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IF you are one of those still unsure about chardonnay, then read on and maybe you will pick up some tips on this extraordinary and noble grape variety.

The Cullen chardonnay is the result of Di and her late husband Kevin getting together with friends in 1984-85 to taste a few wines from the very good 1982 Margaret River chardonnay vintage. So good were the results that Di and Kevin set about sourcing other chardonnays from around the world and, in 1986, the inaugural Cullen International Chardonnay Tasting was held. Di told me that she also wanted to give chardonnay from the region a bit of a push, as the cabernets were getting plenty of respect and had performed well. She felt the quality of chardonnay meant it was deserving of similar respect.

Di Cullen is very passionate about Margaret River and the quality of wines produced there. Responding at this year’s tasting to recent comments in the Australian Financial Review by Palandri boss Darrel Jarvis that Margaret River was dead, Di said producers in the region must continue to strive for excellence in their wines, and in doing so will absolutely dispel such negative sentiments. She added that there would always be producers who would excel in Margaret River because of their commitment to producing quality.

The rewards of chardonnay and its remarkable diversity were then explored as the full house tasted its way through 22 world-class wines. International wine author and cork taint campaigner Robert Joseph gave an enlightening and forthright address at tasting’s end.

The tasting was interrupted with bottle variation and cork taint resulting in a couple of the wines in the original line up being removed. Robert Joseph insisted more must be done to increase awareness of cork taint and pressure had to be placed on cork producers to become more active in their commitment to fixing the problem.

“Become passionate about taint” was his message, adding that it is very difficult to get a clear indication of just how many wines are affected by cork taint or TCA (trichloroanisole). Some wine industry figures, such as Stephanie Toole, winemaker at Mt Horricks winery, South Australia, puts the figure at around 15 per cent.

Mr Joseph’s passion about this problem led him to establish a website called Corkwatch (www.corkwatch.com). On the site he explains that: “Over the last 25 years the quality of wine has improved throughout the world. Wine drinkers and those who earn a living making, distributing and commenting on wine have become increasingly aware of the numbers of bottles that are spoiled by faulty corks”.

He says that one major cork producer spends more than $6 million per year trying to solve the problem, yet it still exists, and there are arguments that taint problems are getting worse.

If you have a bottle of wine that is corked you are entitled to return it to the outlet it was purchased from and to collect a replacement. Don’t tip the wine down the sink – replace the original cork and return the bottle.My highlights from the tasting were, for the most part, Australian examples. I actually made the comment that I had a State-based palate, as five of my top 10 were Western Australian wines.

One of the wines that did score very highly in the tasting was Penfolds Yattana. A collective groan filled the winery as the assembled punters realised that a wine many of them had reservations about was indeed a wine that showed very good pedigree.

There were a couple of wines that, while they were very good, were produced in a style that you either liked or didn’t, with no middle ground.

For the record, my favourite wines from the 1997 vintage tasting (in no particular order) were:

Grand Cru Blain Gagnard Bartard Montrachet

Dauvissat Chablis ‘Les Preuses’

Penfolds Yattana

Leeuwin Estate

Cullen

Voyager

Devils Lair

Saintsbury Reserve (USA)

Peter Michael Winery (USA)

Buchard Pere et Fils Le Montrachet

And the Cullen 1977 Cabernet was a delight as one relaxed into the entertaining afternoon and evening to follow.

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