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With ideal conditions for the gathering of the white grape, David Pike, on duty for the 2003 vintage, turns his mind to his favourite white grape – the chardonnay.

OVER the past week Margaret River has turned into a bustling metropolis as vintage takes a firm hold over the region.  Caves Road, Bussell Hwy and all roads in between are alive with harvesters and swarms of hand pickers with wineries desperate to get the white varieties off the vine.

Warm, humid conditions with a welcome day of misty rain on Tuesday means almost every mechanical harvester in the region is working flat out, and there are simply not enough hand pickers for the work that is available.

Hand pickers are being used not only to harvest the grapes but also to cut out diseased bunches.

The hive of activity seems certain to continue through to the end of next week by which stage most people will have the majority of their white varieties merrily singing away with their friends the yeast.

While it is still to early to paint the 2003 vintage picture, one constant is that winemakers will certainly earn their money with this vintage.

Last weekend Leeuwin Estates released its 2000 Art Series Chardonnay at its concert weekend – this year featuring KD Lang.

It is a tradition dating back a number of years now and is a fabulous way to introduce people to a new vintage, given the atmosphere and ambience of the amphitheatre in which to enjoy the wine.

So how does the wine rate?

Firstly I must point out that I love chardonnay. It is my favourite white grape variety.

People other than myself must also enjoy the odd glass, as it is still easily the most consumed variety here in Australia.

Goundrey Unwooded Chardonnay has ranked in the top ten selling white wines in Australia for at least the past five years and, in the past couple of years, overtaken Houghton White Burgundy in the number one position. Not bad for a grape variety that supposedly was tarnished with the “anything but chardonnay” brush by some group of Friday luncheoners.

So just where does the Leeuwin Art Series wine fit into the chardonnay scene, and who else makes an outstanding Australian chardonnay?

I recently sat in on a tasting that studied 24 premium Australian chardonnays, that were all represented by the 2000 vintage.

It was a pretty honest look at the wines, showing that the 2000 vintage was quite difficult but also highlighted that a number of wines were faulty, yet free of any spoilage from the corks.

Pierro Chardonnay 2000 17/20

Aromas that included a lemon pith character, orange rind and some nutmeg, coffee notes.

The palate showed rounded fruit, which was soft, supple and showed a tight pineapple, white peach flavour, good acidity, some oak spice and a little alcohol heat on the finish. A serious wine that is in its own style.

Bannockburn Chardonnay 2000 16.75/20

Vanillin  notes with a fragrant perfume of violets, nougat and a touch of coffee bean.

The palate is quite refined with some sweetness of fruit, touches of apples, lemon and nectarines.

Oak shows integration as does the acidity. On the day it just finished a little short on the palate.

Petaluma Chardonnay 2000 16/20

Attractive mineral, lemon, grapefruit characters, toasty oak with a coffee note.

The palate showed soft ripe fruits with integrated acidity, peaches lemon citrus and honeydew melons.

Length and persistence of finish with spice notes. A good wine that needs an extra dimension to really excite.

Voyager Chardonnay 2000 18/20

Displaying a fair chunk of classy oak with underlying leafy-bean character touches of lemon citrus.

The rounded palate is in tune with relatively zippy acidity (that was discussed as sour/sweet) flavours of nectarines, grapefruit.

Nougat and cashews make an appearance, the oak integrates with fruit on the palate. Plenty of flavour on the finish.

Mount Mary Chardonnay 2000    18/20

Not one of the most consistent Australian chardonnay producers going around.

However, this vintage is a delight. Aromas that are full of interest and intrigue, use of solids and lees are evident, mineral notes together with hazelnuts add to the complexity of the wines aromatics.

The palate is far from one-dimensional. Rounded fruits sit over the chalky tight mineral notes that are in balance with the citrus and apple flavours, length and enormous depth of flavour. Simply delicious.

Leeuwin Art Series Chardonnay 2000 18.5/20

This is another tremendous wine from the Leeuwin crew.

You can try and find faults in this wine (and perhaps there are a few) but you will be hard pressed to find better in Australia from this vintage.

Aromas of lemon/lime grapefruit with integrated oak, vanillin and nougat notes.

Displaying elegance and a complexity that few wines in the tasting were able to reach.

The palate is tightly bound, yet rich with integrated nectarine, grapefruit and citrus flavours.

There is a viscous weight of fruit across the palate that finishes with plenty of length and persistence. Another stunner that will grab your attention.

The Leeuwin Art Series collection of Original paintings can be viewed in the cellar under the main tasting area at Leeuwin’s cellar door.

With more than 100 pieces in the collection it is well worth a visit next time you are in Margaret River.

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