A mix of wiser winemaking, better, more subtle oak and cooler vineyard locations has put an end to the rich old butterscotch and honeyed peach Chardonnays that clumsily launched the variety in Australia. By Bacchus they were awkward fat bastards. It’s amazing that the market put up with it.
Now we regularly see lovely elegant wines like the annual Chardonnay release from Oakridge: wines which offer more total pleasure at much lower alcohol; wines of a higher gastronomic intelligence.
Something about the warmish season leading to the 2015 harvest saw the disparate vineyards of Oakridge produce a range of aromas and flavours that remind me Cheong Liew’s kitchen at Neddy’s in the late ’70s: they’re redolent with the aromas of the warm salads he conjured with white vegetables, greens, tropical fruits and meat.
Oakridge Over The Shoulder Yarra Valley Chardonnay 2015 ($23; 13% alcohol; screw cap) is a gentle Chardonnay from vineyards at Coldstream, Woori Yallock, Gladysdale and Wandin. It reflects its warmish spring with estery banana, peach and crème caramel bits and pieces; even bean sprouts slide around in this pan with the flaming crêpes … hang on – it’s tofu … a dash of rice wine … pale soy … so there you have the food … it’s really good fresh loveliness with clean white flesh as brisk and innocent as cucumber or honeydew. Prawns. Sheesh. Call it an Issey Miyake Chardonnay.
Oakridge Lusatia Park Vineyard Yarra Valley Chardonnay 2015 ($38; 13% alcohol; screw cap). Move up a gear and you get all the above very lightly fried with straps of pork belly and a squeeze of lemon juice. It’s fruit is a good thick jungle step beyond pineapple: there’s some jackfruit in here with the smell of a grill of coconut meat, starfruit, cashew, bacon fat and lychee … other smoky hawker whiffs coming off the coals … you’d think perhaps all these barbecue and wok insinuations may have come from smoky barrels, but the wine saw only big, fairly neutral puncheons. The deeper you delve, the more relaxing and mellow the whole deal gets.
Oakridge Willowlake Vineyard Yarra Valley Chardonnay 2015 ($38; 13% alcohol; screw cap) is another step towards a deeper complexity, which it takes without adding extra flesh or body: instead, we have a finer, more glowering and surly wine. All the fruit salad and pork fat notions of the above adventures are here but in a finer, more focused and finely-honed structure.
And this one has that acrid reek of spent cordite wafting in the quarry. Edgy and dark. It makes it slightly sinister. It’s not so much the overtly juicy tropicals as drier fruits like the slightly chalky cherimoya – Annona cherimola – in the wok with a flash of flaming tequila or bamboo spirit. This wine is more austere, waxy and dry. When I drink them in this order, and go back to the previous two, the gap widens between their open fruity flesh and the tighter, more savoury nature of this Willowlake.
This does have some flesh, of course, with its fruit. It’s avocado. Avo. Olive oil. Lemon juice. Black pepper. Spoon. Willowlake. Okay. Have toast. Newspaper. Sunday morning. Any left? Have it with tea-smoked duck at lunch. Hey Cheong, you feel like a duck?
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