Top Drop, Great Price
It may not be a universally held view, but to my palate, there is no more noble white wine varietal than Chardonnay. It’s a style that generally combines attractive fruit characters at the front, luscious mouthfeel through the middle and a gentle acidity to tighten and harness the fruit through the finish. And depending on the winemaking style, it will stand the test of time if allowed to rest in the cellar for an extended period. But there are, of course, exceptions to every rule and in winemaking, those anomalies are most often a product of the climate or terroir.
Australian consumers are blessed when it comes to Chardonnay. Not only does the grape do extremely well in a number of our major wine producing regions, but it sells at a price point that is well below what is asked for an inferior product from Chablis or anywhere in Burgundy for that matter! There are some terrific Chardys being made in the Margaret River, Hunter Valley and Tasmania, but for quality and value, it’s hard to beat the Victorians. It’s not a place that I’d want to live but there is no doubt that regions which enjoy sunny days and cool nights are far more likely to produce a Chardonnay with depth of fruit flavours and an acidic backbone to give line through the middle and length to the finish.
In this context, it’s unsurprising that places like Beechworth to Melbourne’s north and the Mornington Peninsula to the south are basking in the glow of international acclaim for the chardonnays that their winemakers are crafting. But if you’re looking at a list of unknown chardonnay labels on a restaurant carte des vins you could confidently choose anything that hails from the elevated vineyards of the upper Yarra Valley. Think towns like Gladysdale, Warburton or Healesville. The region is located less than 100 kms from the Melbourne CBD and boasts an elevation of around 300 – 400m. During the day, the suns’ rays allow the fruit to fully develop and ripen while the cool nights are perfect for incubating the natural acids that balance the wine once it’s poured from the bottle.
Bird On a Wire Chardonnay 2015
One of my favourites is the Bird On a Wire Chardonnay 2015 that I found in a wine merchant’s den on a recent trip to Sydney. Winemaker Caroline Mooney has done a remarkable job with the fruit from her Healesville vineyard. On the nose there are citric hints of gnashi pear and even burnt match, while on the palate peaches, nectarine and cashews appear in unison before firm acids materialize on the finish to leave a lingering sense of crispness and austerity. The French oak (25% new) and malolactic fermentation give the wine an overwhelming lusciousness and ensure a textural treat for the taste buds. It’s hard to believe that all of this comes at an ask of only around $40 a bottle!