Category Archives: Australian wine

Beyond Sunshine in a Glass

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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. 

Lenton Brae Chard 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.

Oz Chardonnay’s New Look

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Not so long ago, opening a bottle of Australian Chardonnay would have inevitably meant a wine with lots of sweet tropical fruit (pineapples, melons, lychees and the like), a strong oaky taste and plenty of heat and power deriving from a likely alcohol content of 14% or sometimes even more.  These wines, along with robust, chunky Shiraz- and Cabernet-based reds, were the mainstay of Australia’s great success over here.  You still find them in every supermarket, mainly sold under a famous brand name and often benefitting from a discount or special offer price.  But, they weren’t (and aren’t) to everyone’s taste.  In fact, I (and quite a number of my good friends) avoid them completely.  For us, they are just too big and dominating to be enjoyable.

Which is why you might be surprised to find me blogging about opening a bottle of Australian Chardonnay.  But this one was different! 

hay-shed-hill-oz-chardHay Shed Hill Chardonnay (Wine Society, £14.50) has just 13% alcohol, delicate, subtle oaking and the sort of delightful citrus and green pear aromas and flavours that you’d normally associate with a good Chablis.  So what is going on?

To start with, it’s from Margaret River in Western Australia, an area far from the South-East and its battle for high volume sales.  The vineyards for this wine are situated high on a gravel ridge in the Wilyabrup Valley, quite close to the sea, so benefitting from cooling Ocean currents.  This ensures that the grapes ripen more slowly and retain enough acidity to keep the wines refreshing.  And, of course, skilled winemaking from owner, Michael Kerrigan, formerly of Madfish and Howard Park.

But this is not just one exception to the normal pattern; there’s another Margaret River Chardonnay sitting on our wine rack with just 12½% alcohol.  It seems like a whole new world awaits.