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JUNE / JULY 2013

CHARDONNAY Chardonnay is one of the most exciting wines in Australia right now – for its price, quality and diversity of styles. We break down its key characters so you can find your best fit. WORDS BEN EDWARDS ILLUSTRATION TANYA COOPER


Photography // Alamy


ustralian chardonnay now tastes fresher, juicier, more complex and outright better than it did a decade ago. It’s arguably Australia’s best wine grape variety and as a result, we should all be drinking it. But now that chardonnay is made in different styles, it’s important to make a mental road map of the different flavours, weights, places they’re likely to be grown and the foods they’re best suited to as a match. Australian chardonnay has come a long way since Tyrrell’s in the Hunter Valley really started the chardonnay charge in the 1970s. In these early days of chardonnay in Australia, much excitement was caused by the simple fact that chardonnay was fleshy and generous, and full of winemaking complexity. Eventually, heavy-handed use of toasty oak, buttery malolactic fermentation characters and complex lees texture became en vogue. Big was beautiful and indeed, for a time, the bigger flavoured the wine, the more the producer was rewarded. Then came an evolution in style in the 1990s as some early pioneers of truly great and site-specific chardonnay came to the fore – Leeuwin Estate in the Margaret River region, Bannockburn Vineyards in Geelong, and Giaconda in Beechworth, to name a few. These producers started to create wines of intensity and finesse, and accordingly, enjoyed superstar status from consumers and sommeliers alike. But these wines were the exception. Most Aussie chardonnay back then was hot and heavy, and it got tired all too quickly in the bottle. Tired wine makes for tired drinkers and that’s just what happened. Drinkers, understandably, went seeking freshness, and voila – along came a tsunami of unoaked, fresh-squeezed sauvignon blanc from Marlborough in New Zealand.

The thing is, Australian chardonnay (fresh, fruity and complex) is inherently a better wine than New Zealand sauvignon blanc (fresh, fruity and simple). Chardonnay just needs to be treated right, which is where the new era comes in. In the new millennium, a new guard of Australian winemakers strode to the battle lines, intent on making w ines of finesse, purity, freshness and complexity. These winemaking champions included Vanya Cullen (Cullen), David Bicknell (Oakridge), Anna Pooley (ex-Heemskerk, now Pooley Wines), Tom Carson (ex-Yering Station, now Yabby Lake), Virginia Willcock (Vasse Felix), Oliver Crawford (ex-Penfolds, now Devil’s Lair) and others. Now Australia boasts a huge list of world-class wines that stand comfortably alongside, if not slightly ahead of, some of the most expensive and sought-after dry whites on the planet. This means there is a chardonnay out there for everyone. If you hear someone exclaim they are members of the ABC club (standing for ‘anything but chardonnay’), tell them they have simply not found the right style for them. With this in mind, we have explored the different styles and thrown in some stellar examples. You’re bound to find a style you love.

RACY, LEAN AND MINERAL-DRIVEN STYLES The more sun chardonnay grapes get, the more sugar the grapes will produce, and riper, richer flavours will result. For leaner or more refreshing styles, look to the cooler regions – or those that receive less sunshine. It makes sense that in Tasmania and southern Victoria, we see the most elegant and sometimes even delicate examples of Australian chardonnay. Many of these are made without obvious oak influence and where laser-like acidity and tightly wound fruit is seen as the pinnacle; a style sought and in the best examples achieved. This linear acid tang provides a refreshing backbone that is perfect for delicate seafood flavours, such as oysters, shellfish or just about anything that gets handed around as appetisers. There are plenty of producers making these tightly wound and thrilling wines in Australia, including Kooyong Clonale 2011 (Mornington Peninsula), Hoddles Creek 1er (Yarra Valley), Stoney Rise (Tasmania) and Bay of Fires (Tasmania), to name a few. Current-vintage Chablis, either 2010 or 2011 – both lovely vintages for early consumption – can represent great value in Australia at the moment, thanks to the high Australian dollar and the ever-increasing use of screwcap. ➺




The biggest change

The advent of the screwcap has contributed to a dramatic extension of shelf-life for new-world chardonnay. As little as five to 10 years ago, the idea of ageing chardonnay beyond three to five years was – in most cases – ridiculous. But today, with leaner wines under inert closures, chardonnay from the best producers will age with grace. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for white Burgundy, which has a shocking record for premature oxidation of late, so to be safe, it is recommended to consume your wines between three and five years of age and no more. Go forth and enjoy, and wear your chardonnay lover’s badge with great pride.


The late, great Len Evans OBE always talked about great chardonnay in terms of line and length. In northern hemisphere terms, this starts by moving south from Chablis to the great wines of the Cote de Beaune, where names like Corton-Charlemagne and Puligny-Montrachet come to the fore; villages where wines balance line, length and complexity. In Australian terms, we move up through Tasmania to the Mornington Peninsula, Yarra Valley and even to high-altitude vineyards in the Adelaide Hills and Tumbarumba. The examples here start to take on extra levels of ripeness and flesh, with fruits of pear, nectarine and grapefruit, alongside winemaking influences such as struck match, charcuterie and spice. The key to these wines is the balance of fine acidity with the extra dimension of fruit weight. Some of the most exciting food and wine matching options exist in this category. Get adventurous with your pairings, with ideas such as pork belly, roast organic chicken and fuller-flavoured seafood dishes all being dream combinations. Some of the key examples of this chardonnay style are from Yabby Lake, Shaw & Smith, Oakridge and Barwang 842.

In France, the generous wines of Meursault and the Maconnais subregions are synonymous with power. Combining power with finesse is no mean feat, as the tantalisingly thin line between optimum ripeness and overripe characters are often achieved in more temperate climes than those previously mentioned. Nerves of steel are required to bring the fruit in with enough natural acidity and flavour to give real depth of personality. The undisputed current champion of chardonnay with power and finesse in Australia is the Margaret River region. However, powerfully built chardonnays are what set the scene for those interlopers in the west, and regions like Geelong and Beechworth continue to produce hedonistic wines of incredible complexity. A couple of old stagers need to be singled out at this point, as Rick Kinzbrunner and Gary Farr (with the help of his diligent son Nick) have both produced exceptional wines in 2010 with the Giaconda and Chardonnay by Farr wines respectively, proving that all styles have a place in the market. Of course, chardonnay gets produced in countries other than France and Australia, and these most often belong in the richer and riper end of the chardonnay spectrum.

Photography // iStockphoto





PICTURED (right)

If you’re not sure which chardonnay camp you’re in, work your way through these ideas.


✚ Hoddles Creek

Chardonnay 2011 {$20} ✚ Oakridge OTS 2012 {$22} ✚ Kooyong Estate Clonale Chardonnay 2012 {$30} ✚ Ocean 8 Verve 2012 {$38} ✚ Bress Chardonnay 2012 {$35}

✚ Stoney Rise

Chardonnay 2011 {$29} ✚ Courabyra Chardonnay 2011 {$26} ✚ Xanadu Next of Kin Chardonnay 2011 {$18} ✚ Lenton Brae Southside 2011 {$25} ✚ Yabby Lake Block 6 Chardonnay 2011 {$80}

LINE & LENGTH ✚ Coldstream Hills Reserve The stunning Littorai wines of Ted Lemon from California are worth the effort to find, and New Zealand’s Hawke’s Bay (Trinity Hill), North Canterbury (Bell Hill) and Auckland regions also produce plenty of world-class, richly flavoured examples, none more so notable than the Brajkovich family at New Zealand’s Kumeu River. When it comes to matching food with these richer styles of chardonnay, it should come as little surprise that richer food flavours are the go. Veal, dark-meated birds, truffles, creamy sauces and anything else that evokes a little hedonistic pang of the gastric juices should be embraced and enjoyed. It is important to avoid strong spices and chilli heat, as these flavours merely accentuate the bitterness that the influence of oak may have had on these boldly flavoured chardonnays. Look for the chardonnays of Geelong, Beechworth, Margaret River and the WANT west in general, plus MORE? New Zealand, and California. Lethbridge, For James Halliday’s Aussie Bannockburn by Farr, chardonnay picks, Vasse Felix, Voyager turn to page 103. Estate, Harewood, Te Mata, For French Trinity Hills and Littorai examples, turn to page 110. are excellent producers of this style.

Chardonnay 2011 {$49} ✚ Seville Estate Reserve Chardonnay 2011 {$60} ✚ Oakridge 864 Funder & Diamond Vineyard Chardonnay 2011 {$72} ✚ Montalto Estate Chardonnay 2011 {$39} ✚ Willow Creek Chardonnay 2011 {$40} ✚ Curly Flat Chardonnay 2011 {$42} ✚ Bay of Fires Chardonnay 2011 {$38} ✚ Riversdale Estate Grown Tasmania Chardonnay 2011 {$50}

✚ Leura Park Block 1 Reserve

Chardonnay 2011 {$45} ✚ Audrey Wilkinson Reserve Chardonnay 2011 {$35} ✚ Mount Pleasant Leontine Hunter Valley Chardonnay 2011 {$30} ✚ Flametree S.R.S Chardonnay 2011 {$55} ✚ Castelli Estate Pemberton Chardonnay 2011 {$28} ✚ Penfolds Cellar Reserve Chardonnay 2012 {$34} ✚ Tapanappa Tiers Vineyard Chardonnay 2010 {$75} ✚ Shaw & Smith M3 Chardonnay 2011 {$40}

DEPTH & POWER ✚ Lethbridge Chardonnay

2011 {$40} ✚ Bannockburn by Farr Chardonnay 2010 {$78} ✚ Bannockburn Vineyards Chardonnay 2010 {$57} ✚ Barwang 842 2010 {$40} ✚ First Creek Wines Winemakers Reserve Chardonnay 2011 {$40} ✚ Hay Shed Hill Chardonnay 2011 {$23}

✚ Woodlands Chardonnay

2011 {$23} ✚ Voyager Estate Chardonnay 2010 {$45} ✚ Howard Park Chardonnay 2011 {$52} ✚ Single File Family Reserve Chardonnay 2011 {$45} ✚ Grosset Piccadilly Chardonnay 2011 {$59}

Decoding Chardonnay  

Chardonnay is one of the most exciting wines in Australia right now – for its price, quality and diversity of styles. We break down its k...

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