So put up your hand if you’ve become a Chardy snob! Yep, there are a lot of you. Poor old Chardy – seriously bad public image.
Many have been drinking “Anything But Chardonnay” for the last number of years as a result of the overoaking of the wine, which makes you feel like you are licking a plank of wood. But for those who have hung onto the love of Chardy throughout the last 10 years or so, you are now being vindicated with a huge swing in public approval back to Chardonnay.
Chardonnay underpins many of the world renowned wines, being the variety used to make White Burgundy, Chablis and Champagne. These wine are labelled according to the wine growing region, rather than the grape varietal used to make the wine. In Australia, we do it differently – typically labelling our wine according to the grape varietals.
Chardonnay has been the backbone of Australian wine varietals since the ‘70s, during which time it established its popularity in the industry due to its disease resistance and hardy temperament and early ripening characteristics. It performs well in a variety of climatic conditions, from the humidity of the NSW coastal and Hunter regions, the cooler climates of the southern NSW coast, Yarra Valley, Adelaide Hills and Tasmania, to the more intense heat of Barossa and Margaret River. With this climatic adaptability comes diverse characteristics in the end product.
Chardonnay’s recent history in Australia is reflective of the collective personality of Australian winemaking. Unlike traditional wine regions of the world, Australian winemakers have been adventurers of winemaking, forging a reputation for the new and innovative. The use of new and old oak, malolactic fermentation, whole bunch pressing, wild yeast fermentation … There are endless creative winemaking techniques being applied, which provides the diversity of characteristics in our wines.
Chardonnay peaked in popularity in the ‘80s, when everything was big – it was the decade of excess and that came through in the wine we were drinking. Big oaky, buttery, toasty, bold loud fruit coupled with bold, loud oak. Long lunches, generous expense accounts, big hair, broad shoulders and bold wine.
In the ‘90s, life changed. The fashions and fortunes became more restrained, and so did our collective wine preferences. We moved to the Sauvignon Blanc, that was arriving on our shores from New Zealand. This wine was a complete opposite of the bold oaky Chardonnays, and the “ABC” acronym (anything but chardonnay) was on everyone’s wine sipping lips.
Since this time, Chardonnay has still been strong, but has definitely taken the back seat while we have drifted to other varietals such as Pinot Grigio. This downswing in popularity caused winemakers to rethink their treatment of Chardonnay and they have listened to the white wine drinkers, emerging in recent times with a renewed style of wine, without the punchy, buttery, dominating oak … Elegant wines with restrained use of oak and in many examples, “unwooded”. Chardonnay is definitely back in a big way and accounts for more than half the white wine production in Australia. It isn’t going away and is definitely worth revisiting if you haven’t been willing to go back there.