October Wines of the Month: Quinta das Bágeiras Cercial Branco 2016 & Penfolds Yattarna Chardonnay 2018

Two charismatic white wines impressed me wildy last month.  They share qualities of freshness, precision and terrific structure, but are from different hemispheres.  

Quinta das Bágeiras Cercial Branco 2016 (Bairrada DOC)

According to Luis Pato, who also makes a single varietal Cercial, Cercial (known as Cerceal in the Dão and Douro) has no connection with Madeira’s Sercial, although this conflicts with other sources.   There is, however, consensus about the grapes’/grape’s high acidity, which probably explains why it is so rare to find single varietal examples.  Production may have been tiny, with just 848 bottles, but this new wine from Quinta das Bágeiras is as statuesque as said sizeable, heavy bottles.   A beam – RSJ – of acidity unleashes a headlong torrent of flavour.  And lets it run and run.  Spiralling chalky, flinty minerality and salt notes surround layers of bruised apple, a touch high-toned (Jura-like), candied lemon and grapefruit and, opening up, rich, creamy white asparagus.  Lovely mouthfeel – terrific palate presence – with focus.  Naturally fermented, this charismatic maiden white was aged in used barrels and bottled without fining or filtration.   It drank beautifully over three days.  13.5% €55.90/bottle at Garrafeira Nacional (Portugal)

Penfolds Yattarna Chardonnay 2018 (Tasmania, Tumbarumba, Adelaide Hills)

Whilst I was chairing a McLaren Vale Grenache webinar, Peter Gago was video-hosting a live press tasting of The Penfolds Collection 2020 – its most iconic wines.  I caught up with the wines that afternoon, then listened to the video recording.  I could not agree more with the Chief Winemaker that, among the whites, “this year Yattarna steals the show.” And his anaylsis of why – “for subtley, balance, poise and a lovely not trying too hard sort of demeanour.”  As Gago pointed out, “it’s not what goes into blend, but what you take out.” The draconian selection has been beautifully executed in 2018.  As is usually the case, Yattarna Chardonnay 2018 is a multi-regional blend from Tasmania, Tumbarumba and Adelaide Hills.  I’m a big fan of Yattarna’s precision and line, which I’ve always attributed to the Tasmanian component.  The 2018 is no exception, but it seems to have an extra layer of complexity in this release – a touch of subtle Chablis-like funk (as opposed to Reserve Bin A’s showier struck match).  Like the oak (Yattarna 2018 spent 8 months in French oak barriques, 60% new), the funk is beautifully integrated – a stealthy and seamless layer of texture and complexity.  As always, the fruit is bright’n tight, with scintillating, steely grapefruit drive and fresh cut apple to the core.  A hint of bruised apple and cloudy apple juice too – gentle ‘give,’ if you like – which doesn’t detract one iota from the structure.  Rather, hitched to racy, mineral acidity, the palate has tremendous intensity, line and length and a palpable sense of dry extract.  Tensile, there is no shortage of backbone here, yet Yattarna 2018 is eminently broachable too.  Gago compares it to the 2008 and 2011 vintages which, he observed, are drinking beautifully, so expect it to keep for at least a decade.  Super-classy, this exceptionally refined Chardonnay thoroughly entranced me, lingering tantalisingly in the memory. Sensational in the truest sense of the word.  13% £504/6 bottles in bond at Honest Grapes, Fine & Rare and Justerini & Brooks

Here is Penfolds’ note on the 2018 vintage:

“All three regions enjoyed a relatively wet winter and spring, setting the vines up with healthy soil moisture profiles for the ensuing growing season. Tasmania experienced clear and generally warm conditions from January onwards, with no extreme heat spells leading into harvest. The temperature only breached 35°C once in January, resulting in optimal conditions for ripening. Tumbarumba had plentiful rainfall right up to December, when a dry spell set in. In February, temperatures were generally cool allowing for slow, consistent ripening. The Adelaide Hills fruit-set was slightly above average. The region experienced a warm finish to the growing season, however well-developed canopies shielded the fruit from adversity and ensured the berries ripened evenly. Harvest was an orderly affair across the three regions, with chardonnay exhibiting outstanding varietal characteristics with bracing natural acidity.” 

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