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Thursday, 1 July 2021

Cool-Climate Australia: Adelaide Hills Chardonnay

A tasting of high-end Chardonnays from Australia's cool-climate Adelaide Hills

Until relatively recently, any reference to high-end Australian wines would have me thinking of bigger-is-better muscle-car wines with lots of alcohol and oak.

Less Daniel Day-Lewis; more Bruce Willis.

But all that is changing as Australia - which is, after all a continent more than a country - is bringing cooler-climate, more nuanced and elegant wines to our attention.

Chardonnay vines were first planted in the Adelaide Hills in the 1970s, its cool climate and elevation providing the ideal conditions for this French variety. The diversity of the Adelaide Hills’ micro-climates and winemaking styles results in a range of different Chardonnays.

In particular, the Adelaide Hills is a leader in ‘New Australian – New Wave’ Chardonnay, wines which are elegant, textured and lean but which have the acid structure to age and evolve.

Great chardonnays come from cooler regions, such as the Adelaide Hills, where the fruit has had time to ripen slowly and evenly, achieving full flavour while retaining acidity and freshness.

The region is at the centre of a new generation of Australian chardonnays. The variety has now moved on from an earlier style when rich, over-ripe and over-oaky wines were favoured but eventually lost their attraction as our collective palates became more tuned to refreshment, subtlety, and more sophisticated expressions.

The popular transition to more vibrant and complex white wines, desired by both consumers and winemakers, has coincided with a parallel passion to grow and create modern, complex chardonnay in the Adelaide Hills. And even within the region, chardonnay’s renowned versatility produces many nuanced variations, different fruit flavour spectrums, textural lines and single vineyard creations.

A wide range of aspects, often sloping and steep, as well as soil variations and complex micro-climates across the region encourage the wide choice of styles. As do the winemakers behind them, all striving to put their chardonnays on the Adelaide Hills map.

The quality factor

All the wines here were Very Good to Very Good Indeed; all elegant, complex and nuanced, drinking nicely now but capable of aging.

Fresh, complex and concentrated, these are all extremely well-made wines from very high quality fruit.

The Pawn 2018 End Game Chardonnay Adelaide Hills 

There are aromas of nectarine, white peach & melon fruits coupled with roasted hazelnut and oak spice on the nose. Way-way off into the distance is the subtle hint of ginger and pink musk lollies—a unique character of the clonal selection. The palate displays citrus fruits, lemon curd and almond meal notes 

The Lane Heritage Chardonnay 2020

The Lane’s flagship white wine, made only in exceptional vintages and selected specially for our Heritage series from a single block on the estate. The wine ferments steadily and matures in our cool underground cellar over 9 months in custom coopered French oak 350L Hogsheads and 500L Puncheons, all 100% new oak.

This exclusive small batch Chardonnay has great mouthfeel and length, impeccable structure and natural acidity, fruit purity, balance and textural complexity. Enjoy now or cellaring will reward.

Nepenthe, 2018 Pinnacle Chardonnay

Paying homage to the beautiful Adelaide Hills, this Chardonnay seamlessly blends lemon blossom and nectarine with subtle oak complexity and freshness, complemented by the creamy mid-palate and tight, long finish. 

The aromas are powerful and complex with pure fruit characters of white peach and nectarine complemented by complex secondary aromatics of nutty oak. Palate Generous palate weight. Flavours of stone fruit and hazelnuts at the forefront, followed by grapefruit and lemon curd. Exceptional length and good natural acidity.

2019 Tilbury Chardonnay The hand picked grapes were part whole berry & whole bunch pressed, due to the natural balance of the fruit no acidification was required before fermentation in older French oak. Partial malolactic fermentation was allowed with a touch of lees stirring to add complexity and depth whilst being careful to keep the wine focused to display the unique qualities of the Adelaide Hills. 

Lifted with lime, white flowers supported with a wet stone and nutty complex character. Citrus, green apple and grapefruit driven on palate with a mineral textural element supported by lively acidity and structure

Penfolds Reserve Bin A Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2019

Reserve Bin A Chardonnay has evolved into a wine that is now a distinctive, single-region style in its own right, with a contemporary and expressive Adelaide Hills Chardonnay persona. Fruit is hand-picked into small bins and then whole-bunch pressed. A portion of the juice is incrementally filled to barrel directly from the press and allowed to undergo a natural fermentation, sans inoculation. Every new and seasoned French oak barrique is its own unique 225-litre ferment. Enhanced mouthfeel and complexity is achieved by fermenting and maturing on solids with regular yeast lees stirring. 100% malolactic fermentation (all natural).

Restrained upon first pour. Induce awakening via a sprightly decant, or vigorous swirl. Primary white peach and assorted stone fruits give way to tempting scents of fresh crème anglaise/ panna cotta. Oak (just) evident, yet impressively integrated (80% new) Wafts of struck-match prancing above; intense, smoky barrel-ferment notes lurking below. Complexingly challenging – an abundance of character, yet not saturated; aromatically bedazzling, yet not an assault.

Henschke 2018 Croft Chardonnay

The Chardonnay vineyard situated in Lenswood was planted from 1984 onwards. Its seven clones are some of the oldest vines in the Adelaide Hills. Viticulturist, Prue Henschke manages the vineyard using biodynamic practices and is surrounded by planting of native Bursaria Spinosa which assists with pest management. The wine has taken its name from Frederick Croft, an orchardist who took up a neighbouring property in 1938

Pale straw with green hues. Lifted and fragrant aromas of cut pear, white peach, nectarine, citrus and custard apple are supported by baking spices and toasted cashew. The palate shows richness and finesse with flavours of ripe peach and pear providing a fleshy textural quality, complimented by overtones of creme brulee and oatmeal. These characters are beautifully balanced by fresh citrus acidity and subtle oak nuances, giving the wine depth and finishing with incredible length.

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