2013 Nugan Estate Third Generation Chardonnay

28 10 2016

[This bottle was provided as a sample for review purposes.]

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Nice to see some work go into a value label design.

If you were on the hunt for the largest subnational designated wine region in the world, the gargantuan South Eastern Australia appellation might be your first and last stop.  While most demarcated wine appellations gain their distinction by having a set of physical characteristics or surroundings in common — climate, soil, terrain, aspect, varietal — this one is intentionally celebrated for its internal differences.  Spanning five separate states within Australia (Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia, Victoria and even Tasmania) and covering the bulk of the prime vine-growing area in the country, South Eastern Australia is an umbrella region created to permit the blending of grapes from a variety of disparate conditions across a vast geographic area into a single appellation-level wine.  While the scorching Barossa Valley may have nothing in common with the cool, maritime Yarra Valley 800 kilometres away, producers under the SE Australia label can pick and choose grape characteristics from each (like rich fruit in Barossa and juicy acidity from Yarra) and meld them together to create a more balanced, interesting blend.  Australia has long been a wine nation that does not frown on cross-regional blending (the country’s top grape, Penfolds Grange, is such a blend), and when used correctly, it can allow for producers to put out well-made and eminently drinkable wines and surprisingly accessible prices.

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One such cross-regional value producer is the Nugan Estate winery, which, due to its expansive export presence in Canada, I just assumed had been a fixture on the Australian wine scene for decades.  Its labels confirm that the company first started up in 1940, but it turns out it wasn’t in wine:  Nugan began as a family fruit and vegetable packing business, gradually expanding to juice production, then vineyard planting, then grape sales and only THEN wine in the late 1990s.  The global Nugan Estate wine brand did not come into being until 2001, but it didn’t waste any time once it got going, quickly growing into one of Australia’s top exporters and bulking up its vineyard holdings to 600 hectares in South Eastern Australia.  Their area under vine takes full advantage of the blanket appellation, with vineyards in Riverina (due west of Sydney in New South Wales), King Valley (northeast of Melbourne in Victoria) and McLaren Vale (on the eastern edge of South Australia).

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This was my first ever sample that arrived in pieces. Thankfully the second time was the charm.

It was the third generation of the Nugan family business that spearheaded the push into winemaking, which is reflected in the Estate’s entry-level value label’s choice of name.  This Chardonnay comes from all estate fruit and was matured at least in part in older French oak barrels, yet somehow clocks in at less than $15 retail.  It is a bright lemony straw colour and comes across equal parts nutty, spicy and tropical on the nose:  toasted almond, smoked salt, buttered popcorn, poached pear and honeydew.  The influence of oak (the origin of the nut, smoke and vanilla notes) and malolactic fermentation (the conversion of harsher malic acids to smoother, calmer lactic acids, which can result in dairy/buttery notes) is prominent without being overwhelming; if you’re not an oaky Chardonnay person, though, this likely isn’t your bottle.

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Stelvin Rating: 7.5/10 (I’m down with the embossing and embrace the not-black screwcap approach.)

The Third Generation stays fairly true to type in the mouth, matching a full body and smooth texture with languid acidity and a touch of sweetness on the back end.  It is easy-drinking and enjoyable, its oak-induced butterscotch, hickory and cinnamon sticks playing off baked apple, cream and white peach, with a slightly drying and papery finish.  It may not be the deepest or most complex wine, but it easily does its job at its price point, which is what the moral of the South Eastern Australia story should be.

85+ points

$10 to $15 CDN

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