Parker ‘palate killers’ are gone from Oz

The days of Australian winemakers producing “palate killing” Shiraz to please Robert Parker are finally over according to one key winemaker in the country.

Chris Hancock of Robert Oatley

Chris Hancock of Robert Oatley

Speaking to the drinks business during a trip to London this week, Chris Hancock MW of Robert Oatley Vineyards in New South Wales, said:

“We have just about lost all of the jammy, alcoholic, heavy, dead skin Shirazes that are Parker pleasing palate killers, which is an hallelujah moment. Instead, we’re moving towards lighter, brighter more interesting wines from quality producers.

“In Australia there used to be monster wines at one end of the spectrum and sweet, chunky wines at the other. There’s a space in between that we can fill where we can be shown to be very serious about what we do.

“Shiraz is our go to wine, it’s our homeland and deserves to be focused on more. Even in the Barossa Valley, which made its name on big wines, is pulling back on oak and alcohol and making more elegant and interesting wines as a result.

robert-oatley-chard

“Winemakers across the board in Australia are showing more sensitivity in their approach and there’s a focus on viticultural excellence in the vineyards too.”

Nicknamed “Mr. Chardonnay”, a term he finds silly, Hancock was one of the first to spot Chardonnay’s potential in Australia in the early ‘80s, having observed its meteoric rise in popularity in California in the ‘70s.

He began by grafting the variety onto Shiraz rootstocks. “It was Chardonnay with a V8 engine underneath it”, he jokes, adding, “We got a great crop from it after just 18 months.”

Hancock believes Australia cut its teeth with Chardonnay by following the California model of big, buttery styles but has since reined in its approach.

“The more I learnt about the grape, the more restrained I became, pulling right back on battonage and oak use and letting the fruit express itself more.

“Australia is fortunate in that is has more warmth and sunshine than many cool climate countries and is able to achieve phenolic ripeness with depth of fruit flavour,” Hancock told db.

“I didn’t see sense in covering all that up with oak and yeast. I want to make wines that express the variety and have a purity in the flavour profile,” he added.

Hancock believes the movement away from butter bombs swung too far in the opposite direction in some instances.

“There was an over-reaction the other way in the warmer parts of the country, where, in order to get achieve the lightness they were looking for, winemakers were picking the fruit when it was under-ripe.

“Chardonnay has reasonable tannins for a white wine, and if the tannins aren’t ripe then you get harshness and an acid twang that makes them unattractive,” he said.

Hancock is heartened to see the emergence of regions that are giving the best expressions of Chardonnay, such ass Margaret River, Yarra Valley, Tasmania, the Adelaide Hills and Tumbarumba.

“They are all a little bit different in their style, which adds to their interest. Australia is starting to segment into rationality, it’s happening more and more and hallelujah to that.”

He’s not keen on comparisons with Burgundy however. “It’s up to us to express our own wines and let the public judge them rather than have a race with Burgundy but they’ve been our inspiration,” he said.

In terms of quality, Hancock believes Chardonnay is more advanced than Pinot Noir in Australia at the moment.

“When the Pinots are good they are very very good but there aren’t that many of them on the market. I could easily name 20 standout Australian Chardonnays,” he said.

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