March 10, 2011

Yes Arabella, there is a good Chardonnay

10 March 2011 | by Andrea Frost

It was three against one. I was trapped again.

“Shall we just get a bottle to share?”

“Sounds good,” they sung, distracted by the buzz of a group get together. The camera was already out. There was a wedding to recap, an after party to debrief and notes to compare on who was there.

“What about a chardonnay?” Knowing my audience it was more of a dare than a request.

As sure as night follows day, it started … “It’s too oaky”, “It’s too creamy”, “It’s daggy”, “It’s not sauvignon blanc”, “I can handle it unwooded”, “I prefer pinot gris … don’t I?”

I love chardonnay, so I get it a lot.

“It’s not that you shouldn’t drink chardonnay, it’s that you shouldn’t drink bad chardonnay.” I was competing with wedding gossip. I didn’t stand a chance.

Things have changed a lot with chardonnay since Australians made it as big and full as they once wore their shoulder pads and Bennetar hair. It was, as the parents say, all the rage. It got us noticed. It made people love us. And then it made people blame us for making bad chardonnay.

See chardonnay is one wine you can do a lot of things to, like a pair of denim jeans. They can stay classic or you can give them an acid wash, fade them, darken them, slash them, roll them or make them stretch. Some styles are more enduring than others and some may never see the light of day. Chardonnay is a bit like that, there is a lot you can do to it and a lot that was done.

Like a lot of trends that made sense in the 80s, they no longer have a currency or relevance, except that they were fashionable in the 80s.

The last few vintages have seen the great winemakers of Australia produce a new style of chardonnay, sophisticated, stylish, refined and absolutely spectacular versions of the variety. And this is not only because of the winemaking skill and expertise, nor the vintage conditions or magical combination of terroir with the variety – though these all count – it is because chardonnay is one of the most magnificent white wine varieties ever to exist.

Cutting chardonnay from your wine repertoire is like culling a classic white shirt from your wardrobe, like shunning old cowboy boots to the op shop or burying old denim. Chardonnay is not optional, but essential, versatile, beautiful and highly desirable. Chardonnay can be drunk with more foods than most white wines and comes in so many versions that you’ll never get bored – from the lean and minerally styles made in cool climate regions, to the more layered, fuller-bodied styles that pair up with heartier food.

Truly, some of the best wines in the world are chardonnay.

Put the past behind you. Turn to the future. Move on.

“Sorry, did you say something?”

“No, it’s cool”, I said, “But, um, anything left in that bottle?”.

For those who were listening, here’re a few Australian chardonnays to show you what I mean …

Penfolds Reserve Bin 08A Chardonnay – The white wine stable mate of Grange, this is the only white variety that Penfolds release in the annual icon and luxury release. This, the current 2008 release, has got more trophies than a corporate box full of middle-aged divorced men. $90

Shaw and Smith M3 Chardonnay – From legitimate winemaking pedigree, cousins Michael Hill Smith and Martin Shaw were doing sophisticated and reserved before anyone could say, “think we’ve overdone the oak?” $40

T’Gallant Lot 2 Chardonnay – From the cool climate of Mornington Peninsula, and made by the creative T’Gallant winemaking team, this is crafted in Chablis style, the original benchmark for restrained chardonnay. $30

Oakridge Chardonnay – another beautifully restrained cool climate chardonnay made by David Bicknell at Oakridge in the Yarra Valley. A place to watch and a wine to drink. $32

Coldstream Hills – the standard, if you could use such a word, chardonnay is a great go to chardonnay, widely available and great value. But if you can ever get your hand on a bottle of the Coldstream Hills Reserve Chardonnay, sell your firstborn to do so.  $29 and $59