It’s official – 26th May is now World Chardonnay Day. I’m not entirely sure that it was celebrated everywhere, but Australia and the USA turned it on to honour the venerable chardonnay grape. To get a feel for the action, check out the Twitter hashtag.
Here in Adelaide, we all got together at Qwoff HQ in Hindmarsh to try some of over 100 chardonnays with a bunch of like-minded folk. I took some notes (and some fairly dodgy label pics) to share with you. As with last year’s Rose Revolution tasting, there are some caveats to keep in mind when reading these:
- I’m a wine drinker … not a wine maker, wine critic or wine writer. I drink wine because I enjoy it, not because I’m an “expert”
- Following from that – although I was only having very small serves, I didn’t spit any out … which potentially affected the later samples 🙂
- Everything I say about the wines is subjective – it’s one guy’s opinion, and you don’t have to share it
- It’s what I tasted and smelt in the moment – there’s a lot of things affecting the senses at any given time, and I might have a different opinion of a wine in other circumstances.
As you’ll see (hopefully) from the photos, these weren’t wanky blind tastings, they were informal samples taken in the company of a bunch of friendly folk, so the whole thing was a lot of fun, and we got to try (collectively, not necessarily individually) a lot of chardonnay.
A little personal history: I started drinking wine regularly in the mid-1970’s – sweeter whites (e.g. late-picked rieslings) and claret-style reds mainly (and I’m not ashamed to admit, quite a lot of port 🙂 ). From the late 1980s through much of the 1990s the white wine of choice was chardonnay – BIG oaky, creamy chardonnay. Sometimes so oaky you felt you were chewing pine … and we loved it. Of course the wine fashion wheel turned, sauvignon blanc got popular, and chardonnay (despite still being one of the country’s biggest volume grapes) fell out of favour with us (I DID say it was a personal history – somebody obviously kept drinking it!). I got to the point where I wouldn’t open a bottle of chardonnay – over the last few years I’ve only drunk it when it’s been served to me. Paradoxically I’ve enjoyed it on those occasions, but I seem to have built up a slight aversion to the “idea” of chardonnay.
What got me along to the Chardonnay Day tasting was the rumour that a number of winemakers were foregoing the massive oaking and malolactic fermentation to make what was for Australia a somewhat different style of chardonnay … and I’m enough of a wine-lover to be a little curious. What I found on the night was quite a few chardonnays emphasised the fruit and the natural acidity, with little or no malolactic fermentation, and often reduced oak treatment (less time in oak, less new oak, and/or larger barrels to reduce the oak effect). The result is a zingy, fresh wine, the best of which will live and improve for a long time (indeed, some of them are a bit sharp when too young). Of course, there were still plenty of wines with classic oak and malo treatment, but the ones I tried were subtle and elegant rather than heavy-handed.
So – the wines (in order of sampling):
Vasse Felix Heytesbury Chardonnay, Margaret River, 2009
Nose: grass, pineapple
Palate: fresh, acid, some butter, apple finish
First glass of the night, and it ended up being one of my favourites. The reference to “apple” was trying to describe the tangy pectin flavour you get from a Granny Smith
Windowrie Family Reserve Sparkling, Orange, 2010
Nose: sweet, citrus
Palate: sweet, vanished quickly
Pleasant, not much depth, but pretty. Looks like the only sparkling chard here
And it was, which was a little disappointing. We may not have a lot of blanc des blancs around, but this was a good opportunity to showcase them – I would have liked to have seen a few more. Props to Windowrie for being there.
M. Chapoutier Domaine Tournon Chardonnay, Pyrenees (Victoria), 2009
Nose: oaky, some cream
Palate: dry, thin, metallic
Not very pleasant
I was a little surprised with this one – I was expecting more, I think. Maybe it was too subtle for me, but one of my least favourite of the night.
Eden Road “The Long Road” Chardonnay, Tumbarumba (ACT), 2009
Nose: some oak, melon, cream
Palate: citrus, zest, dryness, light acid, slightly oily finish ( but good)
This is one I was looking out for – I met the Eden Road folk at last year’s Winetech Expo, and was interested to see how the Canberra folk dealt with chardonnay. Was not disappointed; one of my picks of the night.
Petaluma “Tiers” Chardonnay, Piccadilly Valley (SA), 2007
Bit older, nice yellow colour
Nose : some oak,
Palate: powerful, not overpowering, good balance fruit/ acid/ oak
Nice creamy clean finish. Alex says vanilla
Benefit of a little more age than others so far?
Most of the wines were only a couple of years old, and hadn’t really developed any great depth of colour, but this one was beautiful straw yellow. Seemed a little more “traditional”, but well-balanced with a nice depth of flavour. “Alex”, by the way, is Alex Prichard.
Freycinet Vineyard Chardonnay, Tasmania, 2009
Nose: fruit, not much oak, smooth cream after a couple of minutes
Palate: clean acid, good finish, lifted
The last word says it all – I liked this wine (I was inclined to be favourable – it’s from a beautiful part of the world, not far from the evocatively-named Wineglass Bay!)
De Bortoli Estate Grown Chardonnay, Yarra Valley (Vic), 2010
Nose: some oak, plenty of fruit
Palate: good length, astringent, lemon, full finish.
Needs a bit more time
Another one I was interested in trying (I’ve got a bottle of it waiting in the “cellar”). It WAS interesting; I was a little intrigued by it as a tasted different to anything else there. It seemed slightly harsh, so I think maybe a little more time before I open mine. Note: I think I liked it, but it will bear revisiting.
Moss Brothers Single Vineyard Chardonnay, Margaret River, 2006
2006!! Yellow straw colour
Nose: oak, but well integrated, lemon butter
Palate: balanced, clean dry finish after peach and lemon, balanced oak
I think this was about the oldest wine on the night – certainly the oldest I found. I think you could taste the effect of a little extra time in the bottle, this was a nice drop. And please – don’t judge the wine by this photo – it’s a shocker! They’ve got much better images on their site, so go visit!
I’ve had a couple of their Wilyabrup reds, and I’m beginning to like this mob.
Vinedrops The Luxe Chardonnay, Adelaide Hills, 2009
Nose: light, fruit, not much oak
Palate: fruit, acid, residual sweetness
You can possibly tell that by now, I was starting to get a little jaded in the palate – I seriously don’t know how someone can do this for hours on end, even when they’re spitting rather than swallowing (no rude sniggers, please!). I liked this wine, but I was starting to find it difficult to distinguish flavours and smells. Don’t let that paucity of comment put you off – this stuff was OK.
BK Wines “Ma Fleur” Chardonnay, Piccadilly Valley, 2009
Nose: fruit, acid, little/oak
Palate: more oak, good balance acid and fruit. Clean finish, good length.
I roused myself for what I thought might be my final effort for the night, and managed a few extra words. in the end though it all came down to that last word – I can’t tell you what fruit I was tasting, but I liked what I was tasting 🙂
A note on the website – their own site is still under construction, but you can email them from it if you want to know more.
At this stage I decided that I wasn’t doing the wines much justice with my diminishing discrimination (and I was conscious of having to drive), so instead of continuing my unsociable evening hunched over the iPhone, I mingled and chatted with a few folk, and kept my glass empty for a bit over an hour. I was in a conversation with Dave Bowley, and he was very vocal about the next wine, so I returned to the fray for a couple of final tastes.
Yabby Lake Vineyard Single Block Release, Mornington Peninsula (Vic), 2009
Nose: lemon, light oak
Palate: all fruit and acid, oak finish
Almost not chardonnay, mineral overtones, squeaky teeth
This wine is probably the epitome of “modern” Australian chardonnay – not over-oaked, no malo, concentrated fruit and acid. There was flint in here as well, and I noticed my teeth were squeaky after I’d swilled it around (right then I decided I wouldn’t use the electric toothbrush on them when I got home). David Bowley’s take: “absolute standout of the night“. I wasn’t QUITE that taken, but it was definitely one of my picks, too.
Shaw + Smith M3 Chardonnay, Adelaide Hills, 2009
Nose: can no longer smell, but fresh, light
Palate: some oak, not overpowering. Lemon acid drops, some sweetness. Long finish
By this time, the crowd had thinned somewhat, and it was easier to see the bar (see pic below), and I noticed that I had neglected one of the local flagships of chardonnay. As I said, by now my nostrils had almost stopped working, but I caught the impression. Tasting it made me think maybe I should have found this a little earlier (so my notes might have made more sense), but I was glad I didn’t miss it completely.
I gave up tasting completely then, and squeezed in a bit more conversation. The party was starting to wind up, and most of those left were heading into the city for food. Me – I headed home for bed 🙂
Please follow the winery links above to check out the producers’ ranges – most of them have tasting notes that may be more useful to you, and all deserve your support.
Thanks to Justin and Andre (of Qwoff and Vinomofo fame) for hosting, thanks to all the wineries who contributed product, and thanks to Riedel Australia for providing the Vinum Chardonnay glasses for the occasion. There was a live stream of the event, so hopefully that will appear on Qwoff TV in due course.
Thanks to Andre Ursini from Andre’s Cucina and Polenta Bar for the great antipasti, all nicely laid out in generous quantities; thanks to David Bowley (Vinteloper Wines) and Alex Prichard for helping me with selecting wines to taste; and thanks to Sue Bell of Bellwether Wines, Paul Henry the winehero, and Michelle Prak from Hughes PR, for some great conversations.
This was what remained of the crowd just before I left … if it looks like fun, it’s because it was!