A nutty testing for dinkum Chardonnay lovers, so says the tasting introduction.
“In New Zealand the conventional wisdom is that chardonnay can be cellared for 3-5, maybe 8 years,” so says Geoff Kelly as he opens the most recent installment of his library tastings. However, on the night the youngest wine was 28 years old, the oldest 45.
In the line-up as they’re being introduced to us, we’re told that there’s a range of faults. Oxidation, reduction, cork taint. We were asked to look at the wines in a multidimensional way, to see the faults but to taste through them to find what beauty might remain.
The key thing with chardonnay, by Geoff’s estimation is the body and that’s what we’re looking for in these older wines.
1986 Bannockburn Chardonnay Geelong, Victoria
The wine opens quite slowly and with a bit of air opens to reveal savoury notes of dandelion weed in a garden after a winter thaw. There’s a good palate weight, to go along with a cheery, fresh and youthful palate. The body benefits from a handful of cashews as the food offered on the night. The group rated it as one of the more interesting wines in the line-up on the night.
1986 Mountadam Chardonnay High Eden, South Australia
The wine is still recognizable as Chardonnay but it comes across like apples going off, mealy. There’s a firmness to it with a prominent character of oatmeal sprinkled with raw cashew nuts. The body and richness of the wine remains, however, the acidity is taut – what could be considered a mineral wine. Quite a smooth wine with no discernible oak and again with a dandelion quality.
1986 Rosemount Chardonnay Show Reserve Hunter Valley, NSW
Obvious old oak that’s richer and more vibrant than the Mountadam. Thin bodied with clear hazelnut aroma and weedy florals, topped off with a brazil nut finish. The body is complimented really well when tried with cashews, it really filled out the wine.
There was discussion about fault thresholds when we looked at this wine in detail. There was a really subtle presence of tca that only the winemakers from Ata Rangi could clearly see. When I look at my notes I had used ‘old oak’ to define the tca as I saw it. There was still so much fruit on the palate with the desiccated coconut and vanillan of new oak that the tca was masked for the majority.
1986 Tyrrell’s Wines Pinot Chardonnay Vat 47 Hunter Valley, NSW
The wine is showing heaps of citrus and lemon with nothing off about it. It’s amazingly fresh, Geoff called it staggeringly so. Old wood comes through a bit on the palate but there’s quite a lot of beauty and interest here. It rivals the Morton Estate for top wine of the night but the nose isn’t as bright by my notes. When we were asked to rate the wine as top, second or least, it was clear that you would need the courage of conviction to admit not liking this wine. For the majority in the room, this was the top wine.
1979 Sterling Vineyards Chardonnay Napa Valley, California
The wine isn’t as bright as some of the others. It is dominated by acorns. Reminds me of the story that James Milton told about older Chardonnay being like a walk through the hundred acre woods. Plenty of mead, a bit of caramel with the tiniest hint of decay. Soft and silky with good texture. There’s more acorns and a forest floor quality on the palate and the wine is showing a good length. The nose starts to die in time.
1986 Morton Estate Chardonnay Black Label, Hawkes Bay
When Geoff released the line-up for the night, one of the group sent an email to proclaim the wine to be stuffed. Thankfully on the night that proclamation proved to be rather incorrect.
The nose is comparatively bright with honey and mead, citrus and cashews. Sweetly fragrant. It’s rich and full bodied with a bit of walnut, a smoky oak character and a fair amount of fruit. The wine wins best of the night by its nose. A charming wine. For me and two others this wine was tops.
1969 Drouhin Puligny-Montrachet Clos du Cailleret Premier Cru
This wine has an obvious taint. As requested, I notice the taint, but I try and taste through it. It’s not entirely unpleasant with it’s thick yeasty, mead-like quality. There’s a creaminess to it that helps keep the wine pleasant and shows through as a charm. It’s like a dry, nutty sherry with plenty of almonds. Some made noises about not wanting to even taste the wine, but I found, although it wasn’t much of a Chardonnay, it was still perfectly drinkable.
1969 Lichine Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru
Cashews and mead again with a bit of a stink to it. Not just mead, but with mould/yeasty acorns. There’s a tiny hint of its former glory that still shines through the large amount of decay. The wine has a good body but it’s not necessarily great. A bit thin overall. Quite nice with honied cashews and an element of caramel. The wine is older than Geoff has hoped it would be.
1971 Lichine Meursault Genevrieres Premier Cru
A beguiling wine with curious aromas and flavours. Looking at a combination of my notes and comments made by those in the wider group this wine shows along the lines of baby food, asparagus, bark, dried herbs and flowers, golden dried peaches, cooked sultanas and even sardines. Very, very dry. The wine still has something to offer after over 40 years. As many people loved the wine as hated it.
1972 Latour Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru
Quite shy, with patience I get tca-like qualities. Other than a bit of old-ness, there’s not much on the nose. Older and mouldier in time, however, I would likely still drink it. I really wanted the palate to redeem the wine, but that was still a bit off. The oak is very apparent, in a raw kind of way. It was colourfully described as a drenched slab of timber.
Geoff asked the group if there was a fault, to which the vast majority gave a resounding, yes. All agree it’s corked but there was still some fruit. Geoff hypothesised that if the wine was left to sit for 24 hours, the tca quality would become quite pleasant. This is something I’ll have to try some time.
1974 Moreau Chablis Grand Cru Valmur
The wine has a bit of a citrus bite to it on the nose and on the palate. It’s sharp and jumps out of the glass. I expect it’s used to cleanse the palate after the faultiness of the Latour. It’s cleansing, shows an oily and greasy character, but lacks in complexity.
Geoff confirmed my assumption that the reductive wine was placed after the corked wine to cleanse the palate. The wine displays characteristics more in line with a Vouvray or a Sauvignon Blanc rather than a Chardonnay. Helen from Ata Rangi points out that a lanolin quality is a characteristic of older Chablis. I definitely see the lanolin when it’s highlighted.
1976 Latour Chevalier-Montrachet Grand Cru Les Demoiselles
The wine is nice enough although there’s a bitterness to it. There’s an oiliness and a creaminess to the palate as well as plenty of acorns. There’s definitely things of interest in this wine with a great weight of fruit on the palate. For me the nose was rather lacking.