Chatto’s Isle holds its own against big gun Burgundies

As Chatto (pictured) himself observed, the wines are getting better year by year. (Photo: Chatto Wines)

Each year for the past three years Jim Chatto has conducted a blind comparative tasting of his Chatto Tasmanian pinot noirs against top-level Burgundies. The first year he pitted his wines against Bouchard Père et Fils Burgundies – two grand crus and a premier. Last year it was Mongeard-Mugneret wines, again two grand crus and a premier; this year the foe was no less than Domaine Armand Rousseau, one of Chatto’s personal heroes.

“Our best wines (in Tassie) are still 10 years away. This will be a big step away from mainland Australia.” – Jim Chatto

Each year, the time-frame moves along one year. The first year, we compared Chatto’s 2012, 13 and 14 vintages against the Bouchard trio from 2011, 12 and 13; the second year we compared Chatto’s 13, 14 and 15 vintages against Mongeard’s 2012, 13 and 14s; this year we compared Chatto’s 2014, 15 and 16 against Rousseau’s 2013, 14 and 15s. In each taste-off, the Chatto wines acquitted themselves extremely well.

Blind tasting is, of course, the great leveller. Emotion counts for a lot, especially when celebrated and expensive Burgundies are in the spotlight. This year the stakes were even higher than before as the Rousseau wines are super expensive.

No doubt Chatto gets a good price from the importer, but such a tasting is still extremely costly to stage. Rousseau’s Chambertin 2015, for example, the most expensive wine poured to date, is valued at AUD $3,700 to AUD $4,500 a bottle on Wine-searcher. And we had three vintages. As well, Chatto staged the tasting twice, in Melbourne and Sydney.

Now, before you’d spend that kind of money, you’d want to be pretty sure your wines weren’t going to be humiliated. Chatto, aside from being chief winemaker for both Pipers Brook Vineyard and McWilliam’s Wines, and running his own small venture in the Huon Valley, is one of Australia’s leading palates and show judges. So he backed himself.

And he wouldn’t have been disappointed.

Below are the results of the Sydney tasting. The 18 participants included leading retailers and sommeliers, plus a scribe or two. Each taster allocated the four wines points, with 3 points for their top wine, 2 for their second preference, 1 for their third and 0 for their least. Below are the total group points and each wine’s ranking.

Flight 1 Points Rank
Chatto Isle 2014 25 3
Chambertin 2013 40 1
Clos de la Roche 2013 28 2
Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Cazetiers 2013 15 4
Flight 2 Points Rank
Chambertin 2014 47 1
Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Cazetiers 2014 14 4
Clos de la Roche 2014 28 2
Chatto Isle 2015 19 3
Flight 3 Points Rank
Clos de la Roche 2015 29 2
Chatto Isle 2016 21 3
Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Cazetiers 2015 18 4
Chambertin 2015 39 1

As the four wines consistently ranked in the same order, irrespective of vintage, the clear message is that Chatto Isle ranks third, after the two grands crus and ahead of the premier cru.

As Chatto himself observed, the wines are getting better year by year, seasons notwithstanding, and it will be awesome to see what they will be like in the future, as the Isle vines were only 10 years old in 2017.

The inevitable discussion about vine age ensued, with Chatto commenting:

“Old vines don’t necessarily make the best wine, but the best sites make old vines.”

On the best places in Tasmania to grow pinot:

“Pipers Brook and the Huon Valley are the two regions that have the most in common. They are the most marginal: the East Coast and Tamar Valley are the earliest to pick and make bigger, riper wines.”

“I would like to see Tasmania dividing up into regions.” When the Geographical Indications were determined, Tasmania decided to have the entire state registered as a single region.

“Our best wines (in Tassie) are still 10 years away. This will be a big step away from mainland Australia.”

“I’ve spent a lot of time making wine all around the place for other people; now I want to specialise.”

On yields:

“We get one bottle of wine per vine. 1kg/vine is what we ask. Burgundy grands crus are a maximum 30 hectolitres per hectare, which is about 5 tonnes a hectare. We haven’t got to 5 tonnes a hectare yet, but 2018 is the closest we’ve got to that.”

“The 2017 and ’18 vintages are the first we’ve made on-site. Before that, we shipped and trucked the grapes to the Hunter Valley for fermentation.”

On whole-bunch fermentations:

“In 2017, we only had 40% of the crop we had in 2016, and because of the small berries, the ratio of stalk to berry was greater, so we did less whole-bunch in 2017.”

The 2017 Chatto wines – Huon Valley (AUD $55) and Isle (AUD $85) – were released at the tasting, and they are superb wines. I believe the Isle is Chatto’s best yet.

My tasting notes for all these wines are on The Real Review now.

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