In a recent article in Purple Pages, British wine critic Jancis Robinson stated that “Chardonnay is arguably the varietal that Australia is best at currently. At least, to palates raised on wines produced outside Australia, particularly European wines.” She notes that many new examples of Australian chardonnay are tighter and leaner than they used to be, and in Europe these wines are filling a gap left by people avoiding White Burgundy because of the yet unsolved problem of premature oxidation. (Fine Australian Chardonnays rated blind 18 Apr 2012 by Jancis Robinson (For more information on the issue of premature oxidation of Burgundian wines, see A Few Interesting Facts about Burgundy: Masterclass with Burghound Allen Meadows, Cellarit Wine Blog, 13 March 2012)

On a recent visit to Australia, the Wine Spectator’s Harvey Steiman also picked up on the trend towards what he describes as chardonnays with less alcohol, less obvious oak, more savoury flavours and smoother textures from wild ferments and ageing on less. “Prevailing opinion suggests,” he remarked after meeting with Australian winemakers, wine writers and sommeliers, “that an emerging style modeled more on white Burgundy may supersede Australia’s reputation for making broad, big-fruit Chardonnays.” Action in Australian Chardonnay: New styles modeled on Burgundy make it the buzz of the country now by Harvey Steiman, Wine Spectator, 2 December 2011)

Neither critic, however, was dismissive of the depth, power and elegance of the best examples of the older style of Australian chardonnay. Robinson singled out “unashamedly full-on wines” like the Giaconda Chardonnay 2008 and the Hunter Valley’s Harkham Aziza’s Chardonnay 2011 as highlights of a recent tasting of 35 Australian chardonnays. Harvey Steiman was rhapsodic about a recent vintage of Devil’s Lair from the Margaret River, which displayed “rich fruit – pineapple, pear, tropical fruits – layered nimbly in a plush-textured package, finishing with length and finesse.”

Here are some of the wines in the new, more restrained style that most impressed both critics:

Coldstream Hills Reserve Chardonnay 2010, Yarra Valley

Yabby Lake Single Block Release Chardonnay 2009, Mornington Peninsula

Phillip Shaw No. 11 Chardonnay 2009, Orange

Pierro Chardonnay 2008, Margaret River

Shaw + Smith, M3 Chardonnay 2010 Adelaide Hills

Sidewood Chardonnay 2010, Adelaide Hills

Heggies Chardonnay 2010, Eden Valley

Oak Ridge 864 Chardonnay 2010, Yarra Valley

Merrill Witt, Editor