Back in the beginning of the summer, someone suggested that I check out a “very nice” petite sirah and because I favor whites and roses during the hotter months, I filed the recommendation to memory without writing it down.
However, my mental filing system is a bit of a mess with stacks of items strewn about the brain, not neatly put in their place, and the email reminders always seem to end up consigned to oblivion. A recent stint of cooler temperatures prompted a nagging flash of recollection, and I recalled that the recommended wine brand started with “Mc,” which narrowed my search to a few hundred bottles.
When I came across a bottle of McWilliam’s Chardonnay the other day, I was sure that I had at least found the right producer, and reasoned that if the petite sirah was good, then the Chardonnay would surely be of equal character.
The discovery was fortuitous. The Chardonnay is excellent, not something that I can say about all Australian wines, particularly those that are mass-produced. But, of course, the family-owned McWilliam’s winery doesn’t produce a petite sirah, at least one that’s available in the U.S. The discovery of the Chardonnay was just luck.
Like many other good Australian wines, there’s nothing shy or bashful about McWilliam’s Chardonnay. The vineyard’s warm days and cool nights show up in this bright gold wine with big and bold flavors. There are lots of layers of tastes and an up-front presence of the yeasty cream of French oak from the barrels in which 25 percent of the juice was fermented. (If you prefer a non-oaked Chardonnay, this is not the wine for you.)
All that considered, the wine is nicely crafted and smooth, crisp and dry from start to finish, making it a perfect drink for sipping or to accompany a meal in hot weather as well as in cooler temperatures. The 2012 vintage has so much flavor that it is just right for pairing with late summer vegetables, such as buttered corn on the cob, and grilled meats and chicken. I had it with artichokes stuffed with hot Italian sausage, and it was a perfect foil for the spicy flavors.
The McWilliam family knows the wine business. They’ve been producing wines since 20 years after Samuel McWilliam first arrived in Australia from his native Raloo, Northern Ireland in 1857. After hunting for gold for a few years, McWilliam settled down, got married and started planting grapes in New South Wales and the Griffith wine region. By the time he retired in 1891, the family had a pretty good winery, one that’s still going after six generations, making them members of the 12 families in Australia’s First Families of Wines.
The Chardonnay is produced at the company’s award-winning Hanwood Estate winery, which was started by Sam’s son, J.J., in 1917, and has become a wine destination for tourists who dine and sample wine in the Cellar Door, a wine room built like a half wine barrel.
Among the astute moves by the family over the years was to turn the winemaking duties for the Chardonnay over to senior group winemaker Russell Cody. He has a strong resume, bolstered by time spent working with some of the country’s most prestigious producers, and somewhat of a celebrity in the Australian wine world. He’s currently on a team developing McWilliam’s line of lower alcohol wines, and was a key winemaker on the high-end “1877” Cabernet Sauvignon-Shiraz blend released in 2002 to commemorate the company’s 125th anniversary, the website says.
Cody doesn’t seem to have cut any corners in the production of the Hanwood Estate Chardonnay, and he didn’t worry too much about the alcohol level at 13.5 percent. The wine has intense flavors of peach and citrus that are balanced with clean acidity “for a long and refreshing finish,” he says in the tasting notes.
The McWilliam’s Chardonnay is widely available. I’ve found it for as little as $9.99, but even at the normal retail price of $11.99, it’s a great bargain with the complexity and bold flavors of a wine twice its price. If you like a dry Chardonnay with a lot going on, check out McWilliam’s.•
Suggestions for wines in the $10 range are always appreciated.
Warren Johnston can be reached at email@example.com.