A Chardonnay Surprise From Jacob's Creek

Last week I wrote about what an exciting revelation it was to discover, on a recent visit to Australia, just how improved are the wines made by what is known colloquially as Australia Wine Inc. These are the handful of large corporations such as Southcorp and Constellation Brands (STZ) that 20 years ago brought modern industrial production and marketing techniques to an industry that until then had been for the most part a collection of mom-and-pop businesses, and in the process turned the wine world upside-down.

In the past I had not liked these wines much, finding them bland and homogeneous, so it comes as a very pleasing surprise to sit in the tasting room of Jacob's Creek winery in the Barossa Valley and taste through their current range. Jacob's Creek is part of the Orlando wine group, in turn a subsidiary of the huge French drinks conglomerate Pernod-Ricard (PERPn.PA). What impressed me the most is that up and down the line the Jacob's Creek wines are clean, immaculately made, easy to drink, and terrific value at their particular price points. This is especially true of the least expensive wines like the Jacob's Creek Chardonnay 2008 ($8).

Jacob's Creek has recently dialed back the use of oak and malolactic fermentation in their chardonnay—hallelujah!—and this allows the quality of its much-improved fruit to shine through. Put another way, these are now wines made in the vineyard rather than the winery—they are fresh and alive—and the chardonnay shows off this change splendidly. It's packed with so many glorious fruit flavors—white peaches, nectarines, honeydews, and cantaloupes—that one might easily assume it's a semi-sweet wine, but it's not; it's entirely dry, with a crisp, zesty, citrus-driven finish making it an ideal food wine.

Are the winemakers at Jacob's Creek, and the suits who give them overall direction, becoming more sophisticated in their tastes and setting a trend? Or are they responding to consumers whose palates are evolving? It is an interesting though irrelevant question. What matters is that they are making better and better wine—wine that is more fruit driven, wine that is a pleasure to drink, and wine that represents terrific value. And that is an achievement for which they deserve enthusiastic applause.

WOW Rating: When to Drink: Now

Breathing/Decanting: Not necessary.

Food Pairing: Seafood, chicken, and lighter pastas.

Grapes: 100% chardonnay.

Appellation: Southeastern Australia

Region: Southeastern Australia

Country: Australia

Price: $8

Availability: Very good.

Web Site: www.jacobscreek.com

See more wines at www.nickonwine.com

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