The entry for Yarra Yering in James Halliday’s excellent Australian Wine Compendium (1985) reads in part: “the vineyard includes some very exotic varieties, including tiny quantities of viognier.”
It’s been a while since Viognier has been regarded as exotic in an Australian context; indeed, I can’t think of another variety that has had so meteoric, and so brief, an ascendancy. Now that it’s been largely relegated to the same figurative drawer in which one might keep incontinence pads and prawn cocktail, it’s worth remembering the variety can give rise to wines of spectacular beauty, such as this.
Unquestionably the most complex, taut and fine young Australian Viognier I’ve ever tasted. Although varietal in its expression of apricot kernels and spice, this finds a way of seeing the grape at its most crystalline, most mineral. There’s little of the voluptuousness one might expect. In its place, a positively racy palate structure, complex and orderly, sprinkling well formed flavours down the line with decisive articulation. If ever a wine were tense, this is it — there’s such a coiled intensity to the way the palate is placed on the tongue. It comes across as quite worked, with a good deal of oak input, and I like the way these winemaking artefacts are subservient to the fruit’s linear movement. Alcohol marks the after palate a little too prominently for my taste, though I don’t want to overstate its impact — there’s simply a bit of heat as the wine comes to a close.
It seems true that Viognier is a more divisive variety than many. I just wish more drinkers were able to see its expression here. An exceptional wine.
There’s an interesting conceptual tension at play with this wine. The Oakridge range is structured, at the high end, around ideas of vineyard differentiation, terroir and the progressively more precise identification of sites and blocks of special interest. A highly Burgundian view of wine, then, and one that is certainly au courant in the Australian wine scene.
The wine itself is, simply, spectacular. It’s surely one of the best Australian Chardonnays I’ve tasted in a long while, and blasts into one’s palate memory through a combination of balance, impossibly fine detail and the sort of good taste that speaks of highly attentive winemaking. The flavour profile mixes crystalline fruit with a whole heap of prickly sulphides and other funk, which sounds like modern Chardonnay gone wrong but which, in fact, comes across as an utterly coherent collection of notes. It’s the clarity and detail of the wine that really allow each element to shine. Rarely are flavours articulated with such precision and placement. It’s a controlled experience from head to toe, with only a flash of lemon juice flavour and acid on the after palate standing out as somewhat separate and simple.
The complex rush of flavours and sense this wine gives of having been orchestrated brings us back to its origins as a single-block-within-a-single-vineyard wine, one that by its nature might suggest a fashionable minimising of intervention in the winery. This is anything but a hands-off wine, though; it’s one made in a very specific style, using obviously beautiful fruit and applying a series of winemaking techniques with real skill and a very firm view of how Chardonnay should taste. This is a wine of its maker as much as of its vineyard and, in being so, honestly engages the reality of winemaking: it doesn’t just happen on its own. I can’t help but think this is a far more intricate and interesting view of wine than one where the role of either the vineyard or the winemaker is pushed into the background. This Oakridge wine, delicious as it is, is a veritable narrative of the way people and nature collide in the course of making wine.
Who’d have thought I’d be revisiting an $18 Chardonnay from 2006 with such curiosity and enthusiasm? Such is the state of Chardonnay in Australia. A golden age of sorts, led at the entry level by this label amongst others. The Hoddles Creek Chardonnay (and its Pinot Noir sibling) has quickly become the sort of “must purchase” wine beloved by wine enthusiasts of good taste and limited means (that surely covers most of us). I’ve visited with this wine on a few occasions, two of which I’ve documented on Full Pour (in 2007 and subsequently in 2011). Here we go for a third time.
The lean character of this wine has remained pretty constant over its life so far, and this tasting reveals a wine that in some respects hasn’t moved much since my first tasting. It’s worth pausing to reflect on the fact this is a cheap wine in absolute terms; that it still has life at this point is in itself remarkable. There are some tertiary flavours for sure — honeycomb and nuts mostly — but the wine retains plenty of primary freshness and white stonefruit flavours.
Where it isn’t evolving so much is in weight and opulence; I wondered on previous tastings whether it might gain some weight, and at this stage it seems destined to retain its linear, quite driven movement through the mouth for a while yet. Will it ever become an expansive wine? I’m not sure; in any case, there are plenty of other Chardonnays to satiate that particular craving. A more interesting question is whether its fruit is starting to fall away here; it does seem to lack that last ounce of intensity, and I don’t recall whether it provided greater impact and flavour in previous tastings. In any case, it has a poise right now that flows from a nicely resolved structure and flavour pitched at a moderate level of intensity.
For my taste, I’d like an ounce more generosity, something the flavour profile suggests but never quite gets around to delivering. Still, that’s probably a question of taste more than quality; certainly, this is a striking, important wine in terms of contemporary Australian Chardonnay.
Happily, I have found myself drinking well of late. The lead-up to Christmas affords many opportunities to open those special bottles, and I am availing myself of every opportunity to do so. Last night, I enjoyed a wonderful dinner with friends and we sampled a range of wines, all of which were excellent. This stood out as the wine that changed the most with air.
When it was first poured, it smelled musty and closed, and I worried a little for the condition of our bottle. That worry was entirely misplaced; this soon blossomed into a stunning wine. One thing good wine can do is constantly change in the glass, providing a great ride for the drinker. This seemed to shift a bit every time I smelled it, aromas sliding around as if constantly forming and reforming. First, blowing off the residue of its life in bottle and becoming sweeter, cleaner and less awkward. Then showing meaty notes alongside its relaxed red fruits, some minerality too, one element folding into another and producing something new before for my next smell.
In the mouth, outstanding coherence and line. Once settled, the palate was a seamless expression of dark berries, minerals, toast, meat and a myriad other notes. Bottle age is beginning to make a contribution too, easing the wine into a relaxed phase of its life and adding truffled leather notes. While the flavour profile is delicious, for me this wine’s most notable features are its detail and balance, traits that allow flavours to be heard without having to jostle for attention. I felt drawn into this wine and tasting it was an exercise in looking more closely.Very fine wine.
Price: $A148 (wine list)
My rough notes on this wine contain the phrase “fruit-backward,” not something one might often observe of a young aromatic white from Australia. Which, of course, makes it a lot more interesting, especially as it’s clearly a wine made with skill and intent. Suffice to say, one smell and my curiosity was aroused.
The aroma is dry, powdery, floral, tight and flinty. That ought to give you a fair idea of its vibe, but it’s a lot more fun than the austere descriptors might suggest. There is fruit, buried under a pretty unyielding aroma profile, and it’s pithy and high toned when it does peek out.
The palate shows really unusual tension between a fruit character I can only describe as grapey and the sort of insistent savouriness that never quite feels comfortable. The fruit gives this wine a fundamental juiciness but it keeps bouncing up against a mealiness that seems to dovetail into assertive texture, which itself seems inseparable from some pretty fierce acid. I particularly like the textural dimensions and feel they make an excellent accompaniment to food that might be too rich for other aromatic styles. Intense, driven and probably in its least interesting phase of existence.
In context, a singular style, but much more than a curio.
Hoddles Creek Estate
Made in tiny quantities, lots of whole bunch action, an apparent passion project; this is practically collapsing under the weight of its own cred. What’s gratifying, therefore, is its relative subtlety. The nose, especially, starts almost mute, gradually releasing aromas of flint, oatmeal, linseed oil and, eventually, some white stonefruit. It’s never especially expressive, and I do wish for a bit more volume (in time, I think), but its complexity is undeniable.
The palate is powerful and quite masculine in character, as if a taciturn character gives way to a muscular bulk it just can’t hide. A sharp, clean entry broadens to a middle palate awash with fruit and savouriness. Peaches, herbs, minerals. The standout dimension is texture, and I love the way this wine moves over the tongue with a deliciously tangible, mealy texture. Intensity is impressive, but it seems to trade some definition for all its power and complexity. Everything here points to a focused articulation of flavours, but just before the money shot, it loses concentration and blurs its form. Reasonable people can disagree about whether this is desirable; personally, I yearned for it to go all the way and express each of its components with crystal clarity.
A very interesting wine.
On release, I gave what now strikes me as a rather lukewarm impression of this wine in my original writeup. Its firm acid structure prompted me, at the time, to put a few in my cellar for a rest, and I’m now tasting this again for the first time in three or so years. Of all the wines one might age, an $18 Australian Chardonnay wouldn’t be considered a sure bet. Indeed, the question of whether any Australian Chardonnay can productively age still pops up now and then. I’ll leave that debate to those more patient; for now, I have this wine in front of me and I do believe it’s better than it was as a fresher, younger wine.
As with most things vinous, the point at which one prefers to drink a particular wine is very much a matter of taste. So, to help you decide whether your stash of 2006 Hoddles Creek Chardonnay is ready for you, I’ll observe that this wine is in the initial stages of becoming more complex and, at the same time, more relaxed. The acidic nervousness I originally noted has mellowed to allow a looser, more expansive movement over the tongue. Flavours, which at first seemed so citrus and oak dominant, now express more cohesively, are perhaps harder to separate from one another, are certainly more numerous. There’s an especially delicious honey note that is just starting to emerge on the after palate. This will never be a fat, old fashioned style, but it’s starting to inch towards a fullness of palate weight and flavour profile that, to be honest, pleases me a lot more than a simpler, tighter style, especially given the inherent power of the Yarra Chardonnay flavour profile.
More of everything except edginess and simplicity; I like.
Even if it’s unintentional, I pride myself on my reliability. The last time I tasted this wine, I gave it fairly short shrift and suggested I might taste it again in a year or two. Here I am, two years after that first tasting, sampling this little number again after quite randomly having selected it from my stash tonight.
The years have been kind. Where on release this was closed and quite gruff, it’s now able to express itself with more relaxation, even as it remains a highly textural, almost rustic experience. The nose thankfully avoids the sort of glossy fruit character that dodges criticism for lack of varietal definition but which is otherwise completely without value – in its place, there’s plush Pinot fruit, bundles of damp twigs and a rough whiff of vanilla. Also bacon fat, rotting white flowers and bubblegum. Not your typical $20 wine, then, and I can’t quite believe I’m getting so much out of a wine at this price point.
The palate is bold, intense and a bit rough. There’s no doubt, in an absolute sense, that a bit of extra refinement would be welcome, but I really can’t fault this wine on many levels: its impact, its concentration of flavour, its complex and savoury flavour profile. It registers with a nice slam of fruit flavour and progresses briskly through a middle palate full of expansive savoury berries and edgy, slightly hard vegetal notes. There’s still a way to go here before the wine sheds its aggressiveness; for now, you’ll need to put up with traces of overly firm structure on the after palate in particular. But why quibble when each mouthful offers up so much distinctive flavour?
Drink this with pungently flavoured food – Peking Duck, for example – to get the most from it right now. I’ll come back to this in about two to three years’ time. Promise.
As luck would have it, I’m enjoying my Easter long weekend in bed with a messy, feverish chest cold for company. Rather than attempt to taste wine in this condition, I thought I’d reflect on a bottle drunk a week or two ago. This was a gift from my ever-generous co-author Chris. I shall save the other bottle to taste with him, as I’d really like a second opinion here.
It’s clear this wine is all quality, with intensity, power and drive to spare. Stylistically, though, it raises an equally clear question: do these ostensibly desirable qualities contribute to drinkability? I’m not so sure. But first, my impressions of the wine itself. The nose is massively complex, even at a young age. The character of the fruit is alternately sweet/savoury, the Yarra component evident in what strikes me as a luscious, if somewhat blunt, slice of juicy fruit pie. There’s a good deal of oak here too, charry and bold. I was quite bowled over by this wine’s impact at first, and it took me a moment to realise I was being overpowered by the wine, pushed around and told what to do.
The palate is equally powerful and somewhat front-loaded in shape, with good acid and a lovely, drying chalky finish. Flavours echo the nose, with rhubarb and strawberries bursting through an underlay of savoury complexity and an overlay of glossy oak. Again, quite an overpoweringly awesome wine, but at the same time one that doesn’t encourage onward consumption. Indeed, one glass was quite enough, and though there’s no denying the skill and fruit at play, I ended up feeling slightly cornered.
This is an attention-grabbing wine. Despite the classically Champenoise varieties (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier), this is about as far from Champagne as you can get. The nose is fruit-driven and almost tropical in profile, with red fruits, citrus, florals and sharper, sourer aromas akin to kiwifruit. There are some sweetly bready complexities but they are reticent and ultimately don’t hold a candle to all that fruit. If I have a criticism of the aroma, it relates to a slightly messy, confectionary edge that may be a result of the level of dosage as much as the inherent fruit character.
In the mouth, a very smooth and easy experience. I really got the point of this wine once I tasted it; this is the silicone breast implant of Australian rosé sparklings. Niche, I know, but there’s a time and place for most things, and in the case of this wine, I feel it should be served at the start of a very messy evening. Quite full-flavoured, the palate is all about quite luscious red fruits with edges of passionfruit and tropicals. For the most part, mouthfeel is soft (within the constraints of the style) with just a hint of texture through the after palate. Again, it’s a bit sweet for my taste but there’s certainly enough acid to keep it lively. A bit more bready complexity rounds the flavour profile out.
Labelling notwithstanding, this is a thoroughly modern wine style.