Chardonnay Showdown Posted by Reef Magazine - 17 August 2013 There’s a High Noon moment in the new Finisterre range of premium Robert Oatley wines. It happens over chardonnay when an old hand comes up against the young gun in a showdown to delight wine lovers. On one side is veteran winemaker Chris Hancock, the man dubbed Mr Chardonnay, who’s worked alongside Bob Oatley for nearly four decades as a winemaker and is now the family-owned company’s deputy executive chairman. Facing off against him is the Robert Oatley director of winemaking, West Australian-based Larry Cherubino, a two-time finalist in the Gourmet Traveller Winemaker of the Year award. Their chosen weapons are grapes from New South Wales and Western Australia. Chris made the 2011 Finisterre Mudgee chardonnay using hand-harvested grapes from 40-year-old vines, matured in new and old French oak barriques for 10 months. He used whole bunch basket press for more skin contact to create a broader wine in the mouth. Larry’s 2010 Finisterre Margaret River chardonnay comes from 15-year-old vines and spends less than a month in French oak. Both whites will age well, with Larry’s west coast chardonnay improving for an impressive 10 years in the cellar. To taste them side-by-side is a revelation that demonstrates what the Robert Oatley Finisterre range is all about: championing local characteristics – what the French call “terroir” - of the seven wine regions the Finisterre range is drawn from. Tasting the two chardonnays, respected critic James Halliday declared Chris Hancock’s vintage “the most elegant chardonnay I have encountered (over a 40-year period) from Mudgee,” going on to say “early picking (and the consequent low alcohol) has resulted in finely detailed white peach and citrus aromas and flavours, the barrel fermentation/oak influence cleverly restrained. Crisp acidity adds length.” But not to be outdone, Larry Cherubino’s Margaret River chardonnay, which James awards an impressive 96 points “has an attractive touch of Burgundian funk” on the nose “before the vibrant and lively palate comes into play” with “grapefruit, white peach and subtle French oak flavours.” In short, both wines are great, but it’s the differences that make them interesting. “Our job as winemakers is to protect and enhance the flavours already there in the grapes,” says Chris Hancock. “The Mudgee chardonnay is broader and more forward. It’s a bigger wine, while the Margaret River has the finesse.” The Finisterre range features nine wines, predominantly sourced from Western Australia, including a riesling from the Great Southern region, a Pemberton sauvignon blanc, a Margaret River semillon-sauvignon blanc blend, Great Southern syrah (shiraz) and Margaret River cabernet sauvignon. Plans are afoot for additional wines from the Yarra Valley and McLaren Vale regions. If you like comparing the chardonnays, you’ll have just as much fun pitting the Victorian Mornington Peninsula pinot noir against the Western Australian version from Denmark. “The Mornington wine is soft, approachable and juicy, with quite pronounced pinot varietal flavour, while Denmark is somewhat more closed and firmer; structural and textural, without the obvious pinot varietal characters or fleshiness,” says Chris. But back to that showdown. What does Larry Cherubino think of Chris’ wine? “The quality of chardonnay from Mudgee has the potential to be outstanding. It’s great chardonnay country,” Larry says diplomatically. Chris smiles, adding: “I was just making the wine under Larry’s instructions.” So which one is best, Chris? “The best wine someone can drink is the wine they like to drink most.” About the Author 'REEF Magazine – Hamilton Island & the Great Barrier Reef' is a magazine that showcases all that Hamilton Island has to offer, from events, to an exciting array of activities, attractions and more. You can pick up your complimentary copy of 'REEF Magazine' at any Hamilton Island hotel, and you can also access some of our feature articles right here on The Island Blog.