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Giant Steps Chardonnay 2005
Great wine is made in the vineyard. At its best, it is like a fingerprint, inextricably linking the personality and mood of the land from which it has sprung. The Sextons feel their role as winemakers is to express the true character of the fruit, shepherding it through the winemaking process with minimum intervention. They seek to grow fruit and make wine that is less overt and obvious than is encouraged in Australia. They look for structure and length rather than breadth, finesse rather than largesse and above all, fruit rather than artifact. All work is done by hand, and they strive to grow the best fruit possible, whatever the cost.
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 climate 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 is grown and how it is made. While practically every country in the wine producing world grows it, Chardonnay from its Burgundian homeland produces some of the most remarkable and longest lived examples. As far as cellar potential, white Burgundy rivals the world’s other age-worthy whites like Riesling or botrytized Semillon. California is Chardonnay’s second most important home, where both oaky, buttery styles and leaner, European-inspired wines enjoy great popularity. Oregon, Australia and South America are also significant producers of Chardonnay.
In the Glass
When planted on cool sites, Chardonnay flavors tend towards grapefruit, lemon zest, green apple, celery leaf and wet flint, while warmer locations coax out richer, more tropical flavors of melon, peach and pineapple. Oak can add notes of vanilla, coconut and spice, while malolactic fermentation imparts a soft and creamy texture.
Chardonnay is as versatile at the table as it is in the vineyard. The crisp, clean, Chablis-like styles go well with flaky white fish with herbs, scallops, turkey breast and soft cheeses. Richer Chardonnays marry well with lobster, crab, salmon, roasted chicken and creamy 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. In Burgundy, the subregion of Chablis, while typically employing the use of older oak barrels, produces a similar bright and acid-driven style. Anyone who doesn't like oaky Chardonnay would likely enjoy its lighter style.