Aussie chardonnay rules again

Flametree Chardonnay, Margaret River, Australia 2020 (from £17.50, nywines.co.uk; tauruswines.co.uk; cambridgewine.com) Australian chardonnay has had a few ups and downs over the years. In the 1980s, it was the wine that helped the country on the vinous journey from laughing stock to one of the world’s biggest wine exporters. Then, in the 1990s, there was a backlash against the thick, syrupy, oaky, buttery, tropically fruited style the Australians had pioneered, and the formation of the sneery ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) club. In the 2000s a loss of confidence among some Australian producers led to wines that had the opposite flaws: rather than being too rich, many of them were too skinny, lacking in ripeness, flavour and presence. More recently, however, I’d say Australian chardonnay producers have become both more sensitive and more stubborn: sensitive in producing wine styles that reflect the varied vineyards in which the grapes are grown; stubborn in that they’re no longer so bothered about listening to the whims of the market and are instead concentrating on making superbly expressive wines such as Flametree’s.

Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay, Margaret River, Western Australia 2018 (£70, stannarywine.com) I am very far from being the first person to suggest chardonnay may in many senses be Australia’s best grape variety – the one that best shows off both the talents of Australia’s winemakers and the myriad growing conditions of a wine-growing country that is often erroneously portrayed as being somewhat monolithic in character. Of course there are many great wines being made in Australia from shiraz, grenache, cabernet and, increasingly, Italian, Spanish and other Mediterranean grape varieties. But there’s so much experience with chardonnay now, a sense that the winemakers know the best places for the variety (after early years when it was planted somewhat will-nilly) and what they want to do with it. A producer such as Leeuwin Estate, for example, has been making its top-of-the-range Art Series Chardonnay for more than 40 years now. And it’s never been better; never more resonant, complex, silk-textured, thrillingly fine and bright.

Giant Steps Yarra Valley Chardonnay, Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia 2020 (from £23.95, thewhiskyexchange.com; vinvm.co.uk) The Bordeaux-Down-Under maritime climate of Margaret River is just one of Australia’s many top chardonnay zones. The state of Victoria is abundantly well served with vineyards that yield unusually elegant, racy but brightly fruited chardonnay, among them the Yarra Valley, home to Giant Steps. Like many top Aussie (and Burgundy) chardonnay producers, Giant Steps makes a range of several single-vineyard wines. But their blend of fruit from vineyards across the region is in lipsmacking form this vintage, which is all about the pristine tangy fruit and clean lines. In South Australia, the relatively cool-climate hotspot for chardonnay is the Adelaide Hills region above the city of Adelaide in South Australia, home to the pristine, tangy vibrancy of Murdoch Hill Chardonnay, Onkaparinga Valley 2018 (£28.95, thewhiskyexchange.com). For value, however, it’s hard to beat a wine from another South Australian region, Eden Valley: Hill-Smith Estate Chardonnay 2020 (£11.99, Waitrose).