Once upon a time in the fairytale that is the Australian wine industry, there was a family of very popular grape varieties. The biggest names were shiraz, cabernet, riesling and sémillon; later – much later – they were joined by chardonnay.
Unlike its older siblings, however, chardonnay didn’t have that many friends and before too long, the insults started: “immature,” “lacking in sophistication,” and – worst of all – “terribly overweight.”
With a few notable exceptions, it was the era of ABC – “Anything But Chardonnay”. No one really loved chardonnays and the variety suffered an identity crisis.
How things change: now it could well be the era of NBC – “Nothing But Chardonnay”. At least, that was the idea behind the stellar line-up of wines at last month’s brilliant Tasting Australia chardonnay masterclass in Adelaide, led by Michael Hill-Smith and Nick Stock.
The upshot? The simple, awkward fat child has matured into an adult of complexity, charm, poise and downright sex appeal.
Up against some of France’s best – including superb Coche Dury Meursault and Bonneau Corton Charlie – the local wines shone brightly and held their own in such illustrious company.
Here are three standouts to prove that like all the great fairy tales, there is, eventually, a happy ending.
2017 Tolpuddle chardonnay, Coal River Valley, Tasmania, RRP $78 approx.
Acquired in 2011 by Michael Hill-Smith and his winemaker partner Martin Shaw, Tolpuddle has in a very short space of time established itself as a reference for great Australian chardonnay. Intensity with poise, drive and balance. Stunning.
2017 Vasse Felix “Heytesbury” chardonnay, Margaret River, Western Australia, RRP $99 approx.
Thanks to the likes of Cullen, Leeuwen and Pierro, Margaret River has long produced some of the very best Oz chardonnays. The arrival some years ago of Virginia Wilcox as chief winemaker means you can add Vasse Felix to that illustrious roll call. This is a wine of rare power, precision and balance.
2017 Oakridge 864 Funder and Diamond Vineyard chardonnay, Yarra Valley, Victoria, RRP $ 85 approx
Former Chairman of the Royal Melbourne Wine Awards, Oakridge winemaker Dave Bicknell knows his stuff. Produced from one vineyard in Wandin East from vines circa 30 years old, this displays real complexity through the light touch of a skilled winemaker. Textural, vibrant, complex and long. Benchmark Yarra Valley – and Australian – chardonnay.
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