Those of us stuck in the game understand how wineries of note can structure their product pyramid simply by adjusting the spend budget for their make, which may or may not include the real open-market cost of the estate fruit they grow for themselves.
These things are awkward in their confusion of possibilities. Like grapes home-grown by the maker and sold by the maker to the maker at mate’s rates so that the half of the maker who thinks like a maker gets a bargain and the other half, who thinks like a grower, gives the grapes away so as to feel ripped-off rather than mean while salving that wound knowing that their generous understanding has kept their other half’s winery afloat.
Then they go to bed together alone.
But some folks manage.
A box of accomplished, highly-regarded Chardonnay arrived from the Yarra Valley. Digesting the pricing, it would appear that there’s still a bit more spending money around Melbourne than there is round Adelaide: while they’ve all been well-reviewed by eastern experts, these wines look Scroogey on most Adelaide shelves, even to those who understand their considerable provenance. Each level of this pyramid is of equal height, but of greatly diminishing volume as one climbs the price slope, with each mass ideally producing the same gross profit.
So there’s a lesson in here. This is how you do it. Starting at the bottom, here’s a four-storey pyramid of Chardonnay.
TarraWarra Estate Yarra Valley Chardonnay 2015
($28; 12.8% alcohol; screw cap)
Marc and Eva Besen’s bank statements have three commas before the semi-colon. They own fashion and retail and this big joint with its wedding factory and dinery and whatnot. They were quick to join the flood of stylish Melbourne rich which painted Chardonnay all over the Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula in the ’80s and ’90s, whether they could make wine or not.
They certainly could make grand wine in the Besen case.
This must be their basic wedding Chardonnay. Drinking not thinking: the sort of wine you find at art exhibition openings. It smells a bit like Clare Riesling with a touch of bacon or goose fat on the rim of the snifter. It’s softer than Riesling to drink, though, easy and very slightly spongy of texture. It’s very simple of structure.
If you’re careful you can get Chardonnay like this in the Murray-Darling, where the poor growers wouldn’t know what a comma looks like. Not a black one, anyway. It’s Chardonnay for those who prefer to pay extra for jeans with the knees ripped out by people who’ve never done anything else for a living other than rip the knees out of perfectly good new jeans. Whatever must they think?
TarraWarra Estate Yarra Valley South Block Chardonnay 2015
($35; 12.5% alcohol; screw cap)
Blessed with more texture and perhaps a weeny pinch of complexity, this is still a fairly refined and austere wine, even if it is made from one of my favourite Chardonnay clones, the misunderstood and overlooked Mendoza. White charcuterie fats again, this time with more confident fruit, brave enough to let some cinderblock/honeycomb toffee swell through the lime juice and honeydew aromas.
The actual flavours are still simple, but your extra $7 gets more fleshy texture and a glimpse of the woods. It’s safe and sound and all locked in – I’d love to let this hound run. Like the jeans are ripped, but there are no scabs yet on the knees beneath.
TarraWarra Estate Yarra Valley Reserve Chardonnay 2015
($50; 12.8% alcohol; screw cap)
So at TarraWarra we can begin to talk at $50. Just between you and me, we coulda started this level of luxury lower down the spend up the road and round the corner at Oak Ridge.
Not that this lays on the plush or anything. This is a complex ramrod-stiff officer among Chardonnays. While its fruit mince and rind is grilling gently on the kindling, its dirt intrudes fine and chalky, like the smell of your bitter aunt’s best bone-china teacup and saucer that you ground up with a stone just to see how fine you could get it. That’s pretty much the form of the tannin, too, although by this stage of the expenditure you’re getting that bit covered with all the gradually caramelising fruit, from Chinese gooseberry through tamarillo to canteloupe.
Nothing ripped or stressed: all tack polished; everything aired; pleats sharp as. Sir!
TarraWarra Estate Limited Release MDB Yarra Valley Chardonnay 2015
($110; 13% alcohol; screw cap)
This is a blend of the best barrels in the joint. It’s a smoky, moody, beeswax-and-cream wine with fruit like poaching white pear. It has a prickle of Australian grassland-in-the-summer in its plush fleshy bouquet, adding just a splinter of menace, like Divine in Female Trouble.
I have consumed one big glass from this bottle per day since Sunday (four days now) and the wine is still posh and luxurious, even if a dusting of its initial citrus pollen has blown away and its freckles are falling off. I wouldn’t get married for it, or to it, but I would consider attending the wedding, especially if it was like the ravishing Vintage Spreckle marrying old Trysome Felcher or something. It would depend on who else was attending.
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