It’s perhaps the world’s most polarising white wine, but exactly why is chardonnay so misunderstood? Peter Bourne sets the record straight on the most common misconceptions about this delicious drop — and tells us why there’s been no better time to enjoy it than now.
Chardonnay wine is trending right now, led by premium and superfine wines. Australian chardonnay’s popularity has waxed and waned since the pioneering plantings in the 1970s. It soared to dizzy highs in the ’80s then slumped to gloomy lows in the early 2000s.
In its heyday, chardonnay was planted everywhere and fell victim to its own proliferation, as it prefers a cool climate similar to its homeland in Burgundy, France. Today, topnotch Australian chardonnays are coming from cooler sites in the Yarra Valley, Adelaide Hills and Margaret River — look at producers like Leeuwin Estate and Yering Station.
Nowadays, it’s only some mainstream types of chardonnay that are simple, broad and, well, brassy. The contemporary style is clean, crisp, tight and bright, made from grapes grown on mature vines that deliver intense flavour.
Modern chardonnay wine is fresh and bright with apple, citrus and white stonefruit flavours, and a zesty acidity. Orange and Tumbarumba, and Tasmania are some of the key regions in Australia where, with winemaking that allows the pure fruit to shine, you can find this style of chardonnay. Try Mount Macleod or Curly Flat from Gippsland and the Macedon Ranges respectively.
Oaked chardonnay came about to add structure, flavour, depth and length, yet many chardonnays of last century lacked a real depth of flavour. The issue was under-fruited wines that were inherently out of balance.
New wave chardonnay is fermented and aged in barrels — but larger, older barrels with the oak in support of, not dominating, the finished wine. So is oaked or unoaked chardonnay better? It’s all a question of balance. Scarborough Yellow Label and Petaluma White Label are both premium examples of chardonnays that have struck this equilibrium.
Historically Australian chardonnay was seen as a “drink-me-now” proposition, but new wave chardonnays age well — five, 10 years or more even. Again, it comes back to balance — intense fruit flavour, subtle oak to shape and support the wine as it ages, with good natural acidity to keep it fresh and bright.
Look to our temperate and cool wine regions for chardonnays that age consistently, and revel in the complexity only time in-bottle brings. Think smells of honey and marmalade, and richer, rounder mouthfilling flavours — Lark Hill, we’re looking at you!
Chardonnay is one of the three key grapes of Champagne (along with pinot noir and meunier). In the chilly Champagne region, the chardonnay grapes are picked with low sugars, high acidity and delicate apple and citrus fresh flavours. The méthode traditionnelle process allows the flavours to build with chardonnay’s tart acidity energising the wine.
Champagne (and Australia’s premium sparklings) made from 100 per cent chardonnay are known as blanc de blancs — literally “white of whites”. Tasmania has numerous dazzling blanc de blancs on offer. Arras Blanc de Blancs NV is just a single example of the outstanding sparkling chardonnays on offer here at home.
Australia is lucky enough to produce some of the best chardonnay in the world. We hope that you’re encouraged to leave behind those outdated preconceptions about the wonderful white wine that is chardonnay.