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Coldstream Hills Chardonnay 1999
Situated in the cool and beautiful Yarra Valley, about one hour's drive east of Melbourne, its steep, close-planted vineyards have become a signature of the region. So too have its wines (most notably Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs) which reflect a climate cooler than Bordeaux and a little warmer than Burgundy.
France too provides all the oak barriques (1500, but increasing year by year) and no small amount of inspiration for the winemaking team of James Halliday and, Paul Lapsley.
The wines are quite literally, hand made, mainly using small open fermenters (of three to four tonnes capacity) for the red wines, while the white wines are barrel fermented. Notwithstanding the increasing production, there has been and will be no significant change in the winemaking techniques or philosophies inherent to Coldstream Hills.
These techniques are directed to making wines, which are characterised by elegance and finesse, by silky supple texture, length of flavour, subtle oak and the ability to develop extra dimensions of complexity with bottle age. These are not weighty, extractive, tannic or alchoholic styles, however impressive well made examples of these may be.
As the most important area of wine production in Victoria today, the Yarra Valley is most popular for its Pinot noir and Chardonnay, which account for over half of vineyard acreage. A gentle, rolling and rural region alongside the Margaret River, the Yarra Valley has a cool maritime with a lengthy growing season, perfect for these cool-climate varieties.
The warmer, Lower Yarra Valley in the north has sandy loam soils and produces a plush and fruity Pinot noir. The cooler, higher-elevation Upper Yarra Valley in the south has the soils composed of younger, red basalt and produces more angular and mineral-driven Pinot noir.
Yarra Valley Chardonnay is among the best in Australia. The modern style is stony and flinty rather than fat and tropical. Malolactic fermentation is rare, but while barrel fermentation is common, barrel maturation is restrained to preserve the floral aromatics and fresh citrus flavors for which this area’s Chardonnay is so appreciated. The best Yarra Valley Chardonnays display brilliant acidity, leesy characteristics, sweet citrus, stone fruit and flavors of ginger and spice.
One of the most popular and versatile white wine grapes, Chardonnay offers a wide range of flavors and styles depending on where it’s grown and how it’s made. In Burgundy, Chardonnay produces some of the finest white wines in the world, typically tending towards minimal intervention in the winery and at its best resulting in remarkable longevity. This grape is popular throughout the world, but perhaps its second most important home is in California, where both oaky, buttery styles and leaner, European-inspired wines enjoy great popularity. Oregon, Australia, South America, South Africa, and New Zealand are also significant producers of Chardonnay.
In the Glass
When planted on cool sites, Chardonnay’s flavors tend towards grapefruit, green apple, minerals, and white stone fruit, while warmer locations coax out richer, more tropical flavors of fig, melon, and pineapple. Oak can add notes of vanilla, coconut, and spice (as well as texture), while malolactic fermentation can impart soft, buttery acidity.
Chardonnay is as versatile at the table as it is in the vineyard. The crisp, clean, Chablis-like styles go well with simple seafood, light chicken dishes, and salads. Richer Chardonnays marry well with cream or oil-based sauces.
Since the 1990s, big, oaky, buttery Chardonnays from California have enjoyed explosive popularity. More recently, the pendulum has begun to swing in the opposite direction, towards a clean, crisp style that rarely utilizes new oak. These Old-World style wines have been dubbed the “New California Chardonnays,” and anyone who claims they do not like Chardonnay should give them a try.