I recently had the good fortune to be served blind three chardonnays from Beechworth, all from the same year (2010), and all sourced from the same mature vineyard (Smith’s vineyard) situated outside of Beechworth. The thing about blind tasting is it is just that – prejudices and biases are not able to take root – and the results were fascinating. Why? Unexpectedly, each wine was completely different.
This is quite a remarkable conclusion if you subscribe to the theory of terroir – that wines should (a normative proposition …) taste of the grapes grown in a particular place and at a particular time. With these wines, it seemed difficult to fathom that they could have been from the same vineyard. In fact, they could have been from different countries as far as I could tell.
This leaves some open questions about the concept of terroir. Plainly, and this may upset some, it has some limits. My theory is that while terroir can play a role by delivering up grapes of a particular character, this role may not be a dominant one in all circumstances. Based on this group of wines, it may not even be that important in particular cases. In this case, it seems likely that it is our winemakers rather than their soil and climate that are the true heroes. And the thing is, I’m not entirely sure that is a bad thing when the resulting wines are good – which they were in this case. My inclination and gut feeling is to let a good wine prevail over its origins.
So what were the three wines? The first was A Rodda’s Chardonnay 2010, made by Adrian Rodda. The second was the Fighting Gully Road Chardonnay 2010 made by Adrian Rodda and Mark Walpole. The third was the Golden Ball La Bas Chardonnay 2010 made by James McLaurin. Interestingly, the exercise finished with the Giaconda Chardonnay 2010 served blind. Remarkably, in a day of revelations, and as if to prove the merits of blind tasting, it showed the least impressively of the set.
A Rodda Chardonnay 2010 Abv 13%, $40
I understand that this wine didn’t undergo a malolactic fermentation, and the grapes were picked at lower sugar levels than the others. A pale intensity lemon in colour. Its aromatics are developing and pronounced in intensity with initial notes of musk and sherbet candy settling to reveal ripe peach, lemon and cedar. The palate is dry with medium(+) acid, full body, medium(+) length, and flavours of peach, lemon citrus and a bit of heated spice. Reminding of a Corton Charlamagne, this is a very good quality wine due to its long length and balance in fruit flavours, and is a style I very much enjoy. Very Good
Fighting Gully Chardonnay 2010 Abv 13%, $32
A pale intensity gold in colour, this wine has a medium(-) intensity aroma, that is developing, of cedar, ripe white nectarines, some lemon citrus, stones and gun flint. The palate is dry with medium to medium(+) acidity, full body and lemon citrus and cedar flavours. It is very balanced in expression and has long length. This is a near outstanding quality wine due to its very long length and purity of fruit expression, and a smash hit. Very Good to Outstanding
Golden Ball Chardonnay 2010 Abv 13%, low $40s
I understand that this wine did undergo full malolactic fermentation, and was from grapes picked the latest of this group. This showed in the wine. A pale intensity lemon in colour, it has developing aromatics of stones, cedar wood, nectarines, lemon citrus, (what I will call) fly spray and vanilla. The palate is dry with medium(-) acid, a fair lick of vanilla and butter and has probably the longest length of the three wines. Somewhat older fashioned in style, its long length demonstrates its very high quality. Its overt buttery character means that it will polarise personal preferences more than the other wines – and I personally prefer a less buttery style, but I still think its character is very good indeed. Good
And finally, for good measure, here are my thoughts on the Giaconda Chardonnay from 2010. Giaconda is of course the benchmark wine of the region, and I have had a number of superlative wines from them.
Giaconda Chardonnay 2010 Abv 13%. $120s
The room went a bit silent when this wine was revealed. In my opinion, it appeared a wine overcome by (Sommelier types please look away now) its screwcap closure. A pale intensity lemon in colour, it had an aroma dominated by gun flint, with a touch of cedar and lemon citrus fighting through after quite some time in the glass. The gunflint was very persistent however and refused to go away. The palate had an oily texture, with notes of apricot, butter and spices. It had a bitter edge too, seemingly a bit over extracted, and the alcohol seemed to jar on my palate. Perhaps with more time in the glass, things would have come together to achieve balance. For the price, I would have expected that. But sometimes, you can’t wait forever, and not knowing the price or producer, it was not possible to unconsciously grant any graces. Acceptable to Good