Australia built much of its early reputation in the UK on crowd-pleasing Chardonnays. The recipe was simple but effective: plenty of up-front tropical fruit and oak flavours and generous levels of alcohol. “Sunshine in a glass” as they were often described. And, although these wines are still popular – look on any supermarket shelf – there are many wine lovers who would never even consider, let alone buy, an Oz Chardonnay. Their reputation, at one time so helpful, now puts off some of those who grew up on the early Chardonnays but who are now looking for something more interesting and complex.
Yet, if you search a little wider (and pay a little more), there are some really talented winemakers in Australia who are using the country’s favourite grape to produce delightful, flavoursome bottles in a subtle style that would have been totally alien 2 decades ago. Take Lenton Brae’s Southside Chardonnay from Margaret River (Wine Society, £14.95) for example.
They use older vines (some planted in the pioneering days of 1982) to make a rich, mouth-filling wine with lovely green apple and pear flavours. Fermenting in a mix of new and used French oak barrels adds a restrained spiciness. But despite this, there was also enough crispness and freshness to go perfectly with asparagus – a dish I’d normally associate with a Sauvignon Blanc or a dry English white.
Margaret River in Western Australia has always done things a little differently. 2000 miles away from the more famous vineyards in the south-east of the country and with cooler influences from the Indian Ocean, WA has never produced wine in the volumes of those further east. It has always concentrated more on quality than quantity as shown perfectly by this Lenton Brae.
But wines such as this are also a timely reminder to those who have ignored Oz Chardonnay for so long to take a fresh look. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.