Thursday, August 8, 2013

Perfect matches in a surprising valley

Australia's favourite food blogger Not Quite Nigella, aka Lorraine Elliott, treks across the picturesque Yarra Valley in pursuit of beer, mussels and vintage reds.

Though famous for its wine, the Yarra Valley has several breweries that offer an alternative. And sometimes, when you're away and you're eating a lot of food, the place you really want to eat at is a place that cooks the same kind of food as you eat at home. Serendipitously, we find some of those dishes at Hargreaves Hill Brewery.

Mr NQN goes for the beer tasting paddle six shot glasses of their hand-crafted beers, ranging from a pale, honey-coloured Hefeweizen and their maiden beer 'Pale Ale', to the 'AD', which uses Belgian 'Special B' malt yeast from Belgium. I must admit my pick was their deep, dark stout, for its chocolate and espresso flavours.

And what does 'ESB' stand for? Their 'Extra Special Bitter' battered onions rings, which are served with a garlic aioli and a fat wedge of lemon. They're crunchy, a touch greasy (what onion rings aren't?) but with a generous squeeze of lemon, their crunchy shell makes you forget the calories.

Graph for Perfect matches in a surprising valley

Hargreaves Hill Brewery's ESB Onion Rings and beer tasting paddle

Although we were still full from the food that we ate that afternoon, all signs were quickly forgotten once the mussels hit the table. Bold with garlic, onions and white wine and fresh flavours of parsley this came with two large slices of char-grilled bread, nice and smoky from the grill. The mussels were tender, and spooning these up with the vivid pomodoro sauce and bread reminded me of home.

Next we have the gnocchi. It's larger and a tad heavier than the one I make at home, served with a flavoursome mix of wild mushrooms, bacon, walnuts, Persian feta cheese and an olive oil-based sauce. It's simple but the flavours go perfectly together to make a filling, Autumnal dish.

I must admit one of my weaknesses is iceberg lettuce. I know that sounds awfully odd, but I love the crunch of this simple vegetable. The iceberg, romano and chive salad  is dressed in a creamy dressing and given crunch from sunflower and sesame seeds and flavour from romano cheese and chives.

In the interests of research, we thought we should give the southern-style chicken a try but couldn't have finished a whole serve as it usually comes as two or three pieces of chicken. The chicken is moist and we're given a filleted thigh piece with a thin crunchy coating of batter. To accompany it is not a traditional kind barbecue sauce but something more along the lines of a kasundi.

And if you're new to town or looking to meet locals, Monday nights play host to a Foodies' table, where a winemaker comes by to chat to patrons as they experience a wine tasting. The tasting is then followed by dinner at a large communal table where diners can chat and meet each other.

Apart from being famous for producing food (specifically dairy), the Yarra Valley is also known for its wine – specifically Pinot varieties. Yarra Yering has an impressive selection, specialising in reds.

Yarra Yering vineyard

Yarra Valley's picturesque Yarra Yering vineyard

Vines were first planted at Yarra Yering in 1969 by Dr Bailey Carrodus, who believed in the edict 'the vineyard makes the wines'. Remarkably, they are a dry winery, which means they don't irrigate the vines at all. This means that the root systems need to reach deeper in order to get moisture. Across the 70 acres, there are 26 varieties of grape, planted above elevation and above the frost line, some in terrace patterns.

Five years ago, Dr Carrodus hired Paul Bridgeman to take over the wine making. Five days after the appointment, Dr Carrodus passed away.

If you are lucky to get a peek into the winery, you'll find a rather different way of making wine. Instead of huge, stainless steel vats, you'll see custom-made, half-tonne wooden vats. These smaller batches allow the maker to explore the nuances of wine by tweaking and playing with each grape variety.

All the winery's grapes are hand-picked and hand-harvested. All of the grapes are single estate and grown on the property, and all are made to cellar for about 20 to 25 years.

Tasting takes place in Dr Carrodus' former house, where customers can try a range of about 10 wines for the cost of $10 per person – not bad considering the wines are at the premium end of the market and range between $80-$250 a bottle. The wines are stocked in restaurants like Rockpool, Quay, Catalina, Glass, Est, Altitude and Bentley Bar.

Yering's signature wines are its three dry reds. During the tasting, you can discover the difference between the Underhill 2007 versus the 2007 Dry Red Wine No. 2, which are grown on adjacent properties on the vineyard. Dry Red No. 3 is an intriguing, peppery blend of Portuguese grape varieties, including Touriga Nacional, Tinta Cao, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Amarela, Alvarelhao and Sousao.

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