James Halliday award winning Montalto 2013 Eleven Chardonnay

By Simon Black, winemaker

It started life among our oldest vines a stone’s throw from the Montalto restaurant and ended with a fantastic seal of approval from the judges at the James Halliday Chardonnay Challenge.

The numbers speak for themselves. Eight regional winners from 670 entrants around Australia – and The Eleven was the one named the Mornington Peninsula’s best Chardonnay.

It’s fair to say The Eleven is our most ambitious and challenging wine to date, and I’m the first to admit this Chardonnay won’t be to everyone’s taste.

But I know those with a more sophisticated palate will love it, and the prestigious award is vindication of our decision to push the boundaries as we strive to create even better wines.

James is Australia’s most respected wine critic, and he believes Chardonnay today is better than ever.

Chardonnay is the most exciting variety in Australia these days. We are producing wines of world quality.

It’s truly an honour and privilege to be included in this exclusive group of eight.

Our search for complexity and character

We’re constantly trying to get more complexity and character into our wines, and the 2013 Eleven is a great example.

It comes from Chardonnay vines planted in 1986 – our oldest block – and always produces intense fruit with a collage of citrus flavours; from lemon to lime, tangerine and pink grapefruit, with nuances of stone fruit.

I like to pick when the sugars are on the lower side, and the acidity is still fairly crunchy, which I think enhances the wine’s mineral and floral characteristics.

To generate additional complexity, I’ve focused on two particular techniques – carbonic maceration and adding back aged lees.

The former is a fascinating winemaking technique most commonly associated with the Beaujolais region in France.

Wine usually gets its alcoholic qualities when you crush the grapes to release the juice and pulp, and yeast converts the sugar into alcohol.

But carbonic maceration involves a quite different approach.

Before crushing the grapes, we pump carbon dioxide into a sealed container, and it seeps into the individual grapes – stimulating fermentation inside each berry.

Traditionally, this process is used for red wines. But we decided to use it for The Eleven chardonnay – unique, I think, in Australia.

For our award-winning 2013 vintage, I upped the carbonic maceration component to 50% of the blend . It was 15% in 2012.

As a standalone technique, that might seem a little too confronting, but as a blending component it adds tremendous dimension and character.

Inspiration for the second technique comes from the wonderful characters you find in Champagne when aged yeast lees have been added.

I’ve been adding these to my Chardonnays for the last decade, and the yeast lees in the 2013 Eleven are four years old.

A vibrant citrus taste like no other

So what can you expect from The Eleven?

Well, I think of our wines as parents think of their kids. Each have distinctive characters and personalities, and I love them all equally.

Having said that, I really enjoy working with chardonnay. It’s one of those varieties where a winemaker can have a huge influence on the outcome.

That’s the case with The Eleven.

We’ve been crafting beautiful wines here at Montalto for years, and now we are creating wines that I would regard as not so “safe” – and really going the extra mile.

We’ve tried to make this one different, and to stand out.

The collage of citrus will awaken your senses while you can thank carbonic maceration for the wine’s amazing savoury element, as well as a remarkable dryness I commonly see in Rousanne and Marsanne wines.

You’ll also be struck by the beautiful acid balance, the texture and a lovely soft rounded mouth feel.

As I said, the result might not work for some, but it will most definitely work for others.

Of course, there’s only one way to find out. You can try The Eleven here.

Well done to all the James Halliday winners

And congratulations to the other nine winners of the James Halliday Chardonnay Challenge – most notably the overall Australian champion: the 2013 Deep Woods Estate Reserve Chardonnay from the Margaret River in WA.

Check out the awards video.