Chardonnay is grown in almost all wine growing regions around the world and is renowned for its ability to adapt to different climates. It originated in the Burgundy wine region of eastern France but is now grown wherever wine is produced.
First arriving in Australia in 1832 as part of the James Busby collection, its popularity thrived in the 1980’s with its big buttery and oaked fruity flavours. In more recent times, more subtle and un-oaked varieties have seen a resurgence in Chardonnay as a table wine.
It is most significant in South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales – especially the Hunter Valley where it is grown on the same light sandy soil that is favoured by Semillon.
About the Variety
Chardonnay lends itself to almost any style of wine making from dry still wines, to sparkling wines to sweet late harvest and even botrytized wines.
The Chardonnay grape is very neutral, easy to cultivate, adaptable to different conditions, and ripens early. This means that Chardonnay wines have a distinct taste and flavour which can vary a great deal in complexity, depending the conditions under which it is grown (its terroir) and how it is being produced. Chardonnay wines grown in warmer climates tend to have a wonderful honey, buttery flavour while Chardonnay grapes grown on cool climates produce wines with an abundance of fruity flavours.
The two winemaking decisions that most widely affect the end result of a Chardonnay is whether or not to use malolactic fermentation and the degree of oak influence used for the wine. With malolactic fermentation, the harder malic acid gets converted into the softer lactic acid which creates the buttery flavour that is associated with some styles of Chardonnay.
The wines that do not go through malolactic fermentation will have more green apple like flavours. Oak can be introduced during fermentation or after in the form of the barrel ageing.
Australian Chardonnay flavours and characteristics vary greatly depending on the climate and region it is grown in.
In New South Wales, the Hunter Valley styles tend to be bold and fuller. Tumbarumba produces light, elegant stone fruit styles. The cool elevated regions of New England and Orange produce wines with soft peach and melon profiles, while Mudgee tends to produce richer and fuller flavours.
In Victoria, The Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula and Geelong regions produce a diverse range of Chardonnay from elegant fruit driven styles to bold generous styles driven by the wine making process.
Cool regions of the Adelaide Hills and Tasmania produce elegant, refined, zesty Chardonnay with good levels of acidity. Tasmanian Chardonnay is widely used in the production of Sparkling wines.
In Western Australia, the Margaret River produces full-flavoured Chardonnay best recognised by its dusty, lemon, pear and fig flavours. Elsewhere, the warm inland regions of the Murray Darling, Riverland and Riverina regions produce Chardonnay that show ripe tropical and stone fruit flavours.
Because of Chardonnay’s diverse spectrum of flavours and characteristics (brought about by climate and winemaker influence), Chardonnay is considered to be one of the most food-friendly wines. Typically, Chardonnay pairs well with white meats, seafood and vegetables.
Fruity, un-oaked or lightly oaked Chardonnay’s, go well with slightly richer dishes. Think white meats with creamy sauces complementing the buttery-ness of the wine.
Full bodied, oak aged Chardonnay’s pair well with dishes that are rich in both protein and sauces (lobster mornay, steak béarnaise). If the oak has been toasted, dishes with some smokiness will pair well, such as veal medallions with pancetta, or a creamy pasta dish with smoky bacon.
Mature barrel fermented Chardonnay’s will call for finer, more delicate dishes. Savoury dishes such as grilled shellfish or roast chicken are a good match.
Medium bodied Chardonnay also works well with semi-hard, medium aged cheeses such as Gruyere, Manchego and Edam.