Wander down the same cul-de-sac as an alarming number of feted winemakers, sommeliers, show judges and critics would temp you to and you could be forgiven for thinking that those who make and trade Australian chardonnay are on a different planet to those who buy and drink it. People who buy chardonnay want more flavour, while many of those whose job is to give it to them would rather give them less.
It’s ironic that Chablis, whose wines are actually benefiting from its modern, warmer climate and provide flavour aplenty, is usually touted as the inspiration – or perhaps the excuse – for the alarming number of Australian chardonnays still made by those who firmly believe that you can have too much of a good thing with this grape. For these and their like, fruit is for children; a seasoned wine drinker would far rather marvel at a chardonnay’s raw, steely acidity, the meanness of its large format-derived oak and the brittleness of its flavour-stripped finish. Expensive wines that these words describe exactly are still being made, and in certain wine shows, restaurants and publications, are still being fawned upon.
Andrew Fleming, the winemaker at Coldstream Hills, has steadfastly resisted this push, which originated amongst certain of his Yarra Valley neighbours. Instead, he makes delicious, flavoursome and approachable chardonnays that express with generosity and style the different terroirs at his disposal. They’re typically ripe, creamy and smooth, handsomely oaked and artfully balanced with lively acidity. And the best of them, the Reserve Chardonnay, delivers its message with impact, richness and not a little art. As I have seen time and again, it’s also a long-term wine that revels in bottle-age, developing remarkable complexity while retaining shape and focus.
The 2018 release is another classic. Creamy and textural, it’s scented with bright yellow flowers, grapefruit, peach and lemon rind backed by smoky vanilla oak and nougat. It’s deeply layered and faintly mineral, with a typically sumptuous core of vibrant stone fruit and crunchy citrus flavour backed by creamy, nougat-like complexity. It finishes long, smooth and savoury, with a mouthwatering, lemony acidity.
It speaks eloquently of the quality of the vineyards from which it was selected, its region and its maker’s understanding of what Yarra chardonnay can be. It achieves this because it has fruit, it has depth and it is distinctive. Unlike of course the stripped, skimpy, flavourless and fraudulently ‘Chablis like’ chardonnays that continue to diminish Australia’s reputation for this variety…