Australian chardonnay has undergone major style shifts in recent times, and it continues to evolve. We talk to some of our brightest chardonnay makers to check in on this great white.
We talk to some of our top chardonnay makers to check in on its evolving styles.
EVOLUTION OF WINE styles over time is an interesting subject. It’s complex. Many factors come into play, from the perceived change in consumer tastes and fashion, through to increased clonal diversity, vine age and a willingness to push the envelope in the vineyard and cellar. One thing is for sure, chardonnay has seen the most profound changes over the past couple of decades. So much so that if I were to become Minister of Wine and Cheese, come Australia Day I’d be handing the humble chardonnay grape the ‘most improved’ award for services to Australian wine drinkers. It’s come a long way.
Over the years, the pendulum has swung from the buttery, oaky, blousy come-hither wines of the ’80s and ’90s to the struckmatch lean machines of recent times, and all shades in between. I guess its fashion, or at least what marketing types think we want to drink. If it is fashion, we’ll consider the ’80s and ’90s examples as the equivalent of shoulder pads, the OTT sulphide-bombs as Spinal Tap, and perhaps the brief flirtation with unoaked styles in the ’90s as chardonnay’s brief ‘disco’ moment – one that is probably best forgotten, in my humble opinion.
It’s been a wild ride. Chardonnay began to wane in the late-’90s as New Zealand sauvignon blanc began to wash onto our shores and the cruel moniker of ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) echoed down the aisles of bottle shops. It was a tough time, but something happened. Producers began to dial back the oak, the wines tightened up, and the wines became fresher and more detailed.
And then, ever fashionable, we swung further still, towards a certain chardonnay style with those sulphidey, struck-match characters that are so beloved in some of the white wines from Burgundy. But perhaps we went too far. Maybe there was too much artefact.
The evolution of Australian chardonnay continues and we are beginning to find a middle ground. Vine age, clonal selection, understanding of site, good viticulture and winemaking all play a role in this process. The French have been casting nervous glances our way for a while now, and for good reason. Our wines have never been better.