Move over Bur­gundy, here comes cool Aussie Chardon­nay


Aus­tralian Chardon­nay es­tab­lished a rep­u­ta­tion on rich, op­u­lent styles with con­cen­tra­tion, full flavour and ripe fruit. That was then, now there’s a new wave of Aus­tralian Chardon­nay: wines with ap­proach­a­bil­ity, el­e­gance and di­ver­sity. Think you know Aussie Chardon­nay? Then think again…

The va­ri­ety’s be­gin­nings in Australia are mys­te­ri­ous. It’s al­most cer­tain that it ar­rived on the con­ti­nent dur­ing the nine­teenth cen­tury – but was it one of the 365 sur­viv­ing Busby cut­tings dock­ing in New South Wales in 1832 or did it ar­rive later via the Cape? Af­ter dis­ap­pear­ing dur­ing Australia’s for­ti­fied-wine era in the first half of the twen­ti­eth cen­tury, Chardon­nay resur­faced in the 1950s and its pop­u­lar­ity took off in the 1970s. To­day Chardon­nay is by far the most widely planted white in Australia as well as the third most widely planted va­ri­ety in the coun­try, af­ter Shiraz and Caber­net Sau­vi­gnon.

Aus­tralian wine­mak­ers’ ini­tial ap­proach to Chardon­nay is per­haps best de­scribed as ex­u­ber­ant. From mostly warmer re­gions, these golden-hued, tex­tured, gen­er­ously oaked Chardon­nays wowed the home and ex­port mar­kets alike. How­ever, wine­mak­ers grew dis­sat­is­fied with these wines’ lack of sub­tlety and fi­nesse, and this op­u­lent style be­gan to wane. Skinny Chardon­nays then fol­lowed, of­ten picked much ear­lier from the same vine­yards, but these ‘lean and mean’ aus­tere styles never matched the pop­u­lar­ity of their buxom fore­bears.

It was at this point that Australia’s fine- wine avant-garde be­gan ex­plor­ing the coun­try’s cool-cli­mate re­gions – coastal sites in the far south (such as Gipp­s­land, Henty, Great South­ern or Tas­ma­nia), and sites at higher al­ti­tude with con­di­tions not dis­sim­i­lar to classic Euro­pean re­gions (parts of the Ade­laide Hills, the Mace­don Ranges or Tum­barumba). This quest for fi­nesse and fresh­ness was ac­com­pa­nied by a newer, more nu­anced un­der­stand­ing of sub-re­gion­al­ity within large, es­tab­lished pre­mium ar­eas like Mar­garet River or the Yarra Val­ley.

Cool cli­mate re­gions con­tinue to at­tract con­sid­er­able in­ter­est, and pro­duc­ers are now ex­per­i­ment­ing with sin­gle vine­yards and sub-blocks of just a few rows. Tech­niques in the vine­yard and win­ery have also evolved: hand har­vest­ing, ear­lier pick­ing, more gen­tle use of oak and the move to old French oak, min­i­mal in­ter­ven­tion and wild fer­ments are some of the prac­tices which are re­shap­ing the face of Chardon­nay. The new wave Chardon­nays are re­fined, com­plex and bal­anced; they can com­ple­ment a broad range of dishes and they have age­ing po­ten­tial. Aussie Chardon­nay is ex­cit­ing again. Even the ar­ti­sans and pi­o­neer­ing young guns are go­ing back to Chardon­nay,

think Timo Meyer and Mac Forbes in the Yarra Val­ley, Taras Ochota in the Ade­laide Hills and Ju­lian Castagna in Beech­worth.

These fresh, el­e­gant Chardon­nays are en­tic­ing crit­ics and con­sumers back to Australia. Jan­cis Robin­son MW ad­mit­ted “at the moment I am find­ing more life, in­ter­est and cer­tainly value in the best of the new gen­er­a­tion Aus­tralian Chardon­nays than I am in the great bulk of white bur­gundies” (Jan­cisRobin­, Oc­to­ber 2015). And just last month, Sarah Ahmed noted in September’s De­canter “the spot­light is back on this Aussie classic, and ad­vances in tech­nique mean that its Chardon­nays have taken a vi­brant new di­rec­tion…with greater re­fine­ment and di­ver­sity by style and ori­gin, Aus­tralian Chardon­nay is more in­ter­est­ing than ever.”

Mean­while, across Australia’s vi­brant restau­rant scene, som­me­liers have now flocked back to the Chardon­nay cause, mind­ful of the fact that no white va­ri­ety bet­ter meets the fun­da­men­tal chal­lenge of restau­rant wine ser­vice (to find the best sin­gle wine for four en­tirely dif­fer­ent main-course dishes) than this one. On Australia’s stun­ningly di­verse restau­rant wine lists, with pages of Jura spe­cial­i­ties, sin­gle-butt sher­ries, Xarel-lo and Grüner Velt­liner, the great con­tem­po­rary Aussie Chardon­nays more than hold their own: tex­tured, sub­tle, nu­anced, poised, ex­pres­sive - and high­light­ing the di­ver­sity of Australia’s con­trast­ing re­gions.

Chardon­nay in Australia over the last 40 years pro­vides the neat­est sum­mary you could wish for of the broader changes Aus­tralian wine has un­der­gone dur­ing that pe­riod. Qual­ity, di­ver­sity and evo­lu­tion are the hall­marks not just of Aus­tralian Chardon­nay, but Aus­tralian wine.

Still not con­vinced? Then, blind-taste a lead­ing multi-re­gional blend like Pen­folds Yat­tarna or Hardy’s Eileen Hardy Chardon­nay against any global com­pe­ti­tion you wish, in­clud­ing Pre­mier Cru and Grand Cru Bur­gundy. Whichever your pref­er­ence, you’ll be struck by the grain and tex­tu­ral fi­nesse as well as the poise and el­e­gance of Aus­tralian Chardon­nay.

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