By Rose Murray Brown MW  Published in The Scotsman 25 June 2022

It is incredible to think that the first varietally-labelled Australian Chardonnay was produced just 50 years ago.  To celebrate, Wine Australia hosted a fascinating study of this iconic white wine as it continues to be Australia’s most exported white variety.

“Aussie Chardonnay taught Britain to become a wine drinking nation”, said Oz Clarke, who helped many new drinkers discover the wine through his television appearances in the 1980s.

“I remember discovering this wonderful peachy seductive happy juice when I visited Australia in the 1970s”, explained Clarke.  “And when this juicy juggernaut arrived on our shores in the 1980s it really captured our attention with its upfront ripe fruit and easy approachability – up to then we had been starved of ripeness”.

“I think when it first appeared in the UK people probably thought Chardonnay was a village in Australia – rather than a grape”, said Clarke

The first Chardonnay vine cuttings actually arrived in Australia back in 1832 with plantsman James Busby, but in the C19 and early C20 Australia was set on making the best fortified wines, so varieties suited for table wines like Chardonnay were forgotten.

It was not until 1972, one hundred and forty years after the first plantings, that Tyrrells winery in the Hunter Valley produced the first bottled Australian Chardonnay called Vat 47, from fruit borrowed from Penfolds experimental Chardonnay vineyard.  Another early pioneering Aussie Chardonnay was Lindemans Bin 65.

Since then these wines have evolved through many styles – as have Australian Chardonnays in general.  From the 1990s, it was all about big overt buttery oaky styles and today it is about refinement restraint and regionally distinct styles from cooler microclimates.

“You have to turn the dial up to eleven before you realise it should be at eight – and that is what happened with Chardonnay from Australia”, explained Mark Davidson of Wine Australia.  “You can see this in the vinification methods, which Chardonnay does lend itself to.  We are now seeing less new oak used, but better quality oak and larger barrels”.

Today Australia has approximately 10% of the world’s Chardonnay plantings – third largest after France and USA.  With 21,442 hectares of Chardonnay grown down-under, it is found in almost every Australian wine region – in 58 out of 65 regions  – and our tasting looked at differences between maritime-influenced styles of Margaret River in Western Australia – to the sub-tropical climate of Hunter Valley.

Chardonnay is currently Australia’s most planted white grape – and globally it has become a phenomenon with approximately 3.8 million glasses of Australian Chardonnay enjoyed overseas every day.  In the UK, the biggest export destination, we quaff nearly 60 million litres annually.

However – one wonders how long the Chardonnay craze will continue.  This grape in particular requires good amounts of water to thrive – and as temperatures rise growers are looking for grapes which can tolerate drought conditions and require far less water.

Hunter Valley, New South Wales: TYRELLS WINEMAKER’S SELECTION VAT 47 CHARDONNAY 2019 (13%)
£45 Hennings Wine, Bordeaux Index. Vin Quinn
Light citric fruit aromas with smoky undertone, quite spicy on the palate with a rich tangy citric fruit finish.

Margaret River, Western Australia: LEEUWIN ESTATE ART SERIES CHARDONNAY 2018 (13.5%)
£75 Flint Wines; Luvians; Stannary Wine
Very stylish Chardonnay with lime and lemon nose, sleek minerally backbone with rich ripe fruit, gentle oak notes and a long dry finish.

Mount Barker, Western Australia: FOREST HILL VINEYARD BLOCK 8 CHARDONNAY 2018 (13%)
£28 Yapp Bros
Very different in style with its appley fruits, sharp bitter twang of acidity, but still lovely mouthfilling juicy fruits.

Adelaide Hills, South Australia: SHAW & SMITH M3 CHARDONNAY 2020 (13.5%) ***STAR BUY***
£33 Cambridge Wine Merchants, Villeneuve Wines
An impressive effort from Shaw & Smith with this beautifully balanced Chardonnay, rich toasty oak notes, dense concentrated layers of citric fruits on the palate with zesty acidity and a long complex finish.

Tasmania/Adelaide Hills: PENFOLDS BIN 311 TUMBARUMBA CHARDONNAY 2019 (13%)
£29 Laithwaites; Harvey Nichols
Very acceptable blended Chardonnay with citric fruit, balanced acid and hints of oak – but it lacked depth of fruit concentration and length.

Yarra Valley, Victoria: GIANT STEPS YARRA VALLEY CHARDONNAY 2021 (12.5%) ***STAR BUY***
£26 Secret Cellar, Wine Reserve, Noel Young Wines
Quite subtle delicate style, very restrained and elegant with stone fruit and nutty toasty aromas, very fresh sleek palate and good length.

Mornington Peninsula, Victoria: MOOROODUC ESTATE CHARDONNAY 2018 (13%)
£24 Noel Young Wines, Cambridge Wine Merchants
Sleek Chardonnay with bright lemony fruit and zippy acidity – it is approachable, well made with a delicate restrained fruit style.

£42 The Wine Society
My favourite of the tasting – loved its smoky spicy nutty aromas, sleek citric fruits with deep dense concentration and long lingering length – a beautifully made savoury Chardonnay from the famous Tolpuddle vineyard showing Tasmania’s serious potential for this grape.

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