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Geoff Kelly Wine Reviews
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Independent reviews of some local and imported wines available in New Zealand, including earlier vintages.
LIBRARY TASTING 30 AUGUST 2018,  at REGIONAL WINES,  WELLINGTON

     
­THE MEALY / NUTTY PLEASURES OF OLD    
CHARDONNAY,  1975 – 2001 ...
 


Geoff Kelly,  MSc Hons



Conclusions from the Tasting:
What a delight this tasting was !  Those who attended clearly were there to find all the enjoyment they could in these variously old wines.  There was an eager sense of anticipation evident as the wines were poured.  And that anticipation was heightened when it became known that we had three winemakers sharing in the wines:  John Forrest from Marlborough,  and Larry McKenna and his new winemaker Tim Bourne,  from Escarpment Vineyard in Martinborough.  Not all winemakers are interested in old wines,  so it very much adds to the enjoyment of  city-bound tasters when there are winemakers present,  not least to field difficult questions.

Since old chardonnays (sadly) are readily affected by cork-related factors including TCA,  my approach to this tasting was to open 16 old chardonnays,  and present the best 12.  Colour of the wines was not an immediate giveaway to age,  in this blind tasting.  At the sorting stage,  a couple went out immediately,  showing clear brown hues in the generally attractive range of straw to light gold colours.  The  oldest wine presented (1975) was not the most gold or the darkest,  and likewise,  one of the youngest wines was among the darkest.

The New Zealand wine market as a whole is so pathetically habituated to drinking young,  even current release,  wine,  that any colour at all in whites is regarded with suspicion.  This approach simply denies the taster the pleasures of the gloriously complex flavours to be found in wine at maturity.  This is particularly the case for a variety such as chardonnay,  which when traditionally vinified matures for almost as long as reds.  The 12 wines as poured did not too seriously give away the fact their ages ranged from 17 years for the youngest,  to 43 years the oldest.  Wines 4,  5, 11 and 12 show some or more old gold hue,  yet three of them scored 17.5 or more in the quality ranking.  Wine 7 is the group favourite,  1996 Bannockburn (Victoria) Chardonnay.

 
The invitation to the tasting alluded to the smells and flavours of lees-enhanced chardonnays:  oatmeal,  cashew,  hazel and darker nuts,  and we found plenty of these characters.  But there was remarkable persistence of stonefruit suggestions,  though rather more dried than fresh,  with the better wines still showing wonderful texture,  as one hopes for in good white burgundy.  All these wines would have been good or  better with the right food,  whether just nuts unadorned,  or less sweet baking such as anzac biscuits,  or many chicken,  veal or pork dishes,  especially those with milk involved in the preparation.  To those who have the length of experience to appreciate and enjoy old fully mature chardonnay,  it was no trouble to initially rate all 12 of these wines at least bronze medal in level.  And the best of them quite amply illustrated the wonderful and diverse ways in which great chardonnay can with age develop an enchanting complexity and depth of flavour,  flavours which linger long after the reluctant swallow.  

The appreciation of old wine is a good deal more individual and to a degree idiosyncratic than the evaluation of young wines,  where there are more conventionally-defined parameters to measure against.  Thus it is only to be expected that there would be considerable diversity of view as to which was the ‘best’ wine or wines.  From the presenter's point of view,  it is simply a thrill to record that no less than 10 of the 12 wines had at least one vote as somebody’s top or second-favourite wine.  And five of the wines had five or more votes for first place or second place.  This is a great result.

In this Library Tasting,  four of my five top wines were also endorsed by the group as a whole.  For the fifth,  I favoured the more classically-styled Giaconda,  but the lush Hawkes Bay wine Coniglio (not shown) had its supporters.  From the left:  1995  Eyrie Vineyards Chardonnay from Oregon could easily have been from Burgundy,  18.5;  2001  Giaconda Chardonnay from Victoria likewise showed French styling,  in a more massive way,  18 +;  1994  Leeuwin Estate Chardonnay Art Series had all the magic of clone mendoza,  beautifully raised,  18.5 +;  1982  Comtes Lafon Meursault Clos de la Barre exemplifed the concept ‘mealy Meursault,  but was a little impaired by the cork,  18 +;  and the most popular wine,  1996  Bannockburn Chardonnay was a model of mature flavours,  balance and harmony,  18.5 +.


Reflections on Chardonnay the grape and the wine:
Michael Broadbent,  1980,  on [ Chardonnay ] White Burgundy:
White burgundy reflects the perfect union of grape variety, soil and climate and, at its best, epitomizes the summit of the winemaker’s art: a dry wine that satisfies the palate with subtle flavour, gentle persistence and perfection of finish.    ...
and relative to the Tasting Notes for the White Burgundy chapter:  
I have been far more selective than I was with the reds ...  That I bother to quote quite a few old vintages demonstrates how well many of the really good dry whites keep and how, like old champagne, they develop a style of their own which can delight the open minded, even if our French friends consider this yet another example of a vice anglais, an eccentric aberration bordering on necrophilia.
Jasper Morris,  2010:
And then there is Jasper Morris,  MW,  writing in his wonderful book Inside Burgundy,  who sums up to perfection what chardonnay should be,  as opposed to the extraordinary verbiage of so many contemporary New World winewriters so little versed in the classical wines of the world:
Chardonnay:  By the end of the 20th century this marvellous grape had become more or less synonymous with white wine, to the great detriment of its reputation. So much modest, mass-produced wine made in whole or in part from Chardonnay had flooded the world market, the lack of genuine fruit often hidden behind an overlay of oak flavours, that noble versions were devalued in the eyes of a Chardonnay-weary world.
...  But Chardonnay is, for many, the finest white grape of all, and Burgundy potentially the outstanding location for growing it. ...
Character of Chardonnay:  New World Chardonnays frequently incite descriptors of tropical fruits, the wines weighed down by a surfeit of mangos, pawpaws, ripe melon, pineapple and kumquat notes. I have not really understood why winemakers using such notes on their back labels would imagine anyone would want these flavours in a glass of wine. In any case, they are rarely to be found in Burgundian Chardonnay.
Essentially, Chardonnay is non-aromatic and full-bodied. ... There is no reason why the Chardonnay wines of Burgundy should not be powerful wines, since power does not preclude finesse and complexity. All that needs to be avoided is the production of over-alcoholic or slightly sweet, clumsy and heavy examples of white burgundy.


Invitation to this Tasting:
By way of scene-setter,  the incomparable Hugh Johnson on chardonnay,  in his book Wine,  1966: 
A friend of mine is a typical grower in Meursault …  I once asked him about the keeping qualities of Meursault. Before I could stop him he had found a bottle of his wine of 1929,  unthinkably old from a commercial point of view … Time had done nothing but round off its formidable qualities into a beautifully polished prism of scent and taste ... 

This is a special tasting,  not so much of great bottles but of interesting ones.  It is designed for genuine wine-lovers,  those who love old wine as much as young ones,  those who approach a wine seeking virtues,  rather than faults. 

Happily there are quite a number of such people,  for this Library Tasting sold out in 20 hours.  And perhaps there are more overseas,  for wine-searcher indicates values exceeding $400 for one of the older bottles,  and over $100 for quite a number … wines which as Hugh Johnson notes above,  are impossibly old in a conventional market sense.  But yet,  there is this thought,  that the hallmark of really good wine is that it ages gracefully. 

A point to note for the Australian wines (which include some of their best) is that some (but not all) see no MLF … which keeps them fresher.  But even without the MLF fermentation,  the extended lees contact for the good ones should produce both enhanced body to age on,  and satisfying aromas and flavours reminiscent of oatmeal,  cashew and brazil nuts.  In wines that have darkened a little,  there may be hazelnut and sometimes even a touch of walnut flavours,  where oak use has been too enthusiastic.  With luck there will still be some signs of stonefruits too … even if in some the peaches will be more akin to dried or glacé ones than fresh-off-the-tree.    

So join us for a little adventure in wine,  for,  given the price of present-day quality chardonnays,  you only need to find one wine that is memorable for you,  for the tasting to be justifiable.  Worth commenting that the Giaconda Chardonnay from Beechworth,  Victoria,  was $160 at release on the shelf,  in New Zealand,  so not many will have tasted that.  

Acknowledgements:  this narrative benefitted greatly from discussion with Dr Andrew Moore,  of Otago University,

References:                  
Broadbent,  Michael  1980:  The Great Vintage Wine Book.  Mitchell Beazley,  432 p.  
Broadbent,  Michael  2002:  Michael Broadbent's Vintage Wine.  Harcourt,  560 p. 
Broadbent,  Michael  2003:   Michael Broadbent’s Wine Vintages.  Mitchell Beazley,  223 p.  
Cooper,  M.  2001 – 2003:  successive years,  Michael Cooper’s Buyers Guide to New Zealand Wines.  Hodder Moa Beckett.
Halliday,  James,  1985:  The Australian Wine Compendium.  Angus & Robertson,  576 p.
Johnson,  Hugh 1966:  Wine.  Thomas Nelson,  264 p. 
Langton’s Vintage Chart:  www.langtons.com.au/media/pdf/VintageChart.pdf
Morris,  Jasper MW,  2010:  Inside Burgundy.  Berry Bros & Rudd,  656 p.
www.jancisrobinson.com  =  Jancis Robinson MW and Julia Harding MW,  subscription needed for reviews
www.erobertparker.com  = Robert Parker and Jeb Dunnuck,  vintage chart,  subscription needed for reviews
www.winespectator.com = vintage chart,  subscription needed for reviews





THE WINES REVIEWED: 

All 16 wines opened for the Library Tasting are included,  to add perspective.  Those excluded are marked with an asterisk.  Few current values can be included,  since wine-searcher is as blinkered as many other wine people about old chardonnay,  and rarely lists them.  In vintage order the wines are:

1975  Cuvaison Chardonnay
1979  Buena Vista Chardonnay Heritage *
1980  McWilliams Chardonnay
1982  Dom. Comtes Lafon Meursault-Charmes 1er Cru *
1982  Dom. Comtes Lafon Meursault Clos de la Barre   
1984  Mount Mary Chardonnay *
1984  Yarra Yering Chardonnay
1985  Tyrrell’s Pinot Chardonnay Vat 47 *

1994  Penfolds Chardonnay Bin 94A
1994  Leeuwin Estate Chardonnay
1995  Eyrie Vineyards Chardonnay Reserve
1996  Bannockburn Chardonnay
1998  Kumeu River Chardonnay Maté’s                    
2000  Morton Estate Chardonnay Coniglio
2001  Giaconda Chardonnay
2001  Dry River Chardonnay Amaranth


And in country / alphabetical order:

AMERICA:
1979  Buena Vista Chardonnay Heritage *
1975  Cuvaison Chardonnay
1995  Eyrie Vineyards Chardonnay Reserve          
AUSTRALIA
1996  Bannockburn Chardonnay
2001  Giaconda Chardonnay
1994  Leeuwin Estate Chardonnay
1984  Mount Mary Chardonnay *
1994  Penfolds Chardonnay Bin 94A

1985  Tyrrell’s Pinot Chardonnay Vat 47 *
1984  Yarra Yering Chardonnay
FRANCE
1982  Dom. Comtes Lafon Meursault-Charmes 1er Cru *   
1982  Dom. Comtes Lafon Meursault Clos de la Barre
NEW ZEALAND
2001  Dry River Chardonnay Amaranth
1998  Kumeu River Chardonnay Maté’s
1980  McWilliams Chardonnay
2000  Morton Estate Chardonnay Coniglio


For the reviews following:

1996  Bannockburn Chardonnay
1979  Buena Vista Chardonnay *
1975  Cuvaison Chardonnay
2001  Dry River Chardonnay
1995  Eyrie Vineyards Chardonnay Reserve
2001  Giaconda Chardonnay
1998  Kumeu River Chardonnay Maté's Vineyard
1982  Comtes Lafon Meursault-Charmes Premier Cru *
  1982  Comtes Lafon Meursault Clos de la Barre
1994  Leeuwin Estate Chardonnay Art Series
1980  McWilliams Pinot Chardonnay
2000  Morton Estate Chardonnay Coniglio
1984  Mount Mary Chardonnay *
1884  Penfolds Chardonnay Bin 94A
1985  Tyrrell's Pinot Chardonnay Vat 47 *
1984  Yarra Yering Chardonnay


1996  Bannockburn Chardonnay   18 ½ +  ()
Geelong,  Victoria,  Australia:  14%;  $ –    [ cork,  50mm;  earlier vintages were along the lines of barrel fermentation in French oak 30% new;  lees-stirring,  c.11 months on lees in barrel;  some MLF;  J. Halliday,  1998:  … the bouquet is extremely complex, with pronounced high-toast barrel-ferment oak aromas, but on the palate intense melon and fig fruit comes up to balance that oak. Lots and lots happening here, 95;  R. Parker,  1999:  ... medium-bodied, tart, high acid example of this varietal. Pear, mineral, and citrus notes give it a fresh, crisp personality, 87;  www.bannockburnvineyards.com ]
Colour is good straw and light gold,  lively and fresh,  just above midway in depth.  This was one of the wines which opened up during and after the tasting.  It was not initially big or showy,  but right from the outset there was still almost fresh golden queen peach fruit,  enriched with lovely lees-autolysis complexity showing both uncooked oatmeal,  and a more dry-cereal ‘weetbix’ quality (+ve).  The more you smelt and  tasted the wine,  the more you found,  hints of grapefruit and grapefruit zest,  then suggestions of Vogels Multigrain bread,  oatmeal and cashew clearly but hints of hazelnut too.  It was not the richest wine,  but it had great purity and length of flavour.  There is a dry nutty quality to the finish,  some tannin,  but no bitterness.  The wine is both reasonably rich,  yet beautifully dry – simply classic gentle fully mature chardonnay.  Eight first-place votes,  three second,  and two thought it French.  GK 08/18

1994  Leeuwin Estate Chardonnay Art Series   18 ½ +  ()
Margaret River,  West Australia,  Australia:  13.5%;  $ –    [ cork,  too fragmented in removing to measure;  Halliday vintage rating for district 9/10.  Despite Leeuwin Estate's standing,  the website has no information on older vintages.  Later vintages were along the lines some hand-picked,  clone mendoza (known locally as gin gin),  vines of some age;  not whole-bunch pressed,  not cold settled;  20% wild-yeast and 100% barrel-ferment up to 20°,  MLF sometimes,  not known if this year;  11 months in French oak a high percentage new,  batonnage fortnightly;  RS <2g/l;  not sterile-filtered;  not entered in Shows;  Halliday,  2011:  ...a fine, supremely elegant wine with melon and nectarine fruit aromas surrounded by subtle, spicy oak on the bouquet. The palate is brilliantly balanced, youthful and elegant yet intense, with more of those melon/citrus/grapefruit flavours. An iron fist in a silk (not velvet) glove, which barely shows its 13.5 degrees alcohol, 94;  www.leeuwinestate.com.au ]
Colour is very close to the Bannockburn,  again straw and gold,  fractionally lighter.  The richness and purity of bouquet here is sensational,  showing more fruit and fresher golden queen peachy fruit than the Bannockburn,  but less mealy / nutty autolysis complexity.  Again there is a lift of grapefruit zest complexity,  on bouquet.  In mouth the absolute purity and depth of mendoza-styled yellow stonefruit flavour is a revelation,  tasting both fresher and younger than the Bannockburn,  but as for bouquet,  with less elevation complexity.  The depth of fruit lingers amazingly on the aftertaste,  so much so there is still a little more cellar life here.  Some would say that it is perfect now,  still with some fruit sweetness to the finish.  Two first-place votes,  five second,  and one thought it French.  GK 08/18

1995  Eyrie Vineyards Chardonnay Reserve   18 ½  ()
Willamette Valley,  Oregon,  USA:  13%;  $ –    [ cork,  50mm;  understood to be made from the oldest chardonnay in the Willamette Valley,  using inoculated ferments in the 1990s.  Less than 4% new oak,  chardonnay up to 18 months in barrel.  No reviews found,  but the winery is regarded highly.  Bottle courtesy Canadian Prof. Ray Hilborn,  wine enthusiast and friend of fisheries scientist Canadian Paul Starr,  both intermittent visitors to Regional’s tasting room,  and consultants to the NZ Fishing Industry Board on science-based stock assessment;  www.eyrievineyards.com ]
Straw with a wash of gold,  just below midway in depth.  Like the Bannockburn,  this was an understated wine freshly opened,  showing some stonefruit,  some lees autolysis mealyness,  a faint scent which might be oak-related,  plus suggestions of oatmeal.  In mouth the whole wine expands dramatically,  surprisingly rich dried peach fruit,  good oatmeal and hazelnut autolysis favours,  more oak than one suspected on bouquet,  and good balance.  It doesn't have the fruit purity of the Leeuwin,  or the elevation complexity of the Lafon,  the net impression ending up closest to the Bannockburn,  but a little less fruit richness,  and rather more oak.  Some tasters felt the oak dominated the finish a little too much.  Like the Bannockburn,  you ended up thinking this was wonderful New World chardonnay,  owing a good deal to the Meursault heritage.  Five first places,  two second places,  but also two least places.  Three people thought it French.  GK 08/18

2001  Giaconda Chardonnay   18 +  ()
Beechworth,  Victoria,  Australia:  13.5%;  $ –    [ cork,  50mm;  Halliday rates the 2001 Beechworth vintage 8/10.  Vineyard at c.400m,  with c.800mm rainfall.  First chardonnay planted 1982.  All hand-picked,  light crushing then pressing,  wild-yeast fermentations,  malolactic fermentation,  then long ageing on lees in French oak,  c.30% new.  Wine Spectator,  2004:  Aristocratic and appealing for the slightly earthy notes that weave through the fine-tuned pear flavors, finishing with persistence, 91.  J. Oliver,  2004:  My pick as Australia's finest chardonnay, extraordinarily structured and complete, expressing a heritage more Burgundian than Australian, 91;  www.giaconda.com.au ]
Gold with a wash of old gold,  clearly above midway in depth.  Right from opening,  this is a very big wine,  with rich fruit and even more lees work and elevation complexity,  presenting complex mealy and nutty qualities on bouquet.  There is also just a hint of heavyness,  reminiscent of the heavy fusel alcohol notes Australian reds used to show.  This component could be interpreted more positively as a hint of walnut.  In mouth bouquet and flavour meld into a sensationally mealy and nutty,  very rich and dry wine,  the size and savour of a great Corton-Charlemagne at full maturity,  the weight of dried stone fruit,  oatmeal and brazil nut flavours quite saturating the tongue and the senses.  And there is a long sautéed button-mushrooms note creeping in to the late finish,  which delights.  It is appreciably richer than the Lafon Meursault,  and purer than the particular bottle in the tasting,  yet somehow the whole wine does not quite achieve the magical complexity and appeal of the Meursault.  There is a hint of heavyness / early ageing in this Giaconda.  Even so,  with the right food it would be remarkable.  The dry extract must be c.30 + grams per litre,  ‘unknown’ in white wine.  Three first-places,  two second places,  but also three least places.  Nobody thought it French (which surprised me).  GK 08/18

1982  Comtes Lafon Meursault Clos de la Barre   18 +  ()
Meursault,  Burgundy,  France:  12.8%;  $250   [ cork,  50mm;  vineyard is 2.1 ha,  not officially ranked as a cru,  but highly regarded;  vines planted from 1950 onwards;  wine-making these days may provide an indication of previous practice,  but see also the notes for Lafon Charmes:  cold-settled juice with low solids,  wild yeast fermentations,  full MLF,  lees stirring in barrel,  time in barrel 18 – 22 months depending on the cru;  Morris (2010):  A monopoly of Domaine des Comtes de Lafon, whose back garden this is. Clos de la Barre has particularly stony soil, imparting a mineral aspect to the wine and good acidity. The vines here flower before other vineyards but ripen later, giving an extra 10 days hang time; the result is a wine capable of long keeping;  Broadbent (2002) describes this exact wine in 2000 as being:  Pale for its age, still lemon-tinged; sweet, crusty (bread), lovely bouquet; medium-sweet, delicious flavour and excellent acidity, ****;  www.comtes-lafon.fr ]
Hue is old gold,  but the depth of colour is below midway,  the hue not as fresh as the top three wines.  The wine opened just a little muffled or muted,  a ‘woodyness’ from the cork which gradually cleared.  Two only of 22 tasters commented on slight TCA.  But beyond those factors,  the great aspect of this wine was the classical mealy / oatmeal / cashew richness of the ‘fruit’ component,  but being Meursault it is not 'fruity' as such,  just the impression of substance,  richness,  and depth.  But if you look,  there are suggestions of dried stonefruit / dried peaches,  and an enchanting hint of beeswax.  Palate shows all these things,  plus thoughts of nougat and marzipan,  both bone dry.  It is this saturation of enhanced mealy flavours and textures which makes great Meursault and some Corton-Charlemagnes so unique in the world of wine.  Like the Bannockburn,  there is now a hint of tannin in the long,  rich finish,  but only the less enthused would mention a trace of bitterness.  This bottle is not quite perfect,  the cork could have been better,  and is I think responsible for the less-than-sparkling purity,  but the nett balance of flavours and the wonderful richness and texture are a delight.  Three first-place votes,  two second,  and two thought it French.  Also three least-of-the-12 votes,  from those tasters for whom the flaws outweighed the positives.  But that is part of the diversity of wine appreciation,  particularly when it comes to older wines.  GK 8/18  GK 08/18

1998  Kumeu River Chardonnay Maté's Vineyard   18  ()
Kumeu,  Auckland district,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $ –    [ cork,  46mm;  all clone mendoza planted in 1990,  in a designated vineyard to honour founder Maté Brajkovich,  1925 – 1992;  hand-harvested at a lower cropping rate than the mainstream Kumeu wine;  whole-bunch pressed,  wild-yeast and barrel-fermented in French oak c.20% new,  100% MLF,  12 months on lees in barrel.  Wine Spectator,  2000:  Juicy and elegant. A mouthwatering wine that layers apple, citrus and spice flavors on a delicate frame. Fruit echoes nicely on the finish, 90;  M. Cooper,  2000:  ...a very opulent wine with splendidly concentrated flavours of  grapefruit, peach and butterscotch, with an almost apricot-like ripeness and richness. It's all there for majestic drinking, 2002+, *****;  www.kumeuriver.co.nz ]
Straw with a gold wash,  near the middle in depth.  First impression on bouquet is a lot of MLF,  detracting a little and just hinting at custard,  in good golden queen peachy fruit plus some lees autolysis complexity and mealyness.  In mouth the freshness of peachy flavour is startling,  these are more canned golden queen peaches than dried ones.  There is not the depth of flavour and elevation complexity / mealyness the more highly-ranked wines show,  and thus the palate seems narrower,  but with very pure clone mendoza flavours.  Oak handling is subtle,  with no thought of untoward tannins let alone bitterness to the tail.  The purity of ripe fruit flavour against a natural acid balance makes an interesting comparison with the richer Leeuwin,  using the same clone.  No first places,  one second,  nobody thought it French.  GK 08/18

1884  Penfolds Chardonnay Bin 94A   17 ½ +  ()
Adelaide Hills,  SA,  Eden Valley,  SA,  Tumbarumba,  NSW (‘cool districts’),  Australia:  13.5%;  $ –    [ cork,  too fragmented in removing to measure;  This was the first release in Penfolds then-new endeavour to produce a 'white Grange'.  Fruit all barrel-fermented in new,  one- and two-year-old French oak barrels,  with complete malolactic fermentation.  This was followed by 10 months on lees in barrel.  At the time of release Penfolds described it as showing:  ... concentrated peach and tropical fruit ...  cashew nut barrel fermentation character ... ...  great palate length and beautifully balanced oak.  Only one review,  Parker,  1999:  … the nose of an old style, robust California Chardonnay with plenty of butterscotch, toasty oak, and spice. Fully mature, fleshy, and medium to full-bodied, with a high acid profile (much of it added, I suspect) …, 87;   www.penfolds.com ]
Gold to old gold,  the second-deepest wine.  Notwithstanding the colour,  right from opening this wine shows wonderful fruit,  dried peach and dried apricots rather than fresh,  yet the nett impression mysteriously is still ‘fresh’.  This is followed by a depth of mealy lees autolysis and elevation complexity,  which includes hints of golden syrup in a positive and complex sense,  as for example in anzac biscuits.  Flavours reveal both inherent elevation complexity,  and more oak than is really simpatico with good chardonnay,  so the dried  fruit and mealy palate qualities give way to a finish dominated by oak rather than yeast-autolysis and fruit elevation factors,  even though there is still impressive richness.  The wine is so rich it seems almost sweet,  but I suspect that is simply oak vanillin and glycerol.  Could be a tricky wine to marry with food,  oak being unforgiving in that role,  but then many people like oak for itself.  A hard wine to ignore.  No first-places,  two second places.  GK 08/18

2000  Morton Estate Chardonnay Coniglio   17 ½  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $ –    [ cork,  50mm;  Morton Estate is famous for introducing New Zealand to the concept of barrel-fermented and ‘big’ chardonnays,  via John Hancock’s Black Label wines of the mid-80s.  This is an attempt by Morton Estate to reclaim past glories.  Hawkes Bay fruit hand-picked,  whole-bunch pressed,  all barrel-fermented in 100% new French oak barriques then matured on lees for c.11 months,  partial malolactic some years,  unknown for 2000.  Some residual sugar some years,  again unknown for 2000.  M. Cooper is understood to have described the 2000 vintage as:  Richly fragrant and refined, with layers of grapefruit and nut flavours, good acid spine and a wonderfully rich, resounding finish.  With the vicissitudes overtaking Morton Estate in recent years,  information is scarce.  Lion Breweries now owns the Morton Estate label and one of its Marlborough vineyards.  Specific brands,  including Coniglio,  the physical Katikati winery,  and Hawkes Bay and other Marlborough vineyards are now known as:  The Wine Portfolio;  www.wineportfolio.co.nz ]
Rich lemon with scarcely a trace of gold,  much the youngest colour,  and one of the two lightest.  Freshly opened the wine has an over-arching vanilla custard quality to it which is hard to ignore,  giving it a confected quality.  There is a volume of pure stone fruit which is still remarkably fresh,  and some citrus,  but virtually no elevation complexity,  lees autolysis,  mealyness or nutty smells and flavours at all.  In mouth the lushness of the wine,  without an appropriate tannin structure,  is a far cry from any classic French handling of chardonnay.  Fruit richness is beyond dispute,  but in chardonnay of the calibre sought today,  the winemaker must add depth and complexity to the wine via careful elevation.  There is some residual sugar too,  further reinforcing the thought the wine doesn't completely respect classical goals for chardonnay.  From the overt custard notes,  at the later discussion stage,  we assumed some at least new American oak.  All in all,  a wine designed to seduce,  which it did:  three first-places,  two second places,  but also two least places.  This can be cellared 5 – 15 years more,  with interest and the hope it will become dryer.  GK 08/18

2001  Dry River Chardonnay   16 ½ +  ()
Martinborough,  New Zealand:  13%;  $ –    [ cork,  45mm;  information has always been hard to find for Dry River wines,  then proprietor Neil McCallum being reticent.  Understood to be 100% mendoza fruit hand-harvested at c.2.5 t/ha = 1 t/ac;  100% BF and 10 months LA in French oak around 30% new,  partial MLF.  In promotional material of the time,  emphasis was placed on Dry River wines being built for ageing.  M. Cooper (2003):  The 2001 vintage is labelled Amaranth, meaning winemaker Neil McCallum sees it as especially suitable for cellaring. It certainly makes no concessions to drink-young appeal ... fragrant, refined and immaculate, with intense grapefruit and nut flavours and a tight, crisp, minerally character that hints at riches to unfold. A youthful, quietly classy wine, *****;  present-day winemaker is Wilco Lam,  the vineyard now being American-owned;  www.dryriver.co.nz ]
Colour is fresh straw,  nearly a wash of lemon,  the lightest wine.  Right from opening,  the bouquet is very clean,  lightly varietal with hints of stone fruit and citrus,  but virtually no elevation complexity,  mealyness or depth.  Palate is a little better,  some mealyness now adding flavour and a hint of texture,  but fruit weight and concentration both lacking,  raising doubts about a supposed low cropping rate,  and total acid high.  It seems pure and simple,  in the company of the real thing.  Like many Dry River wines,  it does not in fact measure up in blind comparative tasting,  even though it was presented as superior at the time,  as denoted by both the price and the Amaranth designation.  Will hold in cellar,  but lacks the body to develop great interest.  No first-places,  two second place votes.  GK 08/18

1984  Yarra Yering Chardonnay   16 +  ()
Yarra Valley,  Victoria,  Australia:   – %;  $ –    [ cork,  45mm;  this is a rare wine,  production around 100 cases a year then,  made by the now-famous late Dr Bailey Carrodus,  PhD in plant physiology at Wellington University,  followed by a Roseworthy oenology degree.  As described by James Halliday,  1985:  Dr Carrodus is an intensely private individual, happy to look out on the world, and far less happy when it attempts to look in on him. Right from the outset he has followed the dictates of his own beliefs and conceptions, and found it completely unnecessary to share them with others ….  Therefore,  little is known about the wine,  except cropping rate was low at c.5 t/ha.  Vintage rated 8/10 by Langton’s.  Access to Yarra Yering courtesy James Halliday;  Yarra Yering is now owned by the Kaesler group of wine companies,  based in South Australia;  www.yarrayering.com ]
Lemon straw with a wash of gold,  below midway in depth.  Bouquet is clean,  firm,  a passing thought,  might this wine have been a bit reductive in its youth ?  There is now light dried peach fruit,  a suggestion of citrus,  not a lot to go on.  Palate like the Dry River is narrow,  hard,  acid (but here obviously added,  gritty to the taste),  and lacking lees autolysis complexity and depth.  It does not taste as if there were an MLF component.  Actual fruit weight and freshness are surprisingly good,  but like the Dry River,  they have not been built up in elevation.  No votes in favour,  three least votes.  GK 08/18

1975  Cuvaison Chardonnay   15 ½ +  ()
Napa Valley,  California,  USA:  13.7%;  $ –    [ cork,   too fragmented in removing to measure;  included (if it measured up) as a wine of  sentimental value,  in that it was made by Philip Togni,  a graduate of Imperial College,  London,  where he studied with the late Dr John Tomlinson,  fondly remembered,  of the Chemistry Department,  Wellington University.  Togni has since become famous for his cabernet sauvignon,  starting with the 1969 Chappellet.  Little is known about this wine,  which dates from before Cuvaison bought vineyards in Carneros.  It  is likely typical Napa chardonnay of the era,  maybe with MLF and oak leading to the buttery style for which the Napa Valley was then well-known.  Bottle courtesy Philip Togni;  www.cuvaison.com ]
Straw,  a wash of gold,  surprisingly fresh for its age,  below midway in depth.  Bouquet is clean,  showing mature dried peach / stone fruit suggestions with light oak,  the oak slightly scented as if some of it American,  and little if any of it new.  There is a faint butterscotch note.  Palate retains fruit,  not a rich wine,  the flavours fading,  oak in balance,  not much evidence of lees autolysis or elevation complexity,  maybe a few grams residual sugar.  The  butterscotch suggestion makes you wonder,  could there have been a small malolactic component in this wine ?  The whole wine is in surprising condition for its age,  assisted by being ex-magnum.  Fully mature to fading.  No positive votes,  but intriguingly,  only one least vote.  GK 08/18

1980  McWilliams Pinot Chardonnay   15 +  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:   – %;  $ –    [ cork,  44mm;  this wine dates from the early days of modern chardonnay production in New Zealand,  when it won a gold medal in the National Wine Competition in 1981;  McWilliams as guided by Tom McDonald and Denis Kasza were with Alex Corban the first to make chardonnay in post-Prohibition New Zealand,  from the 1960s.  Initial wines were unoaked,  some in the later ‘60s impressive.  After indifferent offerings in the early ‘70s,  in 1978 the first of the ‘modern’ wines appeared,  an (over-) US-oaked Chardonnay.  1980 was the second,  with much better oak but probably still American,  but at that stage probably little lees-ageing and no MLF.  I had the pleasure of judging this wine at the time of its release,  where it impressed in the then-skimpy class;  McWilliams as a label has disappeared into the grouping of Pernod-Ricard wines in New Zealand,  more particularly the Church Road label. ]
Old gold,  the deepest of the wines presented.  Freshly opened,  the bouquet shows good golden queen peachy fruit reflecting its clone mendoza origins,  quickly airing to rather more dried peach,  yet with hints of grapefruit zest.  Palate shows the lack of fruit symptomatic of even the best New Zealand wines in the 1970s / early 1980s,  the stronger flavours of American oak,  not much in the way of lees autolysis or elevation complexity,  yet the wine initially still meriting the score given,  as varietal chardonnay.  A couple of tasters commented on some un-ripe flavours,  and highish acid in the wine.  Even so,  two tasters rated it their second-favourite,  but four their least.  It fell away more quickly than any other wine in the set,  though remaining perfectly drinkable.  In one sense,  this is a taste of New Zealand wine history.  GK 08/18

1985  Tyrrell's Pinot Chardonnay Vat 47 *   14 ½  ()
Hunter Valley,  NSW,  Australia:  13.5%;  $ –    [ cork,  45mm;  together with Leeuwin Estate Chardonnay Art Series,  this is Australia’s most famous chardonnay.  Tyrrell pioneered barrel-fermentation and French oak for chardonnay in Australia,  from the 1973 vintage.  A percentage is fermented in new puncheons,  some in older,  some in s/s.  Little or no MLF.  Vintage rated 7/10 by Langton’s;  www.tyrrells.com.au ]
Old gold with a brown wash,  one of the lesser hues but not the deepest colour.  This was the first of the wines to be culled / not presented in the formal tasting.  Bouquet is clean,  fragrant,  some dried peach fruit notes but also a suggestion of maderisation,  the nett effect pleasantly biscuitty.  Palate retains (dried) fruit richness,  fair body,  madeira cake flavours in a slightly oaky way,  but maderisation creeping through the palate,  trace bitterness to the finish,  quite tannic.  Saved by still retaining some body.  GK 08/18

1984  Mount Mary Chardonnay *   14  ()
Yarra Valley,  Victoria,  Australia:  13.2%;  $ –    [ cork,  46mm;  the wine of a famous Yarra Valley independent winery.  Little known about the wine,  maybe 35% new oak.  Dr John Middleton (medico) was to the Australian wine industry what Dr Neil McCallum (research chemist) was to New Zealand’s.  To quote James Halliday,  1985:  Both have … Olympian aloofness in their temperament. … Both are given to Delphic utterances of such obscurity as to defy questions regarding their meaning.  And both have made great wines,  but not at all consistently. [ but you are not allowed to say so … ].  Access to Mount Mary courtesy James Halliday;  www.mountmary.com.au ]
Light gold,  a brown wash,  slightly above midway in depth.  Bouquet in this bottle is more clearly maderised,  yet still fragrant on dried peach recognisably varietal fruit.  Palate is surprisingly light,  total acid high (as befits the year),  the flavours again biscuitty and maderised,  only a shadow of fading dried stone fruits still detectable,  all tasting more like sultana in flavour (not unpleasant),  but lacking elevation complexity and fruit depth.  A similar style to the Dry River,  therefore,  but the extra years have taken their toll.  Still perfectly serviceable dry white.  GK 08/18

1979  Buena Vista Chardonnay *   13 +  ()
Sonoma,  California,  USA:  13%;  $ –    [ cork,  44mm;  little is now known about this wine,  apart from its measure of fame as California’s oldest surviving winery,  as Haraszthy Cellars.  By 1979 the company did hold extensive vineyards in the cooler Carneros zone now well-regarded for chardonnay,  and the Heritage tag initially meant something,  so there are possibilities.  Not known if this wine is Carneros zone;  www.buenavistawinery.com ]
Old gold with a marked brown wash,  deeper than the McWilliams.  Bouquet is clean,  fragrant,  very dry,  sherry-like maderisation qualities mingling with faded dried peach notes to suggest gingernut biscuits,  grapefruit zest,  and a hint of camphor.  Palate is surprisingly pleasant within that construct,  suggestions of candied citrus peel and sultana fruitcake,  quite tannic and oaky,  all kept alive with some residual sugar.  Still drinkable with flavoursome food.  GK 08/18

1982  Comtes Lafon Meursault-Charmes Premier Cru *   12 ½  ()
Meursault,  Burgundy ,  France:  12.8%;  $ –    [ cork,  50mm;  Broadbent rates 1982 as irregular for whites,  both good and bad wines.  The Comtes Lafon wines were introduced to New Zealand by patent attorney Ken Moon then of Wellington,  in his newly established Eurowine wine importing company.  Eurowine is now absorbed into EuroVintage,  Auckland.  This wine is the most highly-valued by wine-searcher today,  examples from the ‘80s being $400 and up.  Lafon holds 1.7 ha in Charmes,  regarded as amongst the best parts.  Vines date from 1946,  1963,  and later;  the wine now sees up to 70% new oak,  likely less then.  Not fined or filtered,  and then,  not assembled before bottling;  wine-making these days may provide an indication of previous practice:  cold-settled juice with low solids,  wild yeast fermentations,  full MLF,  lees stirring in barrel,  time in barrel 18 – 22 months depending on the cru;  Morris,  2010 describes it (in general) as:  rich, full-bodied;  Broadbent,  2002  comments:  Lafon is famed for its white burgundies; but then being based in Meursault this is hardly surprising. The unusual thing about Lafon is that it traditionally keeps the wines far longer on their lees (nearly two years) than does any other domaine, and it bottles late. Lafon’s aim is to make white wines that will last. Nothing is rushed, and the wine is allowed to develop at its own pace – an approach which has been tremendously successful;  www.comtes-lafon.fr ]
Straw,  well below midway in depth.  Bouquet is unusual for chardonnay,  quite a pharmaceutical top-note bespeaking Brettanomyces,  and all very oaky in an old oak / tanniny way.  At the same time the wine smells rich,  with  undertones of oatmeal.  Flavour is complex,  showing both the mealy / nutty flavours made explicit so positively in the Clos de la Barre,  but here brett-affected to a degree introducing nearly carbolic and tarry notes.  Like the Clos de la Barre,  palate richness is still remarkable,  but there is a distinctly walnutty and even bitter quality to the late palate.  It all simply makes you wish for a better bottle … for at this age they are bound to vary profoundly.  GK 08/18