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Award-Winning Chardonnay from Australia's Adelaide Hills
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jun 6, 2017
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Bird In Hand Winery, Adelaide Hills (South Australia), Chardonnay 2015, and “Nest Egg” Chardonnay 2015 (HP Selections, $25 and $65):  I had been waiting patiently for the Bird In Hands wines to become available in the U.S., and finally about three months ago, the inaugural shipment arrived.  What had stoked my interest was an announcement about the winery’s having won an unprecedented trifecta of wine awards from Australia’s Winestate magazine: 2015 Winery of the Year, Winemaker of the Year and Wine of the Year -- the first time ever that a single winery has earned all three titles.

The winemaker in question is Kym Milne MW, who won the Winemaker of the Year award also in 2014.  The wine was the 2012 Chardonnay in the winery’s “Nest Egg” line, a range of limited production wines not made every year.  Nest Egg Chardonnay is the winery’s flagship Chardonnay.  I tasted that 2012 Nest Egg Chardonnay in January and found it to be a wine of enormous character but also enormous grace, rich and big yet showing restraint.  Now 2015 is the current vintage.

Tasting through the Bird In Hand wines again recently, I was struck by the terroir that they embody, a range of influences from cooler to warmer that bring interesting leverage to the winemaking process.  Winemaker Milne explained that Adelaide Hills is quite a large geographic area, stretching from just south of Barossa Valley to just north of McLaren Vale.  Within that area is a range of sites, from high, cool sites well suited to whites and cool climate Shiraz, to warmer sites at the northern and southern fringes where varieties such as Cabernet can ripen.  In his opinion, Chardonnay and cool climate Shiraz are the real strengths of the Adelaide Hills, and they are the focus of his winemaking efforts.

The hierarchy of Bird In Hand Winery production begins with the Tribute Series, a super-elite tier currently occupied by the 2013 M.A.C Shiraz (about $300).  The next tier, Nest Egg, is followed by the Bird In Hand range and then the Two In The Bush range. 

Currently both the 2015 Nest Egg Chardonnay and the Bird In Hand Chardonnay are available here. Both are ambient-yeast barrel-fermented Chardonnays with full malolactic conversion and lees stirring, but the former comes from higher altitude grapes (1800 feet) and sees a higher percentage of new-oak (35 percent compared to 20 percent for the less expensive wine, along with some nearly neutral barrels).  While the Nest Egg is clearly the higher quality wine, the Bird In Hand, at less than half the price, will find enthusiastic fans.

That less expensive 2015 Bird in Hand Chardonnay has a pronounced aroma of white stone fruits, apricot and citrus, with nutty and smoky accents.  In your mouth the wine is dry and full-bodied, with firm acidity at its core -- but its rich, creamy texture is the wine’s salient characteristic.  Flavors of grapefruit, lemon and white apricot mingle with winemaking-derived notes of smoke and nuttiness so that the wine does not taste dramatically fruity, despite its fresh fruit character.  A slight note of oak tannin and the edginess of the wine’s alcohol counterbalance the rich texture but cannot detract from it.  You might find yourself slurping the wine around in your mouth far longer than normal, just to enjoy that marvelous texture.

The 2015 Nest Egg Chardonnay has slightly more focused fruit expression in its aromas of nectarine, peach and lemon, and you can tell just by nosing the wine that it will have great concentration on the palate.  The wine enters your mouth soft and creamy, and then the mid-palate reveals the weight of the wine, its firmness and its depth of acidity, as well as its core of succulent, concentrated fruit.  Then you will notice the texture again, marvelously creamy like its less expensive counterpart but shot through with energy.  This wine shows the same character and solidity as the 2012 did, but is young now and lacks the complexity of flavor that time will bring.

Bird In Hand also has two good Shirazes on the market -- 2015 Bird In Hand Shiraz from Adelaide Hills ($30) and 2013 Nest Egg Shiraz from Mt. Lofty Ranges ($85); I find the latter to be a quintessential cool climate Shiraz in its purity of fruit expression, its concentration , and its precision.

Special mention goes to the 2016 Bird In Hand Sparkling Pinot Noir ($25), a delightful, delicious, dry bubbly that exudes the strawberry and cherry essence of Pinot Noir; my Champagne-loving tasting companion ranked this as his favorite Bird In Hand wine!

2015 Bird In Hand Chardonnay, 90 points

2015 Nest Egg Chardonnay, 93 points