26 May 2011 was “Chardonnay day” in the “Twitter-verse”. For the uninitiated, the object of the day, at least so far as I could interpret it, was to drink a lot of chardonnay and broadcast your thoughts using the “#chardonnay” hashtag on Twitter. I admit I was somewhat sceptical about the whole thing, at worst, fearing it would resemble a unstructured cacophony. Which it did in part, but then fortunately for me, I was lucky enough to attend a free chardonnay tasting well organised by Dan Sims of the Wine Guide in Melbourne. The tasting turned out to be a (non-blind) look at 150 odd bottles of chardonnay from mostly Australian wineries, many of which were benchmark producers. I’ll repeat the main bits of that, “150 odd bottles”, “free” and “benchmark producers”. Life is not so bad 🙂
My general impressions? First up, I was a little overwhelmed. Faced with 150+ wines, it was difficult to know where to start, or what to taste. It was almost like I was plodding around in Dan Murphy’s, and the manager walked up and said to me “now here, you look like a good chap, try whatever you like“. There is no doubt a pyschological term somewhere that describes the slight disappointment in obtaining everything you could ever want. But not beaten yet, what then of the chardonnay? Australia’s chardonnay styles of course differ from region to region. This is no surprise given Australia’s size and the variability of its soils and climates. I do tend to prefer the cooler climate versions of chardonnay from the Yarra Valley, the Mornington Peninsula, Geelong and the Margaret River, but these are not the only styles of chardonnay in this country, nor the only “correct” styles. I haven’t tasted enough chardonnay from the New South Wales high country of Orange and Tumbarumba to know well the styles from here, though I liked a couple I tried. The generalisations I’m about to make are borne from this context.
Tasting so many wines, it was patently clear that the expressions of chardonnay from the cooler climate Australian regions have evolved into a leaner, crisper, earlier picked, less oaked version of chardonnay, their departure now well complete from the earlier fashion for heavily oaked, oily and ripe (or over-ripe) wines. What was interesting, to me at least, was that seemingly all of the wines had evolved in the same direction. I wonder if a wrong lesson has been learnt here somewhere? To me, the nuances of terroir were perhaps overshadowed by the considerable common characteristics among the wines, or probably more likely the grand scale of the tasting format.
With a setting like this, with so many wines to taste, it quickly became apparent that accurately scoring the wines was going to be hopeless. “Sipping and spitting” was absolutely necessary to maintain sobriety. I don’t know how the show judges do this, week-in week-out, and maintain their accuracy. If I’m to be honest, something I like being, I suspect they don’t. In a sense, the tasting was something of an “extreme sport”. Something that was very interesting and engaging, but also overwhelming. There was also the slight oddity that comes with typing away on a mobile device and watching an on-screen Twitter feed, instead of talking to the person next to you.
Below are my tasting notes without scores for the wines tasted.
Tapanappa Chardonnay Piccadilly Valley 2010 13.5abv $39
Wheat meal like, restrained aroma. Some length, pleasant on the palate, but restrained.
Shaw and Smith M3 Chardonnay Adelaide Hills 2009 13.5abv
Aroma of brassy fruit, some oak as background noise, hay. Some length, good fruit, more at the apple end of the spectrum.
Printhie Mt Canobolas Chardonnay Orange 2009 13.5abv $35
A dead ringer for a Chablis. Tight mineral nose, stones. Length, restrained, good palate. Good wine, and a favourite of the set.
Eden Road Chardonnay Tumbarumba 2008 12.5abv
Floral, hay like aroma. Some length on the palate, but spritzy.
Fraser Gallop Chardonnay Margaret River 2009 13.5abv $30
Restrained hay aroma. Good fruit. Appeared a good wine.
Chardonnay by Farr Geelong 2008 13abv
Floral, restrained apples. A bit plain on the palate.
Bindi Quartz Chardonnay Macedon Ranges 2009 13.5abv
Good fruit, opulence, ripe. Good length. A good wine. One of my favourites of the set.
Bannockburn GRH Chardonnay Geelong 2007 13abv
Wheat meal, hay aroma. Some nice sweet fruit. Not bad.
Gembrook Hill Yarra Valley 2007 13abv
Apples, sweet fruited aroma. On the palate, apples and length. A good wine.
Oakridge Chardonnay Yarra Valley 2010 12.8abv
Pleasant, hay, wheat meal. Good but didn’t stand out to be honest.
De Bortoli Estate Grown Chardonnay Yarra Valley 2010 12abv
Restrained, wheat meal, some ripe fruit poking through. Sweet fruit, very pleasant. Layered.
Hoddles Creek 1er Yarra Valley Chardonnay 2009 13.2abv
Restained, tight hay like aroma. Pleasant.
Moorooduc Estate McIntyre Vineyard Chardonnay 2009 13abv
Restrained, pear aroma. Good fruit, length and linear purity. Probably my favourite of the set.
Xanadu Reserve Chardonnay Margaret River 2009
Opulent aroma, good fruit. Good fruit, length and purity. Seemed a really good wine.
Xanadu Chardonnay Margaret River 2008
Pure fruit, apple aroma. Acidity evident, restrained. Preferred the Reserve from 2009.
Voyager Chardonnay Margaret River 2008
Ripe fruit, appeared more towards the tropical end of the spectrum. Density of fruit, ripe. Not bad.