So yes, I'm talking about Chardonnay again. I know I focused on it fairly recently after sommelier Julie Dupouy hosted a very interesting tasting of Chardonnays from around the world. This time, I'm taking a closer look at Australian Chardonnay. Because World Chardonnay Day is next Thursday, and no matter what anyone says, it always seems to be the bottles from Oz that get the rap for being the big, oaky offenders. Which is simply not the case any more.
I was so, so lucky to have had the opportunity to visit Australia last October, a memory that feels more poignant than ever. Among the regions I travelled to was Margaret River, a small cape on the west coast, which is about three hours south of Perth, one of the most isolated major cities in the world. It is as close to Jakarta as it is to Adelaide, its nearest Australian neighbour.
Virginia Willcock, the winemaker at Vasse Felix, explained that the Margaret River region is ranked as one of the top 35 biodiversity hotspots in the world. Relaxed, with dramatic surf waves kissing the sands of practically deserted beaches, the unique climate and soil in the region has proved to be spectacularly well suited to growing premium-quality vines.
The weather here is not typical of Australia. Over the last 100 years, it has shown no sign of being affected by global warming, and year after year, the harvests have been consistently good, 2019 included. With a Mediterranean climate and maritime influence from the cool south-westerly breezes that blow in from the sea in the evening, the grapes maintain their acidity and freshness, and a long ripening time ensures that the fruit is vibrant. This is what gives Chardonnay from Margaret River its distinctive character, along with one other key factor.
Virginia calls it one of those beautiful accidents of nature. The Chardonnay vines here are quite different from the vines on the opposite coast of Australia. The cuttings, intended to act as a good virus detector, were air freighted to the region from University of California, Davis, in 1957. Low-yielding, with small bunches, and inconsistently sized berries, they were never intended to be used for commercial cultivation. But plantings on the Gingin block of Leeuwin Estate told a different story. The high skin-to-pulp ratio of the uneven-sized grapes brings a concentration of flavour and touch of phenolics to the wines, and the Gingin clone, as it had become known, was soon adopted as one of the top Chardonnay clones of the region. Unlike Chardonnay from other parts of Australia, Margaret River Chardonnay is closer in style to the whites of Burgundy.
Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay, Cullen Kevin John Chardonnay, Vasse Felix Heytesbury Chardonnay, Xanadu Reserve Chardonnay and Voyager Estate Project 95 Chardonnay rank as the top Chardonnays of the region. Here I have a Vasse Felix Chardonnay as well as four quite different expressions of the grape.
Wine of the week: Vasse Felix Filius Chardonnay 2018
€24.99, 13pc, from Whelehan's, Corkscrew, Baggot St Wines, Donnybrook Fair, Deveney's, La Touche, Greystones; and Number 21 Off Licences
The grapes for this Margaret River wine are selected from a number of different vineyard parcels. This means that there are multiple clones of Chardonnay, which include the Gingin clone. Using wild fermentation, each parcel is fermented separately in oak. This adds a barely discernible toasty note to the finished wine as only 20pc of the barrels are new, the balance ranging in age from one to five years. It's then blended to produce an elegant style of wine that has finesse, with light fruit flavours of crunchy apple, citrus and a touch of pear.
Shaw + Smith, `M3` Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2018
€39.49, 13pc, from 64 Wine, Sweeney's D3, Redmond's, McHugh's, Blackrock Cellar, Corkscrew, stationtostationwine.ie, wineonline.ie, Donnybrook Fair
Restrained, with some white blossom on the nose; poised and crisp, with fresh citrus flavours, rounded out with just ripened peach flesh and a touch of peach skin.
Tuffeau 2017 Blancs de Blancs Brut Nature
€20-€23, 12pc, from Sweeney's D3, 64 Wine, greenmanwines.ie, First Draft, Blackrock Cellar, Jus De Vine, Deveney's, Ely Maynooth, Eleven Deli, Cass & Co, Dungarvan
This semi-sparkling Chardonnay from the Loire has a crown cap closure and is deliciously refreshing with zesty flavours of crisp apple and a touch of citrus.
Lidl Australian Chardonnay 2019
€4.99, 13pc, from Lidl
A simple, easy-drinking Chardonnay at a budget-friendly price, you're not going to get complexity here, but the notes of tropical fruit would make this a good choice for a refreshing white wine soda if you want something lighter.
Delheim Sur Lie Chardonnay 2017
€26.45, 12.5pc, from O'Briens and obrienswine.ie
From Stellenbosch in South Africa, this textured Chardonnay is fermented using wild yeast in oak and cement. With focused minerality, it broadens with flavours of lemon curd, nectarine and red apple.
It’s well worth checking out the education resource on Wine Australia’s website, where all of the wine education programme materials are available for anyone to download, free of charge. Covering all levels from beginners to advanced, you can learn about grape varieties, wine regions and wine making, and print off a tasting mat to help you improve your skills. As an added bonus, you get a Certificate of Attendance. Wineaustralia.com