Yarra Yering awarded first place in Australia's 52 Top Wineries list

Yarra Yering chief winemaker Sarah Crowe and the award winning 2018 Carrodus Shiraz.
Yarra Yering chief winemaker Sarah Crowe and the award winning 2018 Carrodus Shiraz.  Photo: Penny Stephens

Tasting wine for a living might sound like the stuff of dreams. But imagine doing it day in, day out, for the best part of three months.

Huon Hooke and his colleagues at online wine publication The Real Review have tasted their way through 10,000 wines to arrive at Australia's 52 Top Wineries list, published in today's edition of Good Weekend in The Age.

"It's a pretty full-on time – I get an absolute flood of wine coming in," says Hooke. "I taste most days during the review period, usually two dozen at a time."

The cellar door tasting room at Penfolds, which placed second on the top wineries list.
The cellar door tasting room at Penfolds, which placed second on the top wineries list. Photo: Supplied

There are moments, while wading through uninspiring plonk, that the renowned critic takes pause to reconsider his chosen career.

"Sometimes I'll be feeling a bit tired of tasting and thinking, 'why am I spending all my time with my nose in a glass?' There has to be more to life!'"

But then, along comes a wine that makes the gruelling schedule worthwhile, like the Yarra Yering Carrodus Shiraz 2018.

Yarra Yering chief winemaker Sarah Crowe in the winery's Gruyere vineyards near Melbourne.
Yarra Yering chief winemaker Sarah Crowe in the winery's Gruyere vineyards near Melbourne. Photo: Penny Stephens

With a pricetag of $275, the 99-point wine spearheads a stellar group of Yarra Yering reds that propelled the Victorian winery to first place on this year's 52 Top Wineries list.

"The top Yarra Yering wines just announce themselves in the glass," says Hooke.

"They've got this beautiful, translucent bright red colour. The bouquet is wonderful; it's intense, expressive and complex, and the flavour too is remarkably intense without being big or overpowering in any way."

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Founded in 1969 by Yarra Valley pioneer, Dr Bailey Carrodus, Yarra Yering has long maintained a formidable reputation. But Hooke says its output has only improved following the arrival in late 2013 of winemaker Sarah Crowe.

"She's taken the jewel and polished it even further," he says. "Sarah manages to get the desired structure into the wines, which means plenty of tannin, but they're very, very supple tannins.

"They're wines you can enjoy when they're young, but they will age beautifully. I can almost guarantee the top Yarra Yering reds will age for 20 to 25 years."

The Yarra Yering Carrodus Shiraz 2018 retails for $275 and scored 99 points in Australia's 52 Top Wineries list.
The Yarra Yering Carrodus Shiraz 2018 retails for $275 and scored 99 points in Australia's 52 Top Wineries list. Photo: Penny Stephens

Formerly of Bimbadgen and Brokenwood Wines in the Hunter Valley, Crowe was drawn to Yarra Yering by the appeal of making cool climate shiraz from some of the Yarra Valley's oldest vineyards.

"We're spoiled in Australia, because there's so much beautiful shiraz," she says.

"But Yarra Valley shiraz is a bit of a hidden gem. It's only about eight per cent of what we grow in the region, so it can be a bit overlooked by shiraz lovers."

Crowe says the 2018 vintage has produced wines that are among the most approachable, accessible, early-drinking styles ever to come out of Yarra Yering.

"They don't quite require the lengthy cellaring that our wines often do. It was a really even-keeled year. It wasn't hot or cold, it was just right. Straight away I was just so impressed with the shiraz. The grapes tasted amazing and I knew it was going to be a highlight."

Crowe says incremental changes have contributed to the improvement of Yarra Yering wines.

"We have a compost program that is really making a massive difference to the health of the vineyard. It helps us retain soil moisture throughout summer when it's really important, but it also increases our soil biology, which is the life in the soil."

In the winery, Yarra Yering has invested in sorting equipment that eases removal of subpar grapes and undesirable green stalk material before processing.

Further downstream, Crowe and her team continue to fine tune their oak regime for a lighter touch on the wines, bringing the vineyard character to the fore.

Yarra Yering led a strong showing on the list for the Yarra Valley. Its wineries numbered eight out of the top 52, placing the region second to the Barossa and neighbouring Eden Valley in South Australia, which had 14 wineries combined.

"The 2018 Barossa vintage is to me one of the highlights, they are just delicious wines," says Hooke.

With Australian winemakers still reeling from the annus horribilis that comprised drought, bushfires, Chinese tariffs and COVID-19, Hooke says the quality of Australian wine has never been in a better place.

"What I really would like is for the wider world to realise how great Australian wine is," he says.

"The current generation of wine drinkers in the Americas and the UK don't realise the quality. It's a real frustration."