Archive for the ‘Yarra Valley’ category

A selection of Australian Chardonnays

June 10, 2008

No grape is more versatile than Chardonnay. Climatically diverse regions produce unique fruit that can be moulded into various styles. In relatively small areas as Chablis and the Côte d’Or it even comes down to single vineyards, where minute details as soil and exposition determine whether a wine can be labelled as a Cru or not. Despite the differences in quality or winemaking, a certain convergence can still be seen: Meursault tastes like Meursault, St-Aubin and Puligny-Montrachet like a Côte du Beaune.

When I had a line-up of six premium Chardonnays from WA a while ago, it seemed to me that – without doubting the quality of the fruit – the winemaker clearly ruled within the limits set by the raw materials and (more often) the market: styles generally get leaner, tighter and more defined. I did the same exercise again with Pierro’s Dr. Michael Peterkin, this time with some of Australia’s best. Not worrying too much about regionality this time, I looked at them as individual wines telling their own story.

The Bindi Quartz Chardonnay was one of my favourites and after the majestic 2005 I finally had a look at the 2006 edition. Bright, clear and yellow straw in the glass the nose displayed intense and rich characters of nectarine, white peach and citrus fruit, following through on a palate that showed more restraint with its usual tightly focused, mineral acidity.

From the tiny Wantirna Estate Vineyard in the Yarra Valley comes the 2006 Isabella Chardonnay. All work in this in 1963 planted vineyard in done manually while the overall oenological philosophy tends to be rather traditional. The resulting wines are therefore of very high quality, fully reflecting the potential of the fruit as is shown by this yellow straw Chardonnay. Initially very shy on the nose, the wine opens up nicely with some time in the glass, presenting intense melon, lemon and nectarine fruit following through on a palate that is elegantly marked by barrel fermentation and lees stirring.

Every great wine starts in the vineyard, so does the 2005 Pierro Chardonnay from our host. Thoughtful site selection, high-density planting, balanced canopy management, hand-picking and even irrigation are part of Dr. Peterkin’s repertoire. The expression of the winemaker himself is what this wine really stands out for though, a textbook example of how the variety can be manipulated to express itself to a maximum without losing its sense of place. Nuts, lees, stone fruit, melon, grapefruit and vanilla are just a few of the aromas that greet you on the nose while frequent bâttonage, 100% malolactic fermentation and barrel ageing have left their mark on the palate. Hedonistic buttery roundness with underlying taut acidity show the balancing act between fruit and winemaking is perfectly executed.

The yellow gold coloured 2005 Giaconda Chardonnay elaborates on the same theme although this effort from Kinzbrunner is as precise a wine can get. Incredibly intense on the nose aromas of melon, apple, pear, citrus, stone fruit and spice follow through on a powerful palate showing astonishing intensity, depth and length. In one word phenomenal.

Leeuwin Estate must be one of Margaret River’s major tourist attractions judged by the sheer number of people visiting the excellent cellar door, restaurant, art gallery and annual concert. Brilliant marketing from the region’s biggest winery that produces an overall solid range of wines. But Leeuwin Estate has got a super-sub called Block 20, one distinct parcel forming the backbone of the ‘Art Series’ Chardonnay. The pedigree of the fruit always shines through in a wine that is marked by one year lees contact and entirely new oak. It’s therefore no surprise that this wine needs time to flesh out in the bottle before it unveils its full potential. The 2005 Leeuwin Estate “Art Series” Chardonnay proves no exception to this rule as I’ve tasted this wine three times since its release, gradually showing more coherence and complexity. The light golden wine delivers the most intense aromas pears, apples, peaches, figs, nuts and spicy oak with an equal monumental concentration of flavours on a powerful and long palate. Again, your patience will be repaid.

From the King of Terroir himself comes the 2003 Petaluma Tiers Chardonnay, a wine that stood out by its golden colour,  unfortunately betraying its forward characters of ripe fruit and toasty, honeyed characters that became more obvious over some time in the glass. Despite triggering an interesting discussion on the amount of free sulphur dioxide after bottling the wine left me disappointed. Regarding the tightness of Croser’s 2005 Tapanappa Tiers Chardonnay it’s unlikely this would be the style intended.