The good, the bad and the ugly of Margaret River whites

When I was about sixteen or seventeen I was excited when I found that Moss Wood Chardonnay, from Australia’s Margaret River region, was for sale in Oxford – the city where I lived. I had read about it quite a lot and it was my first taste of Western Australian Premium Chardonnay. I bought a few more bottles then the novelty wore off. Why?

A couple of weeks ago I scored another bottle to make an assessment now I have tried more wines than there are atoms in the universe. Good god, it was stunningly dull, just a bland, international, reasonably oaky wine. Identifying its place of origin in a blind tasting would be a total mindfuck! There are so many reasonably oaky, stunningly bland, well-made Chardonnays from around the world, all practically indistinguishable from this.

What both saddened and vexed me was that this cost £25, which is quite a lot for a fucking boring wine. This wine was clearly trying to position itself for those who want a premium unchallenging Chardonnay experience. How dreary, how unexciting, what miserable sods the people who buy this must be! They are not getting invitations to lunch at Elitistreview Towers!

I spewed this vitriol onto Facebook and hoped I could forget about what a depressing experience drinking some of this was, as I clearly had done since I was seventeen. Unfortunately, someone on Facebook saw this as an opportunity to get me into a fight – I am easily riled.

The fellow posted a link to a report on a bunch of Margaret River Chardonnays and asked for my comments. Fortunately, I had not tried most of them, but I had views on some of them.

I have never understood the attraction of Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay. It is simply another dreary, international Chardonnay, but of the unreasonably oaky variety. There is nothing in this wine to spark thrills and excitement; you learn nothing from it and it asks nothing of you, excepting a high tolerance for oak vanillin. The only people I can imagine who possibly get a thrill out this over-priced, over-rated, overly boring wine must be people with a shameful and disgusting oak plank fetish. My imagination is not tuned to that sort of thing, so I cannot give details about… ergh… how they pleasure themselves, but whatever it is it is fucking disgusting and they need to be rounded up with alacrity for aversion therapy before they spread their lewd and sordid practises.

The only other Chardonnay I had tried that was reported on in the article was Xanadu. I remember this being so marked by temperature-controlled fermentation that it honked of banana essence. When you’ve had about ten endoscopies in your life and you have come to dread the banana essence flavour of the local anaesthetic they spray at the back of your throat as your only defence against the horrible procedure you are soon to experience, smelling a wine like this makes you think your body will convulse with powerful retches for the next five minutes. No.

There are many colourfully unpleasant as well as stunningly boring wines from Margaret River, allow me to warn you of three and suggest one that might be worth trying, before we get to the note:

Leeuwin Estate Art Series Riesling smells and tastes so strongly of fly-spray you can almost feel the organo-phosphates rotting your neurones as soon as someone opens a bottle. Hell’s bells it is so repellent. Just why do people make things like this that are cognitively impossible to like? Unless there are insecticide fetishists as well.

Next up in this spume of vitriol is Pierro. A chum and I spent oodles of cash to try it a couple of times – got to give these vile things a fair hearing. It was crazily alcoholic, cold fermented so reeked of banana essence and simply overloaded with far, far too much oak. You could taste and smell these last two very strongly when the shit load of alcohol you had ingested made you throw up your dinner.

Evans and Tate Butterball Chardonnay smelled like milky vomit every time some bastard opened a bottle and every time I refused to pour any in my glass.

There was one Margaret River Chardonnay I used to enjoy, but it has been sold and is now managed by a different wine-making team. Its entertainment value may have been reduced by this, just incase it has not Cape Mentelle Chardonnay was a fun, characterful, good party wine. Do not age it, though.

Now we get to the solitary Margaret River wine that I think is worth far more of your pennies than Berry’s charge for it:

Moss Wood Semillon 2015Semillon 2015, Moss Wood

If I may try to give you an immediate idea of what this is like, I must ask you to hold contradictory ideas in your mind. Imagine dry white Bordeaux, but imagine it being fun and delicious! Hard, is it not? Yet this is essentially what the wine is like.

I do not know if they put a small percentage of Sauvignon Blanc in this, happily there do not seem to be any aromas of that unfortunate grape – this is pure Semillon at its dry best.

There are aromas of lanolin, lemon and a waxy fatness that is confidently projected by its 14% alcohol. That may seem a lot, it is not something to worry about. You do not get any hot or sweetly alcoholic characteristics immediately obvious on the nose.

Indeed, it smells fresh and lively. The citrusy, lemony flavours are bursting with vigorous good humour and the vivacity is enhanced by a hint of fresh grass (not in a Sauvignon Blanc manner, thank the god of pure Semillon wines!).

The nose is just so alive and fresh. I am informed the wine sees no new oak during its vinification (hooray!) but there is a slightly toasty, slightly vanilla-y set of aromas on it that might fool neophyte tasters into thinking it had been oaked. NO! These are aromas that high-quality pure Semillon can possess without having a single bag of oak chips thrown into the fermentation vats. They are really pleasing aromas to express, as they give so much more dimension to quality Semillon like this.

The rich lanolin aromas are what quality Semillon does best (and I feel Sauvignon in the mix hides these, which is one of the very many problems with white Bordeaux). When you age this wine, it will age and develop gloriously but I wouldn’t push it over seven or eight years, these plentiful, luxuriant flavours combine with the non-oak toastiness to create a really powerful wine of superior class, style, and complexity.

This level of alcohol works very well with the opulent characteristics when it is young and when it is aged to support the richness of Semillon flavours. You must know how thin and weedy piss-strength white Bordeaux is; no such problems with this… erm… grand Semillon, yeah it is damned-grand! It has precisely what it needs where it needs it.

The palate has a surprising amount of acidity; I might suggest this has been shovelled in out of a bag of acid, but I neither know nor care! The balance is full of energy, life and a decadent and weighty set of flavours. It is certainly fresh – I love fresh! Lemony acidity, I would say. It is excitingly vivacious.

That vivacity will remain with it, in my experience, as it ages. The balance will always be thrilling and edgy, even when the wine puts on weight in your cellar. You just cannot go wrong with this wine. It never has a closed period as it ages, when you taste it at various stages in its evolution it is always shows its characteristics with complete transparency – and complete loveliness, I rather fancy!

One thing you get on the finish of this is something sadly lacking in most Margaret river wines: it has a taut but creamy earthiness to it that keeps on providing involute flavours for a long time after you have swallowed it. I think the wine’s expression of that will become more pronounced as it ages and will integrate with the toasty, lanolin characteristics to create a really profound drinking experience. I will admit that I have had some dry white Bordeaux’s that have been good with age and they too have this complex set of flavours – it is just that Moss Wood Semillon does it better!

It is a great wine to be drinking now summer and cricket test matches approach. It is bursting with life and fun but has a high enough booze quotient to keep you jollied along during the course of a day at Lord’s.

Lovely, lovely wine that is more affordable than the premium dull experience of their Chardonnay and can age for longer than that too. I think this wine is just a total star and you should head off to Berry’s to score some. Getting change from nineteen coins for such a wine of true quality and age-worthiness shows that quality exists at (almost) all price points and, as such, there is a fundamental difference between snobbery (Boo! Hiss!) and elitism (that celebrates and promotes the best of everything, price does not enter into it!). Buy! BUY!! BUY!!!