Our award-winning chardonnay

We're delighted to introduce our blog, where we sit down with Alex McKay and talk wine. Here, Alex answers some winemaking questions and gives us the story behind the 2016 and 2017 Tiger Tiger Chardonnay which went back-to-back winning the Trophy for Best Chardonnay at the RNCAS Canberra and Region Wine Show in 2018 and 2019. The 2017 Tiger Tiger Chardonnay was awarded 17 points by Jancis Robinson MW, and the 2018 Tiger Tiger Chardonnay was awarded 97 points by James Halliday.

The vineyard

Different winemakers have different priorities but my focus is always on the vineyard. Our chardonnay comes from sites high in the beautiful Tumbarumba region with great granite soils. In Tumbarumba with its many interesting slopes we get great concentration of flavour, pristine fruit with high acid.

It’s often said that hot temperatures during the day moderated by cold nights produce good grapes, but my experience tells me gentle, equable temperatures are best for cultivating chardonnay that’s simply bursting with flavour. I don’t want the vines under stress, as that means they are just putting their energy into basic survival rather than flavour production.

I look for distinctive sites where both water and air drain well. A lot of the great white wines of the world come from well-drained soil. Think riesling from the Mosel, and semillon from the Hunter and Bordeaux. One chardonnay vineyard is perfectly situated on a saddle between two deep valleys. In the day time the vineyard is well ventilated with cool air and in the night time warm air rises up from the valleys so we maintain that gentle, even temperature throughout the growing season.

Crafting the wine

I definitely have a vision for the wine before making it. If you don’t have an idea of what you want your wine to look like you’re not going to get there. Good winemaking is not about serendipity (although that can play a part!) but about having that vision and then investing the time in the vineyard and being disciplined in the winery to follow through.

This chardonnay has a beautiful balance, I’m very proud of it. The combination of a relatively firm whole bunch pressing, inclusion of all the juice sediment, and wild fermentation brings a nice textual expression. From 2016 I increased the proportion in stainless steel, while still keeping most of the wine in fine grained French oak, which means the wine’s freshness and purity jumps out. The mix levels out at around 20 per cent new oak, with the other oak component being around 2-3 years old, and the wine is raised in barrel for 11 months. It had a full, clean malolactic fermentation. It is well balanced with good structure in the mid-palate and a complexity that means it will age beautifully. It is just coming into a good drinking window now. It has freshness, yet power through the mid palate. Disciplined winemaking, and the vineyard provenance means its ageing potential is great. I’m very confident it’s going to look bloody good in twenty years.

What’s next?

We’ll continue to make this taut, yet powerfully complex style of chardonnay. In future vintages I’ll be looking for those finely-tuned parcels of fruit that express themselves as grapefruit and lemon curd and I’ll keep coaxing out that nicely moderated flinty characteristic.

Pair this with…

Ideally, I’d be enjoying this wine at home with my family, probably just by itself. But it goes very well with something like fresh oysters or salt-cod croquettes.  It would also marry well with other fresh and saltwater fish, yabbies, white meats and salty or aged cheeses.

How should I cellar this wine?

In general when cellaring wine, it really depends on the varietals (or blend of varietals) as well as the style the wine has been made in – whether it’s been made for fresh drinking, like a nice, crisp rosé, or for delayed gratification such as a powerful shiraz that will just grow with age. If you have a wine you’re not sure about, just ask the winemaker or cellar door for their recommendation and they’d be happy to advise.

I expect the 2017 Tiger Tiger will keep its beautiful freshness but develop increased complexity and savoury characteristics over time. It will be a pleasure to drink. I’ve put aside some to enjoy in twenty years’ time, but I’m also enjoying a bottle or two now.

For wine to age well, it needs to be sound from the beginning. You want pristine grapes that haven’t come under too much stress, from mature, balanced vineyards. The deeper the roots of the vines, the more complex and age-worthy I find the wines. These wines have a real pedigreed feel. They can look a little austere and ungiving at first, but slowly uncoil with time. You want controlled ageing in the bottle, and great wines will still retain a strong element of freshness after many years. So choose carefully which wines you’ll drink now, and which you’ll put away.

You need to keep wines safely and not subject bottles to too much temperature fluctuation during storage. A temperature-controlled wine fridge is ideal, but you could also store your wine in a cool, dark place such as a spare cupboard.

More information and tasting notes - 2017 Tiger Tiger Chardonnay

If you have a question for Alex – the Collector Wines vintages, food and wine pairing, or just how to enjoy a fine wine – send us an email or get in touch through social media.