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Yarra Valley, part 3
The wines of De Bortoli

De Bortoli Yarra Valley, Pinnacle Lane, Dixons Creek, VIC 3775, Australia
Tel: 03 5965 2271 Fax: 03 5965 2442
E-mail: yarra@debortoli.com.au 
Wesbite: www.debortoli.com.au

The De Bortoli vineyards and winery

De Bortoli’s Steve Webber (below) is an interesting guy. In 1989 he married Leanne De Bortoli, one of the family, and they set out to establish a premium wine operation in the Yarra Valley, where he’s now chief winemaker. And these days De Bortoli are on a bit of a roll.

Most readers will be familiar with the name De Bortoli through its famous sweet wine, Noble 1. This isn’t from the Yarra, but rather De Bortoli’s home in New South Wales and specifically the Griffith region, where the company was founded in the 1920s. For those with a historical bent, there’s a timeline of De Bortoli’s history on their website. 

The three De Bortoli brothers run things: one is the MD, one the viticulturalist and one the export director. The inaugural vintage of Noble One, the 1982, still holds up, even though more recent vintages are thought to be better wines. But here our focus is on the excellent wines that De Bortoli are currently producing from their Yarra Valley operation.

It seems that many of us at some stage in our lives will have a period where we go through some sort of mid-life crisis—a time where we question everything, introspect for a while, and then realign our priorities in the light of our new found self-knowledge. Either that, or we do the more typically male thing of going out and buying ourselves a sports car or fast bike. I guess it depends on your personality. Perhaps Steve Webber has recently undergone such a transition: his winemaking philosophy certainly seems to have shifted in recent years.


Indeed, much of De Bortoli’s current success is down to the relatively new-found excellence of its Yarra wines. ‘I woke up to smell the roses five years ago’, says Webber, ‘and decided to make changes.’ Webber had spent time in Europe, and this led to a change in philosophy, not just in the style of the wines, but also at a deeper level, with an interest in sustainability and preserving the vineyards for his children.

‘We went through all the vineyards and graded their potential A, B or C. We moved a tremendous amount to organics, and we are pretty strict with what we do in those blocks.  We also moved a lot of rootstock to 101/44, and changed the row orientation in many cases to get less sun,’ explains Webber. ‘We are looking for neutrality in the wine: we don’t want so much ‘sunshine’; we’d rather have the soil and vineyard characteristics’.

There’s also been a move to cane pruning with shoot thinning, and hand sorting at harvest to get the most perfect fruit. There’s also a move towards minimal herbicide use.

In the winery, lots of use is made of natural fermentation: none of the Pinot Noirs are inoculated with cultured yeasts. There’s a move away from new oak, too. Webber says he would like to ferment all his whites in old oak: ‘old oak gives great texture to all things’. Each year he buys 200 new barriques, uses them for $12 wines and then brings them back for the premium wines. The Reserve Chardonnay, for example, sees no new oak.

We tried through some barrel samples, which were looking really interesting. These included a sparkling base wine in barrel with great acidity (described by Steve as ‘Krug base’), a Chardonnay that was finishing its ferment, a Sauvignon in old oak (Steve says he’s ‘unbelievably excited about Sauvignon at the moment’), and a 2005 Phi Chardonnay from high altitude vineyards that’s a joint venture and which is bright, expressive and shows lovely freshness, spice and toastiness. A 2005 Shiraz Viognier component is vivid and delicious, and then, most interesting of all, is a barrel labelled ‘Cornas’. It’s a Shiraz from a really good vineyard that undergoes whole bunch fermentation, and has magical, spicy fruit with lovely structure.

Then it was on to tasting some bottled wines. I was really impressed across the board, and not least by the quality of the new Sero range: these are relatively inexpensive wines from 500 acres of vineyards in Victoria’s King Valley, and they over-deliver substantially.

De Bortoli Reserve Chardonnay 2004
From a single vineyard planted in 1976. Amazing rich, open, complex nose. Lots of rich, melony fruit here with some nutty oak. The palate is rich and bold and generous, with some minerality. Fantastic stuff. Very good/excellent 92/100

De Bortoli Reserve Chardonnay 2005
Some fresh minerality on the nose, which is complex and broad but still tight. The palate is tight and intense with some minerality. Nicely complex. Very good/excellent 92/100

De Bortoli Reserve Pinot Noir 2004
Utterly remarkably, Steve Webber says he picked this at 11.8 degrees Baume. It has a sweet dark cherry nose that’s quite forward and aromatic, with some earthiness in the background. The palate is smooth and elegant with dark fruits hiding a fair bit of structure. Very good/excellent 93/100

De Bortoli Reserve Release Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
Massively structured and tannic. A wonderful Bordeaux-styled wine.

De Bortoli Gulf Station Pinot Noir Rosé 2005 Yarra
Look at the figures on this: pH 3.9 (very high) and TA 4 g/l (very low). A salmon colour, this is lovely, soft, rich-textured and subtle. Delicious stuff in a Provencale mould. Very good+ 89/100

De Bortoli Yarra Valley Sauvignon 2005
Lovely expressive nose: rich, full, but precise (only half goes through malolactic fermentation). A really interesting palate follows which has some richness and lovely aromatic complexity. Very good/excellent 91/100

De Bortoli Shiraz Viognier 2004 Yarra Valley
Deep coloured.
Beautifully perfumed nose of smooth black fruits. Lovely vivid fruit on the palate well supported by spicy structure. Very good/excellent 92/100

Sero Chardonnay Pinot Gris 2005 King Valley
Nice fresh, clean, crisp fruity white. Very good+ 87/100

Sero Merlot Sangiovese 2005 King Valley
The Sero reds are made by cutting the canes of about 30% of bunches at 12 Baume: this simulates a ripasso (drying grapes on mats after picking) process. Microoxygenation is also used. Lovely ripe, pure fruit is evident, with a spicy savouriness and some drying tannins on the finish. Very good+ 89/100

Sero Syrah Tempranillo 2005 King Valley
Wonderful pure, sweet bright fruit nose showing vivid blackcurrants and blackberries. There’s some freshness to the fruit on the palate along with a savoury, spicy twist. Delicious stuff. Very good/excellent 90/100 (Sold in UK supermarket Sainsbury under the Windy Peak label)

Yarra series:

Wines tasted 03/06
Find these wines with wine-searcher.com

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