The spotlight is back on this Aussie classic and advances in technique mean that Australian Chardonnay has taken a vibrant new direction, says Sarah Ahmed. See her report and recommendations of what to buy.


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Even Australia’s warmest regions can produce sound wines, and when oak, butter and cream had more currency, they churned out hugely popular Australian Chardonnay brands.

But if Chardonnay’s lodestar is Burgundy, surely terroir counts for more than technique?

Australia’s march towards premiumisation has seen a greater emphasis on provenance over the past decade and this was clear at the annual Australia Day Tasting in London earlier this year, which framed my selection for this article.

I could easily have recommended more wines from Australia’s Chardonnay-focused regions – especially from the leading Chardonnay producers featured here.


View all of Decanter’s Australian Chardonnay tasting notes


They offer a fascinating range differentiated by sub-region, vineyard or block, while a love for the grape shines through in entry-level Chardonnays, which can put non-specialists’ reserve wines to shame.

The key regions to look for

The cooler-climate regions – Adelaide Hills, Geelong, Mornington Peninsula, Yarra Valley and the more temperate Margaret River – are beacons of consistency.

Tasmanian fruit is the lynchpin of Penfolds’ Yattarna and Hardys’ Eileen Hardy, and now a growing number of sophisticated, crystalline homegrown wines.

Few other regions give Chardonnay the same intensity of focus, but powerful examples can be found in the warmer climes of Beechworth in Victoria and New South Wales’ Mudgee and Hunter Valley regions.

At 600m altitude or more, New South Wales’ cooler, elevated regions of Tumbarumba and Orange produce taut, fresh, good-value examples, as does Great Southern, by the chilly Southern Ocean over in Western Australia.


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Sarah Ahmed’s top six Australian Chardonnay:

Click on the wines to see the full tasting note and stockist details for UK and US, where available. 

 


Change

Much as the cooler-site focus has gilded Australian Chardonnay’s reputation, changes in technique have also been critical, alongside the introduction of new Burgundy clones.

Earlier harvest dates have enhanced freshness, line, length and longevity, while individual picking regimes can impact on style, whether austere or fuller-bodied and fruitier.

Another contemporary Australian Chardonnay trope – ‘struck match’ reduction (sulphides) – is also being better managed for greater subtlety.

It is a by-product of less interventionist winemaking, especially ageing wines on gross lees without lees-stirring (to avoid building palate weight).

Together with natural ferments, higher solids produce the minerality and savouriness that enhance complexity, texture and restraint.

Price

With greater refinement and diversity by style and origin, Australian Chardonnay is more interesting than ever. As for price, with Brexit inflation along with crop shortages in many parts of Burgundy in 2016, ‘Australia looks even more competitive’, according to Corney & Barrow’s senior buying assistant Elliot Perkoff.


This is an abridged version of a feature that first appeared in the September 2017 issue of Decanter magazine. Subscribe to Decanter here.


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