Chardonnays - Oz v the rest

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Cape Mentelle, Margaret River wine region, Western Australia

Cape Mentelle, Margaret River wine region, Western Australia [©Cape Mentelle]

Wine tasting al fresco at Stonier's, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria
Jancis Robinson (portrait by Matt Prince)
Innocent Bystander/Giant Steps cellar door, Healesville, Victoria
Shelmerdine Vineyards - Heathcote and Yarra Valley


The Australians are understandably fed up with all the criticism that their wines have attracted recently. A special feature of this year's generic tasting at the Saatchi Gallery in London was a blind tasting of Chardonnays, 40 Australian and 10 from very respectable addresses indeed in France, Italy, California, New Zealand and South Africa.

What was particularly refreshing about this tasting was that wines selling for as little at £4.99 were mixed up with wines that command prices of £30 and more a bottle. I found the results very interesting indeed. They certainly confirmed the dramatic change in style of Australian Chardonnay. They have clearly all been to Weight Watchers. And note in particular the sterling performance of Jacob's Creek, about which I have written more in Australian myths and realities and Oz wine - dangerously anorexic?

I have published the tasting notes in the order the wines were presented. And I have described the wines as they were described on Wine Australia's crib sheet but have noted where I was unable to find any other references to a wine. For example, I am still not sure exactly which Rosemount Chardonnay was included in this tasting.

We tasters had no clues at all as to what was in the heavily disguised bottles, except that they were divided by weight into the following flights. Many of the bottles were screwcapped but, even though I noticed this only halfway through, I decided this could be a double bluff.  Some of Australia's more recent cheap wines tasted better to me than older vintages of more famous wines - but there were also some disappointing Australians at the bottom end.


Crisp and Refreshing

Andrew Peace, FuturPak Chardonnay 2009 Victoria 15 Drink 2009-12 
Pale straw. Light and mealy nose. Not quite clean? Quite full on the palate and bone dry. Quite a bit of alcohol. Seems very burgundian to me - what Aussies call 'dirty French wine'? 13.5% [I couldn't find any reference to this wine anywhere else.] 

Blason de Bourgogne 2008 Mâcon-Villages, France 16 Drink 2010-14 
Mid straw. Clean and steely - Chablis style. Green fruits and reasonably hefty. A satisfying juicy mouthful that is bone dry on the finish. Texture just very slightly astringent but very refreshing. 12.5% 

Brown Brothers, Bankside Chardonnay 2008 King Valley 15.5 Drink 2010-13 
Sweet and rich on the nose. Pretty and well balanced with lots of green fruit but this seems New World. Masses of acidity and quite straightforward. Quite simple. 13.5% [I couldn't find any reference to this wine anywhere else.] 

Chapel Hill Chardonnay 2008 McLaren Vale 16.5 Drink 2011-14 
Complex nose. Very racy on the palate and with real potential. Still masses of acidity but with a good undertow of fruit and veg. 13% 

De Bortoli Estate Chardonnay 2008 Yarra Valley 15.5 Drink 2009-11 
Warm and mildly toasty. Very Oz style. Cuts off a bit suddenly. Grapefruit bitterness on the finish.12.5% 

Felsini, I Sistri Chardonnay 2007 IGT Toscana, Italy 15 Drink 2008-11 
Golden, baked-apple Mâcon sort of style. Big and fat and not troubled about its (relatively low) acid level. Alcoholic finish. Tastes like Ch Fuissé! 14% 

Ferngrove Chardonnay 2008 Frankland River 16 Drink 2010-14 
Water white. Neutral nose. Chablis style on the nose and then this has quite a bit of fruit concentration on the mid palate. Then a little bit of alcohol. 13.5% 

Jacob's Creek Chardonnay 2008 South Eastern Australia 16.5 Drink 2010-15 
Very delicate nose but with lots of intrigue. Racy but no shortage of body. Well constituted for the future. [Well done. Phil Laffer! This chimes with my very favourable impressions of the current Jacob's Creek range in another recent non-blind tasting.] 13% 

Jacob's Creek, Reserve Chardonnay 2008 South Eastern Australia 17 Drink 2009-14 
Some lees effect on the nose. Very beautifully sculpted. Almost Tiers-like? Green apples on the finish but a good combo of refreshment and mass. Very good New World style. 13.5% 

Lindemans, Bin 65 Chardonnay 2009 
Light floral nose and quite a bit of sweetness and flab. Messy finish. 13% 

Mac Forbes Chardonnay 2008 Yarra Valley 15.5+ Drink 2011-14 
Neutral, rather burgundian nose. Bone dry. A little astringent on the finish and a bit unfriendly at the moment but this could well develop into something pretty interesting. NA% 

McWilliams, Hanwood Estate Crisp Chardonnay 2009 Riverina 16 Drink 2010-14 
Very aromatic and almost Riesling-like. Juicy fruit, off dry, crystalline. Oz unwooded? NA%

Oyster Bay Chardonnay 2008 Marlborough, New Zealand 15 Drink 2010-12 
Fresh, racy acidity and reasonably mouth filling New World refreshment. Adelaide Hills? Rather metallic on the finish. 13.5% 

Paxton, Thomas Block Chardonnay 2008 McLaren Vale 14.5 Drink 2008-09? 
Spicy oak on the nose. Rather dead on the palate. If I didn't see the screwcap top I'd think this had low level TCA.... Lacks real verve and freshness. 13.5% 

Punt Road, Napoleone Vineyard Chardonnay 2008 Yarra Valley 14.5 Drink 2010-12 
Spicy oaked nose, and rather dead again on the palate. Seems a bit like the wine above. Where's the life? But this is more youthful. 12.5% [I couldn't find any reference to this wine anywhere else.] 

Rosemount, Crisp Chardonnay 2008 16 Drink 2011-15 
Very clean nose even if not desperately interesting - yet. Lovely smooth texture and some jewelly crystalline fruit. 13% [I couldn't find any reference to this wine anywhere else and am, alas, unsure which Rosemount wine it was.] 

Wakefield Estate Chardonnay 2008 Clare Valley/Adelaide Hills 16 Drink 2010-13 
Some malo effect on the nose. Quite sweet and toasty on the palate. Pear juice. Lots to get your teeth into even if not desperately refined. 14% 


Fine and Elegant

Wolf Blass, Yellow Label Chardonnay 2009 South Australia 16.5 Drink 2010-14 
Very pale. Very lively and punchy with some real attack. Should develop well. Fine cool climate Oz? NA% 

Cape Mentelle Chardonnay 2007 Margaret River 16.5 Drink 2011-15 
Very pale. Racy. Transparent. Lots of nerve and acidity. Very firm. A wine with a future. 13% 

William Fèvre, Les Preuses Premier Cru 2005 Chablis 15.5 Drink 2011-13 
Smoky, appetising nose. Racy and relatively lightweight. Then just a little heavy on the finish. Odd disjunct. Taut finish. Middle-aged Chablis? 13% 

Clairault Estate Chardonnay 2007 Margaret River 15 Drink 2010-13 
Hint of wet wool. Hint of coconut and then acid. Not comfortable. Too simple. 13.5% 

Cullen, Kevin John Chardonnay 2007 Margaret River 17 Drink 2010-14 
Pale. Very tart yet juicy. Excellent Chablis style. Lovely stuff! Great balance and potential. 13.5% 

Giant Steps, Arthur's Creek Chardonnay 2008 Yarra Valley 16.5 Drink 2010-14 
Rich nose. Well sculpted. Well delineated. Very crisp. Just fades very slightly fast. 12.5% 

Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2008 Walker Bay, South Africa 16 Drink 2011-13 
Deep straw. Rich Mâconnais nose and then rather sudden finish. Very chewy for now though it looks as though it will evolve pretty nicely. 13% 

Kooyong Estate Chardonnay 2006 Mornington Peninsula 16.5 Drink 2010-14 
Very mineral with a hint of wet wool on the nose. Cool and precise. No obvious oak but definite depth and structure. 13% 

Kumeu River, Estate Chardonnay 2006 Kumeu, New Zealand 16.5 Drink 2011-14 
Low-key nose. Very racy and jewelly. Precise and super clean, and just slightly hot on the finish. 13.5% 

McHenry Hohnen, Rocky Road Vineyard Chardonnay 2008 Margaret River 16 Drink 2010-14 
Intriguing nose. Sweet and relatively simple. Clean with very high acidity on the palate. Cool climate Oz? 13.5% 

Oxford Landing Chardonnay 2009 South Australia 15 Drink 2010-12 
Very pale. Rather bruised aromatic fruit. Is this really all Chardonnay? Then it goes a bit sickly on the finish. Hot and burly. 13.5% 

Penfolds, Bin 311 Chardonnay 2006 Tumbarumba 16.5 Drink 2009-13 
Greenish straw. Minerals and real interest on the nose. Mouthfilling and refreshing. A very valid style. Just a little tight on the finish today but it should develop well. Comfy. 13.5% 

Petaluma Chardonnay 2008 Piccadilly Valley 15.5 Drink 2010-14 
Very pale straw. Not much nose. But lots of butterscotch and green fruit interest. A little crude but solid. 14.5% 

Robert Mondavi, Woodbridge Chardonnay 2007 California 15.5 Drink 2011-14 
Lots of sulphides and rather heavy and foot dragging. Sweet start and rather lower acid than many - therefore French?! There is some unresolved interest here. 13.5% 

Shaw and Smith, M3 Chardonnay 2008 Adelaide Hills 16.5 Drink 2011-14 
Relatively rich nose and some good taut finish. Very disciplined wine with real chew and future. The acidity only just avoids being excessive but the wine has real interest. 13.5% 

Shelmerdine Chardonnay 2008 Yarra Valley 16.5 Drink 2011-15 
Very pale. Intriguing nose with real depths but not much in the shop window at the moment. There is some structure and interest here. 12.5% 

Stonier, Reserve Chardonnay 2008 Mornington Peninsula 17 Drink 2010-13 
Very pale copper. Heady, Pinot Gris-like nose. Full and broad - may suffer from being a bit warmer than most but there is real complexity here. Sort of like an Alsace Chardonnay for its weight and fragrance...! 14% 

Tyrrell's, Vat 47 Chardonnay 2006 Hunter Valley 16 Drink 2009-12 
Greenish yellow. Leesy nose. Solid start and it's all in balance even if it is a teensy bit hot on the end. Relatively developed. 12.5% 

Wakefield, St Andrew Chardonnay 2008 Clare Valley 16 Drink 2009-11 
Quinine, bitter herbs and interest on the nose. Rich and rewarding even if it's certainly ready to drink. It just very slightly lacks refreshment on the finish. 13% 


Rich and Rewarding

Dom Bruno Colin, Premier Cru Morgeot 2006 Chassagne-Montrachet 16.5 Drink 2010-13 
Very pale. TCA in the first two bottles (thereby confirming all Australian prejudices about natural corks). The third bottle was clean and racy and competent and very appetising. Good weight and balance. Really pretty good, even if it would long since have been disqualified from any Australian wine show because the first bottle was corked. 14% 

Hardy's, Eileen Hardy Chardonnay 2006 Tasmania/Yarra Valley/Tumbarumba 15 Drink 2008-10 
Butterscotch, rather retro nose. I'd have thought this is the sort of wine that Australia is currently repudiating...? The acidity rather sticks out on the end. Not a very harmonious whole. Very fast fade. NA% 

Leeuwin Estate, Art Series Chardonnay 2006 Margaret River 15.5 Drink 2011-13 
Alcohol on the nose. Easy, smooth. Sweet start. Then very jagged acid. Hard work! [This of course is one of Australia's most famous Chardonnay icons and I was surprised that it didn't show better.] 

Moss Wood Chardonnay 2008 Margaret River 15 Drink 2011-13 
Lively, almost aggressive nose. So much acidity! Almost whisky lactones. As a taster I wasn't comfortable with the sweetness and acid components which seemed disjointed. Perhaps it will blossom...? 

Penfolds, Reserve Bin 07A Chardonnay 2007 Adelaide Hills 16.5 Drink 2012-15 
Green and leesy nose. The fruit has obviously been reined in tremendously. Quite austere on the finish at the moment, but it seems built to last - unusually. 12.5% 

Penfolds, Thomas Hyland Chardonnay 2007 Adelaide 15 Drink 2011-14 
Very light nose. I don't think I would describe this as 'rich and complex'. Heavy and introvert more like. 13% 

Penfolds, Yattarna Chardonnay 2006 South Australia 17.5 Drink 2011-15 
Leesy, nervy nose. Transparent and very refreshing with great delicacy. Juicy and lively and this sails above any oak influence. Neat, appetising finish. ['White Grange' did perform on the day!] 13% 

PHI, Lusatia Park Vineyard 2008 Yarra Valley 16.5 Drink 2010-13 
Green, vegetal, far from unpleasant nose. Herby and interesting. Just very, very slightly sickly on the finish but very good overall. 12.5% 

Ramey, Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay 2007 Carneros, California 16.5 Drink 2011-14 
Pale straw. Clean, putty nose with real interest. Some Chardonnay richness. Carefully constructed? A bit of a committee wine, or least several lots put together? But lots of pleasure here. 14.5% 

Rustenberg Chardonnay 2008 Stellenbosch, South Africa 16.5 Drink 2010-13 
Correct, jewelly, only very slightly hot. Pear-juice flavours, but lots of rewarding fruit! Just slightly hot and chewy on the end. 14.5% 

Ten Minutes by Tractor, McCutcheon Vineyard Chardonnay 2008 Mornington Peninsula 16 Drink 2009-12 
Green fruits and excitement on the nose. Some richness at first. Hint of cappuccino toasty oak. A bit hot on the end but lip smacking. 13.8% 

Vasse Felix, Heytesbury Chardonnay 2007 Margaret River 16 Drink 2011-13 
Mid straw. Leesy, nervy nose. Not much distinction but certainly delivers competent interest. The finish is still a bit chewy. 13.5% 

Wolf Blass, President's Selection Chardonnay 2008 South Australia 15.5 Drink 2010-13 
Perfumed mealy nose with very tight structure. A little astringent and ungenerous on the finish. Perfectly ok but not exciting. Fast fade too. 13.5% 

Xanadu Reserve Chardonnay 2008 Margaret River 15.5 Drink 2011-13 
Very pale. Intense pear-juice nose. Pretty sweet and then acid. Not married. May get there in the end...? But it's a bit sickly at the moment. 14% 


Reproduced with permission. © 2010 2010 


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