Great white

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.

Halliday - - Inside - By DAVE BROOKES

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.

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