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.