“Sod the wine, I want to suck on the writing. This man White is an instinctive writer, bloody rare to find one who actually pulls it off, as in still gets a meaning across with concision. Sharp arbitrage of speed and risk, closest thing I can think of to Cicero’s ‘motus continuum animi.’

Probably takes a drink or two to connect like that: he literally paints his senses on the page.”

DBC Pierre (Vernon God Little, Ludmila’s Broken English, Lights Out In Wonderland ... Winner: Booker prize; Whitbread prize; Bollinger Wodehouse Everyman prize; James Joyce Award from the Literary & Historical Society of University College Dublin)





06 June 2010



Vintage Cellars Cuts Mustard
Coles Cultists Killing ABC Slide
Hey Hey Hey - It’s Chardonnay


Chardonnay took a long time to hit Australia. The earliest white settlers had brought the best grape varieties of Bordeaux, the French Mediterranean coast, Germany, Portugal and Spain, but perhaps wisely steered clear of the great white of Burgundy, where it snows.

Not many Australian wine regions get snow.

Sir Samuel Davenport (right), of Beaumont Cellars, recorded his belief that “Chardonet” would be a critical grape for South Australia, and perhaps planted it at Marble Hill and Macclesfield in the very early days; we do not know. His beautiful ampelography resides in the Adelaide Library, with his pencilled note from the earliest days of the colony.

The C word seemed hardly to be uttered again for 120 years.

It wasn’t until about 25 years ago that it was worth conducting a comparative tasting of Australian Chardonnays. These would come from Padthaway, Coonawarra, the Hunter, the Riverland, Barossa, McLaren Vale, and the Yarra Valley. They were largely terrible: oaked awkwardly with coarse American and Limousin wood; usually chips.

David Wynn’s Mountadam was also well underway then. Using cuttings from a single Marble Hill vine (destroyed in the Ash Wednesday bushfires in 1983) and the Hunter, and better wood from the Allier, Troncais and Vosges forests, his High Eden Ridge wines were very good from the start.

As were the early Tasmanians, Pipers Brook and Heemskerk.

Encouraged by Len Evans, the Petaluma chairman who controlled the show ciruit, Chardonnay suddenly grew everywhere from Berri to Bourke.

There’s a push now to reverse the wise ABC - “anything but Chardonnay” - trend of the past decade, but this appears to have been hijacked by that small cadre of terroiristes headed by Grant Ramage in Coles’ premium wines buying sector. They’ve decided to show us a thing or two by having some of our better cool district Chardonnay makers prepare 2009 wines which they sell exclusively through Vintage Cellars. There’s no expensive middle man, so the prices are lower.

And the wines are very good.

Starting at the top end for those of us with no money, the cheapest is Emma Woods’s Seppelt Grampians Chardonnay ($19; 88+ points), a tight, steely wine with little discernable oak but savoury twists of butterscotch, honeycomb toffee and cushioning charcuterie fats. It’s your-right-down-the-line salt and pepper squid accompaniment: a lot more satisfying than 95% of the current squinty flood of Kiwi savvy-Bs.

The only one from outside Victoria is the Alterum Adelaide Hills Chardonnay ($25; 92+ points) made by Martin Shaw, of Shaw and Smith. Compared to the sparse Grampians wine, it’s a big step up in complexity, soul and alcohol, the latter factor probably due to the warmer nature of the Adelaide Hills. Its fruit is fresh, fragrant, and tropical, with lovely, lightly smoky oak. The palate is authoritative and weighty; there’s a pleasant powdering of oatmealy tannin in the tail, and very firm, stony acidity. Cook a braised free range chook in a hotpot in cider with onion, capers, and live tarragon, and you’ll be just juicy.

Kooyong’s Sandro Mosele (left) firmly holds a place in my Australia top twenty winemakers, and it’s a reflection of the Coles/Vintage Cellars buying team’s acuity that they’ve squeezed the Ballewindi Vineyard Mornington Peninsula Chardonnay ($30; 91++) from him. It’s a tight, complex, stony wine to sniff, with rusty iron smells as much as refined, juicy pears: Bosc, Anjou and Rocha varieties come to mind. There’s also a pleasant layer of pancetta fat, perhaps from some malo-lactic fermentation. It finishes dusty, stony and appetizing, in a perfectly Mediterranean manner. Napolitan spaghetti vongole would sit it pretty!

To the Yarra Valley next, and Dave Bicknell’s Oakridge Parish Of Gruyere Yarra Valley Chardonnay ($33; 90++ points). This is sharp, acrid wine to sniff: carbide and cordite give leading edge to a wedge of crunchy fresh pear and pithy dried apple aromas. In the mouth, an aluminium-like acidity dominates the tapering fruit, making a receding wedge … while it lacks complexity, it would beat many a Chablis of this price into my anxious glass. It’s long, lean and appetizing; go bouillabaisse!

Thence up bigtime in price to the rk Beechworth Chardonnay ($58; 93++). Giaconda is the grail of most Victorian chardomaniacs, who do tend to xenophobia. 09 being a difficult year, what with the horrid incineration of the alpine forests and all, this is the only Chardonnay Rick Kinzibrunner (below) will release from that vintage: Coles got it all.

Easily the best of this entire range, it shows true Giaconda form: the slightly peachy, cuddly, squishy fruit, seasoned with the peculiarly spicy Sirugue French oak favoured by this maker. But there’s beautiful astringency, too: an appetising string of acid and very dry red earth tannin that stretches the palate beautifully. It’s by no means cheap, but it’s more modestly-priced than your true blue Giaco. Stewed fowl with fresh herbs; goose cassoulet; anything from Richard Olney’s immaculate Provence The Beautiful cookbook will be perfect.

Such endorsement of the scary big Coles will make me no friends amongst the small local producers of Chardonnay. But they should rest assured that this fine suite of good-to-almost-great Chardonnays will help reawaken your Chardonnay receptors, which is in their interest if their wines are any good.

No other single company but Penfolds can table such a platoon of Chardonnays, but their prices are as mighty as their wines. In the case of these Coles wines, the prices are very good. If you buy a straight or mixed case, you get another 30% off!

Since Coles have “let go” Jeremy Stockman (right), who played a vital role in the selection and blending of these wines, it will be very interesting to see whether they can maintain this quality. Very few independent wine stores have a Chardonnay shelf as reliable and well-chosen as this tight-knit bunch. You’ll usually have to wade through dozens of very awkward wines to find anything like these.

Jeremy is now working as a consultant: most Australian Chardonnay makers would be better off using his blending skills, if these wines are anything to go by.

And they are. So go buy.


Charlotte said...

I really enjoy your writing! Great history & wine reviews. I enjoy Australian Chard and look forward to trying more. Cheers!

Neek said...

SOunds good Whitey! WHich guitar should I sell?