Into the Yarra: Chardonnay spotlight

The Yarra Valley has a pretty blessed position: an easy one hour drive from Melbourne in the State of Victoria, it is arguably Australia’s most sophisticated and wine-loving city. That makes for a ready market of over five million people (plus flocks of tourists), who also descend on the wineries and restaurants on day and weekend trips.

It is a relatively cool-climate wine region too, where Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, in both still and sparkling forms, are kings. In recent years a whole host of other varieties can also be found, from Savagnin to Sangiovese, but there’s no doubt that Burgundy’s big two are the cornerstones of Yarra’s reputation.

Sandy-loam soils, on a base of clay, are widespread, though there are some volcanic soils too. The climate is influenced by the proximity of the ocean, and there is some elevation, with numerous folds and aspects in the topography meaning there are many different micro-climates across the region. This tasting of six Chardonnays from leading producers also showcased the different approaches to winemaking. Chardonnay is famously maleable in the winemaker’s hands, in terms of everything from clonal material planted, to turbidity of musts, to choice of yeasts for fermentation, to maturation regimes.

The Wines

(2023) From clay loam soils, fruit is gently pressed then racked to both French oak casks and stainless tanks. Toast, vanilla and spices on the nose, a touch of flintiness and cool apple fruit. In the mouth this has a fat lemony fruit and acidity, more of that toasty character and a full texture. It stays relatively lean, just hinting at a peachiness on the mid-palate.
(2023) This comes from grey clay loam, and is made from the Mendoza clone with its 'hen and chick' tendency. It was fermented and aged 10 months in 500-litre French oak, 28% new barrels, and partially with wild yeasts. A lovely quality of oak here, fragrant and honeyed, with ripe stone fruits and lemon giving freshness. On the palate there's a soft, crushed almond quality to this, creamy in fruit and texture, a fine citrus core of acidity extending the finish. Price and stockist below are for an earlier vintage.
(2023) The Chardonnay was whole bunch pressed and barrel fermented with 100% wild yeast. It spent eight months on lees, with partial malolactic fermentation. There's plenty of toast here, almost a cracked wheat character, quite subtle lemony fruit and a touch of stony flint. In the mouth more punchy than the Yering Station for example, a more vivacious blast of citrus juiciness and higher acid, though lacks a little of the latter's elegance. Price and stockist below is for the 2021 vintage.
(2023) Some granite and ironstone influence on the clay loam soils here, the wine whole bunch pressed and fermented with indigenous yeasts in 500L French puncheons. Matured for 10 months in barrel (20% new) it did not go through malolactic and there was no batonnage. Very clean and mineral and fruit driven on the nose, the oak less prominent on this one. Very juicy and ripe in style, though the sharpness of the acid structure gives lovely focus, a rounding touch of barrel character easing the finish. Stylish.
(2023) From grey silty loam soils, this was whole bunch pressed to French oak barrels; 228-litre and 500-litre, 30% new oak. Wild and cultured yeast were used, but there was no malolactic fermentation during 10 months in barrel. Fine oak aromas along with cool and precise lemon and nutty Cox's pippin apple fruit. Flint here too. In the mouth it fairly bursts with juicy flavour, moving from nectarine to lemon, the vanilla touch and smoky spice of the barrel plus alert acidity giving lots of character and lots of pleasure in this.
(2023) From silty loam soils, half the juice started fermentation in tank, the remainder was wild fermented in barrel (French oak hogsheads, 30% new oak). Malolactic occured in barrels, with lees stirring, for around nine months. There's a sour orange and lemon, invitingly grown-up note on the nose here, some toast and a core of apple fruitiness. Lovely sweetness to the palate fruit, smooth and supple texture too. Plenty of juiciness, a vivacious citrus streak and again that pithy, savoury acid character pushing the finish. Concentrated and age-worthy I suspect.

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