I kinda feel sorry for modern Australian chardonnay. The misdemeanors of past wines have created a negative stereotype among Australian drinkers, leading to a rise in popularity of other white styles, such as sauvignon blanc, pinot gris and yes, even unwooded chardonnay. Hell these drinkers even coined an abbreviation for their set, the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay). What other variety could claim that? Such discrimination!
In reality modern Australian chardonnay is a brilliant drink. Indeed the king of whites, as it should be.
On a basis of consistency, quality and variation of style, I consider it to be Australia's healthiest wine at present. Top shelf chardonnay is being made in all five of Australia's leading wine states, by producers both young and old, resulting in excellent variety across a range of different styles.
I do feel sorry for Australian chardonnay, but beware of cheaper examples, especially from warmer regions. They're responsible for some of the worst wines in this country.
For my reviews I've chosen 8 chardonnays. All of high quality. The wines are Bay of Fires 2007, Devil's Lair Fifth Leg 2007, Leeuwin Estate Art Series 2006, Oakridge 2006, Penfolds Yattarna 2006, Pierro 2006, Seppelt Jaluka 2007 and Shaw and Smith M3 Vineyard 2007.
BAY OF FIRES CHARDONNAY 2007
- Region: Pipers River, TAS
- Price: $27-$40
Taking full advantage of the present day winemaking benefits of Tasmania's cool climate, Bay of Fires is a winery firing on all cylinders. Their recent efforts with sparkling wines, riesling, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and pinot noir have all been of a very high standard.
Showy but stylish, the 2007 Bay of Fires Chardonnay marries an intense aroma of peach, nectarines and cumquat with a lavish extract of toasty oak. Its smooth and creamy texture is uplifted by well defined chardonnay acids, as the tight palate unleashes bold, mineral stonefruit/citrus flavours and savoury oak, with balance, vibrancy and an undercurrent of quirky complexity. Persistent notes of bath soap and lemon sherbet enliven its pleasingly long, focused finish, which reveals tangy bitter elements.
ü+ Bay of Fires' 2007 is a brightly lit, funky Tasmanian chardonnay of great length and emphasis. Drink to 2015.
DEVIL'S LAIR FIFTH LEG CHARDONNAY 2007
- Region: Margaret River, WA
- Price: $10-$21
It delights me to see the inclusion of a varietal chardonnay in the Fifth Leg range. A range which previously consisted of a white blend, a red blend and a rose.
Smelling clean and fresh as a daisy, the second vintage of the Fifth Leg Chardonnay possesses a lightly fragrant, slightly sweet expression of melon, white stonefruit and butterscotch aromas. Its light and crisp palate is somewhat deficient in depth, length or complexity, but makes up for it with fresh, bright and cleanly balanced varietal flavours overlying a surprisingly juicy undercarriage.
ü+ Surely among the best wines of its type on the market (light-bodied, quaffing chardonnay), the 2007 Fifth Leg is the ideal chardonnay for sauvignon blanc drinkers in search of something different. Drink now.
LEEUWIN ESTATE ART SERIES CHARDONNAY 2006
- Region: Margaret River, WA
- Price: $80-$125
Leeuwin Estate's Art Series is the true 'White Grange'; Australia's best white wine.
Clear-yellow in the glass, Leeuwin Estate's 2006 Art Series unfolds to an elegant yet generously ripened nose, displaying quince, grapefruit and nectarine aromas with a restrained influence of butter/vanilla oak and cashew nuts. Incredibly textured in a full, smooth, creamy and well-weighted style, its ripe fruit flavours of banana, passionfruit and white stonefruits merge seamlessly with an extract of fresh cedar/vanilla oak, evolving into a delightfully persistent, very long finish framed by vibrant, polished, fluffy acids and lingering fruit. There's a faint candied aspect to its fruit core emanating from high alcohol (14.5%) and opulent ripeness, but it contains more than enough texture, depth, balance and length to handle it.
ü+ Cut from a different mould than many refined, elegant and tight modern Australian chardonnays, the hedonistic 2006 Art Series is another exemplary drop, which further underlines its status as Australia's most consistently outstanding wine. Drink to 2016.
OAKRIDGE CHARDONNAY 2006
- Region: Yarra Valley, VIC
- Price: $20-$34
Oakridge is beginning to capture the attention of Australia's chardonnay set in a big way. Their reserve chardonnay in particular, the 864, has recently gained critical acclaim from practically everyone imaginable.
The excellent 'standard' Oakridge Chardonnay from 2006 presents a radiant golden-yellow colour, unfolding to a bright aroma laced with deeply fruited scents of peach, fig and cumquat overlying a solid influence of butter/vanilla oak and cashew. Both fruit and oak make a positively forward impact. Full and ripe yet precisely worked, a fine array of chardonnay fruit and winemaking inputs delight the palate. Its lively flavours of melon, stonefruit and yeast are framed by a focused finish, with nutty oak and limey acids evident.
ü+ Vibrant, intense and with layers of complexity bound by excellent structure, the very generously priced 2006 Oakridge displays all the hallmarks of a cellar worthy chardonnay. Drink to 2012.
PENFOLDS YATTARNA CHARDONNAY 2006
- Region: Tasmania/Adelaide Hills, SA/Henty, VIC
- Price: $110-$165
To put it simply Yattarna is Penfolds' attempt to make Australia's best (and most expensive maybe?) white wine. Using Penfolds' trademark cross regional blending (albeit beyond South Australian borders), Yattarna initially found it tough competing against the established chardonnays of Leeuwin Estate and Giaconda, but exemplary recent vintages have seem Yattarna receive the acclaim its makers surely seek.
Surprisingly clear/pale-straw, the 2006 Yattarna is scented with fresh nutty/toasty oak, ably supported by aromas of grapefruit, melon, white nectarine and cashew. Extravagantly rounded to the point of almost feeling rubbery, its compellingly brilliant texture drives a tightly wound, mineral fruit profile through an extract of crystalline, grapefruit-like acids into a marvellously long and tight, bell-clear finish of exceptional freshness and shape.
ü+ It's a wonderfully clean and classy, distinct and well defined, if not regional, expression of the future of cool-climate Australian chardonnay. Drink to 2018.
PIERRO CHARDONNAY 2006
- Region: Margaret River, WA
- Price: $65-$95
Made by the highly regarded Mike Peterkin, a true doyen of chardonnay, the Pierro is unquestionably one of Australia's very best white wines.
The 2006 Pierro unfolds to superb aromatics, revealing a genuinely even perfume of butter, melon and grapefruits overlying beautifully restrained notes of smoky oak. Full and lively, with wonderful creamy texture, its intense flavours of butter, vanilla and melon fill the mouth with pleasure, before finishing long and vibrant with mineral tones bound brilliantly by an influence of sharp citric acids.
ü+ Pierro's impeccable reputation has been faithfully upheld by the full, lively and stylish 2006. A chardonnay with near perfect balance of bright fruit and assertive oak characters. Drink to 2014.
SEPPELT JALUKA CHARDONNAY 2007
- Region: Henty, VIC
- Price: $19-$30
Seppelt is rightfully recognised as a red, or perhaps even a sparkling wine specialist; however, the iconic Victorian winery has upped the ante on Australia's white wine industry in a big way. Their cool-climate Drumborg vineyard in south-west Victoria's Henty region now produces one of Australia's finest, mineral rieslings and pinot gris, as well as one of our most under valued, complex chardonnays in the Jaluka.
Laden with aromas of nutty oak, the 2007 Jaluka presents a light fragrance of grapefruit and nectarine fruits overlying smooth, buttery tones. Beautifully soft and creamy upon entry, its wonderfully restrained nutty French oak extract caresses its gentle, cool-climate chardonnay fruit flavours, delivering both refinement and style. Building with focus in a savoury fashion, it works its way into a clean, moderately long finish entwined with lasting notes of refreshing lemon citrus and soft acidity.
ü+ A first rate, modern Australian chardonnay in an unashamedly cool-climate style. Drink to 2012.
SHAW AND SMITH M3 VINEYARD CHARDONNAY 2007
- Region: Adelaide Hills, SA
- Price: $33-$49
Under the guidance of Master of Wine Michael Hill-Smith, Shaw and Smith has become one of Australia's most focused wineries. With a string of excellent recent releases (2005-94pts, 2006-95pts) under their belt, the M3 Vineyard Chardonnay now knocks on the door of Australia's very best white wines.
Gleaming in appearance, the 2007 displays buttery aromas of grapefruit, nectarine and fig rising from the glass with an accompaniment of toasty vanilla oak. Smooth and buttery in a slippery fashion, its fine, full-bodied palate shows ripe chardonnay fruit flavours, culminating in a finish wrapped in slightly greenish, fleshy acids. Structurally it's magnificent, as its bright, fresh acids lift vivaciously from an elegant base of seamlessly balanced grapefruit, nectarine, melon, citrus and butter/vanilla oak characters.
ü+ Following on from their last two releases Shaw and Smith has delivered another delicious M3 Chardonnay, which further cements their place among Australia's best exponents of the genre. Drink to 2015.