ADELAIDE HILLS CHARDONNAY

“You can grow Chardonnay anywhere, but it only really sings in cool sites”, says Michael Hill-Smith MW of Shaw & Smith.

Based in the Adelaide Hills, a long skinny wine region high above Adelaide city where vines grow at elevations up to 650m on a patchwork of slopes, peaks, aspects and soils, Shaw & Smith follow the mantra that ‘cooler, higher and wetter’ is best for producing premium Chardonnay.

Cousins Hill-Smith and Shaw are one of a group of wine pioneers who have been making cutting edge Chardonnay in this lush leafy high altitude region since the 1980s, but in fact the first to spot the potential of Adelaide Hills for Chardonnay was the visionary Brian Croser back in the early 1970s.

Croser had trained in California, returning home convinced he could make the same quality Chardonnays he tasted in Napa. Hunting for a cool climate region in South Australia, he headed for the hills, first planting in 1974 in Mount Bonython in the Adelaide Hills – although the sheep ate his first crop of Chardonnay whilst he was away teaching his new winemaking course at Wagga Wagga in New South Wales.

Croser persevered, setting up Petaluma winery in 1978 and planting his famous Tiers vineyard in Piccadilly Valley, Adelaide Hills’ highest subzone once better known for its prime apple, cherry and pear orchards. Croser was closely followed by Stephen George of Ashton Hills in Piccadilly Valley and Geoff Weaver, Tim Knappstein and the Henschkes in neighbouring Lenswood subzone in early 1980s, followed by Shaw & Smith in 1989.

In less than 50 years Adelaide Hills has shot to stardom. Now widely acclaimed as South Australia’s cool climate region and the leader in new wave Australian Chardonnay. Interestingly many of the early pioneers are still there, including Croser with his new Tapanappa winery.

So why does Chardonnay grow so well in the hills? “Chardonnay tends to balance itself really well here”, explained winemaker Turon White of The Lane Vineyard, an Adelaide Hills winery founded in early 1990s. “Adelaide Hills Chardonnay has great tension and focus, purity of fruit with the acid structure to age and evolve varying from softer fruit in lower valleys to minerally powerful styles at higher elevation”, says White.

Temperatures in the highest part in Piccadilly Valley can be 8 degrees lower here than in Adelaide itself. If it is 40 degrees in the city, it can be just low 30s in the high valleys and even cooler at night helping to retain acidity in the grapes.

Over the years Australian Chardonnays have changed – and Adelaide Hills is no exception. The pendulum swung from bigger buttery blousy styles of 2000s to very lean styles – and now at last producers are finding a balance.

“Stylistically Adelaide Hills Chardonnay tends to be midway in style between the linear upper Yarra Chardonnays from Victoria and juicy tropical fruit styles in Margaret River” explained Tim Pelquest Hunt of Orlando. “In Adelaide Hills you get limey acidity, nectarine and white peach notes with more breadth and texture – more fruit to sink your teeth into”.

Vineyard practices have changed too with denser plantings and more Burgundian clones giving extra dimension. With earlier picking, more wild yeast ferments and less oak – many now use larger puncheons instead of smaller barriques.

Adelaide Hills itself has changed too – today it is a dynamic diverse region – recently attracting a new band of experimental young 30-something winemakers making wines with great energy, one of whom is Turon White with his own label Turon Wines. With 90 boutique wineries, its cellar door culture thrives with a ready market just 25 minutes drive away in Adelaide city.

Chardonnay is the flagship white grape of the region, making up about one quarter of the crush and showing at its best in the recent 2021 vintage which winemakers deemed as ‘perfect’. However, it is not the most planted white grape, that honour goes to Sauvignon Blanc.

“Adelaide Hills is geographically one of the most diverse in Australia”, explained winemaker Liam van der Pelt of Ashton Hills in Piccadilly Valley. “When it comes to Chardonnay it can offer affordable fruit-driven styles from warmer lower valleys, but also icon wines with power, textural detail and complexity”, says van der Pelt.

 

ADELAIDE HILLS CHARDONNAY

 

BLEASDALE ADELAIDE HILLS CHARDONNAY 2019

£12.95 The Wine Society

Good combination of crisp acid and good texture; nutty undertones with subtle oak – good balance between lean and rich/buttery Chardonnay. Well priced.

Blend of Adelaide Hills fruit, fermented and matured in 25% new and seasoned French oak puncheons for 9 months. 12.5%

 

WIRRA WIRRA 12TH MAN ADELAIDE HILLS CHARDONNAY 2021

£16.50 The Wine Society

Nutty mealy leesy, initially precise youthful taut citric fruit burst out into a fleshier fuller mid-palate with undertones of honeycomb and vanilla.

Blend of Adelaide Hills fruit, wild fermented in barrel; 30% new and seasoned French oak, regular battonage. 12.5%

 

SHAW & SMITH M3 CHARDONNAY 2021 ***STAR BUY***

£33 Fine Wine Portobello; Lockett Bros; Noble Green; Hay Wines

Struck match reductive nose, rich nectarine fruits, a touch of lemon curd, soft integrated oak, thrilling acidity, layers of flavour, minerally and long – this could last a decade.

Mix of Lenswood, Piccadilly Valley and Lobethal fruit, hand picked, wild yeast ferment in new/one/two year barriques, full malolactic, 9 months in oak puncheons with some lees stirring. 12.5%

 

THE LANE HERITAGE CHARDONNAY 2021

£41 Corney & Barrow

Sleek acidity, rich weight of fruit, gunflint and almonds with ripe lemon, touch of sweet butterscotch, finely textured, needs time to unfurl; Heritage is made from The Lane’s oldest vines, only in the best vintages.

Hahndorf area, hand picked & whole bunch pressed, mix of wild yeast & inoculated yeasts for fermentation in barrel; full malolactic; 9 months in 500l oak puncheons (80% new). 12.8%

 

PIKE & JOYCE SIROCCO CHARDONNAY 2021 ***STAR BUY***

£25 JN Wines

Pure Lenswood fruit showing real class; rich intense yeasty nose, light toastiness, precise lemon and grapefruit flavours, taut natural acid, zippy, chalky, elegant and refined; quite Chablis like; ideal for cutting through fatty dishes.

100% Lenswood fruit; wild ferment in barrel, partial malolactic, some battonage, 8 months in 225l barriques. 12.5%

 

VINTAGE LONGBOTTOM H SMALL BATCH CHARDONNAY 2021

£23 The Wine Society

Lime and honeysuckle with hints of quince, hazelnut and vanilla undertones from 8 months oak – beautifully crafted example from the almost perfect 2021 vintage.

Fermented and matured in oak puncheons for 8 months. 12.7%

 

SIDEWOOD ESTATE CHARDONNAY 2021 ***GOOD VALUE***

£15.95 Davys Wine Merchants

Lychees, lime and cut grass aromas, mouthwatering grapefruit and white peach with soft velvety texture; not a heavy weight but sleek, well-made affordable and well-priced.

Oakbank fruit, part handpicked/part machine, wild yeast ferment in barrel, 10 months in 300l barriques (30% new). 12.5%

 

ORLANDO LYNDALE CHARDONNAY 2021

N/A Pernod Ricard

Rich leesy nose, peach and cashew nuts, broad buttery lush fruits, almost tropical fruit with mango and cucumber to finish.

Woodside fruit, hand picked, whole bunch pressed, barrel ferment in 70% puncheons, 30% hogsheads (80% new French oak), monthly battonage, partial malolactic, 9 months on lees in barrel. 13%

 

ASHTON HILLS CHARDONNAY 2021

£22 Gonzalez Byass

Linear in style with very focused acidity as you would expect from Piccadilly – lime and grapefruit, powerful minerally style.

Piccadilly Valley fruit, handpicked, whole bunch pressed to barrel for wild ferment, 9 months on lees with sporadic battonage in 225l and 500l oak (20% new), partial malolactic. 12%

 

KARRAWATTA ANTH’S GARDEN CHARDONNAY 2021

N/A in UK

Delicate nose, dense lemony fruits, quite subtle, balanced acidity, needs time to develop.

Meadows fruit, hand picked, gentle whole bunch press, inoculated yeast, partial malolactic, 9 months in 500l barriques (35% new) for 9 months; monthly battonage. 12.5%

 

By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 3 June 2023

Join Rose’s Australia v France Masterclass in Edinburgh 31 August www.rosemurraybrown.com

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