So how does a $600 Yarra Valley Chardonnay stack up? - QWine Reviews

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So how does a $600 Yarra Valley Chardonnay stack up?


I was recently offered the opportunity to take a look at the debut release of Levantine Hill's Optume Chardonnay 2020. Rather than tasting it in isolation, a bracket of 2020 Chardonnays was assembled to see where things were at. And what a fabulous exercise it was! 

A call was made to a few of the best Yarra Valley Chardonnay producers and one from Margaret River. All wines have a track record of excellence and I'm pleased that all producers threw their support behind the idea. The only restriction on submission was that the wine needed to be from the 2020 vintage to ensure a like-for-like comparison could be made.

The question I have already been asked several times by those who have been aware of this tasting has been, "Is it worth it?" in relation to the Levantine Hill Optume Chardonnay that retails at $600 - an eye watering price when it sits alongside its competitors in this bracket with the cheapest coming in at $65 and the second most expensive at $170.

That question can be unpacked on a few levels... On price, there are reasons for the price point rather than pulling a number from thin air. Read on and you'll discover more about the intention and labour that went into this release. 

When it comes to worth, everyone has their own sense of worth/value while others have their limits. Some folk won't buy any wine over $20. Others hit the ceiling at $50. Then there are those who have no boundaries when it comes to price and quality. You can't begrudge anyone for their limits, and having said all that given what you'll find in the bottle, let's just say in layman's terms the Levantine Hill Optume 2020 is not shit.

To ensure transparency, the wines were tasted blind and in the company of two switched-on palates. With a lineup so good on the bench, why not share the love? It was great to have Stu Robinson (@thevinsomniac) and Richard Gardiner (@food_bling) at Qwine HQ to taste and discuss the wines.

All reviews have been posted separately for future reference as specific wines can be lost when all are posted at once. For ease of comparison though, all reviews have been posted together below.

Finally, a big thanks to the wineries and winemakers for their tremendous support of this tasting.

The tasting notes are listed in the order of the blind tasting:

Seville Estate Reserve Chardonnay 2020 $90 

I've found previous vintages of this wine to be on the leaner side but there is a bit more depth in this release. Opening with scents of peach skin, mandarin peel, nougat and roasted cashews, it is a wonderfully textured Chardonnay. A citrusy drive is headed by lemons, lemon juice and ruby grapefruit with a creamy presence, toast and some vanilla pod sliding in underneath. A lick of Jersey caramel adds another level of pleasure and the class of a lithe minerally presence has me calling for more. It's just a beautiful drink and one I'd savour with every sip. Excellent! 


Oakridge 864 Funder & Diamond Drive Block Chardonnay 2020 $96

Refined and silky, it's a wine dripping in class. The fruit is so fresh and draws out on a long and persistent finish. Lemon juice, white fleshed nectarines, stunning grapefruit, nougat and almonds feature large. A raw cashew undertow makes an appearance as does some brioche plus a ginger biscuit spice. The creamy drive adds yet another dimension but it's the mouthfeel and that regal presence that saw this Oakridge 864 as my equal best Chardonnay of the tasting. Sublime!


Levantine Hill Optume Chardonnay 2020 $600

Revealed as wine #3 in the lineup, to use the words of Stu Robinson (@thevinsomniac) who was invited to be a part of the tasting at Qwine HQ, "It stands out like a carpenter's thumb."

Only 660 bottles were produced and I am most grateful that owner Elias Jreissati reached out and offered me the opportunity to taste this wine given no samples have been sent to any other wine scribes.

All wines in the lineup had a similar appearance in the glass but this Levantine Hill had a very slight bronze shade. Furthermore, on first inspection, my thoughts were that this was "very French", quite the outlier in this context. It seems my initial thought carried some truth following a conversation with winemaker Paul Bridgeman after the tasting.

Given his experiences in France, Bridgeman decided that the top wine in the Levantine Hill range would be a district blend rather than rather the obsession with single vineyards which is most common in Australia - a Burgundian model v Rhone model you could say.

In his quest to "craft the best Australian Chardonnay," the idea was born from a high-end appellation in the south-west of France.

This Optume Chardonnay 2020 is a blend of seven sites including the Upper Yarra with the identities of these premium parcels kept secret for now. The fruit is from different clones and is picked slightly later delivering richness and silkness. Bridgeman says he is a "Big fan of generosity and flavour." 

The result of quite a labour intensive process that included meticulous fruit selection, each parcel was barrel fermented separately and handled the same. Whole bunch pressed, the ferment commenced with wild yeasts but then inoculated with a specific yeast to complete the ferment. Some parcels went through natural MLF before blending. Only one parcel saw 100% new French oak.

A wine layered with interest, the veneers of detail peel off with ease. Scents of brioche and sourdough early move to vanilla custard and pastry. There was even a scent of candied almonds to tease. Waxy apples, green apples and preserved lemons along with some white fleshed peaches drive the fruit profile. Delicate cinammon spices curl around the mouth with a flash of honey toast coming and going. Whipped butter and some vanilla deliver a sheet of creaminess with hazelnuts and roasted almonds adding further savoury delight. The texture, richness and mouthfeel call for you to surrender. A wine of unfettered quality, sip slow and you'll feel as though you are floating on a cloud. Brilliance in a glass. Bravo.


Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay 2020 $152

The momentum is pulsating. It gathers you up as you're skating along with minimal friction and maximum flavour. What a Chardonnay we have here!

Tasted blind in a lineup of six 2020 Chardonnays, all were from the Yarra Valley except for this Leeuwin Estate Art Series. Revealed as wine #4 in the lineup, this was my equal top wine of the tasting.

The fruit has focus but there is an equal measure of concentration tossing a blanket of pleasure with absolute ease. Creamy vanilla, old school lemonade, generous peaches and that sizzling acidity brings the mouth to water. Go back again and there's a biscuity nuance, ginger spice and more lemon delight to savour. The concentration is profound yet not weighty showing glimpses of Jersey caramel. So moreish, it glides on with absolute sophistication as that length drags you into its vortex.

I could get very comfortable here. To be honest, I did get very comfortable and I embraced every drop. An exceptional Chardonnay.


Yarra Yering Carrodus Chardonnay 2020 $175

A captivating wine, this Yarra Yering Carrodus caught my attention in more ways than one. Its tension was gravitating.

Full disclosure is needed on this wine though. Initially, it showed quite a cheesy character. After a few days, it was still present and I was confident that it was not a true indication of what this wine should be. I contacted winemaker Sarah Crow who offered to send another sample. The difference was stark. As I said to Sarah, the purpose of the tasting was to celebrate Chardonnay not slam anyone's product and this Carrodus deserved a second chance to show its wares - no one would begrudge that. So here we are, and notably, the second sample was not tasted blind.

Of all the wines tasted, this Carrodus showed the most minerally appeal. The fruit is pure and driven by fresh lemon juice, white fleshed nectarines, peaches with a dash of green apple. Some brioche waltzes through with an ever-so-fine spice showing a hint of ginger. The tension is gripping and draws you closer. That ruby grapefruit tang has me dancing and its length just oozes quality. There is no doubt this will age nicely, but for now, it's quite superb.


Hoddles Creek Syberia Chardonnay 2020 $65

A super Chardonnay. Spicy and tight, there is an entrancing measured depth and complexity about its swagger. Tasted blind in a lineup of six 2020 Chardonnays, it stood tall among those twice and nine times the price.

White fleshed nectarines and lemon juice are all the rage early. A fine textural presence slowly unfurls but I got caught up with the tension and that en pointe acidity that oozes precision. A minerally drive is partnered by ginger spices and grapefruit tang that whip up a frenzy and build excitement. That spicy drive refuses to loosen its grip. A chalky/powdery feel caresses the mouth on close. A wine destined for greatness, it deserves a place in the upper echelon of Yarra Valley Chardonnay.


Source: Sample

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