I’m in cleanup mode at the moment, sifting through the (physical) sample pile and my (digital) notes to tidy things up Kondo-style.
While it’s cathartic to delete some half-baked stories written late at night, I’ve discovered some unpublished gems too – just like this set of notes from the Tapanappa Tiers vineyard 40th birthday event held last year in the Adelaide Hills.
At the time, I wrote about a definitive matchup of Burgundy vs Chardonnay that was served at lunch. But the rest of these notes didn’t go any further – and the breadth of Chardonnay opened alone is worth a mention.
What a fascinating/odd event it was too. Much of Australia’s wine writing establishment, sat around a long table inside the Tapanappa cellar door, all wondering what curve ball Brian Croser would be throwing this time.
Indeed this wasn’t just a tasting, there was a debate. Jancis Robinson had flown in to choose a winner (plus taste a few wines). And ex-politician Christopher Pyne was moderating for colour.
Really, it was the sort of occasion you just don’t see anymore. Not now that most of the wine writers in Australia are on the breadline/doing other things. Wineries just send out samples and hope for the best. There aren’t events as no one gives a shit, they just want high scores #stopthescoreinflation.
Anyway, I’m getting sidetracked.
The debate was fun and the wines were superb. Even Christopher Pyne was entertaining, though he wouldn’t shut up during the flights (is he always like that?).
You know what was/is intriguing though? Petaluma is something of a dirty word for Croser. I wrote about the sentiment in this article, but even I was surprised. This 40th birthday event was a celebration of the Tiers vineyard, which means it’s a celebration of Tapanappa obviously. But the Petaluma years were spoken as if the brand wasn’t a thing. Like an ex-partner who you don’t want to talk about in front of your new flame. There was a glorious 1979 Petaluma Coonawarra, though it’s not quite the same (and it’s not an Adelaide Hills Chardonnay). Do the scars run so deep, or is it just about staying on (Tapanappa) message?
Fun facts about Tiers
Over the last 15 years the Tapanappa Tiers Chardonnay winemaking style hasn’t changed much. Instead, as Croser says, you see bottle age as the main influence. That said, the heat summation has risen from an average 1175 15 years ago to 1250 HDD.
The winemaking style hasn’t changed, true, but some vintages are given slight tweaks. There’s some malolactic fermentation in certain vintages, but not in recent years. pH normally sits at 3.0 to 3.1 and the site delivers between 15-30 tonnes. All of the original plantings are a heat treated Gingin/Gin Gin clone (known as OF) from UC Davis (if you want to get really geeky, there is a Gingin timeline here).
Tapanappa Tiers Vertical
These are damn good wines. And I’m not just saying that because they were served with a free lunch. Place a bottle of the ’16 Tiers in a brown paper bag and pour alongside Grand Cru white Burgundy. You’ll cry that you bothered paying the $$$ for the Burg. nearly every time.
Notes are, as usual, largely unedited and written in stream of consciousness mode. Extra bits in italics.
Tapanappa Tiers Chardonnay 2005
Under cork, one of the few. Very cool vintage – 1113 HDD. 13.5% alc. 450 dozen made. Harvested 5th of April. Custard apple and custard. Mothballs, the whiff of progression. Core of lemon custard citrus is holding up nicely. Plenty of development on the nose, the palate much fresher than the nose. In good shape, if just a little advanced to be magnificent. 17.7/20, 92/100.
Tapanappa Tiers Chardonnay 2008
Cork. Warm vintage. 1227 HDD. 13.9% alc. 750 dozen made. Instantly fresher, lemon citrus is there – less mothballs and more citrus. Tension between citrus toast and perfect acidity. Long. You wouldnt pick this as 11 years old. Just a little decay on the nose, but the mealy complexity is pretty attractive. Complex, layered and fine. There’s a whisper of mothballs on the finish; the only distraction for what is otherwise very fine full-flavoured Chardonnay. 18/20, 93/100.
Tapanappa Tiers Chardonnay 2013
HDD 1317. 13.8% alc. Peach steps back into the fold. Taut. Embryonic. Lemon custard but it’s citrussy and I notice the oak, which I haven’t spotted in the 08. Lovely high tones here. High quality. Maybe a little fat on the finish? Don’t care, it’s delicious. 18.5/20, 94/100.
Tapanappa Tiers Chardonnay 2014
1175 HDD. ‘Fig and melon of a cool year wine. It happens to be what I like’ Brian Croser. 13.5% alc. In a perfect place. More expressive than the slightly oak forward ’13, it sits on the edge between lemon citrus and peach. There’s a chewiness here – it’s powerful and dense, something to ger your head around. Exceptional vintage. 18.7/20, 95/100.
Tapanappa Tiers Chardonnay 2015
1173 HDD. Harvested 17th March. 13.6% alc. Expressive. Has a banana custard backward mealiness, as if there is more new oak (which there isn’t). But a really expressive width too – plump lemon citrus. it’s forward even. A bolder year. Is it truly classic? I like the chunkiness though. Drink earlier, for mine. But hey, it will still be a winner. Maybe just too open to be sublime. I like. 18.5/20, 94/100.
Tapanappa Tiers Chardonnay 2016
The warmest vintage ever. 1539 HDD. 13.8% alc. This is the wine that won big at Decanter Wine Awards (Best Chardonnay trophy winner). More funk, more sulphide, and more delight. I like the flattering, mouthwatering style. Is it truly composed through the finish? Compelling though. Long and even. Longer and longer. I think this is my pick of the lot. It’s so easy to get fixated on the cool vintage years when you can revel in the width of a wine like this. 18.7/20, 95/100.
Tapanappa Tiers Chardonnay 2017
1303 HDD. Latest harvest ever (13th April). 13%. The outlier. it seems formative, lemony banana cream, the style wound up in itself, waiting to come out. Pristine flavours. A noticeably cooler, grey wine. Backward. Hold tight. I think I’ve liked previous tastes of this more. In a hole? 18/20, 93/100+
Tapanappa Tiers Chardonnay 2018
2nd warmest vintage after 2016. 1503 HDD. Harvested 26th March. 13.5% alc. Still bound up in itself, the flavours classical but almost falling into nectarine territory. Formative. Has a hit of primary fruit that is like apricot juice. Components coming together. Hold. I don’t feel this quite yet. 18/20, 93/100+
Bracket 3 California dreaming
All these wines have a connection to the Gingin clone.
‘(These wines) are not necessarily California’s of the world’s greatest Chardonnay’ Croser explains.
‘They do represent the wines we treasured from the time we spent in California in the 1970’s and the Chardonnay clones that survived prohibition in California’s pioneer vineyards and have made such an important contribution to Chardonnay in Australia’.
Leeuwin Estate Chardonnay 2016
$104 RRP. From a vineyard planted in late 70s to Gingin clone. Pretty flattering. You can taste the acid shape which is pure Margaret River grapefruit (and Gingin). There’s a buttered popcorn expression here. Interesting to try this after the Hills wines – it’s more plump. You’d even say that it’s not ready – elemental, plump, citrus fullness. Has an instant easiness. Delicious. 18.5/20, 94/100.
Stony Hill Chardonnay 2016
From a vineyard at Spring Mountain Napa Valley replanted in 1986 using a. massal collection from the Wente Vineyard. Circa 3,500 cases produced. $80 approx. Hello USA. Nutty, chestnut oak. Such a different wine. Sweet and sour. Acid forward, but also oak, and has all sorts of mealy wildness. A weird one. I’m just not sure if I love it – it tastes like grey goats cheese. Will the caramel oak take over? 17/20, 90/100.
Hanzell Ambassadors 1953 Vineyard Chardonnay 2016
Planted from Stony Hill vineyard cuttings. $190 circa. 400 dozen produced. Flattering and robust, what you imagine Cali Chardonnay to be Oak tannins, oak fullness. Plump and tangy. I like the yellow peach richness. So open and delicious. Yellow fruit, expansive. Acidity isn’t out of place. So California! 18.5/20, 94/100.
Mount Eden Vineyards Estate Bottled Chardonnay 2016
From a vineyard planted in the mid 1980 to original Paul Masson 1900 selections. 1,211 dozens made. $130. Full yellow. A caricature. Not quite syrupy, but full gold and full buttered. Luscious. The oak finish is so overt. It’s buttered toast city. Caramel. That flavour grates after a while. 16.8/20, 89/100.
Hyde de Villaine Comandante Chardonnay 2017
Carneros Napa Valley. Planted 1979 to old Wente clone. 111 dozen made. $180. Pull between the fullness of the Chardonnay fruit and oak, but the acidity is perfect. Banana and full richness. An opulent style, in a powerful mode, then with acidity too. Good modern Cali Chardonnay. Absolutely delicious and hedonistic. 18.7/20, 95/100.
Tiers Vineyard 1.5m Chardonnay 2015
Planted in 2003 to Dijon clones on rootstock. 200 dozen made. $55. Tightly wound, even more than the ’15 Tiers. Maybe not the power and density of the top dog, but the acid and focus is excellent. Lovely wine. 18/20, 93/100.
Blain Gagnard Le Montrachet 2017
0.08ha planted 1934. 30 dozen produced. $1,300. Such a different wine here. Subtle, sublime power. Not ready at all. Composed. Perfectly composed. Real Burgundy. But it’s an essay for the future. Aftershave. More new oak? Lots of sulphide funk. Cool acidity. Oak tannins. Hold. Will be sublime in time but not there yet. I love how different the shape is – fine whipped butter and all that funk. 18.7/20, 95/100.
Wente nth Degree Chardonnay 2017
From Livermore Valley. Wente clones, 700 dozen produced. $102. Viognier-esque edge. Peach juice aplenty. An oddball. All the stonefruit, all that flavour. Is it too much? I think its weird, although the acidity is pretty well balanced. But the flavour is out there – so overt. 17.7/20, 92/100