Must-Have Wine: 2008 Peccavi Chardonnay, Margaret River, Western Australia
The chardonnay crusade continues with a stunner from Peccavi vineyard, raising the stakes among the heavyweights and proven form of Margaret River, Western Australia.
There is a certain expectation of Margaret River chardonnays, both in terms of a fleshy, juicy, intense style and reputation for exemplary quality with the bar set high by well-established icon producers such as Brookland Valley, Cullen, Leeuwin Estate, Moss Wood and Pierro.
Interestingly, while many wine regions and vignerons in Australia are looking to the newly introduced, somewhat trendy Dijon chardonnay clones from burgundy to improve their wines, it is the old staple Mendoza clone, or Jin Jin as it is known locally, that is the most consistent performer and the backbone of the best chardonnays from the Margaret River region.
Drawing a parallel to New Zealand, where the Mendoza clone is equally reliable and preferred by some vignerons, perhaps it is the maritime-influenced cool climate that Margaret River and most of New Zealand's chardonnay-growing regions share that has a positive effect on Mendoza, tempering some of the overt tropical tones and syrupy textures it can develop in warmer locations.
Of more significance are the relatively high levels of mature Mendoza vines in Margaret River and the propensity for the well-established top artisan vignerons to crop at appreciably lower yields, unquestionably the key to achieving the best from of the variety.
And this is where the Peccavi story begins, or what was previously called the Walker vineyard, which sold all its fruit to the Brookland Valley winery. While a relative newcomer in terms of a label, Peccavi's chardonnay vines are in fact some of the more mature in the region at around 15 years old and a compelling factor for its new owners, Jeremy and Susannah Muller, to purchase the property.
Attempting to rationalize their purchase, Jeremy Muller claims the whole Margaret River business was a twist of fate as he had always dreamt of finding an old Roman vineyard site in the South of England, convinced that global warming would bring the climate back to where it was 2000 years ago, when England was one of the world's top wine producing countries; his words, not mine.
Being a tenacious (perhaps a touch eccentric) Englishman, his quest went on for at least 15 years however, he never found the right spot.
Having resided in Singapore for the last 16 years, the Mullers have always made the Margaret River their favorite beach holiday destination. And of course Jeremy's obsessions lead to vineyard feasibility studies and extensively researching the regions soils and climate, deducing that this northern sub-region had a great deal of potential.
It was on one such family vacation, and perhaps after a bottle too many of the local wine, that they walked past a land agent in Dunsborough noticing "Vineyard auction today." A few hours later they put in a bid (obviously successful) for what is now Peccavi.
You might well be thinking this is a perilous undertaking; to be launching a new wine label in such testing times given the commercial realities of this ultra-competitive and capital intensive industry.
As challenging as it may seem, I applaud Jeremy and Susannah's decision to become vignerons, moreover their choice of location; indeed a perspicacious investment in a rare part of the world that remains relatively untouched with stunning scenery, beautiful beaches and plentifully bestrewn with natural bush.
I am sure many of you have been to Margaret River and know what I am talking about. If not, you really must visit this region to grasp the cornucopia of nature and biodiversity, also the bountifulness of local produce.
The Muller's first priority has been making extensive improvements in the vineyard and working towards sustainable and organic principles for the whole property. In fact they are already working towards having the property classified as carbon neutral with their 110 acres split between 40 acres of vines, 40 acres of splendid native bush and the equivalent of 30 acres of lake complete with their our own trout.
The Mullers astutely enrolled West Australia's virtuoso, Brian Fletcher, as vineyard manager and winemaker assisted Amanda Kramer, equally respected for her winemaking flair, particularly with chardonnay.
Engaging such talent is indicative of the Muller's no compromise approach and resolves to achieve the very best quality from the outset, reinforcing this is a property undergoing a metamorphosis - a vineyard reborn.
This has not gone unnoticed with Australia's leading wine authority, James Halliday, singling out Peccavi in his indispensible almanac, The Australian Wine Companion 2010, as one of the most promising emerging wineries.
Peccavi vineyard is located in the sweet spot of Margaret River, in the Yallingup northern sub-region, a slightly warmer micro-climate with chardonnay, shiraz and cabernet sauvignon consistently achieving full ripeness. That said, the vines are tempered by cooling sea breezes off the Indian Ocean and naturally nourished by the purest rainfall carried on the prevailing winds from Antarctica, imparting naturally high acidities and good tension - the essence of Margaret River wines.
As blessed as the Mullers are with their environment above ground, they have come to realize their primary asset lies beneath the ground, with the Margaret River substrata dating back to the Proterozoic era, two and half billion years ago, with the soils weathered over the eons to a gravelly loam over ancient degraded schist.
The ideal long, dry radiant summers drive the vine roots deep into this Precambrian earth, sucking up nutrients and minerals adding structure and complexity to the wines.
Muller may not have satisfied his ancestral stirrings yet in reincarnating an ancient Roman English vineyard however his Latin fixation is reflected in the name Peccavi – that being Latin for "I have sinned, an admission of guilt or sin". And here's that subtle eccentricity again, their back label reading, "This is our confession, our Peccavi; yes we are guilty of vinous and gastronomic endeavors, but surely not a sin."
Equally indicative of Muller's sense of humor, a second label has been added, called 'No regrets', and clearly they are enjoying their incarnation as vignerons.
Defining the Peccavi range and production, a large proportion of their highly sought-after fruit is contracted to one of the established Margaret River labels, not only providing vital cash flow but also allowing the Muller's to retain a small quantity of the very best grapes and subsequent barrel selection for the 'Peccavi' individual vineyard wines, thus quantities of their chardonnay, shiraz and cabernet sauvignon are very limited.
'No Regrets' is presently limited to two wines, a cabernet merlot and a sauvignon blanc-semillion blend intended to be more approachable and affordable wines. The later, a classic Margaret River white blend, is destined to grow in line with Australian unquenchable thirst for this seemingly Marlborough sauvignon blanc-like substitute, indeed also perfect for the climate and cuisine in the tropics of Asia.
Having tracked the evolution of Peccavi wines over the last three vintages, the 2008 Peccavi Chardonnay reflects and rewards all the painstaking work that has been going on in the vineyard and is quite simply a brilliant contemporary Australian Chardonnay.
My note reads: Scents of nashi pear (Korean) white peach amongst a sherbet of citrus, lemon peel zest and lemon meringue, some toasty, mealy notes of measured oak and malo-lactic characters amongst roasted almonds and hazelnut, also has the scent of peppery virgin olive oil and some turmeric-like spiciness. A rush of white, juicy peach and mandarin citrus engulfs the mouth, wonderful fleshy succulence of stone fruit yet taught, almost to the point of being racy although there's a touch of dark honey and subtle hints of caramel filling out the mid-palate softness and textural smoothness, soon overcome by youthful spiciness, horseradish-like tingle and warm with invigorating, lengthy crisp, lemon-edged acidity and subtle phenolic grip on the tailing. Absolutely delicious now but will certainly repay cellaring for another five years or more.
The 2008 Chardonnay retails for S$54 by purchasing direct from the vineyard and can be facilitated through Australia or Singapore and dispatched regionally, ordering through the website or email@example.com For more information on Peccavi, visit www.peccavi-wines.com
Curtis Marsh is an independent Asia-based wine and food writer. His commentaries are published in www.thewanderingpalate.com Marsh's theorem: "Life is filling in time between meals... and a meal without wine could only be breakfast!"