Aussie Chardy: this way please

In the last week, I’ve presented a couple of blind tastings focused on Chardonnay and regionality in Australia.  My line up, the first two unoaked, comprised:

  • Mount Adam Chardonnay 2008 (Barossa, South Australia)
  • Cumulus Rolling Chardonnay 2008 (Central Ranges, New South Wales)
  • Kooyong Estate Chardonnay 2006 (Mornington Peninsula, Victoria)
  • De Bortoli Yarra Valley Chardonnay 2006 (Yarra Valley, Victoria)
  • Petaluma Chardonnay 2008 (Adelaide Hills, South Australia)
  • Xanadu Reserve Chardonnay 2008 (Margaret River, Western Australia).
  • McHenry Hohnen Rocky Road Chardonnay 2008 (Margaret River, Western Australia)

Much as I’d hoped, I successfully challenged some increasingly outmoded perceptions about Aussie chardy being big, buttery and oaky, though the clear preference for oaked over unoaked wines suggests that consumers like oak, as long as it’s judiciously used.

Still, what impressed the punters most was these wines’ lingering, mouthwatering acidity, though some found the De Bortoli a little too crisp.  I know what they mean – sometimes the desire to change direction produces a knee jerk reaction to the other extreme.  For the record, I really don’t think Australia should be producing Chardys in a Chablis mold.  As I often point out to Aussie winemakers invoking the C word, surely an extreme, northerly, cooler outpost in Burgundy doesn’t stack up as a homoclime match for even Australia’s coolest climates?  What’s more, Australia shouldn’t apologise about fruit – in France’s best vintages, fruit is celebrated!

The holy grail is balance and I’m really pleased to report that great acid and fruit balance increasingly characterise Australia’s Chardonnays – take the De Bortoli Yarra Valley Estate Chardonnay 2008 served at an Australia’s First Families of Wine dinner a few weeks ago, which showed sublime balance.  Texture  – a result of wild yeast ferments, lees ageing and battonage – is another exciting nuance of Australia’s new breed of long and layered Chardonnays.

As for Western Australia (WA), readers will know that I’m a fan of its gin gin Chardonnay clone, whose propensity for “hens and chickens” naturally facilitates terrific concentration of fruit built around a tight citric core. It explains why, for example Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay, packs such a punch and needs time to unravel.  Time also helps to better integrate the more overt oak you often find in top Western Australian wines like the Leeuwin and Xanadu Reserve tasted last week (McHenry Hohnen favour older barrels).

And, while we’re talking WA, this premium-focused wine region is flying high at the moment.  WA claimed 101 medals out of Australia’s total haul of 750 at the 2010 Decanter World Wine Awards.  Its gold medals reflect the region’s traditional strengths, Cabernet Sauvignon and especially Chardonnay this year. The 2007 Cullen Kevin John Chardonnay (see here for my tasting note ) scooped the Australian Regional Chardonnay Trophy and, from the same vintage, Chardonnays from Voyager Estate (see my tasting note here) and Umamu also picked up gold medals.  For Cabernet, Gold medals went to Capel Vale Wines The Scholar Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Streicker Wines Ironstone Block Old Vine Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 and Houghton Wines Jack Mann Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 (see my tasting note here).

If you’d like to taste some top WA wines, including Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay 2006 and Voyager Estate Chardonnay 2007, why not join me at a tasting at the Australian High Commission, Strand, London to celebrate WA Foundation Day on 10 June (find out more here)?