Thursday, November 3, 2016

Oakridge 864 Chardonnay Vertical Tasting

When David Bicknell became chief winemaker at Oakridge in 2002, he changed the style of its Chardonnay dramatically. The focus was now on freshness and fruit, no longer on oak, butterscotch and cream. In this way, he found himself at the forefront of a new wave of Australian Chardonnay with high ratings, and the Oakridge 864 Chardonnay became an icon wine.

Chardonnay is a perplexing variety. It has less of an ingrained varietal character than any of the other premium grape varieties. It grows in many different areas and climates, and its profile is heavily influenced by the winemaker's decisions, predominantly in the winery.

David Bicknell's approach was to do very little, not so revolutionary now, but not common for Chardonnay at the time. His view was that barrels clutter flavour, therefore maturing in 500 l pungents, only 20% new. The grapes are picked early, whole bunch pressing, only natural yeast is used, and no malolactic fermentation.

Given the status of his flagship wine, I was interested to participate in this rare opportunity to taste a number of different vintages, but I left a bit underwhelmed. More on this later.

The wines on tasting were the 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014 Oakridge 864 Chardonnays. I was surprised to learn that they came from three different vineyards, and the earlier Chardonnays from a fourth one.

The first bracket consisted of the older wines. The 2008 and 2009 were made from fruit of Seville's van der Meulen vineyard, the 2010 from the famous Lusatia Park. The group generally agreed that the 2009 was the best wine in this bracket, but the reasons given varied widely. My notes are:
-2008: tropical fruit from a hot year; melon, guava, papaya. Not very acidic, good structural balance (92 points)
-2009: very similar in flavour profile, but livelier and with better line (93 points)
-2010: less tropical, fine and long, with more acidity and minerality (92 points)

The wines of the second bracket come from the 1990 planted Funder&Diamond vineyard, situated at an elevation of 240m. Here, the 2014 stood out. In fact, this was my only outstanding wine in the line-up.
-2012: a disappointing wine, dull&flat, has reached its peak already (89 points)
-2013: a fine and bigger wine, but lacks acidity and specific interest (92 points)
-2014: this wine is quite different, and David Bicknell said it was some departure from the past (I did not get what he did differently). This wine has a bigger mouthfeel, it seems to have an additional dimension. The wine is balanced, with a good line, some creaminess and a lasting finish (95 points)

Overall, I found the wines pretty, but lacking personality. This is perhaps changing with the 2014 vintage. Dialing manipulation back in the winery was definitely a good thing, but the resulting wines were perhaps too easy going, lacking some depth and grip. Hopefully, 2014 is not an outlier because of the very low yields in that year, but the start of an interesting Chardonnay with unique personality.           

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