Chardonnay is thought to have originated in France’s Burgundy region and is now one of the world’s most planted white grape varieties. Chardonnay arrived in Australia as part of the James Busby collection in 1832, and the Mudgee region of NSW has strong claims to have direct lineage to these original cuttings. However, it wasn’t until the 1970s that Chardonnay came into vogue in Australia when tastes evolved from heavy reds and it was the Hunter that led the way. Tyrrell’s 1971 Vat 47 Chardonnay started Australia’s love affair with the variety and Chardonnay sales boomed in the 80s and 90s. Demand was so high, that it gave birth to many blends of Semillon Chardonnay, with the minimum amount of the latter variety included, so it could appear on the label. Chardonnay is now grown in every wine region in Australia, but it’s the cooler regions that tend to produce finer, elegant Chardonnays that are complex, balanced and longer lasting.
As Australia’s most widely planted white variety, the range of styles produced is quite diverse. Given the fact that widespread planting in Australia has been a relatively recent phenomenon, styles are constantly evolving and being refined.
Of all the white varietals, Chardonnay responds best to winemaker crafting. This broadens the style possibilities, with winemakers producing wines that they believe are most desired. This was definitely the case when the market was dominated by the broader, toastier styles that were often worked hard by the winemaker and had strong secondary characters. These wines were big, rich and full-bodied with most not lasting more than five years.
The popularity of un-oaked examples emerged to counter this and now the vogue points towards the cooler regions. These styles are refined, distinctive and are often more expressive about the vineyard site, region and season. Winemakers are now responding to the personality of the fruit before intervening in the winery.
Warm inland regions like the Murray Darling, Riverland and Riverina regions produce the majority of good quality, well priced Australian Chardonnay that show ripe, tropical and stone fruit characters. These may often be multi regional blends labelled with the origin as South Eastern Australia.
This cool region is highly suited to Chardonnay. The wines are elegant, finely structured, typically with white peach and nectarine flavours.
Margaret River is Western Australia’s most well known Chardonnay region. The wines are full-flavoured, rich and powerful, with the best examples having the ability to age for over a decade.
The cool climate and suitable soils produce elegant Chardonnay with piercing acidity and intense flavours. A good proportion of Tasmanian Chardonnay is used in the production of high quality Sparkling wines.
Victoria also produces some top end Chardonnay, particularly from the Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula and Geelong regions. These regions produce a diverse range of Chardonnay from elegant, cool climate styles with fantastic fruit definition through to big, bold, generous styles with an emphasis on winemaking influences.
New South Wales
The Hunter, Tumbarumba, Orange, Mudgee and New England regions all produce great Chardonnay. The Hunter styles tend to be a little fuller, while Tumbarumba produces tight, elegant stone fruit styles. The cool, elevated climates of New England, and Orange produce lean wines with soft peach and melon profiles, while Mudgee tend to be rich and full.