The final exam is looming. The WSET diploma Unit 3 exam (the big one!) is in January so I am cramming in as many different wines in the next few weeks as possible. All in the name of education you understand. So I was thankful that the West of England Wine and Spirit Association had organised another of their wonderful tastings just before Christmas. This time we would be trying Australian Chardonnay and Shiraz (with an interloper).
My introduction to Australian Chardonnay had happened in the early 2000’s and the overt oak and fruit and high alcohol levels put me off Chardonnay for the next decade. I wasn’t quite an ABC but if a pub only offered Australian Chardonnay, which many seemed to do back then, I would resort to my old faithful, gin, lime and lemonade. Since I started studying wine I was forced to drink Chardonnay and thankfully my eyes were opened. Of course studying in Burgundy helped open my eyes, although maybe in a slightly psychotic and unnerving way.
Our host for the evening was one of the latest batch of MW’s, Matthew Hemming of Averys of Bristol. We started with what could be called a stereotypical Australian Chardonnay – Averys Project Winemaker Chardonnay 2010 (Adelaide Hills £9.99). This was how I remembered the Australian Chardonnays I had drunk in cheap pub chains – over the top, tropical, fruity – something that might go down well on a sunny day in Summer’s Bay.
We then tried four more Chardonnays that Matthew hoped would show us the best of what Australia can do:
Innocent Bystander Chardonnay 2001 (Yarra Valley £13.99 Corks of Cotham) – An Australian wine that is trying to be from Burgundy.
Ocean Eight ‘Verve’ Chardonnay 2011 (Mornington Peninsula c£25 L&W) – restrained and linear, I preferred the flavours to the aromas on this one.
Vasse Felix ‘Heytesbury’ Chardonnay 2011 (Margaret River £30 Negociants) – pronounced nose, long length, the product of old oak and natural yeast.
Giaconda Estate VIneyard Chardonnay 2010 (Beechworth £89.99 DBM Wines) – fat and creamy with complexity and length.
Then we were supposed to move on to the Shiraz but due to a delivery mistake we were instead treated to the delicious PHI Single Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010 (Yarra Valley £30 De Bortoli).
Next came the Australian Shiraz.
De Bortoli Reserve Release Syrah 2010 (Yarra Valley £21 De Bortoli) – bit of a Marmite wine. For me it was overwhelmingly stalky and green. Someone else described it as smelling of ‘sweaty rugby kit’.
Spinifex ‘La Maline’ 2010 (Barossa Valley £45 Carte Blanche Wines) – perfumed, dark fruit and spicy.
John Duval Wines ‘Entity’ Shiraz 2009 (Barossa Valley £29.99 Corks of Cotham) – peppery, creamy, juicy black fruits.
Rockford ‘Basket Press’ Shiraz 2006 (Barossa Valley £39.99 Averys) – A BIG wine. Figgy, dried fruit, full body and lots of alcohol.
The tasting definitely helped to show us some of the best that Australia can do with two grapes that it has often been criticised for turning into big over-the-top highly alcoholic wines. Now there’s no doubt that these wines weren’t shrinking violets and the Rockford ‘Basket Press’ Shiraz was pushing the alcohol limits of what can still be called wine. But they had character and complexity and you wouldn’t tire of drinking these in the way that you would some of the mass market brands that polluted the shelves of pubs a decade ago.