Chardonnay is a grape variety with a somewhat daggy reputation among serious oenophiles.
But, fear not! BUTTERED: Aussie Chard Fest was a wine festival that didn’t take itself too seriously.
The folks at Handpicked Wines, well aware of the bad wrap that chardonnay has had over the decades, picked a “Kath and Kim” theme for the event. Dressing up was encouraged, the nibbles were suitably themed, and DJ Charlie Villas was playing a selection of your favourite classic Aussie tunes, to get everyone in the mood for a boogie.
As a sworn lover of a well-balanced oaky chardonnay, I’m often something of a lone voice, with many of my friends finding the variety too sweet or “buttery”. This is a reputation that was acquired (and probably deservedly) some 20 years ago. Since then, the wine industry has been going on a journey to harness the full complexity and subtlety of the variety. Meeting five award-winning winemakers at Handpicked Wines’ Cellar Door, and sampling their chardonnay ranges, was a highlight of my month.
First off was Giant Steps from Yarra Valley, with winemaker Steve Flamsteed guiding me through their range. Top of my list was the 2018 Giant Steps Sexton Vineyard Chardonnay (RRP $50.00), a big and bold wine, but well-balanced and very enjoyable. I also learned about the ancient tradition of clay fermentation vessels which has been revived for the “Ocarina” Chardonnay – the lack of oak was definitely apparent on the nose. The resultant clean and fresh flavours could be a hit with my chardonnay-phobic friends, but I found it a little light for my butter-hardened palate.
Handpicked Wines, our hosts for the evening, had a generous selection of their wines on offer, and were definitely leading by example when it came to the Kath & Kim-inspired costumes! They shared insights into a wide range of factors (including terroir, climate, wine-making choices) and the resulting influence on the finished product. My top picks here were the 2016 Collection Yarra Valley Chardonnay – a cheeky big and bold number – and the superb value 2018 Regional Selections Yarra Valley Chardonnay, retailing for just $24.99.
David Bicknell, chief winemaker at Oakridge, is one of the more original and entertaining personalities I’ve come across in the wine industry. David’s anecdotes about his personal connections with other winemakers in the room (many of whom have been good mates since uni days) gave me a deeper insight to these family businesses. Quote of the night from David was: “Anyone can put wine in oak. We call it ‘wine coffins’ – where wine goes to die.”
With Savaterre and Tyrrell’s completing the complement, the five wineries on show represented a genuinely diverse range of quality wines. Handpicked Wines did a great job of bringing them – and a room full of thirsty Kath and Kim impersonators – to their stylishly appointed urban cellar door in the heart of Chippendale.
An enjoyable and light-hearted event, culminating in a party of the dance floor, Handpicked Wines have smashed a few preconceptions, and succeeded in their aim, to present “a tasting of complex and regionally expressive wines – not the stuff your mum used to drink.”
Sam Rorke works in the renewable energy industry by day. He enjoys scheduling stops at wineries while working in regional New South Wales.
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