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New Face of Australian Chardonnay

‘The popular conception of Australian Chardonnay is that of a thoroughly industrial, acidified, full bodied, vaguely oaky, branded wine sold in high volume at heavy discou

brian walsh

nts to the undiscerning’
Not my words, but those of wine guru Jancis Robinson, writing in 2008.
There is probably some truth in that damning judgement, but Australian Chardonnay was nevertheless one of the great successes of the wine world in the Nineties and even into this century. Beloved of Bridget Jones and millions of ‘Sex in the City’ fans, it sold by the million cases all over the Western world and introduced a whole generation to Australian wine.
Then, as with all things fashionable, it went out of fashion, with its decline helped along by the ABC (‘Anything But Chardonnay’) movement. It has not gone away of course- large quantities are still produced in South East Australia, but it is getting hard to find these wines at Tesco- not to mention on a wine list.
A new generation of Australian Chardonnay is growing up and some interesting examples were  introduced by Brian Walsh, chairman of the Australian Grape and Wine Authority and John McDonnell, Ireland’s own Australian wine guru, at a Masterclass in the Royal Hibernian Academy, venue for this year’s Australian Wine Fair.
These were largely cooler climate wines with vibrant citrus fruit flavours, high acidity and just a nod to oak maturing. Some bore a strong resemblance to Chablis.
No surprisingly De Bortoli was well represented with a Yarra Valley Estate wine with distinctive nutty flavours. This estate was bought by the family in 1987 and is today -managed by Leanne de Bartoli and her husband. The wines are made by the colourful Steve Webber and have won many awards in Australia.
Penfolds Bin 311 from Henty, Victoria was made in 2011 and was a fine example of this new lean, spare, aromatic style of Chardonnay, while Jacob’s Creek Reserve 2013 from the Adelaide Hills displayed its high natural acidity and deep complexity which would certainly surprise many aficionados of the brand in this market.
The tasters, drawn from the off-trade, food service sector and media, voted solidly for the final wine as their ‘favourite’. This was a Voyager Estate wine of 2009 from the Margaret River. Founded by Michael Wright who died in 2012, this estate has consistently produced premium wines of which the 2009 Chardonnay was a fine example.
These were primarily premium wines and I suspect that they are appropriately priced in a region which is proving to be expensive for many importers. The new style could also explain why Australian Chardonnay is losing out to Sauvignon Blanc in many markets.
-Frank Corr

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