Like the Watkins Family 2020 Wild Sauvignon Blanc—see & read here—I first happened on this wine at the Gilbert St Hotel Only it wasn’t Luke Saturno who sprung it upon me, but Mordrelle’s charming winemaker, Martin Moran. (Saturno had kindly allowed us to pull up an impromptu pew at the GSH to look through the Mordrelle portfolio of wines.)
The ’19 Sauvignon Blanc especially sparkled for me among the Mordrelle whites (and Mordrelle fashion some lovely Adelaide Hills méthodes also incidentally). Reds that most impressed were the ’19 ‘Basket Press’ Barbera, the ’18 Malbec, and ’19 Lenswood Pinot Noir, which is now on pour at the GSH and was quite delightful alongside an aromatic Malaysian chicken curry.
I’ve subsequently tasted the Sauvignon in a ‘half-blind’ line-up: so here’s my formal tasting note with both my empiric and hedonic evaluations.
Bruised green appley. Paw paw, yellow peach: skin and stone. Sweet sapid smelling and deep. Gets lemon thyme scented with air too. Smells like it’s going to taste tart and mouth-watering which it does: lip-smacking, juicy gooseberry, tight and edgy. But there’s also saltiness and gruyere-rind leesiness. All gentle and understated though, while the fruit is dense and pithy. The acidity melts deliciously. 94/100 (e), 9/10 (h). It’s $30 on the Mordrelle online store.
Ten percent of this wine is aged on lees in seasoned oak although—unusually—this component is from the previous vintage. Somewhat akin to the practice of adding reserve wines to traditional method sparkling wines. It certainly appears to have added significantly to the wine’s complex, textural properties.
The first time I paid serious attention to Marchand and Burch’s Mount Barrow pinot was at the (Mornington Peninsula) Pinot Noir Celebration on the 11th February 2017.
I was on a panel with a half-dozen other wine writers and we’d each been charged with picking a pinot to present which—for whatever reason—we thought was a bit special: a wine that had excited us and was worthy of further scrutiny. My selection was Crittenden Estate’s 2014 ‘The Zumma’: one of the finest Australian pinots I’ve had the pleasure to taste. To this day.
The other wines selected by the panellists were a truly delightful ’15 Sailor Seeks Horse from the Huon Valley in Tasmania; a distinctively powerful ’14 Dry River from Martinborough, New Zealand; and a ’15 Giant Steps Sexton Vineyard from the Yarra Valley. Or was it the Applejack?
There was also a rather (reductively) pongy and tough ’14 McWilliams Mothervine Pinot Noir, which was mainly of interest—to me anyway—because the vines that gave birth to it were planted almost 100 years ago, which is seriously old pinot—on own roots—anywhere in the world. I assumed these same vines contributed to the legendary O’Shea RF reds of yore, some of which I’ve been fortunate enough to taste. The ’16 vintage of the Mothervine incidentally, poured at the ’19 Pinot Celebration, turned out to be way more fun. And delightfully Huntery to boot.
The final selection, from a left Western Australia field, was the 2015 Marchand and Burch Mount Barrow Pinot Noir. Its inclusion came courtesy of Joe Czerwinski, then of the Wine Enthusiast, now Managing Editor of The Wine Advocate.
This was the pinot that most surprised me positively when I found out what it was at the end of the session. (The wines were randomised at pouring). It wasn’t in the pure class of the Crittenden—of course, that was my selection—but quite lovely nonetheless. Sometimes it requires an outsider to challenge your assumptions. So thanks for bringing it to my attention, Joe.
The Mount Barrow Pinot reviewed below, tasted in a half-blind line-up in the early part of 2020, is a step up again.
This is luxurious smelling: sumptuous brandied black cherry fruit and ravishing, rye sourdough crusty oak. Wood subsides and fruit deepens with time in glass, which is always a positive thing. There's complex, souk spiciness too. Tongue-coating, soused cherry and glacé orange peel fruit on the palate; deep, patined, leather-textured tannins which are dense, but yielding. Succulence and sapidity: a thrill to taste; a whole lot of pleasure to drink. 96(97)/100 (e), 10/10 (h), $60 direct (less if you’re a club member). Hang on to it for five years if you can.
Given my tasting inexperience of this wine, and indeed the history of Pinot Noir in this far-flung part of Australia, you might well question on what I base my five-year cellaring-potential call.
Well, when COVID kicked in, and I became a financial ward of the state, one of the first things to go was my Kennards Wine Storage facility. In clearing out the cellar I found—and subsequently opened—stacks of PostPaks filled with tasting samples I’d just not got around to appraising.
And one contained a 2014 Marchand & Burch Mount Barrow Pinot Noir which looked absolutely sublime when it was broached (the bottle, not the box). All woodsy dried shiitake and saffron, but still packed with plenty of sharp loganberry fruit, along with Maillard-derived brothy complexity. And it held up for a good few days, so hence the five year, hang-on-to time suggestion for the cellar.
It’s also sealed with a screwcap, of course, which pretty much guarantees most wines a few extra years ageing ability. Provided the raw materials are of a sufficiently high standard. And I’ve absolutely no doubt that in this they are.
As I understand it, the Oakridge ‘Yarra Valley Range’ was conceived—or at least initially marketed—as a brand exclusively for sale on-premise: that is one offered only to restaurants, hotels, bars and the like.
But the consequences of coronavirus put a dent in that plan—at least temporarily—as the resultant lockdowns prevented hospitality venues from offering lovely things already listed, let alone investing in others for an uncertain immediate future.
On the extremely bright side this now means you’re able to buy these wines retail. Or at least can acquire them directly from Oakridge’s online store And for a most reasonable ask indeed, especially given the quality in the bottle and the provenance of the raw materials that created them.
The Yarra Valley Range sits above the Oakridge entry-level OTS wines and below the Local Vineyard series wines. Yet, as I learned after first encountering this lovely Chardy in a half-blind, peer-group line-up, the fruit is sourced from some of Oakridge’s best vineyards: 45% Willowlake (sub-region of Gladysdale), 27% Barkala (Wandin East), 18% Oakridge (Coldstream) & 10% Henk (Woori Yallock).
So parcels that are mostly from the more elevated Upper Yarra, which would have coped with the three bouts of extreme heat post-veraision in early January, late January and early February, better than the valley floor I reckon. I’m talking about Chardonnay (and Pinot Noir) specifically in the Yarra Valley here, but I’ll expound my thoughts a bit further on ’18 vintage whites in South-Eastern Australia when I get to rant on about one of my top Chardonnays of the year—from 2018—a little later.
Dried exotic fruits and yellow peach fuzziness: gentle, creamy smelling things also. Sun-touched skins, ozone and icy kernel: subtle match-strike. Has mouth-sucking density, sweet-sapid Serrano, then dried peel and yellow stone fruit flavours: struck flint mouth-aroma wafts too. A bit abrupt to close, but the first two thirds just pull you in, and it really benefits from warming a little in the glass. 92/100 (e), 9/10 (h), $30, or $25.50 if you’re a club member So, this is fantastic value for a complex, class-act Chardonnay.
There’s a ’19 Pinot Noir in the Yarra Valley Range also, which I’ve yet to taste, but it did pick up a gold at the 2020 Yarra Valley Wine Show and so, therefore, should be well-worth checking out (full results here).
Meanwhile, I’ll be most happy tucking into the ’18 Chardonnay through the summer, as a few months back it was most astutely selected by Joseph (Wilkinson) and Shane (Ettridge) to go on pour at Proofº. It tastes even better in enjoyable company at a great bar.
There’s little point in my rattling on about the incredible potential of Aglianico in Australia as — just a couple of clicks away — it is all methodically and categorically spelled out in a document on the Chalmers’ website. One of many meticulously researched treatises on a multitude of mainly — although not exclusively — Italian wine grape cultivars.
When I conveyed my gratitude and admiration to Kim Chalmers at the detail provided in these wonderful resources she replied: “Thanks for the compliment on the data sheet(s). Those bloody things were a labour of love!” Which is clearly evident: both the endeavour and the affection.
All the reference sources that assisted in compiling the data sheets are listed on the landing page. As well this as this statement: “In addition, analytical, observational and anecdotal information from our own experience with these varieties as well as that of our colleagues across the Australian wine industry has been included.” Few have the in-the-field experience in this area as the Chalmers family.
Even minor varietal players — in a potential grapevine provision sense, which is a whopping part of Chalmers business — get the full treatment: Ansonica, Colorino, Nosiola, Mammolo, Picolit, Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso, Lambrusco Maestri...
Actually this last one, even though you’ll rarely find its name on Australian wine labels (Chalmers own wines being notable exceptions), does find its way into a lot of reds emanating from the river. You see, it’s a whopping provider of anthocyanin — the phenolic compounds that determine the intensity of a wine’s colour. Chalmers have increased their plantings of Lambrusco Maestri at their Merbein vineyard to fifteen hectares to meet this demand.
Which might not sound like much but apparently the addition of just one or two percent to a red blend will boost the hue considerably. Just sip on a glass of Chalmers pure Lambrusco Maestri ’17 Appassimento and you’ll see how it stains your tongue.
This is a property rarely found in even most distinguished Italian black grape cultivars: think Nebbiolo and Sangiovese especially, which are both anthocyanically challenged. Of Italy’s three finest black cultivars Aglianico is alone in being right up there in the anthocyanin department with what most Australian wine drinkers might describe as ‘traditional’ — i.e. French — red wine varieties.
But back to the detail contained in those data sheets. It’s hard to believe that even the most zealous student of vine taxonomy and ampelology, phenological suitability, Australian vinicultural viability — and the like — could want for more. Except to explore and enjoy the evidence in the glass, of course. The wine below provides an eloquent, distinctive, and authentic introduction.
Baked, sharp plum crusty; damp coal dust and dried physalis. Sniffs of fennel seed and sage resin. Smells primal and mouth-watering: deep fruited, but not in an obviously fruity way. Bracing acid and tannin on the tongue—lean and austere—but charged with sour cherry and just-ripe loganberry. Edgy and mouth-watering with a core of subliminal juiciness. A most delicious Australian translation of Italy’s south. 95/100 (e), 10/10 (h), $43. Order directly from the Chalmers store.