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What our expert thought of Sandalford Unoaked Chardonnay, Margaret River

the tasting

The Tasting

White wines deepen in colour as they age, and the lemon colour (yellow with a hint of green) that most have in their youth changes through straw (yellow) into gold (yellow with a hint of orange).
Not this one!  It looks remarkably youthful.  Still quite pale, it’s more lemon than straw, and certainly not gold.
Unusually aromatic for an unoaked Chardonnay, this smells of white flowers (especially camomile), supported by peach, yellow apple and a flicker of citrus.  It has a buttery, creamy quality to it as well, which hints at maturity but also at lees-aging.  There’s real depth to this nose, and a sinus-clearing quality that I love in a wine: it’s as if my nasal passages are opening up so they can enjoy more of it.
Dry, but not very dry despite the crisp acidity, the palate is filled with green Galia melon and spices (mostly ginger).  There’s white peach here too, and an occasional hint of banana on the afterpalate.  It has verve and intensity, yet remains medium-bodied despite the 14% alcohol.
Some of the alcohol shows up in the warmth and spiciness of the long finish, along with more of that melon.  Then, right at the end, there’s an impression of herbs or pine needles.


Mature wines aren’t usually available to buy new; at least, not at sensible prices.  This one rather fell into our laps by accident.  I expected it to be an interesting demonstration of the changes that age brings, while hoping that it wouldn’t be so far gone that no-one would like it.  Older wines are sometimes an acquired taste.
As it turns out, both my expectations and my fears were completely wrong.  For this wine is almost supernaturally youthful, to the point where I’m tempted to check the necks of other wines in our storeroom for bite marks.  The only hints of age are those yellow apples on the nose, which smell like their skins are just beginning to wrinkle, and that herby, vegetal note on the finish.
Actually the depth and intensity of the nose is probably a product of bottle-age.  Chardonnay is not naturally an aromatic variety; most of the scents we associate with it are actually the smells of oak.  This wine hasn’t seen any oak, and what reviews I’ve been able to find of it suggest that the nose was rather light and delicate when it was young.
The white flower scents it has now are very reminiscent of fine Chablis, which also gains intensity and depth with age.  The flavours are very Chablis-esque too, although this wine is riper and stronger (no Chablis reaches 14%) and also less austerely dry.  This is partly due to the sweet taste of alcohol, and perhaps partly due to a touch of residual sugar left in the wine.  It’s still dry, just not bone-dry.
How has this lasted so well?  Well, take a bow, Mr. Screwcap.  Uncommon back in 2008, especially on premium Chardonnays, screwcaps are much less permeable to air than corks so wine matures more slowly and consistently under them.  Too slowly for many reds, in fact, which is why they still use corks.
Interestingly, this was the last vintage for this particular wine.  I suspect that Sandalford crafted this one for long aging and succeeded rather too well.  Combined with the excellent but high-acid vintage and the screwcap, the result was a wine that wasn’t approachable young (like many a top Chablis, in fact) and consequently didn’t sell.
Their loss is our gain.  Nine years down the line, this wine is singing.

Tasting notes

clear medium- lemon

Intensity medium+

Aromas white flowers (camomile), stone fruit (peach), orchard fruit (yellow apple), citrus, butter/cream

Development fully developed

Sweetness dry

Acidity medium(+?)

Body medium, despite 14%

Intensity medium+

Flavours spice (ginger), tropical fruit (Galia melon, hint of banana), stone fruit (white peach)

Length medium+

Flavours warming, spicy, melon, ends on herbs/pine needles
Other notes
Unoaked. Supernaturally youthful. Nose has real depth. Initially reductive - bruised/rotting petals - with air cleaned up into white flowers, like 1er Cru Chablis.

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