McWilliam’s has been a maker of fine wines since 1877, when Samuel McWilliam first planted his vines at Corowa in New South Wales, Australia. It was his son, John James, who subsequently founded McWilliam’s Hanwood vineyard and winery at Griffith (from which this month’s selection comes), paving the way for the dynasty that was to follow. Five generations later, McWilliam’s Wines maintains the distinction of being the largest family owned wine company in Australia. Currently, oenology trained (U.C. Davis) Doug McWilliam is the company’s Production Director.
McWilliam’s exhibits a typical pattern amongst “Old Firm” volume wine producers: It is not one winery; it is six separate wineries! Quality levels are sustained through specialization at each unit. Their Robinvale Winery in Victoria, for instance, is the source of one of Australia’s most famous wines, McWilliam’s Cream Sherry. Beelbangera, located in the Riverina district, is their specialist red wine winery. Yenda, also in the Riverina, is the facility which houses their sparkling wine, vintage port and brandy operations. The winemakers at each facility endeavor towards perfection in their respective specialties.
McWilliam’s led the trend away from trying to copy France. It concentrated on producing wines, like this Chardonnay, with characteristics proudly Australian.
The Chardonnay vine is originally from France’s blustery Burgundy district. It’s the current grape of choice, internationally, from which to produce dry white wines. When transplanted outside France, Chardonnays maintain their basic characteristics, but they-tend to adopt a flavor and a style reflective of the local terrain and weather conditions. Due to frequent inclement weather in Europe, grapes attain full ripeness there less easily than in agricultural regions abroad. For this reason, many Australian Chardonnays far more resemble California versions than they do French examples.
This one has a green/gold color, with a rich aroma of green grapes, green plums and vanilla. Medium-bodied, yet mouth-filling, it is very smooth. Excellent acidity envelopes the texture like a fortress, ensuring longevity. Fruit flavors follow the nose faithfully and continue into the aftertaste.
Serve chilled with jumbo shrimp in the shell or mahi-mahi fillets.
Cellaring Notes: Drink now and through 1994.
Reviewed by Larry Tepper