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Australian Chardonnay enjoying its ‘Goldilocks’ moment

Having gone from sunshine in a bottle to perhaps too lean and mean, Australian Chardonnay is finally enjoying its “Goldilocks” moment, according to one MW.

Speaking during an online tasting that pitted Australian Chardonnay against Kiwi expressions, Australian wine specialist Natasha Hughes MW said: “It used to be that Australian Chardonnay was the flag-bearer for sunshine in a glass, and the wines were big, bumptious, ripe, fruity and pretty in your face.

“A decade ago there was a pendulum swing away from that style, some would argue too far. Some of the wines were stick thin with really high acidity and no mid-palate.

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“Reductive winemaking gave a struck match character that came to dominate the fruit, and the wines weren’t much fun. It’s a bit of a Goldilocks scenario, as now the pendulum has swung back to something in the middle.

“The wines are hitting the sweet spot between generosity and elegance. Producers are aiming to make something refined with good levels of acidity that aren’t too marked by oak, as they want the wines to speak for themselves.

“Winemakers in Australia are proud to be discovering Australian terroir and are making the most of it ­– they don’t want to be apeing Burgundy.”

During the tasting, Ronan Sayburn MS of 67 Pall Mall pointed out that similarly impressive Chardonnays were coming out of New Zealand, highlighting North Canterbury as a particularly exciting source.

“There are only around 3,300 hectares of Chardonnay planted in New Zealand, which is a tiny amount, but the wines pack a punch.

“A lot of people know about the quality of Kiwi Chardonnay, but they probably don’t know how little of it is made.

NZ Chardonnay is now ‘world-class’

“Chardonnay is the chicken of the wine world – it’s a winemaker’s grape as it’s very adaptable, and can be like a ball of clay that winemakers can sculpt to suit modern tastes,” Sayburn said.

He added that winemakers in Australia and New Zealand had worked out the right places to plant Chardonnay and were working with the right clones and rootstocks to bring the best out of the grape. Vine age was also stating to play its part.

“With its vanilla, cream and tropical notes, Chardonnay is an indulgent wine style and needs some depth and weight from barrel or lees ageing to reduce its rapier-like acidity.

“Chardonnay is supposed to be fun – winemakers shouldn’t be making it too serious. We like a bit of brightness and sunshine in a glass as long as it’s balanced,” Sayburn said.

Both MWs were in agreement that Australia and New Zealand are now producing “world-class” Chardonnays that represent great value for money.

“The winemakers are growing confidence that they can make great local expressions of Chardonnay, they’ve found the right places to plant it and the winemaking is falling into place. The wines are starting to look really smart,” Hughes said.

“Australian and NZ Chardonnay repay cellaring in the same way great Burgundy does, and there’s no premox to worry about as they’re bottled under screwcap,” she added.

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