It’s an excellent time to drink Australian Chardonnay. While the style metronome has tick-tocked historically between ripe, oaky examples and lean, austere versions, modern Aussie “Chardy,” which ranges from vibrant, crisp and saline to textured, fleshy and toasty, seems to have found its perfect beat.
Chardonnay grows happily across Australia. The most celebrated vineyards, however, are in moderate to cool regions with either a heavy maritime influence, like Tasmania, Victoria’s Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula, and Western Australia’s Margaret River, or somewhat higher elevation, like the Canberra District and South Australia’s Adelaide Hills.
Bottlings from these areas tend toward freshness and delicate fruit. Those from warmer, more inland regions like South Australia’s Barossa and the Hunter Valley in New South Wales, meanwhile, can be rounder and fruitier.
But ultimately, Chardonnay is a winemaker’s grape. Though regional differences show, final style is dependent on vinification choices.
In an effort to highlight freshness, Aussie Chard is now typically picked earlier, with less malolactic fermentation and new oak used than in the past.
Texture and flavor complexity are gained through techniques like fermentation with native yeasts and maturation on gross lees, using a combination of new and old French oak barrels of varying sizes.
Reductively made Chards have also become increasingly popular down under. Characterized by struck match and flinty aromas, they’re still being refined as Chardonnay’s style metronome ticks on.
Sample the variety
Ben Haines 2019 Chardonnay (Yarra Valley); $25, 94 points. Small producer Ben Haines once again proves his talents in crafting youthful, textural whites without all the winemaking bells and whistles. A delicate, fruity nose of Mandarin orange, orchard blossoms, yeast, freshly picked wild grapes and minerals lead to a palate that is chalky yet slippery, crackling with pristine acidity and tangy fruit. Beautifully balanced and comfortable in its own skin, this is a breath of fresh air from a thoughtful winemaker. Drink now–2027. Editors’ Choice.
Ocean Eight 2015 Verve Chardonnay (Mornington Peninsula); $46, 94 points. You’d be forgiven for guessing this was a more youthful wine than it is. Fresh as a daisy, this graceful, ageworthy Chard opens with tangy fruit oranges and nectarines—streaked by seashell-like minerals, gingery spice, honeysuckle and a hint of buttered toast. The palate is brightened by a pristine line of acidity and those saline, mineral nuances run through to the lengthy finish. This has another decade left in it at least. Editors’ Choice.
Howard Park 2017 Miamup Chardonnay (Margaret River); $19, 92 points. From a cooler, southern subregion of Margaret River (Miamup), this vintage of Howard Park’s Chard is punchy and pretty, offering heady aromas of kumquats and nectarines, with saline, mineral notes and gentle but ever-present toasty, vanillin oak notes. The easygoing palate is slippery and saline, with lovely fruit intensity and crystalline acidity. Again the oak shows but doesn’t overwhelm. This has hit its stride now, and offers an affordable intro to the famed Chardonnays of Australia’s west.
Schild Estate 2019 Unwooded Chardonnay (Barossa Valley), $17, 92 points. This unwooded Chardonnay is a refreshing contrast to many of this producer’s ripe, powerful reds. It opens with a bright perfume of peach, melon and ginger, with a mineral, saline note in the background. The palate has textural appeal. It’s creamy in feel yet lifted by pure, mouthwatering acidity and clean, fresh fruit flavors. Editors’ Choice.
Nocton 2018 Chardonnay (Tasmania); $25, 90 points. This Tasmanian Chardy doesn’t hide its New Worldliness. It’s upfront and fruity but delicious. Opening with aromas of tangerine and lemon rind, honeyed cashews and salty sea air, the palate follows with bright acidity, tangy orange fruit and ginger spice amid a viscous texture. Drink now and over the next few years.
Vintage Longbottom 2018 H Chardonnay (Adelaide Hills); $30, 90 points. Radiant gold in color, this classy Adelaide Hills Chardonnay is polished, bright and food friendly. It takes a few minutes to open in glass, and shouldn’t be sipped too cold, but at its best it offers ripe lemons and oranges, white spice, honeysuckle, some seashell reduction and some vanillin oak notes. The mouthfeel is buttery in texture, supported by spicy oak, buoyed by bright acidity and with a long finish like the salted rim of a citrusy cocktail. Drink with a wide range of dishes until 2027.
This content was originally published here.