And yes – we’re leaving the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) Club behind…
Ah, Chardonnay: the world’s most drunk white grape, and one of the most divisive wines on the market. People either love it or loathe it. Just look at the ABC, or ‘Anything But Chardonnay’ club, who spend their days lambasting it.
Which, obviously, is completely unfair. Because Chardonnay is GREAT.
So, what makes people doubt it? Well, it’s probably because of the influences of winemaking. Chardonnay’s not particularly aromatic in itself, but it IS easy to grow pretty much everywhere in the world. And, it suits every type of winemaking technique.
Which was kind of the problem, back in the 1980s and 1990s, anyway. Oaking – ageing wine in contact with wood – was all the rage, as was something called malolactic fermentation. That’s the technique that creates all those buttery, creamy flavours you taste in Chardonnay. Almost TOO much the rage, in fact.
It wasn’t long before every Chardonnay you’d find was heavy, reaaaally tasted of vanilla, spice and wood. If we’re honest – they were probably a bit unpleasant to drink on their own. The ABC club was launched. Everyone began drinking crisp, cleaner whites instead (enter Pinot Grigio). And until recently, that was how things stayed.
The wonders of Australian Chardonnay
Luckily for us, winemakers now have realised what wine lovers are calling out for, and changed up their Chards. Especially in Australia, where powerful, fruity and clean examples are emerging in droves. Turns out, when producers here do Chardonnay well, they do it REALLY well.
They’ve even (Francophiles – cover your ears here) been compared to some of Burgundy’s best. Australia’s shifted its focus to lean, refreshing and appetising styles, which fare particularly well in cooler areas like Tasmania, Adelaide Hills and Mornington Peninsula. Here, cooler weather imparts extra layers of acidity to wines.
This year, our Aussie friends are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first varietally-labelled Chardonnay in the country. And of course – we’re not ones to miss out on a celebration. So, in tribute, meet some of our favourites below…
We just LOVE Margaret River Chardonnays – and Vasse Felix, as the first winery to set up shop there, makes one of our all-time faves. This little pocket of Western Australia has a stunning climate that’s been compared to Burgundy for decades and the wines very rarely fall short of perfection. Vasse Felix’s founder, Dr. Thomas Cullity had one original aim – to “make the best possible wine” – and safe to say the team have done just that with their Chardonnay (£26.00). Fresh yet creamy, it’s packed full of white peach, yuzu, pear flan and ginger flavours – just so fragrant and delicious.
Citrus, sorbet, and stone fruit: all delicious flavours for a Chardonnay, and all exactly what you can expect from the Giant Steps Chardonnay (£30.00). This is one of the best examples of Yarra Valley Chard we’ve found! Giant Steps, named after the John Coltrane jazz album of the same name, is Phil Sexton’s brainchild. Here, he crafts small batches of high-end wine, focusing primarily on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Shaw & Smith
When a winery’s founding member is his country’s first Master of Wine, you know their wines are going to be SPEC-TAC-U-LAR. For context – there were just 382 MWs in the world as of 2019). Michael Hill-Smith MW and Martin Shaw make beautifully refreshing wines in the cool-climate Adelaide Hills, including their M3 Chardonnay (£31.50). Expect elegant white flowers, lemon blossom, citrus, and nectarine.
Dawson & James
Peter Dawson and Tim James were first drawn to Tasmania’s cool climate because of their love of Pinot Noir. But, luckily for us, they’ve expanded their operation out into Chardonnay too. Tasmania’s frequently been compared to Champagne in terms of its climate, and their delicious flinty, citrussy Chardonnay (£54.00) has been praised by critics as holding its own against Premier Crus from Burgundy – even being a little fruitier and softer.
South Australia may be a behemoth of a state, responsible for over 50% of Australia’s wine production. But, that’s not to say that quality isn’t to be found all across the region. The wonderful Grosset are based here; although they’re most famous for their Polish Hill Riesling, their Chardonnay is nothing to be sniffed at either. Complex, intense, and delicate, it’s a heavily perfumed wine with wonderful wild flower aromas and even some nutty elements.