I couldn’t keep this bottled up. Not at this time of year.
The Friends of Punch Rurale Chardonnay 2012 is a social beast, a sparkler to celebrate – but not one that demands pomp and ceremony. Not a cheers-and-small-talk bubbles, more a sit-down-and-stay-a-while affair. “It’s not supposed to be a formal wine; it’s supposed to be a delicious wine,” says James Lance, as if reading my mind.
James and wife Claire kicked off Punch on 1 January 2005. That’s when they started leasing Lance’s Vineyard and Winery in the Yarra Valley from James’ parents, David and Catherine, who founded renowned Pinot and Chardonnay producer Diamond Valley there back in 1976.
Classic Yarra Valley Pinot, Chardonnay and Cabernet from Lance’s Vineyard remain Punch’s bread and butter. But from the ashes of the Black Saturday bushfires, which destroyed the 2009 crop, rose a phoenix or two from further afield. Friends wrote to ask what they could do to help. The response: Sell us some grapes.
Hence the Friends of Punch range which includes this unusual beauty, the fruit for which came from Beechworth’s celebrated Warner Vineyard. It’s a pétillant naturel wine – “pet nat” to the cool cats – made using the méthode rurale (aka méthode ancestrale), described by James as “the oldest, simplest, and purest way to make a sparkling wine”. In this case, it meant fermenting Chardonnay juice most of the way to dryness (leaving about 18g/l residual sugar) in stainless steel before transferring to bottle to complete the fermentation, with the resulting CO2 trapped for a natural fizz. The wine spent about 18 months on yeast lees, so what you’re left with is a bottle-conditioned sparkling wine – a slightly turbid, rustic thing that’ll throw a crust. But when all’s said and done, it merits two important and aimed-for epithets: “delicious” and “wine”.
Friends of Punch Rurale Chardonnay 2012 Beechworth, Victoria
Cloudy straw in colour, the nose bears the expected stamp of its yeasty upbringing but there’s plenty of orchard fruit and biscuit enticing you to tuck in. The bead is creamy and relatively coarse and the texture across the palate thickish, though the wine has intensity and depth without being the least bit lumbering. Good fizz livens up the gorgeous Chardonnay fruit, apples and peach wrapped in brioche, culminating in an apple danish send-off. Drink with hog roast or scallops with pancetta.
Costs $22 from the Punch website – Alcohol 13% – Tasted 23/09/13 – Crown seal
I’m writing this post on a Friday night with a glass of Mornington Peninsula Chardonnay to keep me company. I can’t say too much about how good it is, as I do casual work for its producer and don’t wish to stand accused of bias. It’s a bit like refusing to save a drowning man because you work for the company that makes the lifejackets, but there you have it.
Bonnezeaux Gonzo is in its infancy, and there are certain strategic points that have yet to be worked out. One of these is how to tackle the Chardonnay thing: does its brilliance need a bombshell or is it a question of attrition, a barrage of allusions to its wondrousness to leave readers dumbstruck?
For now I’ll go for the latter, because it’s getting late and I’m onto my second glass. So here’s a little rave about some already raved-about wines, based on my notes from the recent Sommeliers Australia tasting of trophy-winning wines from the James Halliday Chardonnay Challenge at Vue de Monde.
We blind tasted three flights of four wines, all of which came top in their region. Discovery of the day for me appeared in the first bracket. It was the Ridgemill Estate WYP Chardonnay 2012 from the Granite Belt in Queensland. It has a floral, orange-blossom nose with grilled nuts, leading into a full-bodied palate of ripe peach, apricots and honey and finishing long with apricots and lemon slice.
The second flight was all Victoria, and a strong showing it was, too. The most distinctive was the Galli Estate Pamela Chardonnay 2011 ($60) from Sunbury. This was taut, mineral and intense, with ruby grapefruit and green apple followed by a pure citrus and stone fruit finish. The acid was bracing, hard even, but it worked for me. I was also very taken by the Seville Estate Reserve Chardonnay 2012 (RRP for the 2011 was $33) from the Yarra Valley, which I liked even better than the previous vintage, which recently came up trumps at the Royal Melbourne Wine Awards. Full-bodied with nuttiness, cream, peach and grapefruit, what really took me here was the way it powered through the back palate. Such drive to back up that generosity.
But my favourite of this bracket was the A.Rodda Smiths Vineyard Chardonnay 2012 from Beechworth ($38). It all seemed to be on show from the first sniff – smoke, nuts, peach and lemon – and yet the palate was toned and restrained, with fresh, pure nectarine and citrus fruit meted out ahead of a finish that was creamy, long and moreish.
Then the final flight, which featured Tyrrell’s Vat 47 Chardonnay 2009 ($70) from the Hunter Valley (for some dumb reason I’m always surprised by how much I love this wine – and the 2009 is looking super fresh), and the Xanadu Chardonnay 2010 ($35) from Margaret River (which seemed a bit obvious and plump at first, but in time showed depth and nuance). It also contained the Penfolds Reserve Bin 10A 2010 ($95) from the Adelaide Hills, a wine with quite a reputation – well won, I’d have to say. It had complexity in spades – spice and zing, a bit of grip and a gamut of pure-fruit aromas powerfully expressed. Gorgeous.
The 10A was my preferred wine of the bracket, followed by the wine that came top in the Halliday Chardonnay Challenge: the Seppelt Drumborg Vineyard Chardonnay 2011 ($40) from Henty. It was flinty and fine-boned with a lovely lemon-lime acid line, great fruit purity, and – a feature of many of these wines – effortless drive. It was complete and utterly delicious.