Bodega Ruca Malén Yauquén Chardonnay 2007

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Bodega Ruca Malén Yauquén Chardonnay 2007

Bodega Ruca Malén Yauquén Chardonnay 2007

My modest collection of wine includes a dozen or so bottles of what I hope will prove to be excellent wines of Mendoza, largely Malbec varietal wines or Malbec dominated blends.  I had a look through my cellar again this week but since my wife won’t be drinking for another month at least, those wines will have to wait.  Instead I pulled out a wine I somehow managed to overlook previously, this Bodega Ruca Malén Yauquén Chardonnay 2007.

I think it’s fair to say that when most people think of Mendoza, Malbec is the first grape that comes to mind.  While that’s certainly fair, given the iconic nature of the grape with respect to Argentina, the area is much more diversely planted that one might expect.  There are vast tracks of Criolla Grande and Cereza, but they are used largely for cheap, bulk wine and grape concentrate, and as varieties unlikely to be named on a label of wine for export.  In terms of grapes for quality wines, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot perform well, both as a varietals and in blends with Malbec, and as we saw with the Aglianico from Familia Zuccardi, there are many lesser known red grapes on the rise.  Given the excellent red wines of the region, it’s easy to forget that white grapes are grown in Mendoza, and not just the Argentine favourite Torrontés.  Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and even Ugni Blanc are all cultivated.

As this is the 16th wine I’ve covered made up completely or in part of Chardonnay, I should by now have said all I can say about the grape.  However, with Wine Grapes close at hand, it’s worth another look.  First off, this, like the recently covered Auxerrois, Melon, Gamay Noir and Romorantin it is the offspring of Gouais Blanc and Pinot.  While I’ve written about Chardonnay grown in a half dozen different countries, Wine Grapes lists 42 countries, but concludes that it’s also grown “virtually everywhere else in the world that claims a wine industry.”

Another topic worth a quick word is that of clones.  We’ve discussed crossings as offspring of two different parent varieties and hybrids as offspring of two different species of grape (usually one Vitis vinifera).  Clones are vines of the same variety which have built up an accumulation of genetic differences over the course of generations being propagated through clippings.  There are 28 clones permitted in Burgundy, often known collectively as Dijon clones.  The most widely planted Chardonnay clone in Australia is believed to be I10V1, developed at UC Davis and imported into Australia in 1969.  It has tighter bunches than Dijon clones and can show more tropical fruit, but is waning somewhat in popularity as it is thought by some not to have the ability to age as well.

One clone that is growing in popularity is the Gin Gin (or sometimes Gingin) clone. It was brought into Western Australia by Houghton Wines in 1957 and named after a local town, though its origin prior to that is unclear.  The fact that outside of Western Australia is it more commonly known as the Mendoza clone has resulted in obvious speculation it came from Argentina, though it seems extremely unlikely that an Australian viticulturist would turn to South America, rather than Europe or California, for vines.  The OCW suggests, in the millerandage entry, that the Mendoza clone was developed at UC Davis and is also known as 1A but I can’t find any corroboration and it’s not mentioned in the more recent Wine Grapes.

While its genesis remains a mystery, at least to me, some winemakers prize its susceptibility to millerandage (hen and chicks), or a mix of berry sizes, which can reduce yields and provide greater concentration.  Also, the smaller “chick” berries have higher acidity and higher skin to juice ratios.  It remains popular in Western Australia, in the Margaret River in particular, and recently By Jingo! released an eponymous Mendoza Chardonnay out of Southern Fleurieu in South Australia.

Speaking of this wine, it is produced by Bodega Ruca Malén.  While the company’s name is based on a native legend, it was founded in 1998 by Jean Pierre Thibaud, formerly of the Argentinian branch of Moët et Chandon, and Jacques Louis de Montalembert of Burgundy. In this Yauquén range they also produce a Malbec, a Cabernet Sauvignon and a blend of the two.  In their Ruca Malén line they produce varietal still wines of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Syrah and Chardonnay, as well as a sparkling Pinot Noir / Chardonnay blend.  Their Kinien line is made up of varietal Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec, as well as their flagship wine, the de Don Raúl, which is a Malbec / Cabernet Sauvignon / Petit Verdot blend.

This grapes for this Chardonnay from the Yauquén line are hand harvested, pass through bunch selection and then whole bunch pressing before temperature controlled fermentation in stainless steel tanks.  It has not undergone malolactic fermentation.  And while this wine is a Chardonnay from Mendoza, I don’t actually have details as to the clone(s) used, so it could be made from Dijon or UC Davis clones.  Given the French origin of the founders, my money would be on Burgundy, but my tasting skills are not so expert that I can tell by what’s in the glass.

Speaking of which, in the glass this wine is clear and bright, with medium lemon colour and quick legs.  On the nose it’s clean and developing, with medium plus intensity and notes of lemon curd, mushrooms, grapefruit, and hints of oak (though this wine was bottled without seeing the inside of a barrel).  The palate is dry with medium plus acidity, medium body, medium alcohol, medium plus flavour intensity and medium length.  There are notes of grapefruit, quince, lemon, mushroom, and a hint of mint with a slightly candied lime finish.

This is a good wine.  While it’s still developing, I think I’ve left it too long.  Based on the steel treatment and lack of malolactic fermentation I suspect it would have been better fresh.  It hasn’t fallen apart, though, and it’s certainly picked up some complexity.  However, in doing so it’s lost some typicity and has drifted more toward the flavour profile I would expect from an older Sauvignon Blanc / Semillon blend.

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Karia Chardonnay 2009

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Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Karia Chardonnay 2009

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Karia Chardonnay 2009

Politics has no place in this blog, but I couldn’t help notice that there were quite a few people talking about the USA yesterday.  So in the spirit of trying to stay topical, I have a wine from California, the Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Karia Chardonnay 2009.

I wrote about Stag’s Leap, Stags’ Leap and Stags Leap back in April, but here’s a quick recap.  There is a set of peaks in Napa, California that is commonly known as Stags Leap Palisades after a local legend involving an elusive deer.  Two wineries in the region were founded in the same year and had competing claims to the name.  After some wrangling, they settled on Stag’s Leap for one and Stags’ Leap for the other (note the apostrophe), with the area as a whole eventually being recognized as the Stags Leap District American Viticultural Area.  The producer I reviewed in April was Stags’ Leap, which is perhaps slightly less famous than its neighbour, but more commonly found in Australia because it is owned by Treasury Wine Estates.  Today, we’re on to the one more likely to be the topic in wine studies.

Stag’s Leap, or as it is more properly known Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, was established in 1970 by Warren Winiarski as the Napa Valley was emerging from its Prohibition induced slumber.  Time spent in Naples and work at Robert Mondavi’s winery motivated Winiarski to found his own winery.  He produced his first vintage in 1972 with the help of Andre Tchelistcheff, described in the Oxford Companion to Wine as “founding father of the modern California wine industry”.

The second vintage of 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon was one of the wines picked for a tasting  in 1976 by Steven Spurrier, a British wine merchant based in Paris (and now something of an institution in the British wine trade).  Now commonly known as the Judgement of Paris and the subject of books and a film, wines of California were tasted blind alongside red wines of Bordeaux and Burgundian whites by highly regarded French judges.  Much to the dismay of some of the judges, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon was picked as the top red and Chateau Montelena (also of Napa) as the top white, beating out counterparts from some of the finest French producers.  While largely dismissed in France, the tasting proved a turning point in establishing Napa as a source of high quality wine.  While the significance has been debated and contested ever since, subsequent tastings of the same wines have shown the Californian reds at least as age worthy as their French rivals.

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars expanded from the initial Stag’s Leap Vineyard (S.L.V.) by purchasing first the neighbouring Fay vineyard from Michael Fay, another Napa legend, and then the Arcadia vineyard from Mike Grgich, winemaker at the aforementioned Chateau Montelena.  The winery and most of the vineyards were sold in 2007 by Winiarski, 79 at the time, to Chateau Ste. Michelle of Washington and Marchesi Antinori Srl (of Super Tuscan fame) in 2007.

Today the company produces estate and single vineyard wines, including the Cabernets Sauvignon Cask 23, S.L.V and Fay as well as the Arcadia Chardonnay.  They also produce wines from fruit sourced throughout Napa, including their Artemis Cabernet Sauvignon, a Merlot, a Sauvignon Blanc and this Chardonnay.

While I’ve written about both California and Chardonnay many times, this is the first California Chardonnay to grace this blog, so it deserves a word or two.  California’s wine history dates back to the 19th century, but Chardonnay didn’t start to make its mark until much later.  The earliest plantings date from the 1800s but it wasn’t until a century later that the variety began to be popularized and then mushroomed after the Judgement of Paris in 1976, becoming the most widely planted grape in California.  While styles ranged from warm climate, fruity, tank fermented versions to butterscotch, barrel fermented wines, California Chardonnays initially established themselves with a reputation for being big and unsubtle.  As the industry matured, more refined styles emerged, and examples may be found to suit most tastes.  This wine is in something of a moderate style, with ageing being split 1/3rd in steel and 2/3rds in oak, with only a portion of the wine undergoing malolactic fermentation.

In the glass this wine is clear and bright, with a pale lemon yellow colour and quick, thin legs.  On the nose it’s clean and developing, with medium plus intensity, and aromas of oak, lemon, green apple, some floral notes, and a hint of melon.  On the palate it’s dry, with medium plus acidity, medium plus alcohol, medium plus intensity, medium body, and medium plus length.  The oak was very strong initially when the wine was likely too cold, but much better after some time, with citrus emerging as well as more of the floral and melon notes from the nose. Subsequently some grapefruit and honey characters emerged.

This is a very good wine.  It is well balanced, with the acidity, alcohol and intensity all being fairly strong.  The flavour profile is very pleasing and fresh, despite it being a three year old white wine, and the slight honey note gives a hint as to how this wine may continue to improve with time.

JoieFarm Reserve Chardonnay 2009

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JoieFarm Reserve Chardonnay 2009

JoieFarm Reserve Chardonnay 2009

Apologies for the long delay in posting since I arrived in Canada. I have such a wealth of topics before me that I hardly know where to begin. That’s actually been a bit of a problem, in that the first few wines I tried here would have required discussion of not just new regions, but also new grapes and possibly even winemaking styles. So while I’ll certainly get to those wines, I’m making things a bit easier on myself and sticking with an old favourite as far as grapes go with this JoieFarm Reserve Chardonnay 2009.

Having spent so much of my time learning about wines in Australia, it’s liberating to walk into a Canadian wine shop. There’s certainly no shortage of Australian wine on the shelves here, but they’re joined by a huge collection of wines from both the Old World and the New, and in particular many wines from Canada and California. And while I look forward to writing about some interesting wines that are not so widely available in Australia, it would be poor manners to begin with anything other than a Canadian wine.

Yes, wine is produced within Canada. The most famous is certainly Inniskillin Ice Wine from Niagra-on-the-Lake in Ontario, but wine is made across Canada including several parts of British Columbia. The most prominent wine region in the vicinity of Vancouver is the Okanagan Valley, accounting for 90% of BC production, and which is sometimes known as just the Okanagan outside the context of wine.

Roughly 400km to the east of Vancouver as the crow flies, the Okanagan Valley is the area surrounding the lake and river of the same name. While the first vines were planted by missionaries in the 19th century, it’s best described as an up and coming wine region, with commercial plantings of Vitis vinifera having been established only as recently as 1975. As with many cool to cold areas outside of mainland Europe, early efforts at viticulture started with hybrids of European and North American grapes, such as Vidal Blanc, but through the 1980s the focus shifted to Alsatian and German varieties such as Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Riesling, and Gewürtztraiminer that were then bred specifically to cope with the cold conditions. Since then, as specific terroirs have become better understood, a much wider range of varieties have been planted, and the area is also now known for Bordeaux blends and Syrah.  Merlot is the most widely planted variety, followed by Chardonnay, with Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinots Gris, Blanc and Noir rounding out the top six.

The climate is continental, though mitigated by the lake and river. It is also in the rain shadow of the Cascade and Coast Mountains, making much of the area, particularly in the south, inhospitable to vines without irrigation. Parts of the region are frequently described as a desert.  While cold winters make frost a danger, the distance from the Equator means summer days of the ripening season are particularly long.  The soils are varied, with gravel, sand and silt making up much of the topsoil over different types of bedrock.

I don’t have anything to say about Chardonnay that I haven’t already said, so let’s look at JoieFarm.  It’s a small producer founded by two sommeliers who got married and ran off to make wine.  While I love sommeliers, and they have a great story, I’m glad they made a wise call and hired in an actual winemaker to round out the team.  It looks as though 2009 was in fact their first vintage and they are dedicated to white and rosé wines of Burgundian and Alsatian varieties (though they produce some red as well).  They grow a small amount of Gewürtztraiminer and Muscat and buy in grapes from a dozen producers.  In addition to this wine and an un-oaked Chardonnay, they produce varietal Riesling and Pinot Blanc, an Alsatian inspired white blend, a blend of two types of Muscat, a rosé of Gamay and Pinots Gris, Noir and Meunier, and a Pinot Noir / Gamay Passetoutgrain blend.

As to this wine in the glass, it’s clear and bright with a pale lemon colour and thick legs.  On the nose it’s clean and developing with notes of green apple, oak, smoke and some nuttiness.  On the palate it’s dry with medium plus acidity, medium alcohol, medium plus body, medium plus intensity, and a medium plus finish.  There are notes of smoke, sawdust, tart green apple but also some sweet apple skin, and some minerality.

This is a good wine.  I want to like it more than my notes will allow in that it’s from an area that’s new to me, it has a fun story behind it, and I can’t help but like anyone who makes a Passetoutgrain outside of Burgundy.  The wine itself has good concentration and length, but I can’t go any higher than good because it lacks complexity.  It tastes as though the vast majority of the wine was made from apples and oak, and as someone who enjoys cider I don’t mean that in a bad way.  If it were from Chablis I would want more steel, from Macon I would want more richness, and if it were from the Adelaide Hills I would want a range of citrus.  That said, good is certainly a step up from acceptable and a worthy score for what I think is a fine first effort.

Gilbert Picq & ses Fils Chablis 2009

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Gilbert Picq & ses Fils Chablis 2009

Gilbert Picq & ses Fils Chablis 2009

My visit to Burgundy at the start of a tour through France was certainly memorable, from visiting the vineyards of DRC to the winery tour at Dubœuf.  Unfortunately with only so much time, it’s impossible to visit all the places one would like, and regrettably I didn’t get to Chablis.  Fortunately, Chablis is widely available internationally, and today’s wine is the Gilbert Picq & ses Fils Chablis 2009.

Burgundy is a region that rewards closer inspection, and specialist knowledge can demand detailed information not just down to specific villages but indeed down to who owns which row of vines in which vineyard.  With that intensity of focus, it’s no wonder that in the study of Burgundy, sometimes entire regions can be overlooked or forgotten.  It most frequently happens with Beaujolais – I have a map supplied by the Bourgogne Conseil Régional that notes the region as being south of Macon but apparently there was not enough room on the paper to include it.  The map does include Chablis, and while there is an argument to be made that Burgundy and Beaujolais would be better thought of as separate regions, it is a far less common sentiment with regards to Chablis.

That said, even a quick look at a map reveals the geographic distance between Chablis and the rest of Burgundy, and it could just as easily have been included with Champagne or the Loire’s Central Vineyards of Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé.  However, in terms of wines, the still, varietal Chardonnays of Chablis are a better match for the other white regions of Burgundy despite the distance.

The region has a continental climate, and a cool to cold one at that.  While summers can be hot at times, winters are typically very cold and spring frosts through May are one of the biggest factors in vintage variation.  They can impact not just the quality of the vintage, but in extreme cases whether or not there is a vintage.  So potent is the threat that since the 1950s various approaches have been pioneered to help the vines survive frosts, from heating units in the form of smudge pots to aspersion, or the spraying of water droplets to form a protective layer of insulating ice on the vines, preventing serious damage.  Both approaches have their drawbacks, in terms of cost and effectiveness respectively.  I’m also somewhat surprised that aspersion is permitted given its resemblance to irrigation.  (I am kidding).

Chablis is largely based on a highly sought-after soil type known in English as Kimmeridgian (sometimes Kimmeridgean), or argilo-calcaire in French.  Named after Kimmeridge, a town in Dorset, England, it is typically a mix of clay and limestone fossils dating back to an identically named stage in the Upper Jurassic epoch.

In terms of the Chablis appellation, established in 1938, Chardonnay is the only permitted grape, and there is a hierarchy of classifications.  There are seven Grand cru climats, or lieu-dit, and a further 40 such vineyards with Premier Cru classification above the generic AOC Chablis.  There is also the neighbouring and not as highly regarded Petit Chablis, also Chardonnay based, and established in 1944.  However, it is on the fringe of Chablis and based largely on Portlandian soil, which is younger and has a larger sandstone content.

As this is my sixth varietal Chardonnay, I’m not going to talk about the grape too much, but how it is handled in Chablis does deserve a note.  Chardonnay is a wine that can be subjected to a variety of treatments in the winery depending on the desired style.  Within Chablis, the use (or not) of oak is a big point of differentiation in terms of style.  The region as a whole is known for producing wines that have a steely intensity, and in some cases that is quite literal with fermentation in stainless and no oak treatment post-fermentation.  (I am not suggesting you can taste the fermentation vats.)  Others ferment in barrel, and others still start in steel and then have some oak maturation.  However, other influences outweigh the use of oak, such that Chablis is generally thought of as an easy wine style to identify in blind tastings, perhaps because with age even those wines not subjected to oak treatment can pick up flavour characteristics often associated with oak, including nuttiness.

Gilbert Picq & ses Fils is a small, family run producer which has been working vines in Chablis for generations.  The domaine and its 32 acres were established by the namesake, but were passed to his children in 1976, with Pascal tending the vines, Didier making the wine and Marilyn running the business side.  In the vineyard, their focus is on low yields, with severe pruning and two rounds of crop thinning over the growing season.  In the winery, the wine is fermented in stainless steel and does not see oak maturation, so as to most clearly express their terroir.  It does, however, undergo malolactic fermentation.  In 2006 they acquired a sorting table, enabling them to hand select their grapes, and in conjunction with that improvement they shifted to using wild yeast for fermentation.

In the glass this wine is clear and bright, with a pale lemon green colour and a thin film instead of legs on the inside of the glass when swirled.  On the nose it’s clean and developing, with medium plus intensity and notes of lemon, seashell, quince, candle wax, a hint of smoke which may be what other people call struck match.  On the palate it’s dry, with high acidity, medium body, medium plus intensity, medium alcohol, and medium plus length.  There are notes of lemon, really tart lemon at that, quince, seashells, and some flint.

This is a very good wine.  I want to call it austere, but I’m not sure that’s really what’s hitting me.  There is a purity to the acidity, which is very intense, but not to the exclusion of the mineral notes.  It certainly fits the profile of what I would expect of a somewhat young, unoaked Chablis, and while it’s at the expense of any richness or creaminess that some people enjoy, the steeliness is undeniable.

I can’t find a website for the producer, so no link and the pin in the map is approximate.

Grosset Piccadilly 2001

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Grosset Piccadilly 2001

Grosset Piccadilly 2001

There’s something to be said for using good examples, but for whatever reason I often do just the opposite.  For instance, a good first wine to cover from Barossa would perhaps be the variety for which it is best known – Shiraz.  The first Barossa in this blog was the Domain Day Garganega.  I’ve done the same sort of thing by writing about wines made in Australia by Frenchmen, wines made in France by Australians, and numerous other reversals of expectations.  It’s in that spirits I give you the Grosset Piccadilly 2001.

Another Chardonnay from the Adelaide Hills, you may ask?  Made by an iconic winemaker known better from another region?  With a fair amount of bottle age?  If this sounds familiar, it is, as the Wolf Blass White Label Chardonnay ticks all the same boxes.  Am I just being lazy going for the same type of wine?  Having just written up a Picpoul de Pinet, I hope that’s not a serious question.  But I do have favourites, and while everything I drink, I drink for you, my readers, I think this producer is worth highlighting.

This producer is Grosset, in particular Jeffrey Grosset, the founder, owner and winemaker.  He established his winery in 1981 in the Clare Valley and has been focused on producing top quality wines ever since.

He led a campaign in the 1980s for the use of the word Riesling to be reserved exclusively to wines actually made from the Riesling grape.  Yes, these days that seems a bit of a weird thing, but as I mentioned when I opened some old Rieslings, Australia has long played fast and loose with place and varietal names, and at the time Riesling was treated both as a generic name for white wine (and therefore used on cheap, cask wines) and as a local name for whatever white grapes were being grown.   Clare Riesling was actually Crouchen, Hunter Riesling was actually Semillon, and you needed to find a bottle of Rhine Riesling if you were after the real thing.

He also was influential in pushing Clare winemakers to switch from cork to screw cap closures.  While screw caps had been launched by Pewsey Vale and then withdrawn after a lack of uptake by consumers, Grosset organized Riesling producers in Clare to switch to  screw cap as a unified front.  This Chardonnay, funnily enough, is under cork, though more recent bottlings seem to be under screwcap.

As you might have guessed, Grosset is best known for Riesling.  His Polish Hill is arguably the most famous Rieslings of Australia, and quite possibly the best.  It features in the second highest category, Outstanding, of the Langton’s Classification, with his Watervale not far behind in the next category down, Excellent.  While he does make other wines, including red and white Bordeaux blends and a Pinot Noir, it would be perfectly reasonable to think that I’d be writing about one of his Rieslings.  However, I happened to pick up this nicely cellared bottle of Chardonnay, and being a fan of Adelaide Hills wines, I would be remiss in not writing about it.

Quick disclaimer – the winemaker with whom I’ve worked the last few vintages has an ongoing business interest with Jeffrey Grosset, and therefore some of the grapes in this wine may have come from one of my boss’ vineyards, but given that I had never been to Australia in 2001 I had nothing to do with the grapes or this wine.

As I mentioned, this wine was bottled under cork and the cork itself was in good condition coming out of the bottle.  The wine is clear and bright, with a medium plus gold colour, and quick legs when swirled.  On the nose, it’s clean, has medium plus intensity and a fully developed character.  There are notes of old oak, porridge, honeycomb, butterscotch, and a savoury note I can’t quite place.  On the palate it’s dry, with strong medium plus acidity, a medium body, medium plus intensity, and medium plus alcohol.  It has flavours of lemon, sandalwood, sunflower, key lime pie, and some nuttiness.  It has a medium length and some honey on the finish.

This is a very good wine that has aged gracefully.  It’s very rich, with a softened texture, but still good acidity.  On the Grosset site there are tasting notes for this wine that are likely a decade old and it’s interesting to see what’s changed.  The cedary oak and lemony citrus flavours are still there, but the melon and tropical fruit are gone, replaced by nut and honey flavours.  The acidity has certainly allowed it to last a bit more than the medium term that the notes advise in terms of cellaring, and while I don’t think letting it sit another decade would be the best idea, it certainly has developed nicely over the last ten years.

Shaw + Smith M3 Chardonnay 2010

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Shaw + Smith M3 Chardonnay 2010

Shaw + Smith M3 Chardonnay 2010

It’s been a bit of a busy week, between ANZAC Day on Wednesday and having a friend from overseas visiting on Thursday and Friday.  As such, I have not had a new post in a few days, which is not at all how I prefer to run this blog.  Rather than waiting until Monday to post something fresh, I’m instead going to write about something that’s relatively easy and familiar for me.  It’s one of my all time favourites, the Shaw + Smith M3 Chardonnay 2010.

It almost feels like cheating to write up this wine as I needn’t rehash the Adelaide Hills too much, and I’ve covered a number of other Chardonnays, but it does give me more time to wax poetic about Shaw + Smith.  But just to make sure I cover all the bases, a word about the Adelaide Hills.

The second wine I covered, the Ashton Hills Piccadilly Valley Pinot Noir, is from the Adelaide Hills, and as I said then, it’s essentially the hills due east from Adelaide, extending quite a ways north toward Eden Valley and south toward MacLaren Vale.  It’s generally considered cool climate (by Australian standards) and the soil type is sandy loam, but given both the size of the region as a whole and the variation in altitude from vineyard to vineyard, it’s worth looking into the specific location whenever possible.  In this case, Shaw + Smith makes this wine largely out of fruit from a vineyard they own near Woodside, which is pretty squarely in the eastern middle part of the region.  The soil there is sandy loam over clay with a shale base.

Shaw + Smith is named after the two founding winemakers, Martin Shaw and Michael Hill Smith.  Martin Shaw is one of the Australians who formed the core of the flying winemakers movement, whereby an individual winemaker would work vintage in several different locations, typically alternating between hemispheres.  Shaw himself has worked in France, Spain, Chile, Australia and New Zealand and continues to consult around the world.

Michael Hill Smith is likewise a winemaker of renown, but I hold him in special regard because he is a Master of Wine, and was in fact the first Australian to win that honour in 1988.  He founded Shaw + Smith the following year.  As someone freshly graduated with my WSET Diploma, the MW program is like a huge cliff face in front of me that I may someday strive to climb, and I have a huge amount of respect for anyone who has taken up that challenge.  In addition to winemaking, he has a background in running restaurants and apparently is a trained Cordon Bleu chef.  Somehow he manages to find time to contribute to wine education for the likes of me, and I’ve had the pleasure of attending a Chardonnay tasting and lecture he conducted last year.  (He gave a similar one this year but I couldn’t make it, alas.)  For his service to the Australian wine industry, he was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 2008 by Queen Elizabeth II.  Hill Smith’s reaction was allegedly “Obviously, she has made a terrible mistake”.  I don’t think I’m exaggerating to describe him as one of the foremost experts on Chardonnay, and here is how he makes his.

As I said, most of the grapes are estate grown.  Much of the work in the vineyard is by hand, in particular pruning and picking.  Hand picking is essential as the next step is whole bunch pressing, that is pressing without destemming or (prior) crushing.  Machine picking typically gives you individual grapes (or in some cases, a pile of wet mush).  Whole bunch pressing is generally gentler, and does less damage to the skins resulting in less extraction of solids and phenolics into the juice.  You also tend to get less juice than conventional pressing, so it comes at a cost in terms of volumes.  Wild yeast ferments the juice in barrels of French oak, where it stays for maturation with extended time on lees.  Some barrels see malolactic fermentation.

Even though this isn’t the first Chardonnay to grace these pages, or even the first from the Adelaide Hills, a very quick word about the grape.  Chardonnay can be difficult to pin down.  It can consistently ripen to good sugar levels, and so it is successfully grown nearly everywhere, across a wide range of climates and soils, expressing a potentially huge array of flavours.  On top of that, it can be handled in many different ways, to produce still, sparkling or late harvest wines.  And within those wine styles, there are many different treatments that can be applied (or not) to Chardonnay with noticeable differences in the resulting wine.  As described above, the M3 is whole bunch pressed, wild fermented in oak, and then left on lees in oak for maturation, and it yields a particular style, but other winemakers produce quality Chardonnay from machine harvested grapes, no use of oak, specially selected, commercially grown yeast, and no time on lees after fermentation.  Some of those decisions are based on economics, and the M3 is not cheap, but others are purely determined by the style the winemaker is aiming to produce.  Oak, time on lees (especially with lees stirring), and malolactic fermentation can give more body, texture and softness to a wine, which you might want to avoid if you are after a flinty, more mineral Chardonnay with a lighter body and texture.

Shaw + Smith produce a small range of wines, certainly for an Australian producer. Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling round out their whites and they produce a cool climate style of Shiraz that is quite the contrast to the bigger, warm climate styles of the Barossa Valley and MacLaren Vale.  They also produce small quantities of Pinot Noir, though it’s largely only available directly from them.  It’s in contrast to the Sauvignon Blanc which is produced in relatively huge quantities but sells out consistently.

This wine is clear and bright in the glass, with a pale lemon colour and thin legs when swirled.  The nose is clean with a developing character and oaky lemon on the nose, with some green peppercorn and a bit of cream.  The palate is dry, with medium plus to high acidity, medium body, full flavour intensity, medium plus alcohol, and medium length.  The body has a certain softness – there’s substance to it, but with a very gentle texture.  Flavours on the palate include lemon, toast, and white pepper with a lime finish.  One component that’s noticeable for its absence is minerality, but this is not a steely, austere style.  Neither though is it a warm climate butter bomb.  It’s full flavoured with citrus and oak both, but neither overwhelming the other.  If anything, the oak is as much a structure as a flavour.

Obviously, I really like this wine, so much so that in the past I’ve purchased a magnum of Shaw + Smith Chardonnay (at auction) from before it was even branded M3.  While this 2010 is drinking very well right now, this is a wine that maintains its acidity over time, but picks up lovely honeyed notes as it ages.  While I don’t usually talk about price, as I said, it’s not an inexpensive wine.  However, it tastes much more expensive than it costs.  I’m guessing, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the expensive oak that goes into this wine (or rather, that this wine goes into) is in some way subsidized by the huge volume of Sauvignon Blanc that Shaw + Smith also produce.  In any case, it’s a lovely wine, year after year, and well worth cellaring.

Heemskerk Abel’s Tempest Chardonnay 2010

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Heemskerk Abel's Tempest Chardonnay 2010

Heemskerk Abel's Tempest Chardonnay 2010

I am not feeling the love from Tasmania.  I’m sure it’s my fault – I spend most of my time in South Australia, and while I’ve been to almost all the other state capitals, I have not yet been to Hobart.  But despite having written about a wine from the Freycinet Coast, I’ve had only a half dozen visitors from Tasmania to date.  I guess that’s an improvement, as I had none prior to that post, and to be fair, I didn’t exactly rave about that wine.  Also, I wrote a pretty complimentary review of a Georgian wine and I’ve had exactly one person from Georgia take notice.  However, I’m hoping for a breakthrough because I did enjoy this Heemskerk Abel’s Tempest Chardonnay 2010.

Heemskerk is, to my ears, an unusual sounding name, but that’s only because I can’t speak Dutch, in which it means something along the lines of “home church”.  It’s the name of a town in the Netherlands, and also the name of a Dutch explorer and admiral.  However, the name of the producer is based on those origins only indirectly, because it is more immediately named after a Dutch ship which was under the command of Abel Tasman on the voyage which took him around the southern coast of Australia in 1642.  His name graces Tasmania itself, the sea between Australia and New Zealand, and a wide variety of other features, geographical and man made, thoughout Australia and New Zealand.  (Tasman himself named the island Van Diemen’s Land after the Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies but history shows it didn’t stick.)  The name of this Chardonnay refers to the storm that faced Tasman when he first attempted to land there.

Heemskerk, the wine producer, is a brand within the Treasury Wine Estates stable, which is worth a mention on its own.  I’m going to try very hard to get the order of this right, but the ups and downs of the Australian drinks industry are sometimes difficult to follow.  (I’m sure a lawyer will be in touch if I get anything particularly wrong.)  Once upon a time there was a brewing company known as Fosters, which I remember from before I could drink for importing their beer into the USA in cans that were of a similar size to motor oil cans, 25.4 ounces.  (That is how much fluid is in a typical bottle of wine, or more than twice what is a normal can of beer in the USA.)  In the mid 1990s Fosters began to develop a portfolio of wine companies, eventually acquiring a large Australian wine company, Southcorp.  Alas, it was not a happy union, and a year ago all the wine operations were split into their own company, Treasury Wine Estates.  It has a huge collection of brands (54 according to their website) across Australia, New Zealand, the Americas and a couple in Europe, with some of the more famous being Penfolds, Wolf Blass, and Wynns Coonawarra Estate.

So, I’ve done the boat and Treasury – it’s probably time to actually tell you about Heemskerk, and as it turns out, Abel’s Tempest.  According to their website, Heemskerk was founded by Graham Wiltshire who first planted vines in 1965 and then spent two decades making Chardonnay.  There’s a bit of a blank spot as to what happened between 1985 and the present day, though presumably being bought up by Fosters and expanding the range to include Riesling, Pinot Noir and a traditional Chardonnay / Pinot Noir sparkler feature in that bit of the story.  Flash forward to right now, and they have something of a rockstar winemaker and native Tasmanian Anna Pooley, who was The Wine Society’s 10th Annual Young Winemaker of the Year 2010.  In terms of branding, Heemskerk is making the most of the Tasmanian qualities of cool climate, purity of nature / fruit, and with that a winemaking style of minimal intervention.

I’m not sure if Abel’s Tempest deserves its own paragraph, in that it’s made by Anna Pooley and features the Heemskerk name on the label.  The Treasure Wine Estates treats it as its own brand, but to me it looks like a slightly less expensive version of Heemskerk, in that this Abel’s Tempest Chardonnay features less new oak, uses some large casks/barrels and doesn’t cite a specific region within Tasmania, whereas the Heemskerk Chardonnay uses just barriques, with a higher percentage of them being new, and sources all its fruit from the Coal River Valley.  Oh, and the Heemskerk Chardonnay costs a fair whack more.  Abel’s Tempest also produce a Traminer, a Sauvignon Blanc, a Pinot Noir, and a Pinot Noir / Chardonnay sparkler under this label.

Also, as a completely arbitrary and subjective indicator of quality, there is a bottle of the Heemskerk sparkler in my fridge that was brought to a party at my house by a Master of Wine who helped tutor me through the Diploma.  If it’s a wine he’s happy to bring to a party, it’s a wine I’ll be happy to drink.

In the glass this wine had a pale lemon colour.  On the nose it was of slightly less than average intensity, but had a developing character with notes of honeycomb, blossom, and sandalwood.  On the palate it was of medium intensity, with more complexity and fruit than the nose – I got lemon and green apple, as well as some almond and white pepper.  It had medium plus acidity, alcohol, body and length, with an apple and pepper finish.  Most of all, it was unmistakably a Chardonnay.  Varietal typicity for the win.

I really liked this wine.  It has something of a full style, but I enjoy that.  While no one would confuse it with a steely Chablis, it was true to its cool climate origins.  I also like a bit more oak (provided it’s good oak) in my Chardonnays, so I’ll have to give their higher end version a try, because if it’s a significant step up from this I’m sure it will be a treat.

Funnily enough, I was having a difficult time finding a Heemskerk address but there’s one on the Abel’s Tempest site.  However, when I had a look, it’s at the Cascade Brewery, which is owned by Fosters, so I’m not sure if that’s up to date.  In any case, it’s another pin in Tasmania, so I hope I won’t get put back on the plane when I land there for a visit later this year.

Wolf Blass White Label Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2003

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Wolf Blass White Label Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2003

Wolf Blass White Label Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2003

Study has been slow going, worse strangely for having had bigger blocks of free time I could be devoting to it.  Somehow the panic that normally pushes me into serious study hasn’t quite hit yet, and so I go on slowly reading entry after entry but without that fervor and sadly without the retention that I enjoy when the times are really tight.  No matter, things are roughly on track still even if I’m still just not feeling it.

Fortunately tonight we opened a very nice bottle of wine and that’s taken my mind off the material still not internalized.  I cooked up a lemon and basil risotto and found just the wine to go with it.  It’s the Wolf Blass White Label Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2003.

So Wolf Blass is more than a man, more than a winemaker, more than a businessman.  He’s an icon.  He has a personal story of surviving World War II as a child, learning to make wine, working in the trade and eventually arriving in Australia to see his fortune.  It’s been told so many times that it’s almost reached the level of a creation myth.  He built a successful company to the point that if you’ve been in a large wine shop anywhere in the world, you’ve seen his wines.  To this day he continues to be a strong force in the trade, with controversial opinions on the state of wine industry and what it’s doing wrong.

Wold Blass has a huge range of wine, from the very affordable to the extremely pricey.  They tend to be colour coded, from red at the entry level up through yellow and gold in the middle and grey, black and platinum at the high end.  They’re all very well made, though obviously the more you pay, the better they get.

This wine is special in that it’s a White Label, which is sold largely at cellar door, though I’ve seen it on a restaurant wine list once or twice.  I believe the theme of the White Label is that it is wines (Chardonnay and Riesling are all I’ve seen so far) that are released for sale after much more ageing than is typical.  I bought this 2003 from cellar door this past year, which would make it 8 years old when it was sold.  Not typical at all, particularly for a white wine, and especially not considering how massive the Wolf Blass operation actually is.

So while there’s wine the world round, this is the third wine I’ve featured from the Adelaide Hills.  I’ve neglected much of the wine world, and look forward to getting through the rest of the syllabus, but the Adelaide Hills are near and dear to my heart, and they’re producing so many nice wines these days that I expect they’ll continue to feature prominently.  I feel especially bad I haven’t tasted anything from New Zealand recently, so I’ll have to sort that out.

Anyway, this wine in particular is showing very well.  Some wines are made to age.  A reasonable drinking age for a decent Bordeaux is supposedly ten years.  Vega Sicilia Unico is typically not even released until it’s ten years old, and has potential to age for far longer.  Vintage Ports can go on for many decades.  While a good Sauternes will outlive a person, most white wines though are less commonly thought of as candidates for ageing.  Riesling certainly ages well, as do some Marsannes, but Chardonnay is a bit tricky.  Some age well, while the vast majority are made in a “drink now” style.  So the notion of selling a Chardonnay that already has 8 years under its belt is somewhat daunting – you have to be pretty sure it’s not gone south.  This one certainly has indicators of age, but it hasn’t lost anything.

The colour has moved toward gold, which I think is a good thing.  I think there’s a Pantone somewhere for what colour the industry thinks consumers want or expect a white wine to be.  I think the WSET describes it as pale lemon green, or lemon with green highlights.  It’s a fine colour, but boring when every white wine is the same colour.  This one is a medium gold.

On the nose it’s clearly seen some oak, and there’s a scent for which I need another word.  I smell it now and again on white wines, and the thing that comes to mind is cream of mushroom soup.  Unfortunately, that’s not how it smells to anyone else.  I think terms that are acceptable would be creamy, with a bit of cheese.  I think it’s most likely malolactic fermentation results that I’m tasting, and while cream of mushroom soup is not the most pleasant way to describe it, it’s actually a very nice smell, along with plenty of oak and some zesty citrus.

The palate is equally nice – it’s full and rich, with lemon, oak, and butter.  It’s slightly warming, though only 13.5%.  What’s notable to me is that there aren’t any honeyed notes that I might expect from a wine this age.  The colour is gold, but not tending to amber.  It’s very fresh and crisp despite its age.  This is a very good wine, and I’m glad I have some more.

Appearance

Clear and bright, medium gold with thick legs on the glass.

Nose

Clean, and developing with medium-plus intensity.  Notes of oak, citrus, cream, and a hint of cheese.

Palate

Dry, medium-plus intensity, medium acidity, no tannins, medium-plus alcohol, medium-plus body, with notes of lemon, cream, oak, limes, and some nuttiness.  The finish is nutty with a medium-plus length.

Conclusion

This is a very good wine, with intensity of flavour and a very solid mouth feel.  The age has brought out developed characters in the form of nuttiness, but not at the expense of the fresh, crisp citrus.  It’s a very full wine, from the body to the flavour intensity to the alcohol, but the elements hold together well.  Slightly higher acidity would have moved it into the exceptional category, but it’s still very good.  I would say drink now, though it will keep and possibly develop some honey characters over the next few years.

Seguin-Manuel Pouilly-Fuissé Vieilles Vignes 2010

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Seguin-Manuel Pouilly-Fuissé Vieilles Vignes 2010

Seguin-Manuel Pouilly-Fuissé Vieilles Vignes 2010

All the OCW terms I need to know, along with links into the Jancis Robinson site are now in a spreadsheet, along with what section they’re from, their relative importance, and in some cases if they relate to a region, grape or style of wine.  For all the manual work, I don’t think I actually learned anything.  Then again, this week is more about putting the structures into place to better be able to absorb the material needed, and determining just what that material is.

More importantly, I picked up a nice bottle to go with the chicken that’s currently roasting in the oven.  For the vast majority of the world, I have very few reference points with regards to individual producers (though that is changing and should do more so over the next four weeks), and even for those few areas with which I can associate a producer, often it’s more because of their size and distribution channels than for the quality of their wine.  Within France I’m especially bad, though a recent trip there did wonders.
The wine tonight is Seguin-Manuel Pouilly-Fuissé “Vieilles Vignes” 2010 from “Appellation Pouilly-Fuissé Contrôlée”.  There are a number of other bits of text on the label, but those are the most important as far as what’s in the bottle.  I don’t know this producer, but a quick glance at the Domaine Seguin Manuel website shows them to be based in Beaune and that they produce a variety of reds and white from appellations in Burgundy.  For this bottle, I’ll try to work out from the label.

Pouilly-Fuissé is an appellation within Mâconnais at the very southern tip just before the region turns into Beaujolais.  That puts it within Burgundy, at the southern end, and Burgundy of course is in eastern France, about one third the distance to Geneva to the east as it is to Paris to the northwest.  The appellation only produces still white wines, made from Chardonnay.  Within Burgundy (especially if you don’t count Beaujolais, which many in Burgundy don’t), the Mâconnais is the warmest region and gets the most sun, which gives their wine a different character from other Burgundian Chardonnays such as from Chablis or even Côte de Beaune.  Just knowing the AoC, even not knowing the producer, I’d expect this to be a full bodied wine with buttery flavours and some ripe fruits, rather than minerality and sea shells you might get much further north in Burgundy.

In the glass, this wine does not disappoint on the promise given by the label.  It is full and rich, and while I don’t taste any peach that some might expect from Pouilly-Fuissé, I certainly get lemon, butter, and some toasted pecans and almonds.  Full student grade note is as follows.

Appearance

Clear and bright, medium yellow colour with thick, quick legs given a swirl.

Nose

Clean, medium intensity, developing, with notes of cashew, lemon, toast, butter, and almond.

Palate

Dry, with medium-plus acidity, medium-minus alcohol, medium-plus body, and medium-plus flavour intensity.  The palate matches the nose with butter, almond, lemon, and toast.  The finish is medium-plus, with a slight brininess which was actually very pleasant.

Conclusion

This is a very good quality wine – the acidity, intensity of flavour and body were all medium-plus in an intense but balanced way.  The alcohol level was not as high, but it didn’t leave the wine tasting as though it was missing anything and leaving the grapes to ripen further might have resulted in lower acidity and fruits in the tropical spectrum.  The length was good at medium-plus.  I could have done with slightly more complexity, but this is a young wine and hasn’t had a chance to develop many secondary characteristics.

I think I’m going to give up on trying to speculate on what I would have guessed this wine to be had I not seen the label, as for the purposes of this blog I’m not likely to be served many blind.  That said, it is what I would expect from Mâconnais in that it is a full style for a Chardonnay, perhaps as close to a New World style as you’re likely to find under AoC within France.

This wine cost just over $50.00 which I think was fair, given the quality level and the miles it has traveled.  That said, there are many New World Chardonnays of a similar style and quality level available for a much lower price.

Readiness to drink – drink now, will keep for 5 years.  I think this wine is beyond youthful even though it was only made last year.  The buttery and nutty notes are what drive it, and they may be supplemented with some honey in the coming years, but I don’t think it will hugely improve with time.