Australian Chardonnay Comparative Tasting

I was invited to attend an Aussie wine seminar (thanks, Wine Australia!) and I didn’t know what the topic was until I sat down. I was delighted to see I’d be undertaking a comparative (blind) tasting of Australian Chardonnay. Since it was put on by Wine Australia, a bunch of the wines were going to be from Australia. (Major duh.)  At the reveal, this is how it broke down:

  • Australia: 6
  • France: 2
  • California: 1

The California wine was a favorite from the Sonoma Coast, but, surprisingly, did not show well. Sometimes wines are like people. We all have our bad days. The two French wines, both Burgundies, were just plain…not good. There was a weird Grand Cru Chablis and a sub-par Premier Cru Puligny-Montrachet. Does this mean Aussie Chards rule, others drool? No. But the tasting did bring up a couple interesting points based on panel’s comments.

Especially with Chardonnay, are we done being able to divide wines into New World/Old World? Like new world fruity/opulent, while old world is mineral stuff, restrained. I think this dichotomy is becoming increasingly worthless. Global warming is causing formerly cooler climate places to produce more rich and round Chardonnay. Old World regions are adopting New World techniques, and vice-versa. It’s really hard to peg a wine as one or the other! Also, who cares?

The only thing I like about blind tasting is you know nothing about the wine and might find out you love a wine you thought you hated or vice-versa. (Very into the vice-versa on this post.) That serves a purpose. And you get to do some great eye-rolling when bro-y somms navel gaze. (Why do I even leave the house?) Otherwise, it’s a fun game like charades but with more swirling, sniffing, and spitting. Or maybe you play charades in a different manner than I’m accustomed.

Anyway, I’m going to focus on two wines from the group that I found most compelling. And, in a wild coincidence (not being sarcastic), the duo of bottles was represented in person by a winemaker who made the long trip.

Australian Chardonnay Best of Tasting

My Favorite Australian Chardonnay

You know what normally happens at a blind tasting? My favorite wine is the most expensive. What the hell? Give me a break, you. So I was delighted to find out that my bestie Chard was the third least expensive. (Not third cheapest! Never use that word!)

Vineyards at Voyager Estate / Photo by Rebecca Mansell

Voyager Estate Margaret River Chardonnay 2016 ($45)

I visited the Margaret River area in 2012. One thing to note is how very, very, very far away it is from the majority of wine regions in Australia. Let’s say you were chillin’ in the Barossa Valley near Adelaide. And you though, hey, lets cruise (fly) to Margaret River. So you’d basically be headed to Perth. It’s like 1,670 miles, yo! But worth it when you get a glass of this wine from Voyager Estate.

Ok, let’s get to the wine. Smelling it, I got a bunch of licorice. And I love licorice, like black licorice. All that anise. Sure, I love a Twizzler, too. But that’s a whole different flavor profile. The wine had a nice bit of oak and not too buttery. Great texture, too. Well after the reveal I found out why. It gets 30% new oak and goes through 30% malolactic fermentation. The latter (“malo”) is what makes it buttery. So this gives you a nice light schmear, instead of a whole dang stick o’ butter. Very nice brisk, lively finish that lingers. Delicious stuff.

Voyager Estate is selling a 2011 Chard on their website, so you know this is a wine built to age. (Though heathen that I am, I like my dry white wines fresh. With a few exceptions. One would be a white wine from the same country, but a different grape. Love me some aged Aussie Riesling.)

Most Surprising Australian Chardonnay

Australian Chardonnay Comparative Tasting

The remote, striking Tumbarumba wine region

Penfolds Bin 311 Tumbarumba Chardonnay 2016 ($40)

Tumbarumba is just fun to say. (But don’t confuse it with Chumbawamba.) It’s a wine region in New South Wales, fairly cool and at a higher elevation. The Snowy Mountains provide a dramatic backdrop. Now perhaps you were that person kicking back in the Barossa and thought, “Dang, Margaret River looks nice and I like to surf and all that jazz, but is there somewhere a little closer?” Well to get to Tumbarumba you’d probably fly into Canberra, an easy-peasy 720 miles away.

Then drive to Tumbarumba. (Are we there yet?)

So are you getting the picture that Australia is a vast country, and it’s really hard to make any wine generalizations about it? Yeah? Good. Thanks. Cool.

So why was the Penfolds my most surprising Australian Chardonnay of the tasting? Well, because I had it pegged as Old World AND Chablis. Dang, was I off the mark. (To put it mildly.) The 311 (not to be confused with 311, that kinda stone-y, nu-metal group with talk-rapping mid-90s song “Down“) spent 9 months in seasoned (as in not new) oak and has a very chillaxed ABV of 12.5%.

I’d also like to note that both wines are sealed in a screwcap. These closures are not just for your “chill and kill” white wines. They belong on cellar-worthy bottles as well. Australia has certainly been one of the pioneers in that regard.

Conclusion

Alright so there are two awesome Australian Chardonnays that are elegant, balanced, and eminently drinkable. Both under $50. That’s not inexpensive, but we had Chardonnays twice the price that weren’t have as good. So find a friend with a twenty, through in your own $20 (and a few bucks more), and you will be a very happy (not) couple! THE END.

Why not read about a wine made from a grape that’s like the polar opposite of Chardonnay, as far as renown. Check out this fizzy Aussie bottle

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How Does Chardonnay Age Under Screwcap? Kumeu River Wines at TEXSOM

When I attended TEXSOM, one of my goals as far as the seminars I signed up for was to embrace new experiences that would broaden my understanding about the world of wine. Actually, more like shine a light on a place, a person, and a process unbeknownst to me. This is why I chose to attend “Iconic Winery Retrospective: Kumeu River Wines” led by Winemaker and Master of Wine Michael Brajkovich, who traveled a great distance to show a group of Matés Vinyeard Chardonnays from 2005-2012 that knocked my socks off.

I have to confess that I’m not a big fan of aged Chardonnay, at least to the point where it gets mushroomy and oxidized. I enjoy the presence of fresh fruit along with some of the secondary characteristics that start poking out at the 5ish year mark. The color of the wine starts to golden up a bit and show more nutty, caramel-y (yet dry) notes. And after tasting the Matés Vinyeard Chardonnays of Kumeu River Wines, it’s like Brajkovich tailor-made these Chardonnays to suit my style. (Spoiler alert: He did not, has not, nor will he. Well, I guess I could ask.)

How Does Chardonnay Age Under Screwcap? Kumeu River Wines at TEXSOM

The first thing that makes Kumeu River Wines unique is its location: towards the top of New Zealand’s North Island. (Map via winery website.) Right by Auckland as a matter of fact. Besides where the winery is, another stand-out about Kumeu River Wines? A commitment to sealing wines under screwcap.

How Does Chardonnay Age Under Screwcap? Kumeu River Wines at TEXSOM

Kumeu River Wines Winemaker and Master of Wine Michael Brajkovich. Image via winery website.

An interesting way that Brajkovic framed the discussion over wine closures (for those not immersed or even versed in the subject) is to regard screwcaps as a seal especially adept at promoting bottle maturation while mitigating oxidation. And, hey, cork is no slouch in that department. But screwcap proponents would say regarding oxygen transfer that their closure allows more fine-tuning and consistency.

Brajovich also chimed in on the white Burgundy “premox” (bottles that are prematurely oxidizing) controversy in response to a question from the audience. As far as the root of the problem, Brajovich concluded his comments by stating he would paraphrase one of our American politicians: “It’s the cork, stupid.”

Back to the Kumeu River Wines Chardonnays. The 2012 is chalky, with a perfect amount of oak, and plenty of zest on the finish. Very Chablis-esque. Brajkovich called the 2010 vintage the best ever. The 2008 was where I started to notice changes in color and flavor. Finally, the 2006 may have been my favorite of the bunch; it had a lemon curd quality that I can’t get out of my head.

It was really painful to have to spit these wines during this TEXSOM seminar. And, at its completion, heart-rendering to dump the remaining Chardonnay into a bucket. Perusing the reaction to Brajkovich and his wines on Twitter, I can see I was not alone in feeling strongly and emotionally about the fruits of Matés Vineyard:

What are your thoughts on wine under screwcap? Just great for wines you pop-and-pour ASAP? Or do you/would you have bottles with screwcaps in your cellar? Chime in!

I was comped registration and accommodations for this event.

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