The Eileen Hardy story part 2

Eileen Hardy Shiraz – flagship red of the Hardy Wine Company was introduced in 1973 to celebrate the 80th birthday of family matriarch, Eileen Hardy. That wine, a selection of the best McLaren Vale Shiraz from the 1970 vintage, still drinks well today.

What began as a birthday gift became a company flagship, despite significant style and quality changes across the years. As we saw last week, modern Eileen now brings together all that’s been learned in vineyard and winery in the 35 years since that first vintage.

Individual vineyard plots – mostly in McLaren Vale but including components from Clare, Padthaway and Frankland River — contribute small batches of varying style. These are all fermented separately and matured in French oak barrels separately until chief red-wine maker Paul Lapsley and his boss, Peter Dawson, assemble the final blend.

The current release 2001, for example, comes 88 per cent from McLaren Vale and 9 per cent from Frankland River with a splash from other regions – all matured in a variety of high quality French oak barrels.

It weighs in at a comparatively modest 13.6 per cent alcohol (some of our gun reds hit 14.5 or more) and is clearly a wine to cellar. The colour’s deep but not opaque and the aroma and flavour are built on bright, intense varietal character with a delicious savouriness. The structure is firm, tight and satisfying – a wine to reveal more as it ages for a decade or two.

From past tasting and a fresh look at the 1970 then the nineties vintages last week, I’d say the very early Eileens were wonderful and the eighties vintages lacklustre. During the nineties the style strengthened, especially towards the end of the decade. But in the new century Eileen appears to be settling into a consistent, fine, savoury style – epitomised to me by the glorious but not yet released 2002 vintage. This is jaw-dropping stuff.

The white flagship, Eileen Hardy Chardonnay is a jaw dropper, too. Made by chief white-wine maker, Tom Newton – with support from Peter Dawson – this is blazing new trails.

It’s a wine without boundaries. Newton and Dawson’s search for the best material began in 1986 in Padthaway – the company’s largest chardonnay resource – and widened over time to include Canberra, the Yarra Valley, Adelaide Hills and Tasmania.

Says Dawson, “we look for a good expression of chardonnay with intensity and the inherent structure to support oak fermentation, malolactic fermentation and oak maturation”.

What this means is that if you use the right grapes, a string of potentially intrusive winemaking practices are subsumed by the intense fruit flavour. The result is a beautiful, complex, dry, firmly structured wine capable of extended bottle ageing.

That the ‘right’ fruit is now sourced predominantly from Tasmania was partly an accident. A search for intensely flavoured, delicate chardonnay and pinot noir for sparkling wine, while successful, also revealed promising parcels of table wine material.

The first Tasmanian material was included in Eileen in 1999. So good was it, that in 2000, a particularly warm vintage in many cool regions, the proportion of Tasmanian fruit in the blend shot up to sixty five per cent – the remainder coming from the high, cool Hoddles Creek vineyard in the Yarra Valley.

Subsequent vintages retain a core of Tasmanian material combined with fruit from the Yarra Valley, Tumbarumba and the Adelaide Hills.

The current release 2002 is as good as Australian chardonnays gets.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2005 & 2007