TASTING SAMPLES FROM HODDLE’S CREEK ESTATE are never accompanied by a media release or a ream of technical and production notes: at least not the ones I receive. Instead Franco d’Anna attaches a small sticker to each bottle which states the RRP and provides just one pithy observation — occasionally a couple — about the delicious liquid contents.
This detail might address how long the whole bunch Pinot Gris had been on skins and the nature of the oak used (varies a bit according to vintage, but in 2020 30% remained on skins, 70% into older oak, and the ’16 had 7 days skin contact). Or the vine age of estate’s Pinot Blanc (23 years, as of the 2020). Or vineyard info such as this on the appended sticker of the PSB ’17 Pinot: “Single block, close planted, MV6 & Pommard cloned (sic).” But, to HCE’s Chardonnays.
Taking a look at my database of previously tasted vintages from this sensational-value, top-tier, Upper Yarra producer I rediscovered the following. That the ’13 Estate — which I only got around to tasting in March last year after finding a sample in the cellar — was composed of “13 different ferments”. It was still looking pretty good, although a bit dried up on the finish.
The sticker on the ’17 Road Block had read, “'East facing block terraced into the hill. Mendoza clone on 101-14 rootstock.” This is interesting info for me as I regularly detect a distinct ‘Thai baby pineapple’ character in wines containing large portions of Mendoza. I do note ‘dried pineappley’ on the nose of the ’18 Road Block reviewed below.
That stated, I have certainly used this descriptor for Chardonnays with nary a skerrick of Mendoza in them, and I did not make any ‘baby pines’ observation about the ’17 Road Block when I tasted it eighteen months prior to the ’18. I’m publishing my review of same below for context and reference. Curiously, I do make a Grüner-like root-vegetably connection between the two wines. (Just to reiterate: both wines assessed in separate half-blind’ tastings — so labels unsighted).
The 2018 Syberia is more about density and complexity of texture than exuberant fruit expression — although there’s still mouthwatering peel, white stone fruit kernel and fuzz aplenty to finish.
The detail on the 2018 Estate Chardonnay Franco had provided is also pertinent to the wines below: “Warmer season so picked a little earlier. Looking for texture.” I’ve written previously that ’18 vintage in the Yarra (and elsewhere in South Eastern Australia, notably the Adelaide Hills) has produced many high-quality, but rather plain-tasting Chardonnays — and pinots for that matter — except for those (typically) from cooler sites. (See also my review of Oakridge’s ’18 Yarra Valley Chardonnay here which is still available and an absolute bargain for such a seriously good wine).
But specifically — finally! — to the trio of sublime Chardonnays below, and to the point of my HCE reveries. Of the 2018 Syberia (reviewed below) d’Anna opines, “In my top 3 Chardonnays that I've made.” So one obviously needed to enquire of the winegrower which were the other two. (For the record I also informed d’Anna that I thought the ’18 1er THE best Chardonnay he’d ever crafted.)
Franco’s reply came back with the same concision as that of his sticker communications: “2010 1ER Chardonnay and 2003 Estate my other two. Don’t disagree with the 18 1ER just a soft spot for Syberia.” I couldn’t find a record of the ’10 1er in my database, but I did one for the ’03 Estate which I tasted over dinner at Scopri in Carlton way back in Feb ’11 with Franco and his brother Anthony. ‘Anth’ runs the family’s fabulous bottle-shop and deli business, Boccaccio Cellars in Balwyn.
The ’03 then was in a perfect place. It was creamy, still charged with plenty of peel and pineapple edginess. My notes say it was released as a clean-skin! I can’t wait until I can get to Melbourne again to repeat the exercise — of dinner, or lunch — with the beauties below. Because these ’18s are the Top 3 HCE Chardonnays that I’ve tasted.
Note: Of the HCE ’18s only the Syberia is currently available. The 1er has just rolled to the ’20 which I’ve as yet to taste (but will be so doing shortly and will upload my review). But they may still have the ’18 1er available and it would almost certainly be obtainable from Boccaccio Cellars which has a selection of HCE back vintages available.
Compressed, chilled yellow peach skin and stone: flinty, fennel seed ice. Has serious fruit depth. Palate has incredible density and texture in the mouth also, with lots to suck on and yet with a reserve — an austerity — about it also. It’s a Chardonnay which is more about density and complexity of texture than exuberant fruit expression, although there’s still mouthwatering peel and white stone fruit kernel and fuzz aplenty to finish. Can’t recall giving a wine — and a seriously complex tasting one — so many points with so few flavour descriptors. 95(96)/100, 9/10, $60.
Fuzzy, yellow peach skin, contrasted with green mango: such pure, translucent fruit. Crab apple. Wheatgerm. Gets more glowing and dried pineappley as it warms. Has Grüner Veltliner-like root veggie characters too: sweet smelling, but sapid. Gentle peach and creaminess in the mouth — silky through the middle — with breaking, melting acidity. There’s a macadamia nutty creaminess to the finish. Subtle sulphide mouth-aromas also, but complexing and not drying. Dried tangerine skin too. Completes a quite beautifully connected trio. 95(96)/100, 9/10, $60.
Edgy and restrained: primal. Reminds me of an old Mount Mary*. Smells like icy, mashed raspberry pips and chilled white nectarine stones. Not so much struck-match, as delicate smoked port fat. There's radish and daikon sorts of things too. Just gets better and better in the glass. Tastes bracing and energy-charged also. Pure, fuzzy, yellow peach flesh and stone at its core — really dense and mouth-sucking in the middle, compressed stone fruit taste and texture — and with that early cane-berry edginess. You can almost see the frosty raspberry leaves among the gently glowing yellow fruit. Hazelnut and gruyere mouth-aromas in a wave of valedictory sea-spray. Hang on to a bottle or two or this for a few more years if you can. 96(97)/100, 10/10, $50.
*Tasted in a half-blind line-up incidentally, albeit with the knowledge that there were a few Yarra Chardonnays among the number.