Wednesday Wines – Episode 209 – Another stellar Chardonnay from Larry Cherubino

MJ & Larry At River Café

2022 Cherubino, Gingin Willows Vineyard Chardonnay, Wilyabrup, Margaret River, Western Australia (£36.50, www.goedhuis.com).

The eagle-eyed among you will already be aware that Larry Cherubino is my 100 Best Australian Wines ‘Winery of the Year’.  For completeness, here are some of his entries in my 2023/24 100 Best Report.  There is a lot to digest here, simply because he makes such an incredible portfolio of wines.  Under the copy from my Report, you will discover a note on today’s featured wine.

My Winery of the Year is Cherubino. I am honoured and privileged to announce that Cherubino is the 100 Best Australian Wines Winery of the Year 2023/24. With eleven Larry Cherubino wines featured in this Report, as well as three more under the Robert Oatley label for whom Larry consults, it is no surprise that Larry and his teams of winemakers and viticulturalists have picked up this gong. I have known Larry for a quarter of a century, and very few people in our industry have a work ethic like his. His hunger for knowledge and understanding of the world’s great wines fires his imagination and palate to reach new heights with his own wines every year. This year, he has organised distribution in the UK for more of his wines than ever before, so it is perfect timing for me to talk about the man himself and sing about these wines because more people than ever have the chance to taste them.

AND HERE ARE THE NOTES –

2022 Laissez Faire by Larry Cherubino, Field Blend, Pemberton, WA | 12.5% | £23

www.cambridgewine.com, www.cellarselected.com

This year, I have not enjoyed any complex white blend more than this wine. I chase this style because I love it, with northeastern Italy being a hotspot (or should that be a coolspot) for me. That is not to say that everyone likes this style of wine – they are demanding, often confusing, and require commitment.  I awarded 2022 Field Blend a massive 19/20 score in my notes, and this wine, along with the immense roll-call of others, was responsible for bringing the Winery of the Year award to Larry Cherubino.  The Laissez Faire wine label is a hands-off, ‘let it be’ collection, and these wines are among the most intellectually pleasing and deeply rewarding in the country.  Made from Pinot Blanc, Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Gris and seeing some skin contact and six months in French oak, this wine is total class.  It reminds me of the great wines from Cantina Terlano, but just a bit more complex!  This is a composed wine, with each variety giving its anti-fruit and fruit notes, and the combination of all these elements is incredible.  2022 Laissez Faire by Larry Cherubino Foudre Pinot Noir (£23, 12.5%, www.islingtonwine.co.uk, www.cellarselected.com) shows that while we all know that Larry Cherubino is a dab hand with Chardonnay and Cabernet, as well as countless other varieties, he can also work his magic with the most fickle red grape of all, Pinot Noir.  2022 Foudre is blessed with gentle rose and raspberry fruit, and this unhurried wine shows delicious balance thanks to Italianate acidity, eight months in French oak foudres and pinpoint accurate balance.  This is not a rich, dark style but a light-hearted, refreshing, resonant style, and it sits shoulder to shoulder with some of the more recognised Pinots from Victoria and Tassie.  Riesling is the most decorated Laissez Faire wine in the history of 100 Best and 2022 Laissez Faire by Larry Cherubino Riesling (£23, 12%, www.islingtonwine.co.uk, www.cellarselected.com, www.threepillarswine.co.uk) is a cracker, and a variation on a theme.  Classy, demure and gentle for the first two or three seconds, and the rest of the experience is mineral-drenched and unremittingly challenging on account of the intensity of rapier-sharp acidity. This makes 2022 Laissez Faire Riesling the vintage with the most potential I have tasted, so be sure to grab a case and settle in for a lovely long ride.

AND

2020 Cherubino, Ovale, GinGin Chardonnay, Willows Vineyard, Wilyabrup, Margaret River, WA | 13.5% | £35 www.goedhuis.com

With eleven Larry Cherubino wines featured in this Report and three under the Robert Oatley label for whom Larry consults, it is absolutely no surprise that Larry and his various teams of winemakers and viticulturalists have picked up the Winery of the Year Award!  I felt like Paul Hardcastle when I tasted the entire range earlier this year.  I usually find myself willing wines to break out of 17/20 or 18/20 ruts. With Larry’s celestial suite of wines, it was a case of trying to find one that didn’t clock up a 19.  I take my hat off to the dedication, perseverance, palate acumen and will to win that all combine to create the enigma that is Mr. Cherubino. I suggest you grab a huge shopping trolley and load up with every one of his wines in this Report because they will tell you more about the man than a face-to-face meeting because he is a shy chap who hides behind a Hollywood grin and a ludicrous mop of jet-black hair.  So here we go.  Now that Larry has finally managed to bring a plentiful selection of his wines to the UK, I can let fly with my thoughts.  My featured Chardonnay shines a spotlight on sub-regional excellence, and with sensitive oak and the merest hint of malolactic fermentation, it sings of its origins. There is intensity here and structure, too, and these imposing traits are marshalled by profound acidity and freshness.  I wrote ‘Grand Cru’ in my tasting notes, and while marvelling at the scale and profondeur, I found other storylines playing out across my palate.  Stony hints, discreet succulents, wilder herbs than one finds in the UK and wilder florals, too – there is a large cast of players here, and it makes for expansive tasting.  I suggest checking into this flavour first, and when your taste buds have acclimatised, move on to 2021 Cherubino Margaret River Chardonnay (£43, 13%, www.wimbledonwinecellar.com, www.islingtonwine.co.uk).  Larry calls this the ‘best’ Chardonnay in his range, but his is not a vertical suite of wines.  Each has its occasion, its audience, and its backdrop. Made from parcels of Karridale and Wilyabrup fruit, this is an utterly sensational wine with fruit so clean and bright it takes your eye off the sheer depth of flavour.  It is so long and focused it draws you along at its pace, and with not one glance over its shoulder, one sideways flick, one eyelid flutter, you fall in and follow.  You cannot be in a crowded room or a hectic space to fully appreciate the convolutions in this wine.  So, find a place, a time and a companion and allow yourself some moments of anticipation – it will rise to any occasion and reward all who participate in its performance. 2022 Cherubino Pemberton Sauvignon Blanc (£43, 12.5%, www.wimbledonwinecellar.com, www.islingtonwine.co.uk) slides southeast from Margaret River to a jewel in the Cherubino crown, Pemberton.  Here, we find one of only a handful of white wines employing the Sauvignon Blanc variety in this Report.  Green and silky, like a slippery vinous tree snake, it curls around your taste buds and then bites down with acid fangs.  Coming from a block in the Channybearup Vineyard, which was planted in 1996, it sees nothing more than four months in French oak in the winery before it slithers off into a bottle.  While it needs age and certainly reflects many of the traits of top white Graves, it doesn’t feel weighty or oily on the palate.  In this regard, it sits atop the oak-augmented Sauvignon tree, tense, poised and ready to strike; a little like La Mission on a mission.  The following three wines are all Cabernets from Larry’s beloved Frankland River region, and I have listed them in ascending order of price, intensity, and age-worthiness.  2018 Cherubino Ovale Clonal Selection Cabernet Sauvignon Riversdale Vineyard Frankland River (£32, 14.3%, www.goedhuis.com) seems to me to exhibit far more style and grace than it ought to at this price.  There is a beautiful volume of cassis fruit here, and skin tannins rake the palate rhythmically as the fruit glides past.  Fleshy blue and black fruit notes bring a level of exoticism, which is countered by cooling herbal and mint leaf hints.  This is a phenomenal introduction to elite Frankland Cabernet, and it has started to drink well.  If you love Napa or Bolgheri Cabs, this will seem like an elegant, fruit-forward wine, given it is not too oak-imprinted, and in terms of value, it soars above any examples I can think of from both regions.  2019 Cherubino Frankland River Cabernet Sauvignon (£61, 14.7%, www.luvians.com) pushes Larry’s Frankland River Cabernet template into a wholly different level of excellence.  The fruit is so resonant and bright it is shocking, and this gloriously luxurious flavour attack is underpinned by brutal, singular minerality that is at once awe-inspiring and not a little malevolent.  The back end is sour, dense, structured, ripe, cool, powerful, muscular and brittle, arming this wine for the long run.  It is like an intergalactic excavator has scooped up a large tract of Saint-Estèphe and deposited it among the karri trees in the southwest corner of Western Australia.  Finally, 2019 Cherubino Budworth Cabernet Sauvignon Riversdale Vineyard Frankland River (£77, 14%, the 2018 vintage was sold by www.igwines.com, www.uk.cruworldwine.com, www.cellarselected.com, www.burnettandherbert.com and I imagine they will all put their hands up for this vintage).  This was the wine that damn near spoilt the Nineteen track playing in my head.  Sappy, more tannic and more blunt than the other two Cabs, this is a muscular wine that craves cellar time, but it is already clear that it is prodigious with dreams of greatness.  Whether this beautifully complex flavour will add the half point needed to reach a perfect score in years to come is irrelevant because Riversdale Vineyard clearly has a stash of twenties buried in its soil, and they will blossom when they are good and ready.

OK – thank you for charging through the notes above. Your reward is the deafening klaxon going off, alerting you to 2022 Cherubino, Gingin Willows Vineyard Chardonnay.  First, if I tell you this is the finest value Chardonnay of the year, I hope this grabs your attention. The vine age, the unique Gingin Chardonnay clone (which adores the Margaret River region, performing at the peak of its powers in this wine), the stellar quality oak (60% new French and 40% one-year-old), the dynamic alcohol level of only 13.7%, and with only 10% of this wine going through malolactic fermentation, the acid profile is gripping – these stats add up to a stunning recipe for a world-class Chardonnay, but none of these tells you what it tastes like!  Again, cutting to the chase, this wine shows all of the tenderness of Chassagne-Montrachets from Niellon, the brittle tension of the finest Dauvissat Chablis and the expansive luxury of a Lafon Meursault. But it is none of these things – this can only be a wine from the very highest echelons of the most exciting Chardonnay regions on earth, Margaret River. And while one is spoilt for choice when it comes to picking out gems from this part of the world, no one manages to make wines of this detail and deliciousness, coupled with extreme value for money, like Larry. You must dive into this beautiful wine. 19/20 (Drink now – 2028)