Australian Chardonnay is going through a bit of a purple patch at the moment. Some of the best wine writers in the world are comparing our most exciting chards to premier grand cru White Burgundy.
During the 80’s chardonnay was all the rage, then suddenly everyone got bored with the same buttery, oaky “sunshine in a bottle” that we were getting. It fell from grace so quickly, entire vineyards were torn up and replanted with what was then the next big thing, sauvignon blanc. I don’t think anyone saw it coming back from its abyss so quickly, it must be the comeback kid of all time
There have been a few things that have driven the successful revival of chard, finally people have understood the importance of growing region and terroir, plus wineries have realised that it’s about the skill of the winemaker, newer wine making techniques. If you went looking for an unwooded chard 15 years ago, you would have been hard pressed to find one. Now vineyards will produce not only wooded chards and unwooded chards, but even low alcohol and low calorie chardies. The wines we see now are a lot paler, have more savoury characters and a texture to them that we wouldn’t have seen twenty years ago.
Winemakers have realised that all the flavour you want is hanging right there on that vine, pick the grape early the flavours will come from the youth of the grape and focus on the structure and the build of the wine instead. An early picked grape will have a higher acidity, but by aging on lees after barrel fermentation you get more body and a smoother texture to the wine.
And getting techniques such as when to pick, or to age on lees after barrel fermentation etc right is like trying to understand Aeronautical Engineering. It can be done, but it’s damn hard, and very few people get it right.
The winemakers who do get it right though knock out impressive chardonnay, not the big showy or buttery wines from two decades ago, but wines that are textured, complex and savoury. Oak is generally not taking the big centre stage that it used to. I say generally because there are some chardonnay out there that still has oak playing a major role, Leeuwin Art Series and Penfolds Reserve Bin A spring to mind. Both are wines that polarise people, you either love it or hate it, and often it’s because of the oak spice that it carries.
But like most things in life, the quality and skills used in those top end wines trickles down to our everyday quaffing wines. The Penfolds Koonunga Hill Chardonnay has come on in leaps and bounds for example, grab a bottle and try it. For something that usually sells at about $10 a bottle, it really is good value.
A couple to look for:
The Week night Drop:
McWilliams Appellation Tumbarumba Chardonnay – a wine that sits very comfortably in that stone fruit spectrum, with great layered oak. There’s a soft spice, touch of flint/gun powder, with a cashew nut creaminess, biscuity oak notes, bright citrus but it’s driven by that stone fruit, particularly white nectarine, and some crunchy pear notes. RRP sits around $25, but we recently found this online for $12 btl making it an affordable midweek drop. Often a favourite for retail discounting in the local bottleshops.
The Friday night Drop:
De Bortoli Villages Chardonnay 2016 – a wine that really needs food to hit its stride. It’s light and lean, almost shy but it opens after a short time in the glass. It’s driven by citrus, apple and white stone fruit characters with the faintest touch of flint in there, a light cashew creaminess to it. An interesting wine and you get change from a $20 too.
The Saturday Night/Dinner Party drop:
Penfolds Max’s Chardonnay 2016 – pick a white fleshed fruit, and you’ll pretty much find it in this drop, pear, apple, white peach and white nectarine, has a beautiful soft mouthfeel with some interesting texture that will work well with food. A touch of spice on a superbly long finish. About $30
The Impress the Father-in-law to be drop:
Giant Steps Sexton Vineyard Chardonnay 2016 – a reserved and understated wine, it’s quite floral and pretty on the nose, touches of apple, citrus blossoms and nectarine, which follow through onto the tongue with a touch of flint, and a cashew nut creaminess to it, super easy drinking, lingering finish. Amazing how quick the glass empties. RRP $45.
The Put away for a few Years drop:
Leeuwin Art Series Chardonnay 2014 – with a bit of hunting around you can still find the ’14 on shelves, it’s not cheap sitting at about $100, but it’s one of the few Aussie chardies that will give you 25+years in the bottle with careful cellaring. Pear and white peach with almond meal, dried ginger and oaky notes, spicy and smooth, minerally and flinty, all wrapped around an acid backbone with a long, long finish. Bloody great wine here.