Louis Moreau Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos 2010

With so many producers in Australia ostensibly chasing Chablis-esque expressions of Chardonnay, it’s refreshing to go back to the source. Although a tight, linear wine, this is far from lacking in fruit and provides a nice lesson in what makes Chablis such a refreshing style.

The nose shows some free sulfur at first; as this blows off, sulfide characters and floral aromatics dominate, anchored by bassier notes of white peach. High and low, then, with a definite fleshiness on the aroma, promising a taut but generous palate. There’s a precision to the aroma that I particularly appreciate, each component dovetailing neatly as it gives way to the next. It’s cool, even slightly dispassionate, perhaps a wine for a particularly analytical mood.

The palate is linear and quite steely, with an initially dominant saline note that gives way to fruit, herbs and flowers. There’s a subtle thread of much riper fruit, almost raisin-like in character, that is unexpected. I like the weight and flesh this gives, but the flavour itself is one I question. A keen thrust of acid drives the wine fairly hard, with chalky texture descending on the after palate. This is all precisely put together, the flavours varied, structure fresh and texture just so.

Louis Moreau
Price: $NA
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Gift

Cullen Kevin John Chardonnay 2011

Ideally, a wine will grow in the glass, evolving through an evening as it reveals new facets of itself. I liken it to a conversation that might meander over time, becoming deeper and richer as it goes. What’s not so pleasant is the ranconteur who seems fascinating at first, so full of delights, yet gradually reveals himself a bore, or otherwise disappointingly imperfect.

I tasted this wine at cellar door recently, then stayed with a glass over lunch and watched it develop. It’s not a bad wine by any means, but over the course of an hour or so, it became less fine, showing a broadness of fruit that went against a set of aromas suggestive of something altogether more taut.

The aroma profile shows a smokey influence, with hints of sulfide complexity and bright fruit. There’s also a background nuttiness. It’s not overly expressive but is complex enough to draw one in.

In the mouth, powerful and initially linear; flavours of citrus flesh, white stonefruit and oatmeal, with a decent amount of oak input. The mid-palate is quite fleshy and is redeemed somewhat by an after palate that is satisfyingly chalky. The issue is one of balance and, to be fair, one of taste too. The fruit’s countenance is generous and there’s a lot of it, such that it constantly threatens to overwhelm the wine’s structure and winemaking artifice. Temperature has a great effect here, the wine seeming less shapely as it warms.

While tasting recently in Margaret River, I saw a few 2011 whites that were quite broad, perhaps reflecting what was a warm growing season. This, then, shows admirable transparency to vintage, and I wouldn’t be surprised if fans of fuller Chardonnay styles will find much to enjoy here. In the end, though, I wasn’t entirely convinced.

Price: $A25 per glass (wine list)
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Lake’s Folly Hill Block Chardonnay 2011

After a fun day of work at Lake’s Folly, on the spur of the moment we opened all four of the Estate’s Chardonnays from 2011 and 2012. I took this one home for further, leisurely tasting with dinner.

It must have been interesting and somewhat daunting to contemplate introducing a new Chardonnay into the Lake’s Folly range, given the renown the traditional label has accumulated over the years. The only thing that would make sense is a different expression of the vineyard, a wine that says something new but that remains fundamentally connected to the Estate. It seems to me that’s what this wine represents and, while it’s a delicious wine in its own right, it becomes even more interesting in context.

While the traditional label is linear and powerful, with an emphasis on length and drive, this tilts the balance towards complexity of flavour. Clearly, there’s more input from the winemaker here, and the range of notes in the aroma profile is noticeably wider, the flavours themselves more opulent in tone. There’s a edge to this wine too, flavour-wise, that takes it into much funkier territory, with hints of leesy cheese and general savouriness. Despite this — and comparative tasting draws this out — this remains highly identifiable as Lake’s Folly Chardonnay, with the same purity of fruit and relative restraint.

The palate is both rounded and quite textural, and its delicate raspiness accelerates through the back palate where a lovely twist of herbal, gin-and-tonic bitterness cleanses the palate. In form, the wine is quite up-front, with less overt drive through the after palate than the regular wine. Acid is fresh and firm, and the palate structure is never less than shapely.

Given the task at hand, an excellent performance and a new insight into an historic vineyard.

Note: I’m currently assisting the winery during the 2013 vintage.

Lake’s Folly
Price: $70
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Gift

Laherte Frères Blanc de Blancs Brut Nature NV

Disgorged 04/2012.

A photograph of soil underpinned by chalk on this wine’s label certainly makes the point; Laherte Frères positions as a grower-maker wishing to express terroir in its Champagnes. As part of this, dosages are low and, in the case of this wine, zero. To compensate, fruit is allowed to ripen further than is customary.

This technique comes through clearly on the nose, which communicates an impression of slightly candied citrus one might mistake for added sugar. It’s certainly not a bone dry experience, all technicalities aside. On the nose, quite pretty and citrus-driven, with undercurrents of baked bread and overtones of florals. Moderately complex and willfully refreshing.

The palate is lively and fresh, showing a level of effervescence that, for my taste, is a little over the top. A strong line of grapefruit juice drives down the line and, as with the nose, it shows fruit sweetness that is both fun and a bit simple. Some savoury complexities edge in but this is a fruit-forward expression of Champagne. Acid is firm and zingy. As such, it’s a highly appropriate celebration style and one I’d be happy to serve to a mixed crowd looking for something a bit different. For my tastes, though, I’d like to see more finesse.

Laherte Frères
Price: $A60
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

J.L. Vergnon Brut Conversation NV

A blanc de blancs made from Grand Cru fruit, this is one of a series of reasonably priced grower Champagnes I’ve been having of late, and one of the tastiest, too. Fruit comes from three villages — Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, Oger and Avize — and the wine spends three years on lees.

The mousse is quite coarse and dissipates quickly, leaving behind an enthusiastic bead. The aromas are very much in the yeast/bread/brioche spectrum, sweet and pungent, leading into soft, pastel fruit notes. Fruit is in the citrus spectrum, and is delicately pretty.

The palate shows a wonderfully soft, creamy mouthfeel, with fine acid and well damped spritz. Flavours are again in the citrus spectrum, grapefruit mostly, with mellow peel notes, quite rounded and soft. If I’ve a criticism, it’s that fruit becomes a little blunt here, losing its lightness of touch and showing too much relaxation. Some may find this broadness delicious. Dosage seems right to me, with some sweetness evident but nothing over the top. Flavours are persistent and complex enough, especially through the after palate, where there are hints of honey alongside fresher fruit notes. A delicate finish.

With the exception of slightly too broad a countenance through its mid-palate, this is a fine and delicious wine.

J.L. Vergnon
Price: $A50
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Shaw and Smith M3 Chardonnay 2010

The other day, I found myself expressing the view that above all else, a wine should be delicious. Yet, tasting this wine, I feel that delicious flavours aren’t enough. There needs to be a sense of composition, a narrative, something overarching within which a wine’s flavours can be situated.

There’s no doubt this wine smells delicious; its aromas are those of a heavily worked wine, with oatmeal and cream pushing past fruit notes to take a primary role. These key notes are thick and prominent, communicating richness and signalling full, generous flavours.

The palate is where this wine’s story begins to falter. Flavours are, from beginning to end, quite delicious. Alongside mealy, caramel notes there is a strikingly fresh shot of grapefruit, tingling with sharpness and precision. It’s so crystaline that it seems to wander in from another wine, one that’s altogether less broad in flavour profile. And so the wine flips between heavy and light, neither side illuminating the other so much as coexisting in an uneasy truce. Each element would be lovely in the right wine, but as a composition the whole lacks finesse and balance.

Unusually for this label, a wine that doesn’t repay too much thought. I wonder if the sharpness of its fruit will subside, which I feel would be to the wine’s advantage.

Shaw and Smith
Price: $A77 (wine list)
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Other

Domaine Alain Chavy Bourgogne 2010

In some ways, the styling of affordable wines is just as interesting to me as the achievements of great, no-holds-barred labels. It’s a mantra nowadays that with great fruit, the wine “just makes itself;” even allowing for hyperbole, that does suggest there may be a bit more thought required to make average grapes into wine that’s both accessible and enjoyable.

One option is to make the sorts of cheerfully anonymous wines that, I admit, have their place in the industry and in many peoples’ lives. Another is this – a clearly artisanal wine from a small producer in Puligny-Montrachet that comes in at, given the context, a decent price.

The approach here is one of moderation. The fruit that went into this wine seems of modest quality – it’s too sweet-edged and simply flavoured to be truly fine. But it’s clean, and the winemaking that surrounds it has given it enough counterpoint to frame it with graceful appropriateness. The aroma mixes bright, bouncy fruit with overlays of mealiness. The fruit, at first, showed a slightly distressing pineapple character, but that has mostly blown off and settled to a still-bright but more attractive melon note. There’s no complexity to speak of, but it’s a delicate, polite aroma that knows its boundaries and works well within them.

The palate is fresh and flavoursome, with moderately intense waxed lemon fruit and oatmeal. Here again the fruit edges towards a confectionary vibe and is held in check by savouriness that seems winemaker-led. The fact that it’s not overly driven works in its favour; there’s nothing outsize about this wine, and that means its limitations as well as its strengths are modest. A nice creamy after palate leads through to a finish that is fresh and juicy, with only a hint of sweetness marring the flavour profile. Acid is fine. Serving this wine on the cool side helps to temper the fruit’s more vulgar tendencies.

Some wines seem to squander their potential; this makes the most of its humble beginnings. Nothing more than cheap Chardonnay, really, but a little marvel of styling nonetheless, and attractive for its honesty.

Domaine Alain Chavy
Price: $A18
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Oakvale Limited Release Reserve Chardonnay 2011

Consider this note an alert to lovers of old school Hunter Chardonnay, for what we have here is a proudly rich wine of the sort that has become quite outmoded but for which, I suspect, many have affection. I include myself in that group.

Immediately the aroma signals this wine’s stylistic bent. The two main influences here are ripe nectarine and oak. There’s a range of flavours positioned alongside these core notes, but the wine keeps coming back to luscious, sweet, undeniably oak-rich aromas. Interestingly, the edges are most alluring; there are hints of herb, mandarin peel, spice and more.

The palate is predictably lush and mouthfilling. In particular, the wine’s slippery, almost gooey texture stands out for its total lack of edges. This is a wine that places no barriers between itself and your stomach. Flavours are again centered on ripe stonefruit and oak, with a collection of subdued complexities crowding around the edges. The overall effect is quite sweet. Despite its silicone mouthfeel, there’s plenty of acid to prop up the palate, though I wish it exerted more influence on the wine’s texture to give it a sense of light and shade. As it is, a fairly single minded experience.

No great finesse or detail here, but it carries an undeniable hit of Chardonnay flavour.

Price: $A40
Closure: Diam
Source: Sample

Lowe Tinja Preservative Free White 2012

One becomes so jaded. As soon as I saw this wine’s label, I immediately assumed its preservative free status was some kind of spin, a claim at natural wine status perhaps, or a cynical attempt at niche marketing. Shame on me — it turns out the winemaker is himself sensitive to sulfur dioxide and makes this wine for those similarly afflicted. As someone who erupts into fits of coughing when faced with too much sulfur, that’s an intent I can relate to.

The wine itself is a blend of Chardonnay and Verdelho. It’s quite low in alcohol (10% ABV) and shows considerable spritz when poured. Although ostensibly a still table wine, the dissolved carbon dioxide exerts a significant influence over the experience of this wine, its nose prickling with savouriness and its palate enlivening the tongue even if it doesn’t exactly flood the tastebuds with flavour. The overall impression is one of neutral freshness and crisp acid. Crucially with a wine such as this, there are no faults, but nor is there much personality.

It seems the purpose of this wine is simply to provide fresh, easy drinking to those with an aversion to sulfur dioxide. In this it succeeds admirably.

Lowe Wines
Price: $A20
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Tapanappa Tiers Vineyard Chardonnay 2010

Earlier in the week, I hurriedly tasted the current releases of Tapanappa’s three single vineyard wines. All are worthy and exciting but I was especially drawn to this one. I have been looking forward to spending a bit more quality time with it.

I’ve had some pretty strong reactions against some Australian Chardonnays over the past few years that have seemed, to me, stylistically forced. The swing against our now-reviled broader styles perhaps inevitably went hard, and on many occasions the new wave of Chardonnays seemed to me more a matter of fashion than a deeper engagement with variety and site. Interestingly, Tapanappa’s philosophy of wine is centered on the idea of distinguished sites, sites whose terroirs perfectly marry with the grape variety to which they are planted. Not a new idea, to be sure, but one that is pursued with some purity by this producer and one that, in theory, should cut through stylistic fashion. Is there a single truth of a particular terroir and variety? I’m not sure I know the answer…

Although this falls into the category of richer, more worked wines, it has a delicacy and clarity of expression that defies its weight and complexity.  The aroma is full of distinct notes, tending towards savoury and taut yet underpinned by luscious stonefruit and caramel. It’s rich and nimble at the same time, perhaps a function of its youth (and, dare I say, the screwcap closure). Oak is present in a floral, vanillan thread that weaves in and out of the fruit flavours. There’s a lot going on here.

The palate, as with the nose, is a balance of nervous vitality and muscle. Again, complex in terms of flavour profile, moving from savoury lees notes through a range of stonefruit and citrus to beautifully balanced butterscotch and caramel. The architecture of the wine is most impressive: its flavours are clear and distinct, and sit within a large scale frame that exists without heaviness. Here’s a wine that shows the full range of winemaking input without it ever overwhelming the essential qualities of its fruit. One can indeed have one’s cake and eat it too.

Cracking wine.

Price: $A75
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample