It all started when I bought this by accident.
I didn’t know it won best wine in show at the 2017 ICCWS. I didn’t really notice that it was single vineyard wine, nor that it was from the Warramate foothills, a stone’s throw from greats like Yarra Yering, Levantine Hill and Oakridge. To be honest, I’ve just got a bit of a thing for duck egg blue at the moment, and partnered with that 19th century Paris cafe font, yes, I bought it because of the label.
I was lucky to find that Soumah’s Single Vineyard Chardonnay (2016) is a complex and layered wine, and very, very French in style. I’m not going to go far into the fruit characters, minerality and length, because you can read about that in any other internet review. The thing that really set this wine apart for me was the technical balance and texture – oak and other wine making techniques like battonage and secondary fermentation have been used with a high level of skill, resulting in some cheeky sulfur and nutty brioche notes, and then a creamy mouthfeel with cutting acid that I’ve rarely seen outside of the greater Montrachet area of Burgundy. Campbell Mattinson (The Wine Front) says of McCarthy’s Chardonnay: “It’s white wine as origami, its arms and legs folded in on themselves. It’s either too clever by halves or highly sophisticated; you have to sit with it and decide for yourself. ” I decide on the latter.
I chalked this one up, and despite it’s very decent price tag ($34), promptly forgot about it. There’s just so much good Chardonnay in Australia, and as a newly returned ex-expat, I need to find all of it – there’s quite a list to go through.
Then I bought this by accident.
My husband and I had just been to a school meet and greet cocktail party, and there hadn’t been nearly enough wine. We launched, parched, into the local wine bar (Garage wine), and this was recommended. It’s got an awful label. I’ve never heard of it. It’s from a region with very little prestige (Upper Goulburn). It’s got a name I can’t pronounce (Joy-yell-oh). It was far too old for any self respecting chardonnay to still be on a retail shelf (2010). But it was superb.
And guess who’s name I found on the back label? My new main man.
Gioiello has, like Soumah, an Italian connection, but again, McCarthy is making wine like a Frenchman. Where the Soumah was creamy, textured and resembling a Côte de Beaune wine, this was lean and chalky, still green in the class, so, so much like a Chablis. This 8-year-old wine was still youthful, and so it also proves is that McCarthy can make an Australian Chardonnay that can age. All that and it was just 25 bucks.
Scott McCarthy has a proper wine making CV, but considering what I believe to be remarkable skill, it’s not particularly, ahem, remarkable. He had grape growing parents (Sunraysia). He started as a barrel boy with Yalumba, did a couple of short jaunts overseas (Loire, California, Marlborough), and then returned to set up McCarthy Wine Services in 2005. I was expecting to read about years of work experience in Burgundy, work at some of the higher esteemed Yarra Valley wineries, perhaps all balanced with a more commercial-driven wine making stint at one of the Australian monoliths like Penfolds or even at Yalamba where he had such a minor role.
McCarthy doesn’t seem to want to be known by the retail consumer. His website doesn’t load. There’s only one picture of him on the internet (yes, this blurred little black and white number). There’s very little information to be found on the man – surprising considering he’s been at this for quite a while. When you do read about him, he says his wines are good because of the quality of the fruit – he’s coming off pretty modest. Perhaps this is the way of the contract winemaker in regions where small estates are purchased by those without oenological prowess but the desire to promote the estate. Dare I mention Bette Midler and the wind beneath my wings? Estate label first, owner second, winemaker quietly in the background.
So, I know he makes pretty bloody good Chardonnay – I’ve tried two very different types (Soumah , Gioiello Estate). But McCarthy has also produced wine for Helen’s Hill and Mandala (although he is not currently listed on their website as the winemaker) which together also include a stack of other classic varieties, both red and white (Cabernet, Shiraz, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier ), plus some more obscure varietals (Arneis, Savarro, Savignin, Nebbiolo and Brachetto). It’s providing a nice little trail for me to follow. Next steps for me – an order from Dan Murphy’s which includes some of those Soumah northern Italian varietals, and a quick visit to the Yarra Valley to test out some more at the Trattoria d’Soumah, and I might stop past Helen’s hill on the way home. I’m optimistic…