The wines (alphabetical order)
Christian Moreau Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos
Coche-Dury Meursault Les Rougeots
Coldstream Hills Reserve
François Raveneau Chablis 1er Cru Montee de Tonnerre
Gaja Gaia & Rey
Giant Steps Tarraford Vineyard
Hoddles Creek Estate 1er
Jean-Marc Pillot Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Vergers Clos St. Marc
Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Clavoillon
Les Crêtes Cuvée Bois
Neudorf Vineyards Moutere
Oakridge 864 Lusatia Park Vineyard
Peter Michael Ma Belle Fille
Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey Grand Cru Corton-Charlemagne
Sacred Hill Rifleman’s
Te Mata Estate Elston
Toolangi Vineyards Estate
Toolangi Vineyards Reserve
Yering Station Reserve
Chardonnay 12 event
The Chardonnay 12 event at Toolangi was the perfect opportunity to pitch the best Yarra Valley examples against the finest from France, Italy, New Zealand and the US.
As an Australian winemaker, you’d be hard pressed to think of a better slice of the action to have than to be right amongst the excitement that is Yarra Valley chardonnay. So it’s no surprise that the second Toolangi-hosted chardonnay event, held in conjunction with GT WINE and Riedel – Chardonnay 12 – drew a crowd of eager wine lovers and makers.
You’d have to have been trapped under a rock for the last few years not to have witnessed the stellar trajectory that the Yarra’s best chardonnay wines have been on, exactly the impetus that led Garry and Julie Hounsell (Toolangi proprietors) to first mount this ambitious showcase two years ago.
The Yarra Valley region has not only made fast inroads to delivering great chardonnay, it has done so in significant numbers. This meant that the coveted eight spots (among a total of 21) for Yarra Valley wines in the Chardonnay 12 line-up were hotly contested.
The remaining 13 wines were selected to form a global context and, with the cultishly popular Domaine Coche-Dury Meursault Les Rougeots on the table, there’s no question that the benchmark was set very, very high.
Accompanying the Yarra Valley and Burgundian wines in the tasting came a flotilla of New Zealand’s finest, as well as wines from Italy and the US. It’s also worth pointing out the Burgundian component was a dual-pronged offering, with the Kimmeridgian limestone soils of the northerly satellite of Chablis providing considerable excitement both on paper and in the glass.
Once again the esteemed panel of James Halliday, Huon Hooke, Bob Campbell MW and Philip Rich all presided over the in-depth tasting in the Oak Room at Chateau Yering, with Sommeliers Australia president Ben Edwards steering it along.
Across three brackets of seven wines, all tasted blind with the identities known but the order hidden, the packed room was enthralled with the quality of the Yarra Valley wines from the outset. They all came from the excellent 2010 vintage.
The New Zealand wines were also sourced from the 2010 vintage and the wines from the Northern Hemisphere countries were all sourced from the 2009 vintage, harvested just six months ahead of the Southern Hemisphere wines.
Knowing how thorough the selection process had been and how strong the local wines have become, there was an air of expectation, excitement and, for winemakers in the room whose wares were in contention, a distinctly nervous edge. An esteemed yet open field meant that success was unpredictable.
With an eye to quality and, as subjective as this may be, there was generally strong agreement throughout the room, the discussion turned quickly towards the local Yarra wines and also the issue of typicity.
In the first bracket, it was the Chablis terroir that spoke loudest, articulated through the revered Domaine François Raveneau and a stunning 2009 Chablis 1er Cru Montée de Tonnerre. It’s chalky minerality is unmistakable, the Teflon-like smoothly textured palate something to marvel at, a flawlessly crafted and scintillating wine.
The best of the New Zealand wines opened the first bracket. The 2010 Neudorf Moutere Chardonnay demonstrated a handy lesson for those drinking the top contemporary, complex chardonnay wines, and that is they need air. Great chardonnay often looks fragmented when first poured, but these exceptional wines compose themselves in the glass with conviction. Neudorf Vineyard’s Moutere certainly did that.
The Toolangi Vineyards Estate Chardonnay sailed a neat course of uncompromising restraint and elegance; tight-wound, clean, long and composed, it’s a pure and direct chardonnay that will reward patience.
Domaine Chandon’s 2010 Chardonnay was one of the stand-out wines, delivering a composed and cool white stone-fruit style with discreet winemaking folded neatly into the mix. Impressive appeal married with elegance was the common consensus. Also from the immediate region, Mount Mary’s tautly restrained offering showed another measured yet powerful Yarra guise.
The first of the two Italian wines, the 2009 Les Crêtes Cuvée Bois lacked composure, purity, focus and length and was outclassed by every other wine on the table. Great Italian chardonnay was deemed an oxymoron, with one more chance to impress in the final bracket sadly falling short of the mark.
The second flight was the most consistent and a contingent of great Yarra Valley Chardonnays was led by the Oakridge 864 Lusatia Park, with the Hoddles Creek Estate 1er and Giant Steps Tarraford Vineyard snapping at its heels. Both Giant Steps and Hoddles Creek have sailed up the Yarra Valley pecking order with their 2010 vintage wines. Christian Moreau’s 2009 Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos revealed the same strong signal of floral, stony terroir that the Raveneau demonstrated in the first bracket and the Te Mata Estate Elston delivered lovely line and length from New Zealand’s Hawkes Bay region. They were both great wines.
The Côte d’Or pair of wines, the 2009 Jean-Marc Pillot Chasagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Vergers and the 2009 Domaine Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Clavoillon both provided a lesson in the role of phenolics in top chardonnay. The way in which dry extract worked to frame considerable fruit weight in a riper vintage had the winemakers in the room very engaged.
The third bracket had possibly the greatest potential for a split field and it didn’t disappoint. The US, represented by the 2009 Peter Michael Ma Belle Fille, showed that their idea of quality chardonnay has a different set of criteria to all other comers, even the Italians. The Peter Michael demonstrated a preference for ripeness (15 per cent), oak and malolactic fermentation’s buttery popcorn notes ahead of tension and focus. It was easily the lesser wine of the bracket, possibly the whole tasting.
The best wine was the 2009 Pierre-Yves Colin Morey Grand Cru Corton Charlemagne. A muscular, dense and powerful wine with precision, length and definition.
The 2009 Gaia Gaja & Rey Chardonnay seemed to deliver decent focus but struggled away under a veritable forest of oak. The rock star 2009 Coche-Dury Meursault Les Rougeots thrilled the audience although I have reservations about this particular vintage.
Instead of delivering the trademark complexity, edgy sulfides and undeniable punch, the 2009 vintage shows roundness, flesh and immense concentration but the razor’s edge is either not there or not visible.
The third bracket’s Yarra contingent, represented this time by the Toolangi Reserve, Coldstream Hills Reserve and Yering Station Reserve wines, strode confidently through the rest of the group in tight formation.
The salient lesson here was not only the coherently high quality of these three wines, but also the strong sense of place they displayed. In fact, the tasting’s most impressive revelation was that of terroir. The Yarra Valley had proven identifiable character throughout all three brackets and reached great heights in the process.
TEXT NICK STOCK
This article is from the August/September 2012 issue of Gourmet Traveller WINE.