June Wines of the Month: an Adelaide Hills Chardonnay & the Frankland River Cabernet Sauvignon

Murdoch Hill Tilbury Chardonnay 2019 (Adelaide Hills) – I just really wanted to drink this!

May proved to be a fine month for Australian wine.  It was tough to single out two. 

The Murdoch Hill was one of six Adelaide Hills’ Chardonnays which I have written up in a post scheduled for 18 June.  It pipped Penfolds Reserve Bin A 2019 to the post as much as anything because it is on point – raring to go – and, at less than half the price, more accessible in that sense too.

But I went big bucks for the Cabernet – one of Australia’s best. Like the Murdoch Hill, I tasted Houghton Jack Mann Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 in a strong flight  – one of a dozen wines from The Accolade Fine Wines Release 2021 (watch out for my post on 11 June).

Murdoch Hill Tilbury Chardonnay 2019 (Adelaide Hills)

Michael Downer – Murdoch Hill’s winemaker; photo credit Murdoch Hill

When Michael Downer returned to the family label in Oakbank, having worked elsewhere in Australia and Europe, he looked beyond estate fruit.  In particular, for Chardonnay, he wanted to reach the higher parts of Adelaide Hills.  One might add, refreshing the parts others cannot reach.  Tilbury Chardonnay is a case in point.  It was sourced from Lobethal (40%) at 450-500m and, higher (and wetter still), Piccadilly Valley at 550m (60%). The mature vines have a fruit salad of clones – Bernard C76, C95 & C96 with I10VI,G9V7 and Mendoza. The hand picked grapes were part whole berry &whole bunch pressed, then fermented in French larger format oak barrels (30% new). Partial malolactic fermentation was allowed, with a touch of lees stirring.  Murdoch Hill Tilbury Chardonnay 2019 has a fresh, lively nose with flint, fresh grated lime zest (bringing lime oil lift), white peach to the mid-palate and delicious, un-erring grapefruit drive.  Silky lees with a lick of sourdough sheathe the backbone of acidity, without detracting in the least from line and length.  Impeccable freshness and precision to the crystalline citrus and mineral, mouth-watering finish.  On point.  I really wanted to drink this! 12.5%  Imported by Graft Wine; RRP c. £33. 

Houghton Jack Mann Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 (Frankland River)

Named after one of Western Australia’s most celebrated, pioneering winemakers. Jack Mann presided over winemaking at Houghton for 51 consecutive vintages. This flagship Cabernet has consistently been sourced from the Justin vineyard, planted by Justin Roche in the 1960s on classic ironstone gravel soils. It is a deep purple hue, with a richly perfumed cedar and graphite-laced nose, with deep-seated violet and dried rose florals and dried curry leaf.  Measured in reams, the tannins are fine but have a density – a charge – about them, simply because they are plentiful.  But they are not in the least aggressive – rather, all brooding with latent power.  This wine is built for the long haul and, with concentrated fruit (lovely intensity) and sustained acidity, this beautifully crafted, balanced Cabernet has a long, long life ahead.  Tapering gradually, the long, precise finish has a ferrous, ironstone tang, with bitter chocolate.  On day two, inkier violet, dried rose, mulch and kelp nuances chime in, together with dried red cherry.  The tannins are pleasurably ruffled.  An outstanding Cabernet, which really speaks of its place.  13.9% RRP £79.99

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