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Shaw & Smith, Adelaide Hills (South Australia) Chardonnay M3 Vineyard 2003 ($34, Vintus Imports)
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Oct 11, 2005
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I have often seriously considered joining the "Anything But..." club--but then I taste a Chardonnay of such refinement and pedigree that I recall why Chardonnay is considered a noble grape.  My most recent such epiphany was sparked by the fine Chardonnay that winemaker Martin Shaw fashions from the M3 vineyard in Australia's cool Adelaide Hills region. 

Shaw & Smith is a small, family-owned winery founded in 1989 that makes wine only from grapes grown in the Adelaide Hills in South Australia.  This is a high-altitude region, ranging from 1200 to 2100 feet.  It is also a fairly diverse region: the climate is warmer and dryer in the outlying parts, cooler in the central areas, and so cool in the steeper parts that grapes for sparkling wine are grown there.  The M3 Vineyard-- planted in 1994 and named for the winery's three partners, Martin Shaw, Michael Hill-Smith MW and Michael's brother Matthew--is situated in the cool central area of the region. 

The 2003 M3 Chardonnay is dry and full-bodied, with soft, silky texture and yet great depth and excellent length across the palate.  Its aromas and flavors are restrained, expressing gentle, toasty oak, a vaguely peachy character and a hint of grapefruit.  Apart from its high quality, what makes this wine compelling is its combination of richness  (in weight and texture) and yet restraint and elegance (in flavor, depth and length).  It is young now, and capable of developing over five or more years.

The finesse of the 2003 M3 Chardonnay reflects the cool climate of the Adelaide Hills, as well as the 2003 vintage, which produced wines with good concentration of fruit character and racy acidity.  The softspoken richness of the wine, on the other hand, is probably due to the human factor.  The winemaking regimen involved hand harvesting, chilling of the fruit, whole-bunch pressing, and barrel fermentation in French oak that was new to two years old .  But only 60 percent of the wine underwent malolactic fermentation--a concession to finesse.

I am intrigued that Australia, once the world leader in exotically oaked Chardonnays, is now making Chardonnays that express restraint.  In any case,  Australia's cooler regions are spawning restrained Chardonnay.  As are the enlightened producers, such as Shaw & Smith, who grow grapes in those locations.  

Outstanding: 91 Points