Adelaide Hills – Elevation and Elegance

Elevation and Elegance was the title given to this online webinar that presented six Chardonnay wines from estates in the cool Adelaide Hills in South Australia.

Stretching across the Mount Lofty Ranges, high altitude ensures good diurnal shift – the difference between day and night temperatures. Though quite a large geographical area, the grape crush is small, with vineyards on steep slopes and undulating hills providing a diversity of sites. Winemaking was revived here in the early 1970s, after 50 years when the industry had all but vanished. As winemakers sought cooler climates, the Hills came into their own.

The six estates are shown on the map, all lying within the hills which are a short drive from Adelaide and the coast. Two sub-regions have been classified as GIs in their own right, Lenswood and Piccadilly Valley. The region is bordered by Barrossa/Eden Valley to the north and McLaren Vale to the southwest.

Though renowned for sparkling wines and cooler climate varieties, especially Chardonnay, it’s also home to quite an experimental mindset. Readers might remember my tastings with the Basket Ranges crew of low intervention garagistes. But these wines, largely wild fermented and all low in alcohol between 12% and 13% speak of community of winemakers intent on restraint and naturalness in their wines.

The Estates

Based in Lenswood, Pike & Joyce is a collaboration between two families, The Pikes synonymous with their Clare Valley estate, the Joyces farming the Adelaide Hills for five genearations. Steve Baraglia is winemaker. Orlando is a well-known name with 175 years of winemaking tradition, where Tim Pelquest-Hunt is Chief Winemaker. Family-owned Sidewood is firmly rooted in the Adelaide Hills, founded in 2004 and farming 120 hectares of vineyard. Winemaking is shared between Henry Borchardt and Darryl Catlin. The Lane first planted its vines on virgin land in 1993, sitting atop a 450 metre hill where Turon White is winemaker. Karrawatta is principally a contract viticultural business, where owner and winemaker Mark Gilbert releases small batches under his own label. Another well-known name, Ashton Hills will forever be associated with charismatic founder Stephen George, who handed over to Lian Van Pelt in 2019.

The Wines

(2023) From vineyards in Lenswood at 500-590 metres. Fruit from 25-year-old vines was part whole-bunch fermented with wild yeast in 100% French oak. A small portion went through malolactic fermentation and the wine spent eight months in barrel. A youthful straw/green in colour, the nose shows flintiness, but is more about crushed oatmeal and quite figgy, ripe fruit. Admirably loaded with fruit sweetness and texture, it is really very concentrated, though with salt and lemon acidity to balance. A big, and for me, slightly overpowering style despite its lowly 12.5% alcohol.
(2023) From the Woodside district, 16-year-old vines are planted at 400 metres. The wine was inoculated with yeast and fermented 70% in puncheons, 30% in hogsheads, 80% of which were new French barrels. Aged nine months on the lees, with partial malolactic. Pale and very flinty, the Brazil nut oak plays with crisp apple fruit and freshly-struck match notes. In the mouth this has a pleasing elegance and sourness to the fruit and acid combination that is very grown-up and appealing. It is long and tangy, with a zesty finish. No UK stockist listed at time of review.
(2023) From vineyards in Oakbank at 300 metres, the vines are 25 years old. Barrel fermented with wild yeast, it spent 10 months in 300-litre French oak, 30% of which was new. Another pale and green-tinged wine, this is quite clean and doesn't emphasise oak, ripeness or reduction too much, rather it has lightly floral and clean lemon and apple character. In the mouth it lacks the decisiveness, maybe the sheer precision of something like the Orlando, but it is balanced into its long citrus finish.
(2023) From the Hahndorf district and 430 metres altitude, 28-year-old vines were hand poicked. Yeast was a mix of natural and selected strains, fermented and aged nine months in 500-litre French oak puncheons (86% new oak). Spontaneous malolactic was near 100%. Straw/lemon in colour, the nose is oatmeally and flinty, in an attractive Premier Cru Chablis-like style. Fruit is nutty with apples and oranges in the mix. The palate is very atractive; acid here is pronounced and defines the palate, tightening the fruit profile along with that flinty character. Quite concentrated, but has the bite and clarity to match.
(2023) Karrawatta is a new name for me, their Meadows vineyard lying at 450 - 470 metres altitude with 27-year-old vines. Ferment was with inoculated yeast in 400 litre French barriques, 35% new oak. It spent nine months on the lees with partial malolactic. Pale yellow/straw, it's a bright, straightforward lemony nose with little sign of reduction or heavy oak. It's straighforward on the palate too, lemon jelly flavours, decent acidity and medium weight. No UK stockists listed at time of review.
(2023) Some of the highest vineyards at 520 - 540 metres, the fruit from 25-year-old vines is fermented with wild yeast in barriques and puncheons of French oak, 20% new. It spends nine months on the lees, with partial malolactic. Once again, pale straw tones and a nose showing an elegant moderation: there is a little almond and oatmeal, a nutty apple fruit and a sense of gentleness. In the mouth lemony and bright, the focus is good in a medium-bodied format where the crisp acid defines the finish. Imported by Gonzalez Byass UK, but no retail stockists listed at time of review.

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