Chatto bangs Tassie pinot drum
Jim Chatto (pictured) was an associate judge at the Tasmanian Wine Show in 1999 with myself, James Halliday and American winemaker Nick Goldschmidt when he decided his future would be making pinot noir in Tasmania.
We judged the great 1998 vintage pinot noirs, finding a then-unheard-of eight gold medals in the class. Top wine of show was Panorama Vineyard 1998, a wine that still drinks beautifully today (I opened a bottle from my cellar last week – tasting). Chatto also met his future wife Daisy in Hobart on that trip. Now the couple have a vineyard in the Huon Valley and have just released their fourth vintage of Tassie pinots, including their second ‘Isle’ selection from the best part of their own vineyard. Meanwhile Jim’s ‘daytime job’ is as chief winemaker of McWilliam’s Wines (tastings) and the Chattos continue living in the Hunter Valley.
Chatto has done amazing things with McWilliams’ Mount Pleasant red wines (tastings), with a raft of single-block shiraz bottlings from the 2013 and ’14 vintages, but that is another story.
Tasmanian pinot has Chatto so excited that he invited a gathering of the wine trade for tastings in Sydney and Melbourne, at which he pitted his own wines against three vintages of three Burgundies from Bouchard Pere et Fils (tastings) – including two Grands Crus. At considerable expense. The tasting was done blind. Like the senior wine show judge he has become (he’s one of the leading show chairs in the country), Chatto asked the tasters to rank the wines in each of three age-based line-ups.
The first pitted 2012 Chatto Huon Valley (a blend of his own grapes with other vineyards in the region – tasting) against 2011 vintages of Bouchard’s three wines, Beaune 1er cru Vigne de l’Enfant Jesus (tastings), Le Corton (tastings) and Chambertin. The Chatto pinot was ranked second by the group after Le Corton.
The second line-up pitted the 2013 Chatto pinot (tasting) against the same three Bouchard wines, but from the 2012 vintage. The Chambertin came first, the Beaune second and the Chatto third.
The third and final blind tasting was of five wines, the additional wine being the first release of Chatto Isle, 2014 (tasting), pitted against the same three Bouchard wines, this time 2013s. This was a real up-ending of the applecart. The Chatto Isle was clearly the top wine on the group’s ranking, 10 points clear of the runner-up, Le Corton. The Chatto Huon Valley (tasting) came in third, beating the Chambertin and the Beaune. (It must be said the Chambertin was the least-ready of the wines, demanding years of patient cellaring.)
Full credit to the Chatto wines for performing so well in absolute terms, and when value for money is considered they are a shoo-in. Chatto Huon Valley is about $50 and Isle, $75. Chambertin is probably around $700 and the cheapest Burgundy, the Beaune, is nearly $200.
Jim and Daisy then unveiled their new releases, the 2015 Isle (tasting) and 2015 Huon Valley pinots (tasting). Both are superb, especially the Isle, which I scored the same as the 2014: 98 points. Chatto says the 2016s will be even better, “the best Tassie pinot vintage since 2000.”
It has to be said that comparing the Bouchard wines with the Tasmanians was like comparing a whippet to a bulldog. They are so different. I had no difficulty picking which wines were the Tasmanians in the blind tastings, and I assume others did likewise. Therefore it is even more meritorious that Chatto wines were acknowledged as being better than a Chambertin or a Corton in each comparison.
The Chattos were recognisable for their more overt primary fruit, their accessibility and charm. All of them, but especially the ’14 and ’15 Isles, have extravagant perfumes, with a lick of mint but not domineering mint: it is but one fragment of a very complex basket of fragrant herb aromas (the Piedmontese might term it ‘balsamic’) while the palates are juicy, decadent, almost luscious in their fruitiness. For all their fruit intensity they are not simple ‘fruit bombs’ but have structure and length.
These are very exciting wines, very Australian and not at all Burgundian (which is a good thing). They back up Jim Chatto’s belief that the Huon Valley is a great and distinctive terroir.