Cool waters: Antipodean Chardonnay

The winemakers presenting this online tasting stressed this was not a competition between New Zealand and Australia. Inevitably, however, human nature means I searched for any conclusions that could be drawn about differences between the two countries. The sample was small, and it really was not about declaring a ‘winner’or ‘loser’; but in fact I found the selection of wines was surprisingly homogeneous.

I suspect that is largely down to both countries putting forward wines that are very much in the modern Chardonnay idiom. That means oak was used carefully, ripeness was matched to acidity and alcohol was moderate. The wines also displayed varying levels of the in-vogue ‘gunflint’ note of reduction that mimics the style of Chablis.

Significant too, was that all of the New Zealand wines came from distinctly coastal vineyards, but so too did the Australian samples, coming from Geelong and the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria, and the island of Tasmania. That means all were subject to the cooling influence of the Southern Ocean, as seen in the fresher, relatively crisp style of all six wines.

The Wines

(2021) Kooyong's Chardonnay comes from vineyards just 12 kilometres from the ocean in the south of Victoria State, on clay loam soils and vines around 25 years old. Whole-bunch feremented with wild yeasts, it spent nne months in French oak barriques, only 7% new, and only 10% was put through malolactic fermentation. Quite a pale straw/gold colour, charming nose, a little buttery and nutty, not overtly flinty though there is a touch of wet river stones, and the very juicy peach fruit comes through nicely on the palate, running into a lime acidity that's incisive but not too sharp.
(2021) A single vineyard Chardonnay from vineyards on gravel and silty soils in Marlborough, vines were planted in 2000 and the wine is whole-bunch pressed, with half fermented with wild yeasts and half inoculated. It spent 10 months in barriques and larger barrels of French oak, 35% new and around 40% went through malolactic. Pale straw in colour and a lovely creaminess to the aroma, nutty too, with a lightly oxidised almond even a hint of hazelnut, as well as some flint. In the mouth cool lemon meets ripe apple, a leaner style here, but there is mid-palate fruit ripeness without a doubt, and it is really very well done.
(2021) From one of the coolest sites on the already cool island of Tasmania, just 4.5 kilometres from the ocean, vines were planted in 2008 and this is partially fermented with wild yeasts and spends nine months in oak of various sizes, 40% new. Partial malolactic. Pale green/gold, distinctive lime and lemongrass nose, the oak very much in the background, a certain minerality here. In the mouth quite crisp and incisive, all about lemons and pithy grapefruit, perhaps needs to relax a tad more. To be fair, I am not certain this sample was in perfect condition.
(2021) From vineyards six kilometeres from the ocean, this is certified organic and comes from clay and gravel soils. It spends 12 months in French barriques, only 8% new, after fermentation with wild yeasts, and it goes through full malolactic. Quite a quiet, understated nose here, creamy ripe apple and pear, the merest touch of flint in the background. In the mouth an intense, concentrated wine in terms of both texture and flavour, a lot of salty, racing mineral acidity drives it at this stage, staying taut and linear. Should be better in a couple of years too.
(2021) From Geelong, 25 kilomteres from the Ocean, and made organically. The soils are clay over limestone, and the wine is fermented with wild yeasts before spending 10 months in French oak (larger barrels and 20% new). Around 70% goes through malolactic. Creamy cashew nut, melon and juicy apple, not so much flint here, but not in the tropical spectrum either. The palate is lovely: decisive acidity for sure, lemon and salt, but a rounded, creamy fruit quality, the almond and hazelnut oak is delicious, and this has excellent length and balance.
(2021) At 15 kilometres from the ocean this single block wine is from a biodynamic estate, the vines planted on clay with chalk/limestone deposits. Whole-bunch pressed into tight-grained 500-litre French oak, and it sees 100% malolactic. Relatively dark in colour compared to the others here, with a lightly oxidised character, so I suspect this was another sample not in perfect condition. Toast and the oak certainly apparent, but an intriguing nuttiness and even some floral notes at the opposite extreme perhaps. The palate has a lovely blend of orange and grapefruit and something peachier and more exotic, then the acidity comes through nicely, so the finish dries on saltiness again with gastronomic effect. My score must be predicated on this being a less than perfect example. I look forward to another occasion and a different bottle.

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