What a tasting, a touch of heaven on earth.
My own views on these two varieties: chardonnay is underappreciated by many and pinot noir is overrated by some. Both are used and abused.
The 10 wines reviewed below are in five pairs, showing different producers’ takes on each of the varieties.
Some still refer to big, oak-driven Australian chardonnays. Often, it’s younger writers or sommeliers who, if they were speaking/writing from experience, would have been in kinder in the oak era.
Was it ever as bad as made out? Maybe. There was a hint of oak use/abuse in James Halliday’s Australian Wine Guide 1986. When he explained why many 1985 wines were not included, Halliday wrote: “This excluded all red wines and almost all wood-matured white wines (notably chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and semillon).”
Chardonnay and oak do have a relationship. But sauvignon blanc and semillon are not such cosy companions with oak. Quickly scanning Halliday’s tasting notes, there are lots of references to buttery characters and oak treatment. Volatility also crops up frequently.
Over in the UK, Oz Clarke was the author of Webster’s Wine Guide 1986. Clarke recommended Rosemount Reserve Chardonnay, as did Jane MacQuitty (The Times) around the same time. She said it was a better buy than white Burgundy, which was three times the price. Clarke referred to “honeyed chardonnays”. As an aside, he wrote: “It is possible for a retailer to sell good Australian wine at £2.49 a bottle.” Taking inflation into account, and not duty/tax increases, that would equate to £6.70 in 2016. The average price of Australian wine in the UK today is £5.39. There’s a lesson there.
Pinot noir: I love some, enjoy others, but do not worship at the PN altar. Not all is as good as writers often witter on about. And it’s often overpriced.
All wines were tasted in March 2017.
Scotchmans Hill Bellarine Peninsula Chardonnay 2015: If I were put in the unfortunate position of never smelling another chardonnay after this one, the last sniff would be a wonderful memory. It sits pert at the front of the palate, tense like a pedestrian waiting to cross a busy road, looking for a gap in the traffic. As it moves across the palate, the wine relaxes and flavours reveal themselves, slowly and majestically. It falters slightly on the finish but not enough to mar the enjoyment. 96 points and very good value at $35.
Scotchmans Hill Bellarine Peninsula Pinot Noir 2014: Bramble and damp leaf litter nose. Fruit character comes into play across the palate, neatly trimmed with hints of savoury. Light but with an underlying strength throughout. 94 points and worth $35.
Lock & Key ‘Single Vineyard’ Tumbarumba Chardonnay 2016: Clean chardonnay nose, rather broad across the palate. An OK glass of wine. 92 points and there’s lots of wine around at $25.
Lock & Key ‘Single Vineyard’ Tumbarumba Pinot Noir 2015: More fruit than earth on the nose, but it’s very attractive. The fruit skips across the palate, well supported with acid and tannin. Not classic but a damn fine glass of wine. 93 points and well worth $25.
Procella Tumbarumba ‘II’ Chardonnay 2016: Intriguing nose, which I couldn’t pin down, but it was clean and pleasing. Dull across the palate, missing more pleasure points than it hit. 90 points and there’s so much chardonnay available at $40 or below. In fact, at $30 and below.
Procella Tumbarumba ‘IV’ Pinot Noir 2014: Gorgeous nose, a mixed array of plum, blackberry with some earthy smells thrown in, no shy retiring sort in the mouth, its bold but classy bold it travels with presence and finishes with presence 95 points and an OK price at $40
Plantagenet ‘Three Lions’ Great Southern Chardonnay 2016: Rich but not ripe chardonnay nose. Even across the palate but not causing any offence. 93 points and a good price at $23.
Plantagenet ‘Three Lions’ Great Southern Pinot Noir 2016: The strangest of noses: it needs to breathe for a time for it to settle, but it’s still different, not unpleasant. The journey across the palate reviles a slight medicinal flavour, which explains the nose. Individual is the description I arrived at. 93 points and worth trying at $25.
Sea Glass ‘Red Hill’ Mornington Peninsula Chardonnay 2016: Subdued nose, but if one persists it shows some peach, and a hint of oak and cashew. Mouth-filling flavours tumble over each other as it travels. The finish is short but acceptable. 94 points but $50 is a high price.
Sea Glass ‘Red Hill’ Mornington Peninsula Pinot Noir 2016: Stinky nose, which is often a good sign in pinot. It needs settling before it changes from unacceptable to acceptable, but when it does, oh boy, it’s the feral stink I want in PN. It makes the nose twitch and the instincts come alive. It also readies the palate for a wine that will challenge both sensory and intellectual tastes. Long on the finish, 96 points, and for top PN $50 is within bounds.