The Peninsula has emerged as one of the best places in Australia for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. British wine writer Jancis Robinson, who was there for a tasting early in 2009, heaped praise on the wines of the peninsula.

An Australian businessman named Robert Kirby was, in 1992, among the pioneers of viticulture on the peninsula. The Yabby Lake vineyard was planted a few years later. The Kirby family also planted a vineyard in 1999 at Heathcote, just north of Melbourne, a long established viticultural region in the state of Victoria. Here, they grow only Shiraz on some of the oldest soil in Australia.

The resources to get into the wine business appear to have been generated by a business now known as Village Roadshow Ltd. It was started by the Kirby family in 1954 to operate drive-in theatres around Melbourne. It has grown into a substantial media company It operates cinemas, produces movies, and runs theme parks in Australia and in the U.S.

Given their apparently deep pockets, the Kirby family has invested in top vineyard sites and has hired top winemakers and consultants to produce top-ranked wines. For example, one of their consultants is a New Zealand winemaker called Larry McKenna who has a stellar reputation as a Pinot Noir maker.

For much of its wine history, Australia was not known for either Pinot Noir or Chardonnay. Prior to the 1980s, these varieties either were not grown or were grown in inappropriate terroirs. Who can forget the big, blowsy, over-ripe and over-oaked Chardonnays of that era?

The Mornington Peninsula is great terroir for both these varieties. The wines are full of flavour, not too alcoholic and finish with the crisp, bright focus that comes from the lively acidity.

The Yabby Lake wines are represented in western Canada by Renaissance Wine Merchants Ltd. of Vancouver. You might need that information since only one of the wines reviewed here is in the liquor store system. The others are all speculative listings; they are more likely found in private wine stores. They are all worth seeking out. Here are my notes.

Cooralook Chardonnay 2008 ($17.99 in the LDB): Yabby Lake’s entry-level brand, this wine is an excellent value Chardonnay – crisp, refreshing, very subtly oaked so as not to mask the attractive citrus flavours. 88.

Cooralook Pinot Noir 2008 ($20.38). Another good value wine, this tasty wine has flavours of raspberry and spice with the classic fleshy texture of Pinot Noir. 88.

Yabby Lake Chardonnay 2006 ($42.82). This sophisticated, barrel-fermented Chardonnay is a complex blend of six clones of Chardonnay. The wine delivers laser-focused flavours of lime and lemon. The oak comes through as a subtle hint of hazelnut. Even though this is a medium-bodied wine, the abundance of fruit gives it a richness on the finish while the acidity gives it crispness. 90-92.

Yabby Lake Pinot Noir 2006 ($50.98). Here is a full and satisfying Pinot Noir, an almost jammy wine with black cherry, spice and strawberry notes, with a hint of sweet mocha on the finish. 92.

Heathcote Estate Shiraz 2006 ($42.82). Are you tired of soft, syrupy Australian shirazes? Then try a cool-climate take on the variety. The wine is dark, with aromas of spice and cherry. On the palate, there are flavours of currants, cherries and spice. The wine has a rustic earthiness to the finish (remember that it grew on old soils) and good acidity and structure, all part of the wine’s interesting personality. 90.


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