The success of Australian chardonnay

James Halliday by James Halliday

24 Aug, 2018

James delves into the achievements of Australia's favourite white grape, which is kicking goals both at home and abroad.

It’s a strange thing that all winemakers adore good riesling, and must drink a significant amount of Australia’s production because few others of the cognoscenti give it so much as a second glance. The opposite is true of chardonnay. There’s no question that Australian chardonnay from the best regions (notably Margaret River, the Adelaide Hills and the Yarra Valley) is world class. Don’t take my word for it: UK wine writers Jancis Robinson and Andrew Jefford are of the same view, having no difficulty in comparing our wines with the best of Burgundy in France.

There’s no question that the winemaker’s role in creating chardonnay is far more important than the role taken by makers of riesling. In the latter case, it’s all about the quality of the grapes, and attention to detail in the winery, ensuring that the unadorned natural flavour of the wine comes through without any distraction from oak, solids fermentation, malolactic fermentation, etc.

Chardonnay is curious in that, while it responds to the place it is grown, it is infinitely forgiving of any lack of attention to detail or other malfeasance on the part of the winemaker. Don’t get me wrong, great chardonnay has to have constant attention and all the right strings pulled in its fermentation and maturation. But if you do slip up, most situations can be retrieved.

If you look at the mainland capital city wine shows so far this year, chardonnay has been the pick of all the ‘best of show’ trophies and others it can win which don’t involve a ruby red colour. Thus in Queensland, it was Coldstream Hills’ turn to walk away with four trophies, including Grand Champion Wine of Show, for its 2017 Reserve Chardonnay, while in Sydney, it was the 2017 Penfolds Reserve Bin 17A that won all the equivalent trophies. Shiraz: back in your hutch.