Mac Forbes’ wines with their early picked lower alcohols and gentle extraction always make me think of those Yarra Valley Pinots and Cabernets from the 1980s and 1990s, before the boom in planting and warmer seasons. Mac being a Mount Mary alumnus does a lot to focus that impression. This is just what I like in Yarra Pinot, still a bright red, perfumed with ferny undergrowth, herbs and wild strawberries grown in a wild wood. Tart raspberries expand as it ends with a wash of still keen acidity, fine tannins and a hint of lemony oak, all more water coloured than alcohol warmed. The whole thing nicely sweetened by bottle age. The fruit weight may not be loaded enough for some but this is about perfume and focus and all the better for it.
13% alcohol which is almost extreme for a Mac Forbes Pinot. Screwcap. Was about $30 on release.
Yet another Yarra Valley Cabernet, this one from under the floorboards. Still a crimson sort of red colour, as usual with Cabernet from the Valley, age is kind. Those distinctive smells of ripe blackcurrants cut with leafy green and a twang of truffle and tinned sweet corn. Little bit of blackberry to add richness. The structure has resolved, throwing a good layer of deposit on the side of the bottle. The gentle fine tannin and ripe sweet acidity that make Yarra Cabernet so attractive are there in good proportion. Sometimes a divisive set of flavours for those who find the green savoury notes difficult but for me there’s more than enough sweet fruit pushing the tang to one side. As the Pretenders sang, special, so special.
13% alcohol. Screwcap. About $30 sometime over a decade ago.
Without doubt the Yarra Valley’s best red varieties are from the Cabernet family. One day the fashion business that’s Australian wine will again trend in Cabernet’s direction, one day. In the meantime you can still buy a cleanskin with a dodgy photocopy label for under $10. It’s from the shelves of Boccaccio Cellars, the food and wine epicentre of Melbourne’s leafy suburban Balwyn where expensive German autos circle the supermarket car park and a long display of Barolo fills a shelf. This Cabernet probably comes from the vines at Hoddles Creek in the cooler altitudes of the Yarra hills and it shows with crisp red cherry and mulberry, a smidgeon of blackcurrant and a leafy edge. Despite the cool, there’s ripe tannin and a good pull of acidity. The ripeness is still there in a sort of Loire Valley way that builds length of flavour rather than width. It’s a long way from the grainy sour green of unripe Cabernet from warmer climates where sugars rise well before flavours develop. Well that’s one view, some will still see green. Still plenty here after ten years. Good honest Yarra Claret for the price of two coffees. The 2018 version still wears flares amongst the floor stacks of discounted no labels.
13.1% alcohol. Screwcap. $8!
Cabernet from a chilly upland part of the Yarra Valley in a hot vintage. Still some purple in the glass and a fresh cut of blackcurrant leaf, cassis, mint with a seasoning of truffle and oak toast. Lovely mouthwatering compression of fine just ripe tannin and crisp natural acidity. Such is the low ph crunch, the flavours just got richer over three days without a hint of oxidation. There really is something special in the way Yarra Cabernet can get flavour ripe whilst hanging onto its naturally delicious bounce. More jump than a happy frog.
13.8% alcohol. Screwcap. $20 a few years ago.
Set in the lush hilly end of the Yarra Valley a bit north of Healesville, Tarrawarra seems suited to sophisticated Chardonnay as well as having a extraordinarily beautiful private gallery which has hosted some of the best of modern Australian art. This reserve bottling from the cool season of 2012 opened pale and surprisingly unwrinkled by age. Spice and oak clear away to let grapefruit, quince and some fancy tickling floral honey combine in both smell and taste. Not huge in concentration but suave in shape and glide. Comparisons may be odious but this grape variety, its oak barrels and making methodology were born in France, so perhaps the Burgundy allusion is unavoidable and just? The acidity has the soft cool elan and delicious cut of its now unaffordable mentors. Thankfully barely any of that reductive spent matchstick that the fashionistas of modern Chardonnay deem essential. Hopefully the pendulum of trend will settle somewhere around this sort of confident balance. Lovely work of modern Australian wine art.
12.8% alcohol. Upmarket Luxe screwcap. $60 spoil at the cellar door.
Whole bunch Shiraz from the cool volcanic soil end of the beautiful Yarra Valley. Sure, there’s some mulchy almost tequila like aromas but mostly it’s lots of dark raspberries, cherries and aniseed tinged earth. A bit of bottle age has helped the typically rich but fresh Yarra fruit swallow up the stalky tannin and crisp acidity. It’s all very svelte and dress circle Yarra Valley.
13.50% alcohol. Diam. $45 a few years back.
Bright purple red, inviting fresh raspberry leaf, sprig of mint and cool rain soaked forest. A mouthful starts quietly as raspberry and plum build and then are swept up in a very crisp acid and pinpoint tannin end. Just flavour ripe but as crunchy as perhaps a Loire or cool year Bordeaux. Some more used to full whack Australian richness will recoil. If this puts on a bit of fat with age, like most of us, then it’ll cut across a cut of red meat with precision.
13.20% alcohol. Screwcap. $20.
A brief Dan Murphy’s flirtation with an own label under the name of a visiting Burgundian winemaker. Rumour at the time suggested it was made by the excellent Gary Mills of Jamsheed renown from fruit picked at the impeccably run Sylvan Vineyard. It certainly looks that way with a lift of whole bunch mulch, then some beautifully ripe dark red fruit and fine brown spices. The palate adds a fine mature draw of just right acidity and the finest silky tannins. The poise of good North End Rhône but with the extra richness of typically gentle Yarra fruit. Tenez ça messieurs!
14% alcohol. Screwcap. $19 on clearance, originally $39 and still a bargain at that!
92 softly mature and just right to drink points.
A cleanskin of sorts from Boccaccio Cellars and so maybe from Hoddles Creek? A wine by any other name would smell as good? Classic leafy, red fruited gentle Cabernet with some serious acidity that’s still just the right side of ripe in a Bordeaux or Loire cool year way. Not sour. Gravelly too. Good mouthwatering drink and tastes like it hasn’t been mucked around with, astonishing for $8. Not going to appeal to those used to big boy Shiraz.
13.1% alcohol. Screwcap. $8.
A stuck record belief, well vinyl is trendy, that the Yarra Valley’s a proper place for the Cabernet family and a bit of a fascination with the Franc member led to this. Opens with a blast of smoky whole bunch, fresh green leaves and dark raspberry to blackcurrant fruit. Across the palate it’s at once light of being and then rich of fruit. Terrific mingling of acid, stem and skin tannin carry the fruit to a medium weighted finish. Special mention to the beautifully crafted oak inclusion which adds a delicious seasoning of savoury spice and a hint of chocolate. If there was just a bit more intensity to the fruit weight and this would be Cabernet aristocracy. For the money though, very good indeed and a bit cheaper than Cheval Blanc.
13% alcohol. Diam. $28 and well recommended by the Fish at Blackheart and Sparrow.