New wave Aussie chardonnay

Published by Sally on February 7, 2013

Phil Sexton (l), and Martin Spedding

Phil Sexton (l), and Martin Spedding

As Australia continues to link signature grape varieties with smaller regions, a January 2013 masterclass in London explored Yarra Valley chardonnay and Mornington Peninsula pinot noir (separate post to follow).

The masterclass was led by Phil Sexton from Innocent Bystander/Giant Steps, leading on Yarra Valley chardonnay, and Martin Spedding from Ten Minutes by Tractor, leading on Mornington Peninsula pinot noir.

The style trend for chardonnay in the Yarra Valley (and Mornington Peninsula) is certainly for a leaner expression. “Burgundian” is often used as a proxy description, but I reckon this is unfair to both Burgundy, because it’s a bit simplistic, and unfair to the Yarra Valley, which is evolving a unique Yarra style.

For me, as a generalisation, these Yarra chardonnays have an almost overt sweet, yeasty-leesy core which distinguishes them from drier (perceptively, not necessarily analytically), more savoury-layered good quality Burgundies. In small doses this sweet, leesy core is attractive, but it’s a fine line before it becomes too overt. There’s often more overt primary fruit in Aussie chardonnay, even these new-wave ones.

On the subject of battonage, which might accentuate leesy flavours, though, Sexton said “battonage would encourage malolactic [fermentation].  I see very little influence from malo in all these wines.” Another difference from Burgundy? He explained further “though acidity is high in the Yarra Valley, the malic portion is low, so it doesn’t need softening [by malo].”

Can you taste ‘valley floor’ versus ‘hillside slopes’? We weren’t told all the fruit origins, but some tasted a bit ‘warmer’ to me. All things are relative though.  A ‘bit warmer’ isn’t necessarily ‘warm’.

Anyway, more to the point, some nice wines, which are once again creating interest for Aussie chardonnay, though clearly at a different level from the ‘sunshine in a bottle’ style of old.

Tasting, London, January 2013

Seville Estate, Reserve Chardonnay 2011, Yarra Valley, Victoria
Mealy, leesy nose, lemon citrus fruit to the fore, sweet core (lees?), hint creamy texture. Medium-light body, fresh with almost glycerol sweet note that actually detracts a little – takes the edge of the freshness. Long finish.

Giant Steps, Sexton Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, Yarra Valley, Victoria
Hint of aromatic tar on the nose, though not hugely overtly aromatic overall. Quite full bodied with soft, rounded texture to the mid palate. Quite plush style, still feel the ribs a bit I guess, leesy notes, almost cream cheese. Pretty big-boned wine actually.

De Bortoli, Reserve Release Chardonnay 2011, Yarra Valley, Victoria
Mealy nose, smooth texture, mid-weighted palate, fresh and lemon curdy, with medium body aplomb and almost slippery texture (positive attribute). Feels quite easy to appreciate, less intellectually demanding. Nice.

Oakridge, 864 Funder & Diamond Chardonnay 2011,  Yarra Valley, Victoria
I found this untasteable, really stinky (two samples), despite Sexton’s comments below.
Sexton said the reductive gunsmoke (which I didn’t pick up amid the general stink) is sought-after, adding “if you forget about the secondary characters, and go back to the primary characters, you get an acid tension that knocks my socks off.”

Innocent Bystander, Mea Culpa Chardonnay 2011, Yarra Valley, Victoria
Quite a peachy nose, sitting up and looking around for attention. Smooth and bright core, full feel of an almost burning spiciness on this one. Medium bodied. Leesy cheese notes at the back palate, with sweet core, possibly too much which detracts from savoury notes, maybe. Really unsure about this one.
This was later described by Sexton as a ‘natural’ wine – “from vineyards sites without synthetics; no additives; unfiltered, 50 parts of sulphur at bottling.”

Coldstream Hills, Reserve Chardonnay 2010, Yarra Valley, Victoria
Bright with acacia steel on the nose. Leesy texture with lemon curd in wholesome whole. Linear, integrated, with sweet finish. Vg.

Yering Station, Reserve Chardonnay 2010, Yarra Valley, Victoria
Smoky and aromatically tarry nose, big and bold, full-bodied and erring to fat (tho’ not in the blousy sense of previous Aussie style, maybe more bulky-body – so not a positive attribute for me). Lacks a bit of elegance for me.

Domaine Chandon, Barrel Selection Chardonnay 2008, Yarra Valley, Victoria
Sweet attack, lemon tart, smooth texture, peachy, nice texture. Fresh and still showing in a youthful style.

De Bortoli, PHI Chardonnay 2007, Yarra Valley, Victoria
Coming in a bit tarry on the nose, sweet and full-bodied texture. Round with hints of buttery development (age?). Long finish, rich and dense flavours.

Penfolds, Yattarna Chardonnay 2008
Fruit from Adelaide Hills and Tasmania.
Sweet lemon curd nose, round, silky texture, fresh, sweet leesy core again, Rich, integrated, youthful and harmonious. Long.

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