Thursday, 31 July 2014

Winery Walkabout

It feels like it has been raining every second day here in Perth lately. I was starting to feel claustrophobic, as I am not an 'indoors' kind of person. So, after some gentle persuasion, I managed to convince my husband that a nice day out and about was in order - no matter what the weather. 

For quite a while now, I have been keen to check out a few other wineries in the South of the Perth Hills and the Peel region ('benchmarking', you could call it). And to make the day a complete round trip, I had discovered there were some nice waterfalls and bushwalks at Serpentine National Park near Jarrahdale. This was my idea of a perfect way to break up the days' wining and dining.

Our first destination was Peel Estate Winery, which is a cruisey 50 minute drive straight down the Kwinana Freeway from our place in Victoria Park. As we took the exit at Karnup road, I noticed an immediate change in scenery. Unlike the scrubby, sandy vista I had been expecting from an area so close to the Indian Ocean, the area seemed more woodland-like with lush, green grass (from all the rain) and Tuart trees abounding. I learnt at our tasting that the limestone soils and coastal influence of the area make for a Mediterranean microclimate.

The Peel Estate cellar door is nestled in amongst the vines of the property in a rustic French Farmhouse styled building. There were even thick spiderwebs hanging from the rafters inside to add to the effect! We were greeted by a friendly Scotsman who sat us down at the beautiful wooden cellar bench. 

Peel Estate Winery
We tasted their three white wines first. I found the Verdelho to be slightly too bitter for my liking, but at least it was a dry version. The Chardonnay had all the right elements - some oak and creaminess with a strong lime backbone. But it was the Wood Matured 2012 Chenin Blanc that really caught my attention. I found strong aromas of lavender and peppercorns in this spicy, aromatic wine which, we were told at cellar door, was inspired by a stint in California (is there anything they don't try with oak over there!). Peel Estate dubs the wine 'a white wine for red wine drinkers', and I would have to agree. The oak influence was there, but was well integrated and suggests some ageing potential.  I think I would need to sit down and mull over this wine for an hour or so to determine whether I actually liked it or not, but it was definitely complex, mysterious and a point of difference for the winery.

Senior Winemaker Will Nairn has a policy of holding his reds back for at least five years before release.  Upon tasting the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2008 Old Vine Shiraz, it was clear that this is a wise decision. It allows the wines to be shown as they are coming into their own; still holding onto some upfront fruit flavours and acidity, but starting to express secondary characteristics such as chocolate and coffee for the Cabernet Sauvignon. Leather and cigar smoke aromas made me adamant I needed a bottle of the Shiraz in my wine collection!

The 2007 Old Vine Zinfandel was a crazy 17% alcohol which was way too over the top for me. It was almost port like, clearly holding some residual sugar, and besides some stewed fruit flavours, I couldn't get much else due to all the hot alcohol in my mouth. 

Finally, we finished with the VIntage Quattro 2006 port.  This wine took me back to my time in Porto, and uses four editerranean grape varieties: Touriga, Tinto Amarilla, Tinto Cao and Souzao.  I have never tried the latter three of these in Australia before, so that was exciting for me.  I walked away with a bottle of this wine which, in true Vintage Port style, should technically be tucked away for a number of years - we will see how I go with that...

As we crossed the Kwinana freeway and headed 20 minutes inland to Serpentine National Park, we both crossed our fingers to try and ward off some threatening dark clouds. Luckily, we had both brought our newly acquired Kathmandu water proof jackets in case of rain. 

Although the track was a bit muddy (and I had one or two embarrassing slips), the two hour walk along Kitty's Gorge was absolutely beautiful. There were lots of little rapids and a few nice waterfalls along the way to break up the hike. I just wished it was a bit warmer so I could jump in some of the larger ponds and shower the mud off under the falls!

I found this national park to have the clearest signage I have encountered in a WA National Park and highly recommend a visit. There are walks to suit all ages and fitness levels and also a lovely picnic area by the river.

The best part about the walk was that it prepared our appetites for a late lunch at Millbrook Winery

Of course, we ensured to go through a full tasting before heading upstairs to the restuarant so that we knew what we would like to drink with our meals. And oh, how amazing those meals were! For entree, I enjoyed the fermented cucumber, sourdough crumbed lamb tongue, confit garlic and Pedro Ximenes reduction.  The recommended red match was the Millbrook Geographe Tempranillo, however I had preferred the Sangiovese, so went with this option as they are were both quite savoury and spicy.  I was definitely happy with the synergy that resulted between the wine and food. 

To ensure I could finish my second dish, I opted for the entree size of the raab and ricotta ravioli, broccoli, hazelnut butter and parmesan. Again, I chose to bypass the suggested wine match of Millbrook Margaret River Vermentino, as I had found this wine to be slightly too full of passionfruit flavours and not as lean and crisp as I would expect in a vermentino (however, I suspect the serving temperature down in the tasting room was too warm, and this could be to blame for my perception). Instead, I opted for the Estate Viognier, which I was aware had some good oak integration and rich fruit flavours, which complemented the rich butteriness and hazelnut in the dish.

My husband enjoyed Viognier braised Baldivis rabbit risotto, pancetta and pecorino for entree, followed by creamed kale, Blackwood Valley beef brisket with wholegrain mustard for his main.  Both of these were beautifully presented and caused me a mild case of food envy.

As you may have gathered from the menu options I have listed, Millbrook's Chef has a real focus on local produce, with many of the vegetables and other condiments being sourced directly from the property. Even the decor in the restaurant reflected this theme, with some less common vegetable varieties artfully displayed and a gorgeous mosaic style painting of a fruit tree dominating the feature wall.    

I found Millbrook Winery to have an extensive repertoire of wines, with grapes sourced from across the regions of Western Australia. There is definitely something for everyone in terms of style and complexity.  As Millbrook Winery is one of four wineries in the Fogarty Wine Group, you can also taste and purchase wines from Deep Woods Estate (Margaret River), Smithbrook (Pemberton) and Lake's Folly (Hunter Valley) from the Cellar Door.

I would definitely recommend that you do not rush when on a visit to this beautiful winery, as there are many wines to taste, good food to eat and stunning views across the lake to enjoy.

To round up, I really did enjoy our little 'winery walkabout'. What the day trip really reinforced for me is something that I am very passionate about: that there are so many 'hidden gems' that many Perth residents are yet to discover sit right in their own backyards. 

Did I mention there was truffle mash?