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Wine

Bringing back the shine

During the late 1980’s and through to the mid-1990’s Chardonnay established its credentials as the white wine of long lunches. But the wine world was changing. Chardonnay was caught in the wrong place in the wrong time and it was about as agile as a Goodyear blimp, and the fall was as quick as the rise. Chardonnay was on the nose big time; the oak was too much, they were too buttery, too rich and too sickly.

Some makers reacted with seemingly fleet-footed skill and thrust their finest unoaked Chardonnay wines into play. These fragile virginal beauties had no oak, and little winemaking technique; everything was stripped bare. Trouble was, when you took out all the work and winemaking, there was nothing left but the bottle.

And then it happened. Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand stumbled into stores at that exact time. It had very little winemaking, but the loud fruits were a hundred times more fun than personality-less Chardonnay. The rest is, as they say, history.

The Long Road Back

It was back to the drawing board for Australian Chardonnay makers and that meant starting again from scratch. They swallowed a large slice of humble pie, looked long and hard at the great Chardonnay wines of the world and figured out that the model needed to be cooler climate.

This saw the classic regions of Victoria like the Yarra Valley and Macedon Ranges find favour, the emerging excitement in Tasmania’s ultra-cool areas started bubbling over and the Adelaide Hills found success at the hands of makers both small and large.

Margaret River, being so far from everywhere, was really the only place that stayed its course of making age defying, bold and powerful Chardonnay, a position it still holds successfully today.

From the New South Wales perspective, Tumbarumba managed to ascend quickly to prominence as a place to watch, contributing parcels to some of the glamour Chardonnay labels of large companies, whilst also holding favour with smaller producers. Orange is the other region that has made a convincing play into the new phase of Chardonnay and there’s plenty of potential in both Orange and Tumbarumba for great Chardonnay.

The Hunter Valley is the New South Wales region that has the most historic involvement, although it’s an unlikely hero for Chardonnay in terms of climate. But ever since Murray Tyrrell hopped the vineyard fence at Penfolds’ Wybong Park property in the 1960s and took cuttings of what was then referred to as Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay has been closely associated with the Hunter.

The first Tyrrell’s Chardonnay wine was released in 1968, it was planted at Rothbury in 1969 and the Tyrrell’s Vat 47 Pinot-Chardonnay made reference to the old name, Pinot Blanc, and the new identity, Chardonnay. Tyrrell’s eventually dropped the ‘Pinot’ and have continued to make a Vat 47 that plays in the contemporary Australian Chardonnay space and yet remains decidedly Hunter Valley in character. Still wins trophies, too.

Others in the Hunter have created Chardonnay wines that flex plenty of skill and winemaking know-how, developing refined and complex wines from restrained, delicate fruit. They borrow inspiration from the best contemporary winemaking and execute technique with precision. Clever bunch those Hunter Valley winemakers.

Following fashion

Historically, the Hunter’s desire to play in the Chardonnay space was a natural product of its place of prominence in the Australian wine landscape. As Chardonnay came into fashion, they planted plenty of it in the Hunter and they’ve closely followed the market preference in terms of style.

They started off pursuing a restrained, leaner model, a model that was really informed by their approach to Semillon. They blended Chardonnay and sometimes Verdelho into Semillon to create the Hunter White Burgundy style wines and these proved themselves as both young and old wines.

Then, along with the rest of the country, they went for riper styles and picked later, threw plenty at them and grew big and fleshy. But they reeled bigger styles with higher alcohol back in and have since then adhered to the old logic of early picking, getting back to their Semillon-informed roots.

Twelve to 12-and-a-half percent alcohol is the right zone for Hunter Chardonnay. Bottling time is another factor and the Hunter winemakers bottle their Chardonnays early to lock in tension, freshness and composure.

Hunter Chardonnay still wins trophies, too – as recently as the 2015 Brisbane Wine Show where Liz Jackson’s 2014 First Creek Winemaker’s Reserve Chardonnay aced the best Chardonnay, best white and best wine of show awards in a clean sweep. It’s a ringing endorsement of how well the best Hunter makers understand their terroir, also a nod to the forgiving nature of the Chardonnay grape.

The results of this tasting

In terms of the results of this tasting, the Hunter has performed very well, with a lot of entries and a good strike rate. The other outstanding region of note is Tumbarumba. Known as the ‘Tasmania of the mainland’, its cool climate prowess is proven again here with six wines in the final selections, many of which are aligned with Hunter wineries using Tumbarumba as a preferred cooler-climate fruit source. Orange with four wines in the mix remains a wealth of potential and there is sure to be many more impressive wines coming from that elevated and unique region of New South Wales in the future.

The pendulum of Chardonnay style has swung less dramatically in New South Wales than in most other Australian regions and the wines, although less fanned along by fashion, are developing steadily with a keen eye on fruit purity and subtle complexity.

The best New South Wales Chardonnay wines are those that make appealing sense to white wine drinkers and they are wines that rely equally on the DNA of their origins and the hands of their makers to succeed. And therein lies the essence of every great Chardonnay – no matter where in the world it is grown, purity and balance are key.

The Top 24 NSW Chardonnay

Patina Wines Reserve Chardonnay 2010 (Orange) – $45

Tyrrell’s Wines Vat 47 Chardonnay 2011 (Hunter Valley) – $70

Coppabella of Tumbarumba Sirius Single Vineyard Chardonnay 2013 – $60

De Iuliis Limited Release Chardonnay 2013 (Hunter Valley) – $35

Swinging Bridge Wines Mrs Payten Chardonnay 2014 (Orange) – $32

Crush House Chardonnay 2013 (Hunter Valley) – $22

Tyrrell’s Wines Belford Chardonnay 2012 – $38

Lisa McGuigan Wines Chardonnay 2014 – $30

McGuigan Personal Reserve Blackberry Vineyard Chardonnay 2013 – $28

Crush House Chardonnay 2013 (Tumbarumba) – $22

Eden Road The Long Road Chardonnay 2013 (Tumbarumba) – $28

Jackson’s Hill Chardonnay 2013 (Tumbarumba) – $26

Oakvale Chardonnay 2013 (Hunter Valley) $22

Hart & Hunter Six Rows Chardonnay 2014 (Hunter Valley) – $40

Leogate Estate Wines Creel Bed Reserve Chardonnay 2013 (Hunter Valley) – $38

Travertine Wines Chardonnay 2014 (Hunter Valley) – $20

David Hook Pothana Vineyard Belford Chardonnay 2012 (Hunter Valley) – $30

Draytons Family Wines Chardonnay 2013 (Hunter Valley) – $18

Hungerford Hill Chardonnay 2013 (Tumbarumba) – $33

Printhie Wines Super Duper Chardonnay 2012 (Orange) – $85

Rowlee Wines Chardonnay 2013 (Orange) – $35

Cumulus Block 50 Chardonnay 2014 (Central Ranges) – $12

First Creek Chardonnay 2014 (Hunter Valley) – $25

McWilliam’s Appellation Series Chardonnay 2014 (Tumbarumba) – $25

Check out Wine Selectors' great range of NSW Chardonnay today.

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Wine
Change of Tempo with Tempranillo
Words by Jeni Port on 2 Jul 2015
In 2006 Melbourne academic, Professor Snow Barlow, offered some important advice to the Australian wine industry. As one of the leading agricultural scientists investigating the impact of climate change on viticulture in this country, he was succinct: adapt or else. Open your eyes, he implored, to the changes that increased levels of greenhouse gases and a warmer, drier climate are having on vines with earlier budburst, shorter winters, compressed vintages and extreme weather events. Learn to adjust. And then he returned to his vineyard, Baddaginnie Run, in the Strathbogie Ranges in Central Victoria and did just that. Out went his Merlot vines and in came Tempranillo. Merlot had worked well in the early days, but a combination of hot vintages with runs of 40+C days and drier conditions, were stressing the normally cool-mannered Bordeaux grape. Mediterranean-born Tempranillo was a better fit, he said. It lapped up the heat. It’s hard to say whether Prof. Barlow’s words and personal actions spurred Aussie wine growers and makers into action, but Tempranillo plantings did indeed take off. Exploded in fact. From 209 hectares in 2004, plantings ballooned to 712 hectares by 2012. And, perhaps not surprisingly, it was the warmer regions that took to it with the greatest gusto: Barossa Valley (20% of plantings), Murray Darling (19%), Riverina (15%), McLaren Vale (11%) and the Riverland (10%). The Riverina district was encouraged, no doubt, by Melbourne University projections showing it will be among the wine areas hardest hit by climate change. By 2030, research suggests rising temperatures could reduce grape quality in the region by up to 52 per cent. Growers in warm areas laud Tempranillo for its tolerance under hot conditions, its generosity of black fruits, its spice, its tannin structure. But, sadly, not its acidity. Professor Barlow had omitted the fact that the grape is naturally shy in acidity, a rather important piece of information to keep in mind when planting in a warm area. “It’s a bit of a sook actually,” says Peter Leske, a fellow scientist-winemaker behind the specialist Tempranillo maker, La Linea, in the Adelaide Hills. However, Leske maintains the grape’s good points still far outweigh its negatives. “It retains perfume and flavour, flesh and spice, so it makes a wine high in deliciousness despite warm and dry conditions,” he says. Deliciousness, it seems, wins out. Great in the heat, even better in the cool Warm climate Tempranillo is one thing. Cool climate Tempranillo is quite another. It is just possible that in the future the most exciting examples will come from winemakers who venture high up into the wilds, to places where Pinot Noir might also be suited, where the heat is less and the rainfall is more. A little like the 500-metre high nosebleed parts of Spain where it thrives: Rioja, Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa. Bright red fruits are to the fore in Tempranillo grown in cooler climes, the spice appears edgier, the structure is definitely firmer and more apparent. As the full impact of climate change is felt, it could be these areas that will ultimately be better suited to Tempranillo. Time will tell. In the meantime, Australian winemakers consider the newcomer amongst them. “We still have a lot to learn about Tempranillo,” admits Peter Leske. There are things we already know about the grape, like the little matter of pronunciation. If you know Spanish you know, Tempranillo is pronounced with the two lls silent: tem-pra-neee-o. That’s how it should be. It’s not too difficult. Many Aussie enthusiasts have already shortened it to ‘temp’ – clearly a display of endearment. We know that at first, quite a few Australian winemakers mistook Tempranillo for a grape just like Shiraz and made it like Shiraz, emasculating its vibrant Spanish passion into just another Aussie dry red. No identity. No excitement. Tempranillo is not Shiraz. It might act like it sometimes, taste like it occasionally, but its DNA – while not completely known – suggests one immediate relative is most likely Albillo Mayor, a grape from Ribera del Duero, in northern Spain. No Shiraz in sight. The tempraneo gang Some of the greatest advances in understanding the grape come from a group of six Aussie winemakers who got together in 2010, calling themselves ‘TempraNeo’. Each maker comes from a different region, covering most of the viticultural bases: Mayford in the Alpine Valleys, La Linea in the Adelaide Hills, Mount Majura in Canberra, Tar and Roses in Heathcote, Yalumba’s Running With Bulls in the Barossa and Gemtree in McLaren Vale. A number of winemaking bases, too, are explored. No two producers follow the same methods. Eleana Anderson at Mayford brings some basic Pinot Noir winemaking techniques to her Tempranillo including whole bunch fermentation with stalks for added tannin (now that’s simply not done in Spain) and extended time on skins to extract colour and flavour. Her take on Tempranillo is definitely fragrant, elegantly poised. Frank Van De Loo at Mount Majura introduces the notion of savouriness into his Tempranillo. He favours wild ferments, which by definition can be a bit feral and uncontrolled. At La Linea, Peter Leske and David Le Mire, MW, are seeing just what multiple site selections can do for Tempranillo. They source grapes from six vineyards in the Adelaide Hills from Kersbrook to the north (the warmest) through to Birdwood (the coolest location). Blending the blocks together is already producing some attractive characters: fragrance, structure, mouth feel, vibrant fruit, abundant spice. Mike Brown at Gemtree Vineyards, is a biodynamic grower who prefers a hands-off winemaking approach. Winemaker Sam Wigan at Running With Bulls is giving his Tempranillo time in Hungarian oak. “I’m using five to 10 per cent new Hungarian oak because it integrates well with the grape’s tannins,” he says, adding Hungarian oak doesn’t impart vanilla notes common to French oak, so it’s about looking to something out of the ordinary. At Heathcote in Central Victoria, a notable red wine producing region, winemakers Don Lewis and Narelle King at Tar & Roses are studying Tempranillo’s finickety acid profile, amongst other things. In 2014 they did a trial on a half tonne batch of Tempranillo, adding no acid. It didn’t work out well. “I don’t see it as a way forward,” says Don. When it comes to the fuller wine style of the Tar & Roses Tempranillo, he is now certain that it is essential to add acid. However, the grape does have other useful qualities he can employ to deliver structure, namely tannin. “If you taste the grape in the vineyard it’s not very juicy, it’s quite fleshy and it has a chalky tannin that no other variety has,” says Don. “Those two things – fleshiness and chalky tannins - are the epitome of Tempranillo to me. It was what I was used to seeing in La Mancha (Spain) when I was making wine there.” The TempraNeo group is also monitoring the growing number of Tempranillo clones (plant material) now available in Australia. The main sources are Spain, France and Portugal where the grape goes under the name of Tinta Roriz or Aragones. Some clones deliver fruit high in perfume, others show pronounced savouriness. Ten years of trials at Australian nurseries have revealed significant taste and aroma differences between the dozen clones available here. Importantly, Australian winemakers need to know where their clonal material hails from, because it is becoming clear that place of origin can dictate the clone’s performance in a foreign land. A clone taken from a vineyard in Rioja performs better in Rioja then in Valdepenas and vice versa. Comparing the region of origin with their own site’s climate, soil and topography could be a way forward for Australian producers. Tempranillo’s time As we head into a warmer, unpredictable future the role of Tempranillo in Australia is destined to loom large. Much larger. Despite its tendency to turn ‘sook’ and drop acid while on the vine, it has shown in a relatively short time that it is entirely well suited to parts of this country, both warm and cool. In warmer climes its generosity of black fruits, spice and sunny disposition is welcoming. What the grape lacks in sophistication it makes up for in pleasant drinkability. In cooler climes, where Tempranillo grapes are in top demand, each vintage with a price to match (averaging $1448 a tonne in 2012), we see a grape in the throes of reinvention, moulded by some of this country’s most forward-thinking winemakers. Here, the flavours are finer, more subtle, red and black fruits, spice and herbs and because these wines aren’t carrying a heavy weight, Tempranillo’s meagre acid backbone isn’t taxed quite as much. Sometimes savoury nuance surfaces, sometimes a textural loveliness. Exciting times indeed. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. It is early days still.
Wine
Who makes my wine?
Words by Tyson Stelzer on 28 Apr 2016
Walk the aisles of your local Dan Murphy’s or First Choice store and you won’t find a wine labelled “Dan Murphy’s Select” or “First Choice Home Brand”. But lurking on those shelves are more than 100 brands owned by the supermarket chains with no disclosure on the label. In an age in which we are more interested than ever in the origins of our products, how can we distinguish a small family estate from a supermarket brand? The growth in supermarket “Buyer’s Own Brand” wines in Australia has been substantial, estimated to have mushroomed from five percent a decade ago to between 16 and 25 percent of the market today. The wine industry is concerned that this growing category of major retailers could mislead consumers. In February 2016, a Senate Inquiry report into the Australian Wine Industry put forward a proposal from the Winemaker’s Federation of Australia (WFA) “that the Government amend labelling requirements so wine labels must declare whether wine is produced by an entity owned or controlled by a major retailer.” “What we would like to see is that home brands are identified so consumers can make their choice,” WFA Chief Executive Paul Evans told the Inquiry. The enquiry’s report is not binding, but the government is expected to respond within six months. It can choose to accept or reject the recommendations. Not so simple The question of whether it should be the government’s place to legislate on this issue has been widely debated, but even if it is, the dilemma of how it could be defined and regulated is perhaps more pertinent. Buyer’s Own Brand wines have a fully valid and important place in the market, and the major retail chains own perfectly legitimate wineries under which some of their labels are branded. Some retailers’ own brands are even made by small, private estates. Further, many high profile winemakers, including Giaconda, Clonakilla, Oakridge and St Hallett, make exclusive labels for particular retailers under the winemaker’s own brands. Such relationships are of value for all levels of the wine industry. And if retailers are required to declare brand ownership, what of companies like Treasury Wine Estates, Accolade Wines and Pernod Ricard, who together own many more brands and a much greater market share than the supermarket groups? And, for that matter, what of the hundreds of private little “virtual” wine brands who own no vineyards, buy fruit and have it contract made in someone else’s facility? The big issue behind this discussion is the market dominance of Woolworths (who owns BWS, Dan Murphy’s, Cellarmasters and Langton’s) and Wesfarmers (Liquorland, First Choice and Vintage Cellars) and the increasing presence of Metcash (Cellarbrations, IGA Liquor and Bottle-O), Costco, and ALDI stores in the wine market. It is estimated that Woolworths and Wesfarmers together share just under 60 percent of the domestic wine retail market, with some estimates putting this at 70 percent. There is a bigger picture at play here, of which wine is just one small category. Controversy surrounds the supermarket duopoly and its increasing dominance across many categories. Legislative change for wine would not only be fraught with complications surrounding definitions and implementation, but such a precedent would have enormous ramifications for groceries, fuel, hardware, office supplies, insurance, etc.
Wine
Who gets the gong for Semillon?
Words by Ralph Kyte-Powell on 12 Aug 2015
Let me take you back in time. Way back. Pre- Sauvignon Blanc . Back in the years B.C. (before Chardonnay ), when only two white wine types vied for the crown of Australia’s best. For a large part of the twentieth century, Australia’s two greatest white table wines were Semillon and Riesling . Riesling thrived in Australian wine’s heartland of South Australia, and the old wine country of the Hunter Valley in New South Wales was the source of the nation’s best Semillon. Confusingly, Hunter Semillon was known for many years as ‘Hunter River Riesling’, and the true Riesling grown in South Oz was called ‘Rhine Riesling,’ but those who knew them would never mix them up, and now, thankfully, they enjoy their real names. Both wine types bore distinctly Australian signatures, but Hunter Semillon went further – it was unique in the world. Nowhere else was Semillon made unblended into a high-quality, light, low-alcohol, dry white wine like this. The style was determined by the capricious climate of the Hunter Valley , where grapes had to be picked early to avoid the summer rains, resulting in only moderate levels of ripeness and high levels of acidity. Over the years, such circumstances meant Hunter Semillon evolved a unique personality, partly due to its improbable ability to build character and impact with long bottle age. Australian wines sometimes attract criticism, often ill-informed, for their lack of regional identity, the sense of place or terroir that marks great European wine, but this wine has it in spades. Hunter Semillon starts life pale and crisp, dry and lemon-fresh, appetising drinking when a delicate, savoury drop is needed. Then, in a most unlikely and miraculous transformation, that shy, zesty young wine is transformed by bottle age. Richness and interest build in the bottle, and after five, ten, or even more years, the zesty young thing grows into a multi-dimensional white wine of fascinating complexity, smoothness and depth. Generations of wine buffs have loved Hunter Semillon in either incarnation, young or old it was always a favourite among the cognoscenti, but the world of Australian wine has changed. The whims of fad and fashion increasingly determine what people drink and poor old Semillon, despite being better than ever, is looking like yesterday’s hero. Now a Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc is Australia’s best-selling white wine, obscure Italian white varietals obsess a new chattering class, and even big-selling Chardonnay is considered a bit passé by the fashionistas. Semillon languishes as an also-ran. What a pity. The story in the south The story of Semillon in South Australia is different. While the Hunter Valley version was a thoroughbred, South Australian Semillon was a workhorse used for bottled table wines, bulk wines, fortifieds, sweet styles, distillation, and anything else a winemaker could think of. In the Barossa , where for obscure reasons it was sometimes known as Madeira, straight Semillon enjoyed some popularity, but the style made for many years was more about strength and big, broad flavours than finesse, and in recent decades oak barrels have crept into the equation, making it into a sort of big, fat Chardonnay substitute, and often wiping out any fruit character that existed in the wine. For many in the Hunter, and for most of that region’s fans in the Hunter’s traditional markets, South Australian Semillon only existed as an everyday drop, a component to cut back Sauvignon Blanc’s exuberance in a blend, or a curio not to be taken seriously, never a throughbred like the Hunter version. But things were changing in the rolling country around Nuriootpa, Angaston and Lyndoch. A new type of Barossa Semillon was gradually emerging that started attracting the attention of wine drinkers across the nation. The Barossa boys and girls started easing off on the oak or ditching it altogether, they started harvesting their Semillon earlier, they selected fruit with more care, cropping levels were more tightly controlled, technique improved, special plots of vines identified. The Barossa’s aim of improving the region’s Semillon started to bear fruit. It hasn’t exactly shaken sales of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, but many consumers have been won over by these new wines, commentators have received them very positively, and they are winning more plaudits on the wine show circuit. At the Sydney International Wine Show in 2010 the Trophy for best White Table Wine of Competition was won by Peter Lehmann Margaret Barossa Semillon 2004. Hunter winemakers sat up and took notice. The Barossa was indeed becoming competitive with the Hunter as a source of great Semillon. This is the background to Selector’s latest State of Play tasting. How good is modern Barossa Semillon? And how does it compare to the classics from the Hunter? Is the Barossa wine better in its youth than the Hunter? Hunter Semillon ages superbly; what about Barossa Sem? To get a perspective on the two regional styles, Selector invited submissions of current release wines from all Semillon producers in both the Hunter and Barossa. Additionally, wineries with a good track record for ageworthy wines were invited to submit older Semillons. The taste-off The results confirmed just how good both Hunter and Barossa Semillon can be. Out of 49 wines entered, no less than 39 achieved scores that would get medals in a wine show. This is an amazingly high figure and had panellists scratching their heads to think of another wine type that would do so well. The tasting also showed that Semillon from both regions has two distinct incarnations – young and bottle aged. This highlights Semillon’s ability to offer the best of both worlds, a trait that isn’t shared by many other white wines. Young, zesty Semillons are probably better wines than Sauvignon Blancs to accompany the sort of cuisine we enjoy in modern Australia, especially in the warmer months. Semillons take Thai influences, Mediterranean flavours, briny seafoods and sushi in their stride, yet their delicacy is perfect with simply prepared fish. Bottle-aged examples compete with Chardonnays as companions to more elaborate dishes like baked fish, smoked foods, more substantial seafood dishes, poultry or cheesy preparations. A clear winner? Young or old, both Hunter and Barossa Semillons proved their credentials in this tasting, but which region’s wines were better overall? If it were a competition it would be slightly in favour of the Hunter. But both regions make fantastic Semillon and it was very difficult to separate the top wines on quality. In fact the two top-scoring current releases comprised a wine from each area, as did the top two aged release wines. At the moment there are many more producers of ‘great’ Semillon in the Hunter and the best of them are better than ever; there are only a handful of such producers in the Barossa. Ideas of competition between these two great Australian wine regions can be overplayed. There’s a great deal of affection and mutual respect between them, and each side is very impressed with the other’s best Semillon. The real issue is how to rekindle interest in great Semillon, wherever it comes from, in a population besotted with other white wines. It will be a hard task, but the first step is having the product right, and there’s no doubting that both Hunter and Barossa Semillon’s quality credentials are up to the task. Check out Wine Selectors great range of Semillon today.
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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