At home with the Rhone By: Jeni Port
It's funny. I never really considered shiraz an "emerging" grape variety. In Australian wine terms it's as dinkum as a meat pie, and not a bad accompaniment, in fact, to our national dish. Marsanne sounds new - but it isn't. Young Elizabeth II drank Chateau Tahbilk marsanne at a parliamentary gathering at Westminster Hall in 1953. Mourvedre seems exotic until you realise it is plain old mataro, a building block upon which, with shiraz and grenache, many a tawny port was built.
But here we are celebrating the arrival in this country of these grapes and others like viognier and roussanne (now these are new) as exciting, emerging Rhone Valley styles. In fact, if grey is the new black, "Rhone Valley'' styles are the new pinot noir: increasingly clustering on trendy wine lists and being seen in all the right places. Grant Van Every, of Stella restaurant, and wine maker Don Lewis of Mitchelton Wines, will do their bit to keep the Rhone Valley flag flying during the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival, fronting the "Rhone Crawl'' at Stella with a range of Rhone wines matched to Australian styles and Geoff Lindsay's food.
Comparisons with the French don't always work (or help sell wine), but wine makers seem more than happy to label their wines Rhone-style because they say it helps consumers view traditional grapes like shiraz, grenache or mataro in a different light, while white grape varieties like marsanne, viognier and roussanne are shown as part of a family unit rather than a bunch of odd outsiders.
Tim Kirk at Clonakilla Wines in the ACT says the "Rhone" term comes in handy when describing his cooler-climate shiraz, which is blended with a dash of white viognier, a la the Rhone. "I find it useful as a point of differentiation from the bulk of Australian shirazes, particularly South Australian ones, which are quite a different style. They are American oaked, fairly lavishly so, and the flavor spectrum is different. There is much more plum and chocolate in the Barossa and McLaren Vale styles, whereas we get a lot more spice, pepper and berries, hopefully."
The Clonakilla wine is something akin to an elegant northern Rhone red, a style originating on the steep Cote Rotie terraces where shiraz (syrah to the French) and viognier grow side by side. In Cote Rotie it is the law to ferment the two together, which means the grapes have to be picked at the same time. It's a tough juggling trick, as viognier often ripens early.
Kirk, who chooses to do the same because he says the process extracts great aromatics and contributes to his wine's dazzling perfume, says viognier is not so early at Murrumbateman as to pose a problem. He picks a little to add to his shiraz (contributing 5 to 10 per cent in the finished wine) and leaves the rest on the vine for longer, for his delicate and flowery viognier table wine.
At Heathcote Winery, Mark Kelly walks a similar path with his shiraz/viognier blend, but he prefers less viognier in its overall makeup. As little as 3 per cent, he says, can cut down on some of the red grape's richness. French oak helps sustains the wine's elegance or, as Kelly prefers to call it, its "lightness of touch".
It's just too bad that production of his stunning Heathcote Winery viognier is a mere 136 cases. Worse still, there will be no 1999 wine. Frost wiped out any chance of even a dribble coming through.
Ask any of those brave enough to take on viognier just how well it has transplanted into this country and brace yourself for scenes of teeth-gnashing and hair-pulling (Don Lewis at Mitchelton is the only maker who seems happy with his lot). Growing is difficult (it took Clonakilla 10 years before its first commercial crop). Yields are notoriously low (part of its quality secret). And there is no firm opinion on winemaking style: viognier can be transformed into either a rich and complex style (Heggies) or a wine highlighting the grape's charming aroma of spring flowers with a firmer structure (Heathcote, Clonakilla).
But viognier is the wine of the moment, fabulously fashionable in the US. You have to feel sorry, then, for a grape variety like marsanne, less spectacularly quixotic, which just keeps plugging away decade after decade. Vineyard neighbors Chateau Tahbilk and Mitchelton in the Goulburn Valley have carried the marsanne flag valiantly and with determination. Trouble is, says Don Lewis (pictured, above) at Mitchelton, marsanne will never be trendy. "Marsanne is interchangeable with chardonnay," says Lewis, and therein lies the problem. Both Lewis, and Alister Purbrick (left) of Tahbilk, have been working during the 1990s to make marsanne's varietal fruit characters - delightful honeysuckle and citrus - more pronounced. This has probably won more fans to the cause. And, stresses Lewis, marsanne still has it all over chardonnay when it comes to ageing ability.
In the southern Rhone, it's a different story - a warmer clime and a group of grape varieties that Australians can mostly relate to: grenache, shiraz, mourvedre (mataro) and cinsaut. Big on color, generous in flavor, these grapes are behind the red styles of Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Cotes du Rhone and, in Australia, find a natural home in areas like the Barossa and Clare Valleys.
According to Rhone expert Remington Norman, it is the grenache-dominant wines of the Cotes du Rhone that most readily invite comparison with the Rhone-style blends in countries like Australia. Charlie Melton in the Barossa Valley concurs. "When you're talking about serious grenache (ie bush vines, low yields), there is probably more similarity between Aussie grenache and its equivalent in France than there is between Aussie shiraz and its French equivalent," he says.
In the mid-1980s Charlie was the guy who brought us the ultra-delicious Charles Melton Nine Popes, a blend of grenache, shiraz and mourvedre that was considered a benchmark. The name, a cheeky word play on Chateauneuf-du-Pape, was unashamedly Rhone-ish, but that was then and this is now. "We try not to make comparisons these days," he says. "I know we did in the past because we were trying to get people to take notice. If we had labelled the first Nine Popes a grenache/shiraz/mataro blend people would have just yawned."
No-one is yawning today. If anything they're fawning, which makes it hard to put this new phenomenon in perspective. Is it just another way of looking at our (mostly) established grape varieties and styles? Or does it constitute a true revolution for our tastebuds?
THE WINE AND JAZZ APPRECIATION SOCIETY NEWS, VOL 5, NO 11, 8/4/99
"I was a vegetarian until I started leaning towards sunlight." Rita Rudner
Boplicity - a young band of mainly VCA graduates complicit in their affection for the bop style of jazz made famous by Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and colleagues in the late 40's and into the 50's. Not a style for every listener, tending as it does to involve the improvisation around a chord rather than around a melody. The result is often a seemingly frenetic series of arpeggios in which there appears to be a competetion to see who can play the most notes per unit time. Lovers of lyricism will frequently be bemused at best and perhaps unfortunately dismissive of a jazz form requiring great energy, emotion and technical ability. It is challenging to listen to, but I find it curiously settling, rather than disturbing as some recount.
The band had a long-running residency at McCoppins, but with its closure, little has been heard of them in recent times. Toby Mak (trumpet), David Rex (alto), Lance Ferguson (guitar), Matt Clohesy (acoustic bass), and Danny Fischer (drums) hve been together now for some time, and despite the dearth of gigs, their playing was tight and punchy for the most part. Classic tunes such as Strahorn's Manhattan Medical Group, Benson's (or Golson's?) Benny's Back, Olover Nelson's Butch and Butch were given the full bop treatment, while Coltrane's Lonnies Lament featured some beautifully rich and restrained flugelhorn from Toby. David, having spent some time in New york a couple of years ago is becoming a formidable talent - obvious recently when he traded (sonic) blows with visiting star, Billy Harper, and was far from disgraced.
My impressions of Matt's bass playing have changed in recent times and I now enjoy hearing him far more. I'm not sure whether his playing has become more adventurous and nimble-fingered, or whether I was previously influenced by an impression of diffidence and of a distant manner when he played. Whatever, I now really enjoy his both his rhythmic support and his solos for their complexity and verve. Danny's drumming is never boring, and although he considers his technique to be some way behind his passion and drive, I always look forward to the way in which he provokes the band. He is a powerful player, though adept at brushes and something of a fan of the rimshot, a strategy he used to great effect, especially during a couple of well constructed and relatively restrained solos. Welcome stand-ins during the Last set were tenor players - Christophe Genoux and Mark Spencer. The band plays at Bennetts on each Wed during April.
The Age Tuesday 9 March 1999
Chardonnay with food
Chardonnay's mild-mannered varietal flavor makes it one of the most food-friendly of white wines. Disastrous food and wine pairings with chardonnay aren't common, but certain styles of chardonnay are better with certain things than others. Here are some marriages made in heaven, and a few out-of-left-field to challenge the adventurous.
Delicate unoaked chardonnays
need foods of similar delicate flavor. Simple grilled or steamed fish with a squeeze of lemon, salads (go easy on the vinaigrette) or simple pasta with light sauces. Or try a spicy Thai salad. Unoaked wines are best served with very spicy dishes.
Lighter, oaked chardonnays, like those from very cool vineyards, are best with foods of more definite flavor, but remember oak and strongly spicy cuisines, like those of South-East Asia, clash. Try cheese souffle, shellfish and crustaceans, pan-fried fish, sauced chicken breasts, Chinese green vegetables, stir-fried calamari.
Full-bodied oak-influenced chardonnays suit richer fare. Lobster, richly sauced prawns or scallops, salmon, meaty fish like tuna, roast chicken, ham, Chinese poultry dishes, mild Malaysian curries with coconut milk, young firm cheeses, mildly spiced Middle Eastern foods and seafood terrine. -- Ralph Kyte-Powell
The top 50 chardonnays
By: Ralph Kyte-Powell and Jeni Port
AUSTRALIA'S BEST CHARDONNAY
How do you choose between wines of real excellence, setting one above the other as the epitome of the style? In my discussions with fellow Epicure wine writer Jeni Port to decide on Australia's best chardonnay, names like Bannockburn, Giaconda, Coldstream Hills, Petaluma, Geoff Weaver and many others entered the fray. But in the end, the title was bestowed on a pioneer of Australia's super-chardonnays, a wine of consistency and supreme quality which is still a benchmark for others. The title of Best Chardonnay goes to Leeuwin Estate of Margaret River in Western Australia. It's a complete wine: profound, long and smooth with an exquisite juxtaposition of subtle complexities and power. It also ages well, building character with the passing of the years. Need we say more? 1995 vintage, about $68. (Wines are listed alphabetically, state by state. Prices are approximate)
1. Bannockburn ($45, 1997 vintage; SRH $99, 1995 vintage)
Gary Farr's Bannockburn wines are benchmarks for cool-grown, deeply flavored, complex chardonnays. They owe more than a little to Burgundy in style. The standard label is superb; a silky textured, long-flavored delight, and the special SRH, which gets the works including 100 per cent new oak, reaches even greater heights. They age particularly well, too. -- R.K.P.
2. Coldstream Hills Reserve ($42, 1997 vintage)
Coldstream Hills Reserve Chardonnays are richly endowed examples of the classic Yarra Valley style - creamy-smooth and succulent, with stylish oak handling to back up fine fruit character. James Halliday, the founder of Coldstream Hills, must be justifiably pleased with progress so far. -- R.K.P.
3. Craiglee ($23, 1997 vintage)
Pat Carmody's main claim to fame is the superb shiraz he makes at the historic Craiglee, near Sunbury. His excellent chardonnay is less well known and departs from today's norm in having no malolactic influence. It's fine-textured, with lovely stone-fruit and citrus characters, good length and subdued oak. -- R.K.P.
4. Dalwhinnie Chardonnay ($36, 1997 vintage)
Over the years, David and Jenny Jones have allowed several contract wine makers to work their magic on Dalwhinnie's superb chardonnay fruit from the Pyrenees. They appear to have settled on the artistry of Mitchelton to mould the wine in a French chablis style, one built on a complex structure, stunningly long and well-balanced -- J.P.
5. De Bortoli Yarra Valley Chardonnay ($23, 1997 vintage)
De Bortoli's Yarra Valley wine-making team rarely skips a beat when it comes to producing vivacious chardonnays of style and class. We all know the secret to good wine lies with the fruit, but with De Bortoli, it's all about allowing the fruit free expression with an Oscar-winning supporting role from French oak. -- J.P.
6. Dromana Estate Reserve Chardonnay ($40, 1997 vintage)
The word "reserve" is overused, but here's one "reserve" chardonnay that fits the bill: that is, it's a good head and shoulders above the standard version (and that's saying something). Everything that can be done has been done to ensure rich flavor and texture: whole bunches pressed and put in barrel with natural (wild) yeasts allowed to start fermentation. Extended time on lees and non-filtering before bottling all make a positive contribution. -- J.P.
7. Giaconda ($70, 1997 vintage)
Any list of Australia's great contemporary wines has to include Giaconda Chardonnay. At his small boutique winery near Beechworth, perfectionist Rick Kinzbrunner makes wine with an eye to the classics of Europe. With a combination of experience and intuition he succeeds consistently with a subtle Burgundian wine of great finesse and longevity. Very hard to find. -- R.K.P.
8. Mitchelton Chardonnay ($23, 1997 vintage)
We all like our chardonnays young, sexy and full of vitality. While Mitchelton delivers all this and more with generous fruit and perky acidity in youth, this is not what earns it its Top 50 status. The Goulburn Valley maker has a style that effortlessy ages well (a highly underrated attribute), transforming what is an excellent chardonnay into a complex, honeyed and warm-textured seducer of tastebuds. -- J.P.
9. Moorooduc Estate ($30, cellar door 1997 vintage)
The Mornington Peninsula provides a kaleidoscope of different wine styles these days and the quality level is infinitely variable. At the top of the tree are excellent chardonnays like the McIntyre family's Moorooduc Estate. In good vintages it's an intense cool-climate style, now made even more complex and rich with the introduction of wild yeast fermentation to the equation. -- R.K.P.
10. Murrindindi ($25, 1997 vintage)
Some have likened the Cuthbertsons' Murrindindi Chardonnay, from the hills near Yea, to French chablis. I can't see it myself, but it is a lean-boned style with a good level of citrussy ripeness, deftly counterpointed by subtle barrel and malolactic influence. A chardonnay of restraint and elegance. -- R.K.P.
11. Red Hill Estate Chardonnay ($25, 1998 vintage)
Talented wine maker Jenny Bright brings a consistency in style to her chardonnay even in tough years on the challenging Mornington Peninsula. But that's not what I really like about Red Hill Estate chardonnay. Neither is it that Red Hill epitomises what's great about Mornington Peninsula chardonnay: pristine fruit, clean and fresh as a whistle, with ripples of tropical fruit flavors that go forever. No, what I really like is sticking my nose in a glass and riding the waves of sweet nectarines, pears, ripe white peaches and vanillin oak: the essence of chardonnay. -- J.P.
12. Stonier's Reserve Chardonnay ($36, 1996 vintage)
Burgundy twins chardonnay and pinot noir are like putty in the hands of wine maker Tod Dexter. The little terrors are moulded into model examples of tasteful class by Dexter, who has been allowed his head over the years by Brian Stonier. He follows a time-consuming and expensive regime which, in chardonnay's case, involves barrel fermentation, extended lees contact, malolactic fermentation and barrel selection for the best of the best. Little wonder Petaluma's Brian Croser liked the wines so much he bought the company in 1998. ('97 due out soon.) -- J.P.
13. Tarrawarra ($35, 1996 vintage)
Tarrawarra Chardonnay is an idiosyncratic style with winemaker-induced touches that build great complexity into the wine. It's a fascinating, nutty-rich wine that needs a couple of years in bottle to get into its stride. When it does, it's a chardonnay to linger over. -- R.K.P.
14. Yeringberg Chardonnay ($30, 1997 vintage)
Totally understated in taste, packaging and commercial reputation, Yeringberg chardonnay is often overlooked by chardonnay lovers. It shouldn't be. Quantities produced are small (like all of Yeringberg's wine production), which is reason enough to beat a path to Guill de Pury's Yarra Valley cellar door. Just make an appointment first. Waiting for you is a wine of pure elegance and subtlety boasting an incredible range of flavors from fig, cashews and melon to a light dusting of oak. A graceful ager. -- J.P.
15. Chapel Hill Reserve Chardonnay ($25, 1997 vintage)
Whether it be unwooded, or wooded and dressed up to kill as a reserve chardonnay, Chapel Hill under the strong-willed Pam Dunsford makes a big statement with the grape. It's all about flavor and getting grapes ripe (admittedly, not a great problem in McLaren Vale). Her chardonnays are fit to burst with sunshiny fruit - zesty and clean and tropical. The epitome of friendly Aussie chardonnay. -- J.P.
16. Eileen Hardy ($32, 1997 vintage)
Hardys have worked hard with Eileen Hardy chardonnay and today this multi-regional blend ranks with the best. This is due in no small part to the use of Adelaide Hills and Yarra Valley fruit. It's complex and richly reminiscent of melon, wholemeal and nuts. Classy French oak integrates beautifully too. -- R.K.P.
17. Geoff Weaver Stafford Ridge Chardonnay ($34, 1996 vintage)
An early advocate of the suitability of the Adelaide Hills as a home for chardonnay, Geoff Weaver put his money where his mouth was, establishing vineyards at Stafford Ridge and Lenswood in 1982. The former Hardy chief wine maker makes wines acclaimed for their ageing ability, but should you be lucky enough to track a bottle down (unfortunately, small production = scarcity) you'll be equally impressed by the sheer intensity of its fruit flavor. -- J.P.
18. Grosset Piccadilly Valley Chardonnay ($26, 1997 vintage)
A relative latecomer to the Adelaide Hills (first vintage 1994), but definitely a fast learner. Jeffrey Grosset, a real whiz with Clare Valley riesling, is an equally magical performer with Piccadilly chardonnay. Grosset's forte is fruit power with an acidic fineness. Partial malolactic fermentation and delicate oak treatment tempers any aggressive elements, but leaves a wine firm in structure and still laden with fruit. ('98 due out 1 April.) -- J.P.
19. Katnook Estate ($31, 1996 vintage)
Think of Coonawarra and most people don't immediately think of chardonnay. But Katnook has been making a speciality out of it for a long time. These days it's a more elegant style than it was once, and it's all the better for it. Fine melony fruit and nutty complexity are balanced by subtle oak. -- R.K.P.
20. Mountadam Chardonnay ($30, 1997 vintage)
Adam Wynn is a man of passion and intensity. Nothing is done by half measure, least of all his wine making. His chardonnays are almost a meal by themselves, with lashings of ripe fruit, barrel-ferment complexity, toasty oak and incredibly high levels of alcohol (which is a talking point among critics). Taken as a group, and not highlighting any particular vintage, it must be said that Mountadam's chardonnay fruit can carry the load placed on its shoulders. It's full-bodied and proud. -- J.P.
21. Nepenthe Chardonnay ($25, 1997 vintage)
Snap! All of a sudden Nepenthe appeared on the scene, making sensational wines with the confidence and ease of an industry veteran. Established in 1994 at Lenswood in the Adelaide Hills, Nepenthe was the most exciting find of 1998, with an exceptional range of whites and reds. Both the wooded and unwooded chardonnays were superior examples of their styles, with the wooded chardonnay taking first place on the strength of some fancy footwork with classy French oak. Both wines have marvellous fruit in a cool-climate, understated way. -- J.P.
22. Orlando St Hilary Padthaway Chardonnay ($15, 1997 vintage)
We now recognise the importance of Padthaway chardonnay on the national scene, but what helped put it there was St Hilary. This great-value, easy-drinking, full-bodied wine was (and, to many, still is) what chardonnay is all about. A touch of tropical fruit, nicely balanced oak and a telltale Padthaway lemony vibrancy and voila! There you have it - a top-selling chardonnay and deservedly so. -- J.P.
23. Petaluma ($40, 1997 vintage)
Chardonnay looks to have found a true home in the Adelaide Hills, judging by how many are present in Epicure's Top 50. One of the most famous, Petaluma, is a classic New World style, a tangy, multi-layered wine of great elegance with an enviable reputation for consistency over many years. -- R.K.P.
24. Petaluma Tiers Chardonnay ($115, 1996 vintage)
Tiers, launched in October, is Brian Croser's tilt at a world-class chardonnay, a wine to stand side by side with the best. A single-vineyard wine from the Adelaide Hills, Tiers is one of Croser's six "distinguished sites" that contribute to his Petaluma chardonnay. It will continue to do so but each year he'll take a little for Tiers. It is supremely impressive, with penetrating length and soft, creamy texture. -- J.P.
25. Penfolds Adelaide Hills ($33, 1997 vintage)
This label came out of the much-ballyhooed quest for the "White Grange" that ended with the release of Yattarna. Yattarna (see below) gets the accolades but this Adelaide Hills wine is no slouch. It has ripe stone-fruit character in harmony with mealy/biscuity interest and spicy oak. A very stylish drop. -- R.K.P.
26. Penfolds Yattarna Chardonnay ($85-$150, 1995 vintage)
Just one vintage to date and boy, didn't we get excited Last May when it was launched? But behind all the fuss (and some scary prices) is a stunning chardonnay and a worthy inclusion among Australia's best. It was part of a fine, experimental series of wines sourced largely from the Adelaide Hills. The inclusion of warmer McLaren Vale fruit was obviously the filip for the initial Yattarna (which has a silky texture that floats on the tongue), but who can say this will be the recipe for the following releases? And that's what makes it so exciting. -- J.P.
27. Seaview Edwards and Chaffey ($26, 1996 vintage)
Generously endowed with bouquet and flavor, Edwards and Chaffey is a great example of the sumptuous McLaren Vale style. Ripe fruit is there a-plenty and it's in equilibrium with powerful barrel-ferment and malolactic treatment. A lovely wine for early drinking. -- R.K.P.
28. Seppelt Partalunga ($25, 1996 vintage)
Partalunga Chardonnay isn't available every vintage but, when it is, this Adelaide Hills wine is one to look out for. In common with many of the top chardonnays, the words finesse, integration and complexity apply here. Fruit, oak and the tricks of the wine maker's trade combine in real harmony. -- R.K.P.
29. Shaw and Smith Reserve ($27.50, 1996 vintage)
Another chardonnay line that gets better each year. Shaw and Smith combines finesse with richness in the manner of the greats. It's a creamy-textured wine, with nectarine/citrus fruit and nutty touches robed in a toasty lick of quality oak and fine acidity. -- R.K.P.
30. Cape Mentelle ($31, 1997 vintage)
Margaret River is another of Australian chardonnay's undoubted homes. Cape Mentelle is a consistent leader with a wine of ripeness, complexity and body. Fig-like fruit, butter-caramel touches and toasty oak successfully combine. Power with true elegance. -- R.K.P.
31. Cullen ($35, 1996 vintage)
One of the most complex Margaret River chardonnays and one that requires a little bottle age. It's all there in its youth; a core of ripe fruit dressed in malolactic ferment and oak, trimmed with good acidity, but this builds into super-complex harmony within a few years. -- R.K.P.
32. Devil's Lair Chardonnay ($27, 1997 vintage)
Former Devil's Lair owner Phil Sexton gave this chardonnay true sex appeal with a combination of clever marketing and clever wine making. It's a real Margaret River show-off, with vibrant fruit, buttery mouthfeel and general nutty, tropical appeal, but beneath such apparent trendiness lies a deadly serious chardonnay of impressive credentials. Wine maker Janice McDonald can take a big bow for keeping the wine on track as a definite Top 50 contender. -- J.P.
33. Evans and Tate Margaret River Chardonnay ($33, 1996 vintage)
Evans and Tate, formerly of the Swan Valley, is moving into Margaret River in a big way, and it's the company's Margaret River chardonnay, now a major player on the chardonnay scene, that is taking the company forward at a great pace. Little wonder. Wine maker Brian Fletcher uses a veritable bag of New World-Old World techniques to produce something deliciously complex. -- J.P.
34. Leeuwin Estate (see top)
35. Howard Park ($36, 1997 vintage)
A leading light in the Great Southern region of Western Australia, John Wade approaches his Howard Park wines with perfectionism. The chardonnay excels in finesse but it's no wimp. It has elegant melon and stone-fruit varietals, skilfully handled oak, soft texture, great length and underlying power. -- R.K.P.
36. Moss Wood Le Froy Brook Chardonnay ($30, 1997 vintage)
You rarely hear a peep out of Keith Mugford at Moss Wood in the Margaret River. He is possibly the most under-publicised wine maker in the land and he likes it that way. It gives him more time to tend his 10-hectare vineyard and perform miracles with his small quantity of excellent chardonnay (among a glittering array of other grape varieties), which is capable of dazzling the most jaded palate. Hail wiped out his '97 crop, hence the current release from another local vineyard. -- J.P.
37. Pierro Chardonnay ($45, 1997 vintage)
Be warned, Pierro Chardonnay is a beguiling, complex animal that might be construed by some as over the top. There's certainly a lot of work going on there in the background when Dr Michael Peterkin decides to put his heart and soul into chardonnay. The result is a very tactile experience. It's smooth, incredibly rich and textural, and Lasts a long, long, long time. -- J.P.
38. Plantagenet Omrah Chardonnay ($18, 1998 vintage)
As one of the earliest unwooded chardonnays in the land, Omrah highlighted the essential character of the chardonnay grape, which can be so beguilingly attractive as a stand-alone wine. These days, there's no need to highlight its unwooded state because this is simply an excellent wine with a keen, lean, citrussy edge, sourced from the Mt Barker region. -- J.P.
39. Salitage Chardonnay ($31, 1997 vintage) An emerging name from the emerging region of Pemberton in Western Australia, Salitage is deadly serious about its chardonnays (wooded and unwooded). Owner is John Horgan, brother of Denis Horgan of Leeuwin Estate, so you can bet there's something to prove when the two get together over a glass. John Horgan need not fret. Both his chardonnay styles pass muster, with the wooded version fairly Burgundian in nature; super-rich complexities representing the gamut of wine making tricks. -- J.P.
40. Smithbrook Chardonnay ($24, 1996 vintage)
Another believer in the future of the Pemberton region and another high flier with something to prove is Brian Croser of the Petaluma wine empire. Since taking over Smithbrook in 1997, Petaluma has elevated the image of Smithbrook chardonnay among drinkers in the eastern states. The wine is generous, with creamy texture, buttery overtones and good structure all round. A second chardonnay in the stable is a 1998 early release with 100 per cent barrel fermentation, but showing none of the rich malolactic characters of the 1996. -- J.P.
41. Wignalls ($25, 1996 vintage)
Wignalls Chardonnay from Great Southern sums up the fine style of chardonnay made in this developing region. It has creamy depth of fruit character and real complexity, yet it can be almost delicate in style. One to watch. -- R.K.P.
42. Freycinet Chardonnay ($33, 1996 vintage)
The most exciting chardonnays (and consistently so) to come out of Tasmania can be found under this label. Site selection has something to do with it: much has been made of Freycinet's natural amphitheatre at Bicheno on the east coast as a proven sun trap. Likewise, the artistry of wine maker Claudio Radenti plays a role. Whatever it is, Freycinet has an elegance, depth of fruit flavor and structure that combines the best features of Margaret River and the Yarra Valley all in one. -- J.P.
43. Moorilla Estate ($27, 1997 vintage)
After a difficult period, Moorilla Estate has emerged with some excellent chardonnays recently. The wines have a pure, spring-like quality, very fine citrus-accented fruit and a restrained approach to oak treatment. Crisp, lively chardonnay from Tassie. -- R.K.P.
New South Wales
44. Allandale ($19, 1997 vintage)
Allandale epitomises the big-flavored chardonnays that the Hunter region naturally makes. It's not a delicate wine, but if you like lots of ripe fruit, a good dose of oak and rich buttery depth and complexity, this is for you. -- R.K.P.
45. Brokenwood Graveyard Chardonnay ($30, 1996 vintage)
The name might be a turn-off but the wine's not. Graveyard fulfils every wine drinker's expectation about Hunter Valley chardonnay: it's warm and generous with unobtrusive oak, good balance and it Lasts and Lasts in the mouth. Some years back, wine maker Iain Riggs was said to be working towards greater finesse and complexity in the wine. He should be happy with his more recent results. ('97 due out soon.) -- J.P.
46. Charles Sturt Cowra Chardonnay ($17, 1997 vintage)
The Charles Sturt wines fulfil a twofold purpose: they teach students at Charles Sturt University in Wagga about wine making, and they also play a commercial role in the university's operations. At its best, the Cowra Chardonnay is an intense wine with good levels of richness and interest, well-handled oak and a friendly price tag. -- R.K.P.
47. Lake's Folly ($32 cellar door, 1996 vintage)
From its first vintages of chardonnay in the early '80s, Lake's Folly's style has been distinctly Burgundian, no small feat in the humid warmth of the Hunter Valley. Complexity and depth, balanced by a firm backbone, are the keys to this classy wine. Ages well, too. -- R.K.P.
48. Rosemount Show Reserve ($25, 1997 vintage)
Rosemount's big, brawny Roxburgh Chardonnay gets the accolades, but the cheaper Show Reserve is much less of a blockbuster and consequently much easier to enjoy. Ripe stone fruit meets toasty oak in lovely harmony and its long, smooth aftertaste is very seductive. -- R.K.P.
49. Saddlers Creek Marrowbone ($25, 1997 vintage)
Marrowbone is Hunter chardonnay in the peaches-and-cream style: ripely fruity with a layer of butter-caramel complexity and another of nutty, toasty oak. Full of character and well-priced. -- R.K.P.
50. Tyrrell's Vat 47 Chardonnay ($45, 1997 vintage)
You could write a book about Vat 47 and its colorful history as one of Australia's first chardonnays (1971 first commercial release); as the first chardonnay to be matured in small, new oak (1973 vintage); and one that has had almost every fashionable wine-making trend visited upon it. Yet it's still out there vying for a position at the front of the chardonnay pack. Some extraordinary fruit clearly steals the show and it also improves with age, having the runs on the board to prove it. ('98 due out May.) -- J.P.
Top 10 chardonnay bargains
By: Ralph Kyte-Powell and Jeni Port
Wines in this category vary considerably in price depending on which stores have them discounted and our prices are approximate. Our advice is to shop around for a bargain. (Wines are listed in alphabetical order.)
1. Deakin Estate Alfred $13
Alfred is one step above Deakin's standard chardonnay. It's a refined style that competes well with wines selling for much more. Stone fruit, cashew-nutty complexity and richness, and toasty oak combine nicely in this smooth crowd-pleaser. -- R.K.P.
2. De Bortoli Windy Peak $14
A chardonnay with some real style at a very reasonable price. Windy Peak combines intensity of fruit, good body and subtle oak influence in a clean, lively, well-balanced package. -- R.K.P.
3. Fiddlers Creek Chardonnay 1997 $10
A bit of a sleeper made by Blue Pyrenees Estate, which satisfies on every level, from price to flavor and style. It's not big and it's not burdened by a heavy oakiness (which is the trap of some cheap and cheerfuls loaded with chippy oak). What works is some delightful fruit balanced by a touch of oak and good acid. What more could you want? -- J.P.
4. Hardy's Siegersdorf Chardonnay 1998 $11
This is the neat handiwork of a big wine company showing off the kind of vineyard resources a big company has at its disposal. Who knows how many vineyards from how many regions contribute to the Siegersdorf chardonnay blend? Peach and melon show the way on the nose and palate and are joined by a light sprinkling of oakiness and acid. Well balanced. -- J.P.
5. Lindemans Bin 65 $11
These days this top seller shows considerably less oak influence than it once did. A good thing too. Now we have a straightforward melon-scented wine with just a whiff of background wood. Super value. -- R.K.P.
6. Lindemans Limestone Coast Chardonnay 1998 $10-$12
Limestone Coast was launched to celebrate Lindemans being named wine supplier for the Sydney 2000 Olympics and Lindemans has been celebrating ever since with this exceptionally well-priced, tasty chardonnay. The Limestone Coast region centres around Coonawarra, Padthaway and Robe/Mt Benson, hence this wine's exuberant fruit qualities , richness and weight. -- J.P.
7. Ryecroft Unoaked Chardonnay 1998 $12
Chardonnay master Rosemount Estate is the force behind the Ryecroft label from McLaren Vale. That said, don't expect any Rosemount look-alikes, especially at this price. No, what you have here is McLaren Vale's famous rich, ripe chardonnay without its usual accompaniment of oak. The fruit is in full view with a little support from residual sugar (or is that merely fruit richness?). Goes down a treat. -- J.P.
8. Salisbury Estate Chardonnay 1997 $8-$10
This is a throwback to the days when a quality $10 chardonnay was the norm, not the exception. Hails from the Murray Valley and has been a model of consistency over the years. The opposite of the big alcohol/big fruit simpletons around, this has great chardonnay tropical flavor nicely balanced by refreshing acidity. Don't be put off by the uninspiring label. -- J.P.
9. Seaview $12
Seaview's range of table wines is universally good value, none more so than the chardonnay. It's a fruit-driven wine in the contemporary mould, but well-modulated oak adds another dimension. Very easy to quaff. -- R.K.P.
10. Seppelt Terrain $11
Terrain is a rich, golden white with peachy fruit and butterscotchy touches. The palate is smooth and mellow. A satisfying chardonnay to drink young. -- R.K.P.
Chardonnay buzz words By: Ralph Kyte-Powell and Jeni Port
Barrel fermented: popular with serious chardonnay makers, indicating the wine has its primary fermentation in small (and expensive) oak casks. The results can be fantastic, sometimes not only in rich smells and complex flavors but also texture (how it feels in the mouth).
Buttery: butter and butterscotch smells are often a feature of better (and more expensive) chardonnays. They are mainly derived from malolactic fermentation (see below).
Citrus: a descriptor used for chardonnay that has lime and lemon smells and the fine acidic edge (on the palate) associated with these fruits. Generally indicates a wine from a cooler wine growing region or vineyard site.
Clones: clones (a grape variety which, over time, has mutated into different strains) are the gene pool from which wine makers choose to plant to suit specific purposes. Some chardonnay clones produce berries that are small in size and super-rich in flavor; others may give big bunches and high yields; some might give less fruit character (which makes them ideal for sparkling wines).
Leesy: refers to a smell and/or taste in chardonnay gained when the wine is left to rest on its lees (dead yeast cells and grape pulp that falls as sediment after fermentation). Time on lees may vary from a couple of months to one year or more, depending on the weight of the wine and the style in mind. Produces complex, full flavors.
Malolactic fermentation: a wine-making term for a secondary fermentation that converts green-apple malic acid into softer lactic acid. A wine can either undergo a full malolactic fermentation (100 per cent of the wine going through it) or a partial. It's also sometimes referred to as MLF or malo. Provides texture, structure and often buttery, butterscotch characters.
Oaky: a word used to describe the oak apparent on the nose and the palate in a wine that has been fermented or aged in oak. Some chardonnays are criticised for being over-oaky, with overt vanillin/cedar characters from (mainly) French oak.
Smoky: a wine character derived from oak barrels that have been fired or charred to bend them into shape during their making. Wine makers can ask for low, medium or heavy charring, which can translate into low, medium or heavy smokiness in a wine.
Toasty: a tasting term for the smell of freshly toasted bread sometimes found in a wine that is usually derived from barrel fermentation and/or maturation or bottle age.
Tropical: a cover-all term to describe the smell and taste of tropical fruits often found in chardonnay: passionfruit, peach, pear, melon, pineapple, etc. Generally associated with wines from warmer climes or vineyard sites.
Unfiltered: like its Burgundian stablemate pinot noir, chardonnay may gain extra benefits in taste from not being filtered (filtering removes suspended particles in the wine before bottling). The downside can be some cloudiness in color. It's a heavily debated issue among wine makers. Seaview's Edwards and Chaffey chardonnay is one of the few to be labelled unfiltered (since the 1994 vintage).
Whole bunch pressing: a technique favored by sparkling and champagne makers and increasingly by producers of top-quality chardonnay. Grapes are pressed whole (with stems) and the resulting juice is believed to be high in quality, low in coarse, bitter phenols and inevitably producing finer-flavored wines.
White gold by: Jeni Port
It would be wrong to suggest that Paul Lapsley (pictured)'s expectations are high. After all, we are coming into vintage. At this time of year, with one eye on the sky, the other on the vine, his heart in his mouth and his ear tuned to the weather reports coming across from South Australia, there can be no great expectations. Only hopes.
So, let's say the new senior wine maker at Coldstream Hills in the Yarra Valley is hopeful. Hopeful that with the company's chardonnay already sitting at 10.5 Baume (a sugar reading that gives an indication of the potential alcohol content) and with "pretty good'' flavor and (fingers crossed) clear skies pending, the Yarra Valley might just bring in another fine harvest of healthy, ripe chardonnay to add to its lustrous reputation with the grape.
"I suppose my expectation knowing the Coldstream (chardonnay) style is to see concentration of fruit in that really delicate, fine, citrus, white-peach spectrum with a bubbly acid balance that is part of the Yarra Valley style,'' says Lapsley, newly arrived from Houghton's in Western Australia, and raring to go with his first vintage at Coldstream Hills.
Yarra Valley chardonnay, in all its multi-faceted glory, will be a big feature of The Yarra Valley Grape Grazing Festival this weekend. The Valley is, after all, one of the top spots in the country in which to grow the chardonnay grape.
It's common to label the style "cool climate" but there's more to it than that. Just ask Tom Carson at Yering Station. "Balance of fruit is something that happens here without us working too hard," says Carson.
"We naturally get quite low yields, and it's very difficult to overcrop here, which means we get pretty good intensity in the juice coming through, with typical Yarra Valley flavors of white peach, melon and citrus."
As each vintage goes by, specialist chardonnay makers in the Valley have become more at ease with their individual styles. There's Coldstream Hills with its "white peaches'' and pears masterfully integrated with the most delicious and elegant French oak. Tarrawarra at Yarra Glen goes for the richest expression of fruit and complex flavors, which translate into long, slow ageing potential. De Bortoli at Dixon's Creek on the northern side of the Valley is as intense and focused on fruit as you can get, with clever oak underplay.
Talk to the men and women behind these labels, however, and you soon find they're not resting on their laurels. In fact they're keener than ever to keep improving their wines with a little fine-tuning and experimentation.
At Tarrawarra, for example, the talk is about working on the texture and structure of the chardonnay - the way the wine feels in the mouth and how it is as a whole. The way a wine maker approaches structure is like a prize fighter sizing up the competition, looking for weaknesses and strengths. "I think what's happening now is, people are getting more interested in (the role of) lees with chardonnay, in lees contact and stirring lees,'' says wine maker Clare Halloran, referring to the dead yeast cells and bits of grape pulp (lees) that fall as sediment after fermentation and can be stirred back into the wine by hand.
"Say with our '98 chardonnay, it had finished malo (malolactic fermentation),'' explains Halloran, "and normally, once it has finished malo we stop stirring it. Then we were looking at it in December and thought 'oh, it just looks a little bit simple', so we gave it another couple of months of lees stirring. It's not a really obvious leesy character ... it's just more of a richness on the back palate, which worked really well.
"I really like our '98 chardonnay. I think it's looking really good now.''
"Texture", or mouth feel, is what separates good chardonnay from the everyday in Steve Webber's book as well. The De Bortoli wine maker already has a firm idea about the major source of the rich texture in his chardonnay: it's in the vineyard, with the growing maturity of the vines, while low yields help too. But recent wine-making experiments have begun taking Webber down the sometimes controversial road of wild yeasts and the consequent nasty-smelling ferments.
As the name implies, wild yeasts are those naturally occurring in the vineyard/winery and can be untameable in the direction they lead a fermentation, which is why many makers prefer cultured yeasts. According to Webber, however, the result of using wild yeasts at De Bortoli has been greater amounts of glycerol in the De Bortoli Yarra Valley chardonnay, which is good for smoothness and viscosity.
But De Bortoli's experimentation with chardonnay has not been confined to wild yeasts. "Last year,'' says Webber, "we did some trial work on whole bunch pressing chardonnay grapes, putting them into barrel and just letting them (natural yeasts) rip. And they made the most interesting wine of the vintage.
"They had lots of feral characters about them but, in the overall blend, they contributed a tremendous amount of complexity,'' he says. "This year, up to 20 per cent of our Yarra Valley chardonnay blend will be wild ferment.''
At Coldstream Hills, Paul Lapsley has notified group wine maker James Halliday of his intention this vintage to trial a few barrels with wild yeast fermentations. Trials in the past have given "varying results" and the method might not become entrenched at the winery, because consistency of the existing Coldstream Hills style is a high priority.
Another thing you can probably bet on not happening this year at Coldstream Hills, unlike the previous two vintages, is a hot autumn boosting alcohol levels up to 13.5 per cent and over. That will suit the Coldstream Hills style, which generally runs between 12.5 and 13 per cent alcohol, contributing to its refined elegance.
But while late-summer temperatures in the valley have not been extreme, the summer has offered some indifferent weather: the Valley was dumped with two inches of rain in early February and Last week, more rain came. "We're walking on a knife edge at the moment," said Tom Carson at Yering Station when asked how the vintage was looking. Picking of chardonnay and pinot noir for sparkling wine started on 1 March and Carson was looking at an early vintage, which suited him fine. "It's a good thing if the risk is a cool and wet end to the season."
THE WINE AND JAZZ APPRECIATION SOCIETY NEWS, VOL 5, NO 12, 19/4/99
'Outside of a dog, a man's best friend is a book. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read.' Groucho Marx
Tasty malay food at Chinta Ria preceded a night full of expectation. The legendary and inimitable Doctor John at The Palais. I Last visited the place in 1982 to see The Amazing Rhythm Aces, a disappointment I've discussed here before. The problem was not with the musicians but rather on the sound emanating from the speakers. I'm told it's called a "Rock mix" in the trade - it involves cranking up the bass frequencies so that the bass guitarist's rhythms are in no danger of being unheard, or worse overwhelmed by the melody! I imagine that these sound mixers are either primitive types who know no better, or have lost all their high frequency hearing, or else perceive audiences from a sort of Jungian atavistic framework, in which they respond best to music when their guts are vibrating. And vibrate they (OK mine, anyway) did, especially when the bass drum was kicked - which tends to be fairly often. Anyway, enough of the past, this is the sensitive 90's - and music reproduction and monitoring has come a long way since then, hasn't it?
Dr John is a name probably known to almost every musician with even a vague interest in popular music, jazz, roots, blues, or New Orleans music. He appeared in the famous film The Last Waltz - the break-up film of The Band, he's appeared on countless albums as pianist/singer for over 30 years - from his own prolific output to guest appearances on everyone who's anyone's. But we're not up to him yet.
Opening the evening, Kerri Simpson - a member of the Swing Sisters who sometimes accompany The Swinging Sidewalks. She is something of a belter and the unaccompanied voodoo chant she produced suited her rather aggressive voice, though it was not easy listening, nor especially musical (maybe that's the nature of such vehicles). Easier to enjoy was her collaboration with Dean Addison (bass) and Chris Wilson, he of the deep impassioned voice and evocative mouth harp (also producing a first for me a molly-duker banjo accompaniment).
Situated in the stalls of this quite voluminous old-style theatre, we were centred (geographically, not emotionally) and about 30 metres from the stage. I guess the Rugby League teams were in town because I think it was a member who plonked his huge (probably steroidally enhanced) frame immediately in front of me. He must have hurt his neck in a scrum during the day, because he kept moving his big boofhead from side to side. It was more or less in time to the music and my only chance to get a glimpse of the action was to emulate his movements, but 180 degrees out of phase. For all I know, there could have been parallel out-of-phase head moving occurring behind my seat in every row all the way back to the door.
Keb Mo' (aka Kevin Moore) is a 44 year old blues/soul singer-songwriter who has belatedly met with some success (perhaps his pedestrian name held him back) lately in that fairly rarified field. A trio of albums have sold moderately well and ensured invitations to blues and roots festivals around the world. His visit to Melbourne follows appearances at the Easter Festival at Byron Bay, and he expressed some disappointment that tonight's audience didn't whoop it up the way Byron's did. Presumably, the cash he earned by agreeing to perform in a traditional theatre venue was some compensation for the audience's unforgiveable lack of boorishness. Appreciate him they did, laughing intently at his self-conscious line of patter and applauding enthusiastically at the first bars of tunes they'd come to love. His creditable acoustic guitar was supported on alternate numbers by Clayton Gibb on another guitar - Gibb filled out the sound somewhat and also tuned Mo's guitars between on-stage duties.
By the time he'd finished his set plus encores, my efforts at seeing seemed to have made me seasick and I was hoping to be reeled in by Dr John's performance. An unheeded warning that the good Doctor was in the company of a rather rocky band sprang to mind when the huge drum kit was cranked up by an enthusiastic young black drummer, the bass guitar caused ominous doubling in the theatre, and the lead guitarist let fly. The Lower Nine Eleven is the name of the backing group; I imagine Lower refers to the frequencies they prefer, and Nine-Eleven to the limited range of settings they selected on their amplifiers.
Yes, the ghost of 1982 had appeared - could it be the same mixer from all those years ago? Is the theatre prone to standing waves of bass sound? Is it caused by the Big Dipper hurtling past nearby? My chest started to rattle and the grand piano didn't stand a chance as Dr John, with his groovy arthritic shuffle, his carved-wood and feather voodoo walking stick eventually sat and faced the music. How do you assist a singer at a grand piano to compete with such over-amplified instruments? Easy, crank up the piano amps and the PA, and thereby lose all semblance of musicality. What a pity! Dr John's presence, energy, great tunes, funky voice - all heard through a veil of distortion was too disappointing to endure. Leaving the rugby player to his exercises, I departed to a quieter place. Maybe I'm getting precious - because the audience lapped it up, seemingly inured to the aural insult, or perhaps simply so pleased to see the great man in Australia that they'd put up with anything.
Back home to Bennetts the following week, demeanour and ears recovered, to listen to acoustic music in an intimate setting - what a contrast! Mistaken Identity have built a small but loyal following to their style of jazz. They have developed a distinctive theme in their choice of tunes and the framework surrounding most numbers. They usually begin in ensemble style with interesting unison playing of the melody between the horns, leading into solos, and finishing as ensemble again. Mal Sedergreen (alto, tenor, soprano sax) writes most of the numbers though the others also contribute. Brother Steve Sedergreen on piano provides fine support when comping, and terrific, often blues-inspired, solo playing. Danny Fischer was his usual driving, athletic self on drums, while a bass player new to me (James Clark) maintained a steady beat and thoughtful solos, though I thought him a little under-amplified. Toby Mak is a very young looking, very slightly built trumpeter who continues to develop (musically not muscularly) each time I hear him. Interesting to hear him in this more blues-oriented group after his playing in a different musical format (a strong bop orientation) with Boplicity the previous week. A rather unusual sight for Bennetts Lane occurred when two young girls began to dance together during "Dale" - a tune Mal wrote in dedication to sax master, Dale Barlow, a number not obviously designed with any discernible dance beat.