Barry Weinman: 4th May 2019
There has been much written about Australian Chardonnays over the years, documenting the changing styles and fashions. In the 1990s the trend was for big, ripe, buttery Chardonnays, with plenty of oak. This evolved over the 2000s, with the fruit richness and oak flavours gradually being wound back.
Around 2010, the pendulum moved to the other end of the spectrum. Led by key wine critics and winemakers (particularly in Victoria), the trend was for high acid, early-picked examples, where the fruit was dialled right back. These wines needed years to show their best and were not always the most approachable while they were still young.
Throughout this time, Leeuwin Estate maintained a steady style, producing fine, elegant wines that were capable of extended aging, but were also great drinking early on. In any given year, the Art Series Chardonnay is amongst the country’s finest. Given that it has been at the highest level for almost 40 years makes this one of Australia’s greatest wines of any variety.
Besides the wines, there was another story that unfolded during this tasting: the impact of the closure used on the condition of the wine. There was a marked difference in the freshness of the wines, with those under screw cap (2003 onwards) far fresher and more consistent than the earlier wines (of which more than one bottle had to be opened on the night to find a good example for the tasting).
There were a number of highlights on the night; the 1990, for example, demonstrated just how well these wines can age (cork permitting).
In terms of sheer quality, there were no bad wines at all, but a few of the vintages really stood out. The 2000 was great drinking and the 2003 remarkably fresh and youthful. The truly great wines on the night came from 2005, 2007, 2010, 2014 and 2016.
Leeuwin Estate – Chardonnay – Art Series – 1990. Honeyed and rich, yet still with life and balance. The palate is rich, rounded and textured, with excellent length of flavours. In remarkable condition and great drinking.
Leeuwin Estate – Chardonnay – Art Series – 2000. Fresh and vibrant, with peach-like fruit and gentle honeyed notes. The acidity is a highlight. Almost Chablis in character, with minerality a feature. The palest colour of the wines under cork, this was considered to be a very good bottle.
Leeuwin Estate – Chardonnay – Art Series – 2001. What a shame. Ever so slightly tainted and no back-up available on the night (previous bottles have been excellent).
Leeuwin Estate – Chardonnay – Art Series – 2002. Under cork, this had a golden colour and was very developed. Enjoyable drinking, but sure to be better bottles out there.
Leeuwin Estate – Chardonnay – Art Series – 2003. A notable change in colour and very fresh in comparison. Here, the honey characters have been replaced by more toasty notes. The acid is muted, but there is enough freshness to make this great drinking. Lingering toffee finish a highlight. No rush to drink these.
Leeuwin Estate – Chardonnay – Art Series – 2004. Wow, this is a step up in freshness and concentration. Delightful peachy fruit, subtle toast and balancing acidity. Long and complex, with excellent mouth-feel, this is vibrant and delicious. Opens with air, developing richness of fruit and great length and balance. Super wine!
Leeuwin Estate – Chardonnay – Art Series – 2005. Lighter colour, and even fresher, the ripe fruit here is absolutely superb. The palate is fine, elegant, and balanced, with great acid structure and length. Restrained and youthful, this has a decade ahead of it, but why wait? A vinous highlight.
Leeuwin Estate – Chardonnay – Art Series – 2006. A touch more colour compared to the ‘05 and ‘07, this has more toast, but less fruit. That said, it still has good acidity. Generosity of flavours makes up for the longevity, but probably best to drink this vintage sooner than later.
Leeuwin Estate – Chardonnay – Art Series – 2007. Wow. This is spectacular. Delicate, refined and supple, yet this has power to boot. There is superb fruit, balance and mouth-feel. Restrained, but all components are in harmony and there is great length of flavours. An ethereal wine that has a brilliant future.
Leeuwin Estate – Chardonnay – Art Series – 2008. Amazingly, this tastes like it was released just yesterday. Taut and fresh, with high acidity. With air, this opens and shows a touch of lime notes. Easy to be overlooked next to the 2007, but a lovely wine that has real potential.
Leeuwin Estate – Chardonnay – Art Series – 2009. Unfortunately, this wine could not be found on the night.
Leeuwin Estate – Chardonnay – Art Series – 2010. What a beautiful wine. Fine, elegant, refined and supple, yet the balance is the best of any wine to date, making this also the best drinking. With finer acidity and brilliant fruit, this will be even better in 10 years. One of my wines of the night.
Leeuwin Estate – Chardonnay – Art Series – 2011. A little more restrained than the 2010, this needs a few years to really open up. Again, the balance is brilliant, with fine grapefruit-like acidity and supple peach and nectarine fruit. Youthful vitality and richness, with excellent fruit weight but give it time.
Leeuwin Estate – Chardonnay – Art Series – 2012. Finesse and poise are the features of this sublime wine. Seamless and restrained, with a spine-tingling presence. Almost ethereal, there is a nervous tension to the wine. A little polarising, but a personal favourite.
Leeuwin Estate – Chardonnay – Art Series – 2013. Melon and grapefruit to the fore. This is textured, chewy and full of potential, yet remarkably good drinking already. The finish is near seamless and the acid balance is a highlight. With air, this starts to develop peachy fruit. Another great wine.
Leeuwin Estate – Chardonnay – Art Series – 2014. This is quite firm and taut. Having said that, the balance is exemplary, with the acid cutting through the fruit richness. Needs years to show its best, but with air, the fruit richness builds and you get a glimpse of just how good this wine is. Will age with grace.
Leeuwin Estate – Chardonnay – Art Series – 2015. Spectacular, fine and restrained, yet with depth and power. This is youthful, and needs years to hit its peak, but there is no doubting the sheer quality of the fruit underlying this wine. A wine for the long haul.
Leeuwin Estate – Chardonnay – Art Series – 2016. I have written recently about just how good this is, but on the night: More perfumed, with lovely floral highlights. The palate is shy and restrained, with the balance and mouth-feel a highlight. Needs a few years, but this may well be the greatest Leeuwin Chardonnay released to date. A great way to end the evening.