The Chardonnays of Adelaide Hills

I was recently sent six samples of wines from South Australia’s Adelaide Hills for a Zoom tasting with their winemakers. Adelaide Hills is an area I know quite well. Just a short drive from Adelaide’s international airport, it is genuinly able to post some cool conditions thanks mainly to the altitude afforded by the hills. The area is also at the forefront of the ‘new Chardonnay’ in Australia, emphasising subtlety and freshness.

That style is acheived because the altitude of the hills moderates temperatures, with vineyards rising to 700 metres. That also gives good diurnal shift: the difference between warm days and cool nights that is so important in retaining acidity. The ocean is also a cooling influence, the region running down the coast to the Fleurieu Peninsula. But the folds and creases of the Mount Lofty Range also give diverse soils and aspects, meaning wines do display microclimate variations.

This was a really impressive set of wines. Not all are available retail in the UK at present, but they range from below £20 to over £60 per bottle, representing as they do some seriously good wines, of genuine world stature.

The Wines

(2021) Fruit for this is from the Musque clone of Chardonnay, rarely seen but know for its aromatics. It is made with wild yeasts in barrels, with lees stirring. It matures for 10 months in oak, 20% new. There's some spice and ripe but quite lean and restrained fruit, a little ginger note. The oak is present but understated too, and onto the palate it has fine oranges and lemons vibrant juiciness, a nice texture and plenty of punch.
(2021) A wine from a single vineyard block, matured for nine months in larger 350- and 500-litre barrels, all 100% new French oak. Lean soils are credited with producing small, compact and intensely flaboured. More obvious oak here, but it is of lovely quality, creamy and biscuity/toasty, with coffee depth. The fruit bursts through on the palate, really pushing that creamy and toasty character into the background. Very intense and concentrated, it really does have drive: a great acid line here, scything through the richness and fat of the fruit on the mid-palate. Excellent length and intrinsic quality through to the finish.
(2021) Again fermented and aged 10 months in French oak, 50% new barrels, and the best fruit selected specifically for this bottling. What an attractive nose, one of the Chardonnays with gentle honey and almond rather than overt toastiness, generous ripe pear and lemon fruit beneath, hinting at peachy tropicality. The palate majors on bursting orange and lime fruit vibrancy, really vivacious, the oak gently supporting in the background, but the juiciness of the fruit and line of acid is lovely.
(2021) Predominantly from high altitude vineyards, this was whole bunch pressed into mostly older French oak, with some lees stirring. Winemaker Michael Downer's family established the vineyards in 1988. Quite subtle oak here again, more almond and oatmeal than toast, crisp and clean white fruit aromas, restrained a touch flinty but clean. Once again the palate bursts through with vibrant fruit, real saltiness here, a saline wash over lemons and apples, into a long finish. Delicious, with tangy mineral intensity.
(2021) Fruit for this wine is whole bunch pressed, part natural fermentation of the free run juice. Matured in French oak barriques with batonnage and 100% malolactic. Presented by Kim Schroeter whom I first met as Penfolds specialist white wine maker maybe 15 or 20 years ago. This is part of the story of Penfold's attempts to make a 'white Grange' which led them to the Adelaide Hills (and Tasmania) now the source of their top Chardonnays. Really funky and flinty, the struck-match lift nicely bedded into creamy stone fruits. The palate is lean and mineral, again saltiness comes through here, pristine fruit, but the ripeness is there - even a hint of mint. So much texture, depth, the combination of earthiness and funkiness, a great acid line is complete and complex.
(2021) From an ex-apple orhcard in cool Lenswood, some old vines here dating back to the mid 80s. The vineyard is farmed biodynamically. Very subtle, cool, precise and restrained, a touch of flint. The oak is almost transparent here, the wine staying cool and oh so precise on the palate. With only 12.5% abv it's much more Chablis-like I suppose. Concentration and intensity, but nothing too flashy. Lemony, juicy and zesty, salinity into a balanced finish. Subtle and taut.

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