In his 12 years in charge at Chardonnay and Pinot specialist Yering Station, winemaker Tom Carson carved out a reputation for true mastery of these Burgundian varieties. I remember reporting on the International Wine and Spirit Competition awards in London in 2004 when he staggered off the stage, groaning under the weight of not one, but three trophies, for Pinot Noir of the Year, Australian Winery of the Year, and Winemaker of the Year (photo courtesy Sydney Morning Herald). The Burgundian varieties have been Tom Carson’s focus since his earliest vintage making wine for Tim Knappstein’s, including the Lenswood Vineyards Pinot Noir, and in France where he has completed five vintages in Burgundy and Champagne. He is without doubt one of the world’s Pinot and Chardonnay maestros. Now he has taken that focus to Yabby Lake, and in a few short years has built on the work of his predecessors, Larry McKenna and Tod Dexter, to elevate Yabby Lake to global prominence as one of the finest exponents of these varieties. Like Yering Station, Yabby Lake is based in the State of Victoria, on the Mornington Peninsula. Established by the Kirby family in 1998, all of the fruit for the Yabby Lake wines is estate grown. Throughout the range, from the entry level ‘Red Claw’ to the Single Block wines, all fruit is hand-picked and ageing is in French oak, both small barriques and larger formats. Tom Carson is also in charge of two other labels within the Kirby family’s portfolio, both from sub-regions of Victoria. The Heathcote Estate wines – Shiraz and Grenache – come from the eponymous Heathcote region, warmer and more central than the Mornington Peninsula, whilst the Cooralook vineyards are in the ultra cool Strathbogie Ranges, at elevations of 160-600 metres. Pinot and Chardonnay are made here, as well as aromatic varieties like Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris.
This tasting of Yabby Lake wines was courtesy of their UK importer, SWIG (www.swig.co.uk). It was super-impressive I must say, proving yet again that the wines of ‘The New Australia’, much more restrained and elegant than a decade ago, are well worth investigating with estates like Yabby Lake exploiting the soils and cooler climates of their region beautifully.
Yabby Lake, Red Claw Chardonnay 2012, Australia
The entry level Chardonnay is 100% barrel fermented in French oak and aged on the lees for 10 months, It is deliciously vegetal and complex, with complex flint and mineral notes and clear citrus fruit. The palate is lean and serious. There is a continuation of that flinty, complex sulphide character over apple and lemon, that gives this such tight raciness. 90/100. £17.95, Swig.
Yabby Lake, Single Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Australia
Selected from three vineyard blocks, this was pressed into tight-grained French oak barriques (only 10% new) where it was fermented with wild yeasts. It was matured in barrel for 10 months, and malolactic fermentation was blocked. There’s certainly an extra measure of nuttiness and complexity over the Red Claw. Again it is flintily complex giving all sorts of smoky, wispy notes of fresh-cracked stones: a real mineral appeal. So tight and pure on the palate, with wonderful focus and linearity, the finish is long and gently tapering. 93/100. £33.00, Swig.
Yabby Lake, Block 1 Chardonnay 2012, Australia
What a hugely complex nose on this wine made from a small parcel taken from one of the same three blocks. It was whole bunch pressed into 500-litre French oak casks and fermented with wild yeasts. The family resemblance between this and the Single Vineyard Chardonnay is obvious, but this has such beautiful salt-licked, seashell freshness and tight, pure core of grapefruit and apple. Absolutely ravishing stuff on the palate with immense concentration and fantastic precision to the fruit. Pin-point acidity and then the gently persistent creaminess of the oak flowing through to an endless finish. 96/100. £59.00, Swig.
Yabby Lake, Red Claw Pinot Noir 2012, Australia
Made in open fermenters with three days cold soaking to ensure thorough extraction, then fermented over 14 days before transfer to French oak barrels. A delicious twist of liquorice and rhubarb vegatility to the softening, autumnal fruit. A touch of smokiness too. The palate walks a lovely line between a firm, lean acidity and that soft leafy fruit. The texture is creamy, the tannins add another nip of spice and grip. Delicious and serious. 90/100. £17.95, Swig.
Yabby Lake, Single Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Australia
A blend of four separate vineyard blocks, whole bunches were fermented in open fermenters with some hand plunging for extraction, before transfer to French oak, mostly 500-litre puncheons. Deliciously fragrant stuff this with exotic incense and sandalwood notes. An undercurrent of more open and generous, developed fruit. But then a tight, liquoricy hint of backbone and structure on the palate, off of which hangs lovely bittersweet fruit, a nip of tannin, an edge of tart cherry skins acidity and balance into a lovely, long finish. 92-93/100. £39.00, Swig.
Yabby Lake, Block 1 Pinot Noir 2012, Australia
Small open-top fermenters were used again, with some whole bunches, and 3-4 days of cold soaking. The wine was pressed into tight-grained 500-litre French oak. A touch of mint and a touch of earthy, truffly complexity – though no shortage of tightly-wound, spicy and ripe black fruit. Really tight and a touch ungiving at present, but that is the joy of a wine that will blossom in another four or five years: already there is gorgeous purity to fruit, with creamy tannins and oak in the background and such a lovely balancing acidity. Terrific potential here to score a point or two more than my current 94/100. £59.00, Swig.
Yabby Lake, Block 2 Pinot Noir 2012, Australia
A near identical winemaking for this block, with only a slightly longer fermentation (14 days as opposed to 10) before ageing in 500-litre French oak. It is quite different from Block 1, with a subtly spicy and exotic nose, a pure cherry and red liquorice lift and freshness to the aromas. Superb palate, with a touch of nuttiness and firm, endive-like bittersweetness. There’s a chocolaty richness underpinning this cuvée, it is more approachable than Block 1 at this stage for sure, but the tightness, firmness and balance of the finish says it is a wine that also needs time and is, again, quite superb. 94-95/100. £59.00, Swig.
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