The ABC of chardonnay

For a grape variety, chardonnay courts plenty of controversy. Once the star of Australian white wine, it has certainly suffered as sales of sauvignon blanc, particularly that of the New Zealand variety, have grown at an enormous rate.

It’s hard to remember, but so highly revered was chardonnay in the 1980s that the Australian government was paying growers to rip out hundred-year-old vines of shiraz and grenache and replace them with chardonnay. Today, however, some of that popularity has waned.

Much of chardonnay’s change in fortunes is associated with the old-fashioned style of that time. It was all about big, bold, sweet, unashamedly Aussie chardonnay that reeked of tinned mango and pineapple and was usually combined with cheap oak, with aromas reminiscent of IKEA pine. Very Kath and Kim.

No wonder many overdosed on this hedonistic style before vowing never to go back. And when Marlborough came along with its passionfruit-scented beauties, but this time with a burst of cleansing acidity, it quickly converted many to wines from across the ditch.

But that older, simpler style of chardonnay never did this superb grape justice. While it can certainly be made into a fruit-bomb style and is easily crafted in many of our warmer climates, chardonnay is also one of the most malleable and flexible of grape varieties.

From the cool reaches of champagne in France to California’s baking Central Valley, chardonnay can produce many styles of characterful wines. Put it in one of the cooler climates and the grape variety really begins to hit its peak, a lesson Aussie winemakers have learnt very well.

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De Bortoli in the Yarra Valley is one of Australia’s leading exponents

Today you’ll find cool climate chardonnay vineyards located across the country’s chillier regions, producing high quality wines.

From Western Australia’s Great Southern (regularly influenced by cooling Antarctic winds), to southern Victoria and Tasmania, hundreds of vineyards have popped up with a bright, fresher and more elegant style of wine.

Even some inland regions with altitude, such as the Adelaide Hills and Macedon Ranges, are also getting in on the act. The range of cool climate styles has been spreading like wildfire with the finest wines now genuinely threatening the best in France, although at a fraction of the price.

While a cool climate is vital to these fine wines, complex winemaking techniques also play a part. Wild yeasts, wines fermented in oak on yeast lees and then time in bottle gives these wines layer upon layer of complexity.

De Bortoli in the Yarra Valley is one of the country’s leading exponents – wines showing beautifully integrated oak and savoury lees complexity. One of their finest wines is the Yarra Reserve – a white peach and apple-scented style with spicy oak finishing with cool climate freshness.

What’s your favourite style of white wine?

(Images courtesy of De Bortoli)

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