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 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.
“What’s the right temperature for serving my wine?” One of those tricky questions I’m often asked. My usual reply: “whatever temperature you enjoy” rarely ends the conversation. But it’s true. Each of us has our own preferences; take a friend of ours – she prefers her white wines much cooler than I would want to serve them, so cool, in fact, that I think much of the flavour is lost. We’ll never agree – but that’s true for so much in wine.
But, back to the original question. The guidelines recommended by the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) allow for individual tastes and so quote a range of temperatures for each different type of wine. So, for example, they suggest sparkling wines should be served well chilled (6 – 10°C, 43 – 50°F), light-bodied whites and rosés a degree or so warmer and fuller-bodied and oaked whites a little warmer still, say 10 – 13°C, 50 – 55°F. Unless you’ve got a temperature-controlled wine fridge, you’ll need to experiment a bit, but a half an hour to an hour in a domestic fridge should be about right.
And for reds? You’ve probably heard the advice about serving at room temperature. But, when that was first suggested, it was before centrally-heated houses were common and rooms were usually far cooler than we would expect today. WSET suggest around 15 – 18°C (59 – 64°F) for most reds but with lighter-bodied examples, such as Beaujolais and Valpolicella, lightly chilled to around 13°C, 55°F.
A bottle I opened recently took the idea of correct temperature to a whole new level with a touch-sensitive heat guide on the label.
Wakefield’s Clare Valley Shiraz (Majestic, £8.99) has a lovely, fresh black cherry nose with attractive dried fruits – dates and prunes – and spice on a rich and full palate. A delicious, flavoursome wine, perfect with game, red meat or hard cheeses – even if we did serve it ‘too warm’ according to the temperature guide on the bottle!