Note: Back when I reviewed them, I set aside a few wines to taste when they are more mature. In this occasional series I report on what they’re like now.
I could hear my friend Mike salivating over the telephone. We were meeting for dinner with our wives and I told him I was bringing along my long-saved bottle of Giaconda Chardonnay 2000. Mike has been to Australia and knows his Down Under wines.
Most Americans are blissfully unaware of Giaconda, because the wines are not widely distributed here. Although the winery makes more than 2,500 cases, the Chardonnay is in such demand that we’re lucky to see 50 cases of it. That doesn’t go very far.
For the lucky few that get their hands on some of it, though, the rewards of cellaring can be mind-blowing. In a blind tasting of older Chardonnays that I organized in Australia last year, I have vivid memories of the Giaconda 1993. The wine had such presence it practically jumped out of the glass, bowed deeply and introduced itself with a flourish. It was sensational. Ripe, spicy, complex, it struck a superb balance of citrus and stone fruit with a creamy texture that would not quit. I rated that one 97 points.
My notes on the ’00, when I first tasted it in 2002, read like a condensed version of my note for the ‘93. “Broad, ripe and spicy, with pear, orange peel and earthy-mineral notes competing for attention, finishing round and broadening out as the flavors last impressively.” I rated it 92 points, but severely underestimated its aging potential by suggesting the 2000 should be consumed by 2005.
We opened the bottle to drink with our main courses at Sea Salt, a casual, sustainable-oriented seafood restaurant in Berkeley. We had worked our way through a nice sparkler, Argyle Blanc de Noir 2000 (for vintage symmetry), with grilled squid, Caribbean shrimp and fried smelt. I held my breath as the server pulled the cork (a bad one would have been truly disappointing; the current Giaconda wines are bottled under twist-offs) and poured a sample, and exhaled when the aromas, still fresh with fruit, rose from the glass.
What aromas! It was like someone spun the UC Davis aroma wheel and pointed only at the good ones. Apricot, pineapple, pear, followed by a whiff of butterscotch, quickly replaced by wafts of crushed stone and grapefruit pith. In the mouth, the fruit lasted forever, but the great thing was the texture: polished and silky, not a burr or a thorn anywhere. Acidity was present, not sticking out but just zingy enough to keep the fully mature flavors lively. Non blind, 95 points.
It was just as sublime with the food. It fit seamlessly with my pan-seared Loch Duart salmon on English peas and chanterelles, and with my wife’s butter-poached lobster roll. Mike’s poached halibut with beets also hit the mark. The acidity in the wine even made it do well with Linda’s PEI mussels with lemongrass, ginger and cilantro.
That wine originally carried an $80 price tag. The current vintage is $100.
Giaconda comes from an estate somewhat removed from the beaten path. It’s in Beechworth, in the northeastern reaches of Victoria, in what passes for mountains in Australia. Rick Kitzbrünner’s vineyard sits at 1,300 feet on granitic, gravelly south-facing slopes (away from the sun in the Southern hemisphere), thus the lively acidity. But the grapes get plenty of sun and daytime warmth, hence the ripe flavors.
It’s not easy to grow Chardonnay there, as I’ve learn from conversations with Kitzbrünner, which is why he doesn’t have a lot of company in the outstanding-Chardonnay sweeptstakes there. It takes a lot of careful viticulture. But the results are definitely worth it.
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