Australia is a big place. The distance between Perth in Western Australia and Bali in Indonesia is just over 2,600 kilometres, while it’s over 4,000 kilometres from Sydney. Naturally, it’s not surprising that the wines produced in Western Australia are very different from those produced in the south-east of Australia.
Recently, we were lucky to get to taste Western Australian wine under the guidance of Glenn Goodall, Senior Winemaker, Xanadu Wines, in Margaret River, Western Australia. Xanadu has a comprehensive portfolio, from Sauvignon Blanc and Rosé to Shiraz and fortified wine, but Goodall chose only to present his Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon for a reason.
Western Australia has only 50 years of winemaking history, but its Chardonnay has already captured the attention of international wine critics. Goodall attributes this to the unique Chardonnay clone Gingin, which was brought to Western Australia in the late 1950 as a virus indicator. This clone is associated with negative growth including poor fruit set, millerandage (uneven berry size within a bunch) and low yields. However, when made into wine, this low-yielding clone with a high skin-to-juice ratio gives the wine great depth and intense flavours.
Goodall has his own way of making Chardonnay. He only uses wild fermentation in barrels, with frequent lees stirring to create a creamy yoghurt mouthfeel but no malolactic fermentation in order to retain the wine’s fresh acidity. He also uses barrels of different toasting levels that he refers to as “white barrel” (light toast) and “black barrel” (high toast) to create wine with all types of shadows. He compares the resultant wine texture to al- dente pasta – chewy in the middle but tender outside.
We tasted three 2017 Chardonnays. DJL (in honour of Xanadu’s founder, Dr John Lagan) is bright with crunchy acidity and a white fruit aroma. The Estate Chardonnay has layers of citrus and stone fruit flavours supported by a creamy texture and crisp acidity – my pick of the day. The Reserve Chardonnay, made from grapes from the oldest vineyard, is tight and has an added savoury note that will further develop in the bottle for 3–5 years.
In addition to the clone, the other success factors that make Margaret River ideal for winemaking are its climate and geology. The Indian Ocean on three sides of the region creates a maritime climate that provides consistent weather year on year, and its mosaic soil type allows the region to grow different grape varietals. Back in 1967, the Margaret River region was identified as the closest to Bordeaux – hence the production of Cabernet Sauvignon there.
Unlike its counterpart on the other side of Australia, Margaret River’s Cabernet Sauvignon has its own footprint of blue fruits, dry Mediterranean herbs and rounder tannins that Goodall credits to the Houghton clone introduced from South Africa, which is recognised for producing Margaret River’s premium Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2016 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon made from this clone blended with a touch of Malbec and Petit Verdot displays generous bright fruits supported by a well-defined structure and lingering finish. No wonder it won the prestigious Jimmy Watson Trophy in 2018.
Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon are the flagship grapes of Margaret River. Cabernet Sauvignon is obvious as the region is similar to Bordeaux, but why Chardonnay, which is not grown in Bordeaux? Goodall simply shrugged and said that perhaps Bordeaux never has the opportunity to grow Chardonnay because it is not permitted! After all, this is the downside of Old World appellation control.
Xanadu is available in Hong Kong at wine’n’things.
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