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If Queen Elizabeth was a wine, she would be a Chardonnay

30 Sep 2014

If Cabernet is King, Chardonnay is definitely the Queen of the viticultural landscape.

It is widely known and grown, and though its spiritual home may be in Burgundy, it is found in most parts of the viticulture world – old and new.

It can be a workhorse variety produced in vast quantities, or it can be tamed and coaxed out of its shell to become some of the most sought-after wines in the world, such as the Premier Cru Burgundy. If raised in an austere climate, tighter acidity with green apple and pear aromas develop. Warmer climes bring out tropical and peach characteristics; even fig and melon notes.

Some unwooded Chardonnay exists, but its marriage with oak raises it to another level. Toasty, buttery characteristics develop, depending on age and type of French oak used. It can undergo malo-lactic fermentation which softens the acidity, and it can have lees contact to add nutty, meaty characteristics.

It can be blended with other whites, such as Semillon or Colom bard. It is a principal grape in Champagne, supplying the rich back palate structure and flavours, surpassing the Pinot Meniere and Pinot Noir contributions. The occasional dessert wine has been made from the botrytis effect in cooler climates.

DNA analysis proves a relatively pure hereditary line. It comes from a Pinot and Gouais Blanc cross. Romans brought Gouais Blanc to France, and French experimentation led to the cross-bred variety.

The cross-breeding has resulted in vigorous growth characteristics and relative hardiness. More than 30 clones have been developed by the University of Dijon, allowing growth diversity. Chardonnay has been crossed with other species as well.

Chardonnay was brought to Australia in 1832 by pioneer James Busby. It flourished in the Hunter Valley and is in most wine geographes in Australia.

Terroir and winemaking techniques have resulted three distinct styles.

The new Australian style, which mimics the mineral steely Chablis, involves cool climate Chardonnay picked early, with minimal malolactic fermentation, older oak and no lees contact.

More ripened fruit with new French oak, Lees contact, full malolactic ferment  have resulted in the 80s style , often described as voluptuous and buttery Chardonnay. Jacobs Creek Chardonnay put Australian winemaking on the map with phenomenal success in England. The popularity was such that during the decade there was actually a Chardonnay shortage. But then the relatively heavy style fell out of favor, and across the country Chadonnay vines were pulled.

The third style is somewhere in the middle, and to me represents a more Burgundian, palatable but very classy style. Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula, Margaret River and Adelaide Hills shine as producers.

So I think that the royal analogy for Chardonnay is apt. It is a variety that is aristocratic, well presented, with a pure lineage. It can be powerful and assertive, yet is often diplomatic, and it has re-emerged in popularity, just like the royal family.

Wines reviewed

2012 Kooyong Clonale Chardonnay Yarra Valley - light green, almost yellow in colour, with a nose of nectarines, figs and lemons, and hint of mild funk with lees contact. On the palate there is surging quality fruit with good acidity and mouth feel. One to three years cellaring. Have with firm sheep’s cheese.

2013 David Franz Brother’s Ilk Adelaide Hills Chardonnay - medium yellow, with vibrant white peach, and mild floral aromas, and a hint of cashews and funky yeast. Generous fruit – with mid-palate citrus-like acidity, and a lingering taste supported by a creamy mouth feel. Excellent drink now or cellar for five or more years. I had with spaghetti carbornara.

2013 Holm Oak Chardonnay Tamar Valley Tasmania - elegant pale green/yellow in appearance. Aromas of white peach, apricots, hints of grass, lemon notes. A new age style of wine with cool climate origins, austere but rewarding balanced flavors and acidity. Drink in the next three years. Excellent with Pacific oysters - yum! 

2011 Mountadam Eden Valley Chardonnay – a deeper yellow wine, with aromas of peaches, figs and spicy oak notes. Hints of citrus (grapefruit), with creamy cashew aromas. Well balanced fruit with a mineral like feel and acidity. A complex long-lasting wine. I had with smoked ocean trout.  

Published: 30 Sep 2014