Life is so much easier when you have a great vineyard.
That’s not to say that winemaking is easy, in any way. But it certainly helps when you start with the best materials. Further, when you have one of the most celebrated sites in the country (the Tiers Vineyard) and you’re one of the most distinguished winemakers (Brian Croser), then fine wine tends to just happen more naturally (in theory).
For evidence look at this 2016 Tapanappa Chardonnay trio. Despite a year that Croser describes as ‘uncharted territory for me even after 47 vintages’ with one of the warmest growing seasons on record (heat summation of 1539C days compared to the last 12 years average of 1235C days), these three wines are superb.
It was meant to be a year where the wines look broader, a bit less shapely. But there’s a sense of ideal ripeness here, with a fullness but none of the flavours of compromise that you see in warm seasons. No half-arsed early picking or restricted malolactic fermentation, just proudly full bodied wines.
Win. In particular, The 1.5m Chardonnay is a standout. Just the second vintage released, but easily the best yet (I can probably say that every year).
Tapanappa Tiers Vineyard 1.5m Chardonnay 2016
The 1.5m block is a section of the Tiers Vineyard that was replanted in the early 2000s to close spaced Bernard clones. Barrel fermented and matured for just on 11 months in 1/3 new oak. TA 7.2g/L, pH 3.12.
A different wine to the flagship Tiers Chardonnay, but not lesser. It’s spicier, more subtle, less natural width but with just as much interest the slight extra softness not unwelcome. There’s a backdrop of expensive, low toast oak, a whisper of grapefruit and then a palate that, despite the season, looks more restrained than you’d expect. There’s still a warmth in the finish, but it’s a softening edge to the firm acidity. There’s white peach and white nectarine, it’s ripe, it’s even a bit chunky, but underneath the structure is sturdy and tight. I left this in the fridge for 3 days and it still looked good. Top class. Best drinking: 2017-2024. 18.7/20, 95/100. 13.9%, $55. Would I buy it? Yes.
Tapanappa Tiers Vineyard Chardonnay 2016
From the original Tiers Vineyard plantings, planted to the OF clone in 1979. Similar handling to the 1.5m. TA 7.7g/L, pH 3.04.
By contrast, this has a slight edge with its natural opulence. There’s just an extra layer of richness, acid, everything. But it’s not a massive difference. Again, this is opulent Chardonnay, at the pointy end of ripeness but retains its life, the acid subtle and natural. It’s a balancing act, where you get this punch of spicy oak, white peach fruit and then some leesy cream. As with all great Chardies, this is a wine of many layers – wood, acid, everything. At some points it could be too oak shaped, but that’s likely a function of youth. A classy, powerful timelessly good Australian Chardonnay. Best drinking: 2017-2025. 18.8/20, 95/100. 13.8% $79. Would I buy it? Yes.
Tapanappa Piccadilly Valley Chardonnay 2016
This is designated as a sub-regional wine, but I’m not sure if that means Tiers fruit and others from within the Valley as well? Similar handling to the other two wines, which suggests it’s more just declassified barrels. TA 7.4g/L, pH 3.07.
Not a massive step below Tiers in many ways. Full, nutty, oak kissed nose, the fruit underneath the classy winemaking. It doesn’t have the detail of the other two with just a slight sweet and sour edge, but such class. Missing just a little in the intensity stakes here, but I’m quibbling – this would beat many flagship Hills Chardonnay. Delicious. Best drinking: 2017-2022. 18/20, 93/100. 13.9%, $39. Would I buy it? Yes. A bargain really.