The Two Surprising Wine Regions That Flipped Me Back To Chardonnay

Posted: Oct 05, 2018

There’s an enduring consumer adoration for Chardonnay that, frankly, I’ve never fully grasped. In America, let alone the rest of the world, Chardonnay has been far and away the most popular grape. But the world of wine brims with exciting grapes, so why adhere so faithfully to one? Also, most Chardonnays I’ve encountered in the last few years have come off as too oaky, too clunky, too expensive, too cheap, too flabby, too lean, or just trying too hard to impress. These exercises in extremes left wines devoid of nuance, elegance, length, or downright sexy intrigue. When asked as a wine writer what I like to drink, I never answer with Chardonnay. Truthfully, I typically espouse the noble attributes of Riesling; its tension, energy, spectrum of fruits, food-friendliness and age-ability. (I still don’t understand how consumers prefer Sauvignon Blanc to Riesling, but that’s another article.)

Anyway, I just returned from two southern hemisphere wine regions making Chardonnays that turned my head in that “did Chris Hemsworth just walk by” kind of way. And since he’s Australian, he makes an apt comparison to the deliciously titillating Chardonnays of Tasmania and Margaret River in Western Australia.

Why these regions? First, they’re legitimately cool climate. While I love Burgundy as much as the next reader, I can’t afford to drink most of the good ones (see: too expensive, above.) Yes, there are some lovely village-level examples, but at its finest, ethereal, make-my-heart-swoon kind of expression, Burgundy adds up to anywhere from 2-4 times more expensive than the best wines from Tasmania and Margaret River.

Second, Tassie and Margaret River manage to ripen fruit without losing acidity. High UV rays and long hang time, warm days, cool nights, that sort of thing. A lot of so-called cooler climate regions are actually just moderately cool, or to achieve the effect of ‘cool-climate’, vintners pick grapes early for freshness but at the expense of fruit generosity. The wines present as austere and linear. They lack suppleness, and the appeal of a ripe pear or perfectly sweet and tart pink lady apple. Often described by the winemaker as “mineral”, it’s become a synonym, at least in the New World, for green and lean, lacking the complexity and length of a truly balanced and interesting wine. May as well drink Riesling if you’re looking for a jolt of acid.

Third, oak use is generally toned down, or at least, well-integrated. One thing Burgundians do well is provide their juice with subtle support from wood, to seamlessly meld fruit, acid, and texture together. For me, it’s the ethereal effect. Many Chardonnays I tasted in Australia come close to that heavenly waltz in the mouth, while still tasting of place. They’re not Puligny, just reminiscent of it. They’re still firmly Australian. Like Chris Hemsworth. So, welcome back Chardonnay. It’s good to have you in my life again.

By Lauren Mowery
October 5, 2018
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