Wine Australia Masterclass – Margaret River Chardonnay

As part of the recent London Australia Day tasting I attended a celebratory Margaret River Chardonnay masterclass hosted by Sarah Ahmed.  Like last years McLaren Vale Grenache event, it put an extreme focus on both variety and location.

Lineup v2

Western Australia (WA) is well away from other Australian wine production, and the recent 2017 vintage marked 50 years of wine making in the region.  A landmark 1966 research paper by agronomist Dr John Gladstone detailed that the free-draining gravelly soils and consistent wet winters/dry summers provide the perfect conditions for viticulture, which was the catalyst for modern day wine-making in the region.

Home to luminaries including Cullen, Leeuwin and Cape Mentelle, people often note that terroir and wine-making techniques are key to the finished wines, but less focus is given to the vine clones used.  In the case of Margaret River Chardonnay, this is absolutely key.

Introduced as a 1957 experiment to detect viruses, the Gin Gin clone is fairly unique to WA, giving late ripening low yields and smooth textures from high skin/juice ratios.  Known as ‘hen and chicken’, the clone produces grape bunches of different sizes, larger and fully ripe fruity ‘hen’ berries mixed with smaller less ripe ‘chicken’ berries with characteristic high acidity.

The 3 flights highlighted the differing aspects of regional Chardonnay through 8 multiple award winning wines (94+ points from respected critics).  All had precision, richness and depth of fruit.

First 4

Flight 1 – Acidic Drive and Textured Fruit

Lenton Brae Southside 2016, 13.5%, £16.95 – Winemaker Ed Tomlinson was on hand to guide us through his wine as well as some insight to the fellow producers he knows so well.  From the northern part of the region, grapes are hand-picked and go through a wild yeast ferment to add texture.  With oak playing a secondary character, this wine showed a mineral, linear, high acidity and a depth of lime citric buttered fruit.  A medium plus finish which retained smoke and butter.

Fraser Gallop Estate Parterre 2016, 13.5%, £24.95 – Another from the north, and similar in style to the Lenton Brae.  A big advocate of the acidity found in the Gin Gin clone, the 2016 harvest saw warm/rainy/warm weather, allowing the grapes to deliver layers of flavour.

Golden green in colour, this was densely packed with fleshy apple/pear and a twist of tropical melon.  A subtle touch of chalk led the way to a rich, fruit driven finish.

Stella Bella 2016, 12.5%, £18.99 – From the central part of Margaret River, grapes are hand-picked and whole bunch pressed.  This took all of the cues from the first two wines but added in more butter and, if possible, more acid.  As a note of interest, this producer wasn’t showing at the main event and so it was a rare opportunity to taste.

Second 4

Flight 2 – Use of Oak and Malolactic Ferment

Xanadu 2015, 13%, £18.49 – Back to central Margaret River and the first of two wines aged in oak (25% new in this case) and that haven’t seen malolactic fermentation.  The 2015 vintage saw early mild weather followed by a warm renaissance.

The difference in fruit character here was very evident, becoming thicker and with added tang.  There was still an extremely fresh and biting acidity and a lightly grippy finish.

Flametree SRS Wallcliffe 2016, 13%, £31.99 – This relatively new winery (2007) sits at the very northern tip of the region.  The grapes were picked several weeks early for the 2016 vintage (early Feb), pressed in French oak puncheons and left to age on the solids for an extended period.  This manifested itself in solid and darker green fruit notes, a dense weight and a light grippiness to the end palate.

Vasse Felix Heytesbury 2016, 13%, £39.99 – The nose was dense, rich and showed smoke from the 9 months in new French oak.  Malolactic fermentation provided a lush creamy, yeasty character.  A good wedge of lime set off the weight and depth of the rich ripened lemon and butter.  For me this was in my top two wines of the masterclass.

Flight 3 – Traditional Oak Spice and Aromatics

Flowstone Queen of the Earth 2014, 13.3%, £32 – Another young winery with their first vines planted in 2004.  Hand harvested and fermented in French oak (50/50 new/old) and the first wine on show not reliant on the Gin Gin clone.  A wonderfully spicy nose and stylistically different from everything in the tasting thus far.  Very rich with a zippy acidity and a heavyweight fruit finish.  Intense green fruit and an oaky overtone.

Leeuwin Estate Art Series 2013, 13.5%, £75 – A fitting end to this retrospective, and a stunning wine from pioneers Vasse Felix.  The 1980 vintage was the first to be singled out by Decanter magazine for being of exceptional quality, and from vines just 4 years old.  This wine saw 6-8 hours of skin contact, 100% barrel fermentation in new French oak and regular lees stirring.  There was a massive depth of flavour here, just on the nose alone.  Powerful green lime and kiwi was followed by dried pear (a Gin Gin characteristic) and, at 5 years old, this was still as fresh as a daisy and looking like it could last a whole host longer.  Having recently scored 100 points from Matthew Jukes, it also got top points from me and was the highlight of the masterclass.

With thanks to Wines of Australia for providing the ticket used in this tasting.

Enjoyed this article?  Please take a moment to ‘Like’ and share using the buttons below. Keep looking around my site for more of the same.  Cheers!
Advertisements

Wyfold English Sparkling: 2006 – 2009 Vertical Tasting

The multi-award winning English Sparkler Wyfold has just released its 2013 Vintage, and when the chance came up to taste the original trilogy of Vintages, including two never commercially released, I jumped at it.

Wyfold trilogy

Following the death of Formula One engineer Harvey Postlethwaite, his widow Cherry was keen to fulfil his vineyard-owning ambitions, and in 2003 she purchased land in the Chiltern Hills and planted 14 rows of vines.  Teaming up with best friend Barbara Laithwaite (Director of the eponymous wine mail order giant), both passed their viticultural qualifications at Plumpton College, and a new venture was born.

As a start-up winery with no onsite production facilities, this was given over to famed English producer Ridgeview who, in return for a sizeable portion of the crop, would turn the grapes in to a fully realised sparkling wine.  Both the 2006 and 2008 Vintages fell under this agreement and, as such, the final production numbers were too small to justify a release.

Wyfold is made in the traditional Champagne method using the classic grape varieties of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.  Of interest is the solid reliance on Pinot Meunier, sometimes considered the lesser Champagne variety.  Even though it forms just 16.5% of plantings, with the variable UK weather it can sometimes fare better than the Pinot Noir (33.5% of plantings).

In 2006 the number of vines was upped to 4,000, and increased once again in 2014, with 9,000 vines now spread over 2 hectares.

Vines3Wyfold (June 2017)

Following the two successful production runs (2007 was a write-off due to poor weather), fully contracted wine-making was put in place from the 2009 Vintage to ensure that all of the bottles produced would be labelled under the Wyfold name.

The resulting wine was quick to receive critical acclaim and won the prestigious Judgement of Parsons Green.  The subsequent releases of the 2010 / 2011 vintages have fared just as well, winning a succession of medals, trophies and high scores by esteemed wine magazine Decanter.

Wyfold Vineyard Brut 2006 (52% CH/32% PN/16% PM), Oxfordshire, UK, 12%, £N/A

Even though 2006 was a generously yielding year, due to the SWAP agreement the final number of bottles produced under the Wyfold name was just 576!  This first vintage is also unique in having a label that was thereafter discarded as being ‘too rustic’ to compare to other quality Sparkling/Champagne wines.

Wyfold 06 Label

Medium golden yellow in colour with rusty bronze tints and an extremely fine beading from the traditional production method.  On the nose there was mature, woody, bruised/baked golden delicious apple, a touch of dried lemon curd, cinnamon and biscuit.  This smelt just like an apple orchard in autumn.

The palate delivered upfront mousse that immediately frothed up, and a clean striking acidity laced with light refreshing lemon citrus and green apple.  The aged fruit complexity was there but it still managed to deliver youthful character and vibrancy.  Light as a feather but carries a huge creamy weight that fills the mouth. The syrupy bruised fruit finish was medium plus.  I’m a big fan of this ‘very-English’ tasting sparkling.

Wyfold Vineyard Brut 2008 (76% CH/9% PN/15% PM), Oxfordshire, UK, 12.5%, £Unreleased

Under the SWAP agreement, a mere 296 bottles of the 2008 were crafted.  Due to the minuscule production, bottles were adorned with standard labels as opposed to vintage specific ones, and the Vintage, although bottled, went undeclared and unreleased.

Wyfold 08 label

Medium straw yellow with golden hints and a fine bead, this is noticeably more youthful than the 2006.  The nose has bread, butter, honeyed citrus, yellow tropical fruit, and is much more in line with a traditional Champagne as opposed to English Sparkling.  The aromas are there but needed teasing out, and this still feels a little closed/restrained.

The palate once again had a vibrant fresh mousse and a good splash of fresh lemon juice.  This time around the apple played much less of a part.  The lighter mid-palate of the 2006 has really been filled out here, but overall, this is probably more singular in tone.

I asked Barbara Laithwaite as to where Wyfold was stylistically sitting in terms of England vs. Champagne and she said she is looking to balance the two.  The south facing gravel/limestone site is perfect for the Champagne style but, being fairly high at 120m altitude, you also get the late start/long season which encourages the hedgerow/apple orchard fruitiness.

The medium finish added a touch of syrup and the pleasant bitterness of grapefruit.  This one is only just starting to come in to its own and has a life ahead of it sadly only limited by the small number of bottles available.

Wyfold Vineyard Brut 2009 (63% CH/17% PN/20% PM), Oxfordshire, UK, 12.5%, £33

Now free of the SWAP agreement, the full run of 2,449 bottles were produced which, in the time between tasting the wine and writing up these notes, have now completely sold through.

Wyfold 09 label

Medium straw yellow in colour with golden tints, the nose was full of fresh zesty lemon citrus.

The lemon carries through to the palate which adds a bready richness, light white pepper spice, and the customary syrup to the end palate.  The overall sensation is rich and dairy, and the cream is just starting to settle in against the acidity which still characterises the palate.  As before this is a very even blend that fills the mouth.

Very quaffable and easy drinking, the medium length finish is all about the lemon, with just a touch of grapefruit bitterness at the end.  I have no doubt that this will settle further with time.  Overall this was a wonderful and rare tasting of the initial 3 productions from Wyfold showcasing a crystal clear evolution of labelling and style.

With the new plantings bedded down and a good sized 2014 harvest, a Rosé has now been added to the range.  Check out the latest news at the Wyfold website, or click here to buy the 2013 release (whilst stocks last).

Enjoyed this article?  Please take a moment to ‘Like’ and share using the buttons below. Keep looking around my site for more of the same.  Cheers!