Can fine Chardonnay cellar for 30-45 years? A nutty tasting for dinkum Chardonnay lovers


In May, once again, Geoff Kelly presided over one of his famous library tastings of wines plucked from his own cellar.

In his words he intended to present “a tasting for people who love the smells and flavours of good oatmeal, cashews, hazelnuts, brazil nuts and even a touch of walnut maybe. It is not a tasting for those who derive their pleasure in finding faults in wines, where more positive people would see complexity.

In New Zealand the conventional wisdom is that Chardonnay can be cellared for 3-5 years, maybe 8 years at the outside. In this tasting we will explore whether really good chardonnay can cellar for longer. The youngest wines will be 28 years old, so there will be no florals, and precious little stonefruit….the good ones will taste and smell of the attributes listed above…such wines can be [ ] very satisfying, if they have the body to be sustaining.”

I love NZ Chardonnay, and have been pushing the age boundaries of cellaring these wines myself. With mixed results. I was looking forward to this evening. I was fortunate that L could come along and experience it with me.

As before, Geoff presented all the wines blind, and decanted them into bagged bottles. He selected the lightest colour wines if he had more than one bottle to hand. They were arranged in order stylistically so that the wines followed each other in the most complimentary fashion possible.

The single bottles were then passed from hand to hand around the room for us participants to measure out 27.5ml quantities, via wee plastic jelly-shot glasses to a level marked, and pour into our tasting glasses. We were asked to examine the wines at leisure, then discuss our impressions, and vote for our best and worst wines, and guess what region they hailed from.

What I write below is collated from what I thought of them, and what others thought, before and after the wines were finally identified.

*                                             *                                             *

1986 Mountadam Chardonnay High Eden, SA – Light gold colour; lightly aromatic, flavours of burnt cashews, fresh citrus, lovely bright fruit notes, light and cool; notes of dried peaches, minerals, mealy, taut, it grew in the glass.

1986 Rosemount Estate Show Reserve Chardonnay, Hunter Valley, NSW – Gold colour; aromatic, leggy, good body and quality, lovely aftertaste; solid, good extract, some dessicated coconut, tropical fruit.

1969 !! Drouhin Puligny-Montrachet Clos du Cailleret Premier Cru – From a great vintage – Deep gold colour; notes of butterscotch, caramel; almost port-y in character, tawny. Amazing. Oxidative of course. Brown in the mouth, old; has some charm due to it’s venerable age; still got body.

1979 Sterling Vineyards Chardonnay, Napa Valley, CA – Deep gold; aromatic with aromas of liniment and medicine cabinet; the body is thin-ish on palate, bright enough citrus and fresh, still; good fruit tho receding, hazelnuts, some tartrate on the cork.

1969 !! Lichine Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru – From a great vintage – Brown gold; tawny and porty bouquet; very biscuit-y and angular; I see a lot of warmth on the back of the palate; long finish; others see maderization, new oak, and body.

1976 Latour Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru – Green gold; more medicine cabinet bouquet; thin, austere, herby, oxidative again; but I like its brightness and heft. Perhaps corked? Perhaps I am over-thinking it.

1974 Moreau Chablis Grand Cru Valmur – Light gold; a sav blanc nose? Herb hints and thyme? Herby and light in the mouth; the tough crowd saw reductive characters; noble sulphides; bathroom; lanolin; old Chablis but it WAS old ChablisToo bad. It was a Valmur after all, and I couldn’t afford a new one.

1986 Bannockburn Chardonnay, Geelong, VIC – Light gold; smells round and soft and warm. Lovely fruit taste, good body and length, balance of fruit and nut, and fresh; mealy, nutty, fresh yet savoury; flint; admirable palate weight, oak and density.Yum. 5

1971 Lichine Meursault Genevrieres Premier Cru– Darkest gold. Piss. Medical room. Sardines. Malt extract. Pass. What a shame, really. I once had a Meursault at Gordon Ramsays in Chelsea that made me swoon, and I was hoping to reacquaint myself with the sensation…

1986 Morton Estate Chardonnay Black Label, NZ – From John Hancock; Dark gold; fruitful bouquet, lifted, elegant. Very leggy; good body and length, and mouthfeel. It’s a food wine; would be marvellous with Chicken soup I think; harmonious; grapefruit; honeysuckle and some botrytis? Very good, this. 4+

1976 Latour Chevalier-Montrachet Grand Cru Les Demoiselles – Gold colour; nice balance of fruit, acid and biscuit; oaky-framed richness; appreciable extract, tremendous weight of fruit. Also yum. 4+

1986 Tyrell’s Wines Pinot Chardonnay Vat 47, Hunter Valley, NSW – This producer pioneered barrel fermentation in Australia – Light gold colour; light elegant bouquet; lovely, lovely wine. Looking young, tasting young, the fruit is so fresh. 5

Phew. What a wonderful education. I’d never expect that white wines of such age could still taste so fresh, and delicious as some of these. And it was really interesting to see that the stand-out bottles of the evening would turn out to be Australian!

Many thanks to Geoff Kelly. Please check out his website:

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