On Friday we met the winemaker from Chalkers Crossing, a vineyard producing excellent quality and not outrageously-priced wines in the Hilltops region, New South Wales. Celine Rousseau, who’s French but a naturalised Australian, has been there since 1997 and has a sterling background in oenology: family from the Loire, education in Paris, Champagne and Bordeaux. She talks sensibly about non-interventionist winemaking, and letting the grapes speak of where they come from. These are wines made in small quantities and at altitude.
Chalkers Crossing Hilltops Riesling 2009 | 12.5% abv | around £12 | 2009 was a cool vintage and has produced riesling with decent limey acidity and racy minerality that will make it last. There is a great freshness and lightness of touch about this wine and the stelvin closure means that this is set to retain its fruit and stave off what Celine calls kerosine aromas. Only 500 cases made. Good, 15.5.
Chalkers Crossing Hilltops Semillon 2008 | 13% abv | around £12 | This is my favourite wine of the bunch we taste. It’s barrel-fermented and spends 12 months on lees. The oak is obvious but beautifully integrated into the vibrant Semillon character, which here I would say means notes of lemon, white grapefruit and ripe stone fruit. There’s also something peppy and green about it: the best description I’ve read is that it’s like cut runner beans. The wine would make a splendid match with very simple vegetable dishes: creamed spinach, green beans and butter, jersey royal new potatoes and soft herbs. These are the foods the wine reminds me of and makes me want with it. Interesting stuff, which expresses something different from Hunter Valley and Margaret River versions, all about clean crisp fruit, the canny answers to lushly oaked Chardonnays. This is well-balanced, savoury dinner wine, with firm fruit character and welcome oaky complexity. Very good, 16.
Chalkers Crossing Tumbarumba Chardonnay 2008 | 14% abv | around £12 | Oak very much present in this one; it’s attractive oak, though, toasty and French. There is a fine minerality here that’s also quite French in style, supporting fruit which is much more Australian, without being too tinned-peaches-and-cream. There are lemons, nectarines and ripe white melons. As someone skewed by drinking too much of the French stuff, I find the alcohol a bit warm and the texture just a little thick. But this is not flabby wine. Good acidity and persistent minerality save the day in a fairly good, long finish. The grapes are grown at around around 700m. It’s 100% barrel fermented and aged 14mo in barrel, 30% of which are new. 1000 cases. Good, 15.5.
Chalkers Crossing Hilltops Shiraz 2007 | 14.5% abv | around £14 | A hot vintage meant that not many of the grapes made it to vinification. Only 400 cases of shiraz were made in 2007. Small berries meant boisterous tannins – but also extraordinary concentration. Unabashed, punchy nose with lots of deep, dark fruit, like overripe brambles and morello cherries, floral violet notes and underlying seared red meat characters. Similarly fleshly palate. Tannins and decent acidity, considering the vintage, carry the wine successfully. Fifty-fifty French and American oak for 14 months. Good wine, 15.5.
Chalkers Crossing Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 | 14.5% abv | around £13 | This is as well-healed Aussie cab sav as you’ll get for the money. Cassis notes, supported by brighter red fruits, with I’d say quite strong eucalyptus and a touch of mint. Creamy texture and well rounded tannins with underlying savoury qualities. This has spent 16mo in new French oak (according to Celine; the website says 12) and underwent malo. Good, 15.5.
I struggle rating wines like these because they are not all, particularly the reds, to my taste. I prefer the freshness and racy minerals in the riesling and would like to score it more highly, 16, 17. But it’s not that complex, just very very good to drink if you like that kind of thing, and very expressive of its cool climate vines.
Lots of the PR material suggests that the wines are old-world in style – the Cabernet is almost bordelais! – or that the oak in the chardonnay is “invisible“. They’re not, and it’s not. These are Australian wines, intelligently reconstructed and of the place they come from. Very good winemaking and simplicity of approach preserve the minerality, fine acidity and savoury qualities cool climate grapes promise. Celine must, should, be very happy with the fine Aussie wines she makes and which are sold at very reasonable prices.