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Chardonnay Renaissance

By Alex Russell on January 21, 2011 in Food

In the mid ‘90s, many Australian winemakers were chasing the US market by making big, buttery, oaky Chardonnays. This was the style that the Americans loved but Australians didn’t really go for it. A whole new category of consumers emerged called ABCs – Anything But Chardonnay.

At the same time, the Kiwi Sauvignon Blancs surged in popularity. Everyone loved the cheaper, fruitier styles compared to the big, expensive, oaky Chardonnays.

Today, things are starting to change. Sauvignon Blancs are still very popular but I’ve noticed a lot of customers going back to Chardonnay. And It’s great to see people willing to try something different!

The aim of this month’s article is to highlight a few of my favourites, covering different price points and styles. If you’re hesitant about buying a bottle, try a glass of something decent when you’re next at a wine bar (there’s no shortage of them popping up in the east these days). And I’m not talking about cheap Chardonnay served by the glass in the local pub either; I’m talking about decent wine bars with a serious selection of wines.

Here are my favourites from the various wine growing regions of Australia:

Margaret River

Margaret River is home to some of Australia’s best Chardonnays. They’re often the most elegant as it’s quite a cool climate. They’re also generally pretty expensive, but in a good year they’re absolutely worth it.

Labels to try:

Leeuwin Estate Art Series ($115)
Pierro ($70)
Moss Wood ($60)
Howard Park ($45)
Vasse Felix ($25)


My second favourite state for Chardonnay sits south of the New South Wales border. Here you’re looking for areas like Geelong, Mornington Peninsula, the Yarra Valley and Macedon Ranges. These are all quite cool climates too so you’ll find some very elegant styles here, but the Yarra Yering is an exception. It’s massive, buttery, oaky and absolutely sensational.

Labels to try:

Yarra Yering ($90)
Curly Flat ($55)
Bindi Composition ($55)
Shadowfax ($30)
Yering Station ($25)
Mr Frog ($15)

Other areas

You’ll find some brilliant examples of Chardonnay in South Australia, particularly from the Eden Valley. The Hunter has some awesome examples too, as do areas like Mudgee and Orange. You can generally get some great value wines here. Tasmania is worth a look in too.

Labels to try:

Petaluma ($55)
Shaw and Smith ($45)
Heggies ($30)
Scarborough ($26)
Montrose ($20)

Unwooded Chardonnay

Most Chardonnay goes into oak barrels for a few months or even a couple of years, which gives it a big vanilla-like flavour and added complexity (and a higher price tag). Not all winemakers do this, so there are some nice fruity Chardonnays out there without that oak flavour.

Labels to try:

Pirie South ($25)
Ninth Island ($23)
Chapel Hill ($18)

So take the advice of Kath & Kim and try out a few tasty Chardonnays. You may be pleasantly surprised.