Leeuwin Estate Chardonnay

Art Series Chardonnay – Pre-Release Tasting

Reviewed: 10th May 2013

Leeuwin Estate rightly has a reputation for producing one of Australia’s top few Chardonnays. When you combine the inherent quality with an unrivalled ability to age, I rate it as the country’s best.

As with almost all Leeuwin Estate wines, the chardonnay is held back in the cellar to allow it to come together before being released. This means that at a time when many wineries are selling their 2012 whites, we gathered to try Leeuwin Estate’s 2010 Chardonnay that is about to be released.

Given the quality, it is not surprising that the chardonnay gets the Rolls Royce treatment. The wine typically sees 100% new oak and great pains are taken to ensure that the oak is of the highest quality. Currently, the winery is using over 20 different types of oak barrels, supplied by a variety of coopers.

Each year, the composition of oak changes subtly as the winery adjusts the makeup to take advantage of the best coopers. In most years, there is no malo-lactic fermentation, the acidity is controlled in the vineyard via canopy management and astute grape harvesting. The vines that produce fruit for the Art Series Chardonnay are now 40 years old and are really in their prime.

Paul Atwood (Senior Winemaker) and Simone Horgan (Joint CEO) took the opportunity to show a mini-vertical of the Art Series Chardonnay, as well as a cross-section of current and upcoming releases from their stable of red wines. It has been an overriding aim of the winery to bring the quality of the reds up to that of the Chardonnay. The quality of the reds tasted suggests that they have succeeded admirably.

Finally, Paul gave me an overview of the 2013 vintage. The growing season started off with a burst of hot weather, giving wine-makers some concerns as to how balanced the fruit would be as it ripened. Later in the growing season however, the weather cooled considerably, allowing the fruit to finish ripening at a much slower pace. This meant that the grapes were able to develop excellent flavour profiles, without getting too high in sugar. It also allowed the grapes to retain excellent natural acidity.

The 2013 Riesling has just been blended and, apparently, the results are very good. The fruit was able to be taken off the vine quite early, with very balanced juice. Paul’s view is that 2013 will be a great year for their reds. The cool finish to the season allowed the fruit to develop excellent depth of flavours. The last cabernet was only picked in mid-April. Importantly, the chardonnay had excellent levels of acidity at harvest.

And the verdict?

The 2010 Art Series Chardonnay is the greatest Australian chardonnay I have ever tasted and is the equal of the greatest White Burgundies. The 2005 is another stunning wine that is just starting to hit its peak. The Prelude chardonnay is worth a mention given the excellent quality. Many wineries would be pleased have this as their premium wine!

Leeuwin Estate can quite rightly claim to be one of the finest wineries in Australia. It is the quality across the entire range that sets it apart from most.


Leeuwin Estate  – Riesling – Art Series – 2005 (18). This is remarkably fresh, with lime juice, minerals and gentle floral aromas. It has started to develop some toasty characters and just a touch of oiliness. The palate is quite rich and textured, with a touch of phenolic richness adding to the tasting. There is also a touch of nutty fruit to close. This is drinking superbly now, but will hold for a number of years. Paul suggests that the location of the vineyard, which sits in a valley, results in a cooler micro-climate compared to some of the other wineries in the region, allowing the riesling to flourish.

Leeuwin Estate  – Riesling – Art Series – 2012 (17.5- 18). Fragrant talc, minerals and subtle citrus characters on the nose. Like most Leeuwin rieslings that I have tried, this is quite closed and tight now, guaranteeing mid-term aging. The palate is true to the house style, with quite rich, powerful fruit complemented by a touch of phenolic richness. Quite different in style to those from the Great Southern, this needs a little time to settle and express itself.

Leeuwin Estate  – Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon – Art Series – 2010 (18+). This leads off with wine-making influences resulting from barrel fermentation and regular lees stirring. The wine is complex, savoury, dense and textured. The grassy fruit characters really make their presence felt on the palate. There is bright, lemony acid and creamy, subtle oak on a palate that is very long and refined. The semillon adds depth to the palate with lovely citrus fruit. This makes many White Bordeaux’s look quite ordinary.

Leeuwin Estate  – Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon – Art Series – 2011 (17.5-18). Very fresh compared to the 2010. The palate is much more linear and quite lean at first, suggesting that an extra year or two in bottle will really help. Opens to show lovely floral fruit on both the nose and palate in a pretty package. The oak influence on the palate is very subtle and fine, and the lemony acid carries the finish. The wine sees 11 months in barrel with weekly lees stirring. 20% of the oak is new. Given the development of the 2010, this is likely to improve for 5 years and may hold for much longer.

Leeuwin Estate  – Chardonnay – Prelude – 2012 (18). Very pretty fruit that is quite forward and floral on the nose. The palate is surprisingly powerful and intense, balancing peach like fruit characters with minerals, flint, match-strike and creamy oak. There is excellent length and mouth-feel and the fruit flavours linger. This is drinking remarkably well now, but should age for several years if you can resist. Sees 40% new oak, the remainder being second use.

Leeuwin Estate  – Chardonnay – Art Series – 2002 (N.R.). Developing, but still fresh. This was quite subdued on the nose, but opened with air. The palate is very powerful, with grapefruit followed by lovely stone-fruit and powerful minerality.  This gives way to a rich buttery finish. Delicious now.

Leeuwin Estate  – Chardonnay – Art Series – 2005 (18.7). Wow! This is lovely. An absolutely superb wine of great power and intensity, yet this has elegance and finesse. Superb length of flavours on a palate that is seamless and complete. There is still vibrant acidity that will ensure a very long life and the palate evolves for some time. A great wine from a perfect vintage.

Leeuwin Estate  – Chardonnay – Art Series – 2006 (17.9). This is quite different to the 2005, with a leaner fruit profile. The oak is just a little bit toastier than the 2005 and the palate more developed. A lovely wine that has excellent length and powerful fruit. For me, I would drink the 2006 now while waiting for the 05.

Leeuwin Estate  – Chardonnay – Art Series – 2009 (18/18.5). Restrained fruit that is subtle and refined showing hints of minerals, citrus and stone-fruit. There is still the tremendous power to the fruit that I have come to expect, but this is still quite tightly coiled and shy. With time though, this will unwind and develop into a superb wine. The creamy, tight, fine oak provides a seamless backdrop to the pristine fruit. The potential is evident. A sleeper.

Leeuwin Estate  – Chardonnay – Art Series – 2010 (18.9). This wine screams class right from the outset. So where to begin? The nose is tight, fine, reserved, elegant and creamy, with stone-fruit (nectarine) and citrus highlights. The palate is incredibly long, supple and refined, with the fruit characters evident, but not obvious. There is a subtly to this wine that is disarming, given the amazing length and intensity of the fruit. This is a truly great wine that needs 5 years to open up and will last for 15 years.

Leeuwin Estate  – Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot – Prelude – 2010 (18). Vibrant red fruits on the nose. The palate has blackcurrant, spice, tobacco leaf and subtle, cedary oak. There are even hints of licorice and the texture is excellent. This really builds in the glass and shows excellent structure, with the tannins providing a textural backdrop to the quality fruit. Delicious now, but will age for 5 – 10 years.

Leeuwin Estate  – Cabernet Sauvignon – Art Series – 2008 (18.3).  Opens with aromas of mint, gentle eucalypt, spice and a touch of cedary oak. The palate has red and blackcurrant fruit of tremendous depth and intensity. The power is evident, but like the chardonnay, this is tight and restrained, needing time to really show its best. There is almost a touch of cassis, but this complements the berry characters rather than dominates them. The cabernet comes from unirrigated, 40 year old vines. Significant attention is given to canopy management to ensure ripeness without losing elegance.

Leeuwin Estate  – Cabernet Sauvignon – Art Series – 2009 (18.5). This is an interesting contrast to the 2010. This is all about structure and texture, rather than overt fruit flavours. The balance is excellent, with the fruit flavours hidden in the structure. Nothing out of place, but this is a reserved wine built for the long hall. In many ways, this is very much like fine Bordeaux. Superb.

Leeuwin Estate  – Cabernet Sauvignon – Art Series – 2010 (18/18.5). Beautiful ripe fruit on the nose. The palate is deliciously juicy, with remarkably concentrated fruit sitting under the youthful exuberance. The balance is spot on, but at this early stage of its life, the acid sits on top of the fruit on the finish. The oak is very fine and supple providing excellent texture without adding obvious flavour. Will be superb.

Leeuwin Estate  – Cabernet Sauvignon – Art Series – 2011 (18 – 18.5). The nose on this is amazing. It is an absolutely complete package. There is ripe fruit, but you can almost smell the textural components that add complexity. The palate is balanced, fine, refined and delicious. This is remarkably approachable now, so many will not get to see how this will develop. Start saving, as this will not be released for a year or two.

Leeuwin Estate  – Shiraz – Art Series – 2010 (18+). Closed and tight, reflecting the power and balance that the 2010 wines from Leeuwin are all showing. Pepper and spice on a palate that is tight and structured, with clever oak use. The finish is almost chewy but still supple and very long. A wine of power but in a cooler climate package. Not to be underestimated. (The vines for this were planted in 1997).