Penfolds Bin 311 Chardonnay, $50

I’m smiling as I write this, and this is as close to a real-time review as you’re going to get. I’m working late finishing the 31st annual Restaurant Awards for our sister publication, Vancouver Magazine. And because I’ve been€”pardon my French€”busting my ass, I went to my office fridge and grabbed a bottle of white to help make toast the last round of endless changes. 

Now, I’m not one of those people who just grabs a bottle of wine. I’m the oenophile equivalent of that insufferable jazz fan, who must match every occasion to a perfect Coltrane track recorded in Stockholm, 1961. I generally don’t just “grab” bottles. But I’m tired and I saw the Penfolds label and saw that it was under screwcap and I just let ‘er rip. 

To be 100% honest, I thought I was grabbing a bottle of the very solid Koonunga Hill. The great deal at $19.99 Koonunga Hill. But I took a pull€”not a sip, but a hard pull€”and was immediately thrown for a loop. My first thought was, I have to go buy a case of this wine. My second was to double check the label. Doh! It wasn’t the everyman’s Koonunga, but the rather more elevated 311 (as in 2.5 times more elevated). But what a wine. There’s a special feeling when a wine utterly takes you by surprise, and if there’s a downside to tasting wine for a living (other than gout) it’s that those moments become fewer and fewer as you taste and taste and taste. But this wine was a lightning bolt of revelation: a little Chablis-like flint, a little firm body like Marcassin Chardonnay and some really dialed-in, tight fruit. It tastes like a Formula One car feels like to drive (I’m guessing on this): precise, powerful and maybe just a bit dangerous. This is a 750ml rebuke to anyone who says Aussie Chard is all oak, butter and bluster€”this is one of the most alive Chardonnays that’s graced my glass in a while.

And tonight only, one helluva welcome surprise.