Three ways with chardonnay

How do you prefer your salmon — oven-baked, steamed or smoked? Or perhaps raw, as sashimi?

All taste very different. So it is with chardonnay. The wine can taste completely different according to where the grapes were grown, the way the juice was extracted, prepared for fermentation, fermented, matured, and many other variables.

To say “I don’t like chardonnay” is to invite the retort: “What kind of chardonnay don’t you like?”

Some chardonnays are barrel fermented, some (usually cheaper ones) see no oak at all. Some have a lot of new oak, some only older barrels. Some are put through a malolactic fermentation to add complexity and textural richness, and to reduce acidity; many Australian winemakers deliberately prevent the ‘malo’ in order to retain natural acidity.

Here are three Margaret River chardonnays that taste very different because of the locality where the grapes were grown, and/or the way they were handled by the winemaker.

Xanadu winemaker Glen Goodall (Photo: Margaret River website)

Xanadu Exmoor Chardonnay 2015

This wine, the cheapest of Glenn Goodall’s five Xanadu chardonnays, was mostly barrel-fermented but almost all the barrels were old, in order to minimise oak flavour pick-up. Malolactic fermentation was prevented, to optimise natural acidity and retain fruit and freshness. The wine tastes so delicately oaked it could almost pass for an unwooded chardonnay. A superb fruit-driven style, with herb and citrus aromas, and no obvious lees, malolactic or oak characters (although it was matured on yeast lees for extra texture), its palate has a rapier-like thrust with great focus and bracing acidity. The low 12.5% alcohol is part of the fresh, delicate style. It would go with more subtle fish dishes. (AUD $18)

Flametree winemaker Cliff Royle (Photo: Flametree Wines)

Flametree SRS Wallcliffe Chardonnay 2015

SRS means ‘sub-regional series’, in this case, the southern district of Wallcliffe, which is cooler than Wilyabrup or Yallingup further north. This type of fruit suits the finer style favoured by winemaker Cliff Royle. He also blocks the malolactic as he believes Margaret River chardonnay has “enough weight and texture”, and doesn’t need acid-reduction (indeed, he likes to avoid adding acid, which would be needed following a ‘malo’).

The wine is a lean, nervy, taut style typical of this maker. If any Australian chardonnay can be said to be mineral, this can. It smells of rock, or struck-flint, which is a complex sulfide character. But this wine has more than enough fruit to balance it – mainly grapefruit and other citrus nuances. It was barrel fermented in 100% new oak, but because of the fruit intensity, oak doesn’t dominate. The wine is very precise, intense and complex. It cries out for West Australian marron or crayfish. (AUD $58)

Moss Wood owner/winemakers Keith and Clare Mugford (Photo: Moss Wood Wines)

Moss Wood Wilyabrup Chardonnay 2015

Wilyabrup is a warmer district, famous for its cabernet, so tends to produce a bigger style of chardonnay. This is somewhat old-fashioned and shows plenty of oak and malolactic (butter; butterscotch) characters, full-body and forward-development in its medium yellow colour and rich palate. There are honey, butterscotch and toasty oak aromas and flavours. It has a broad, bulky palate with richness and grip. It’s what winemakers call a more ‘worked’ style, thanks to malolactic, a high proportion of new oak (nearly 50%) and what seems like an oxidative approach to winemaking and maturation.

This style goes well with hearty food, such as richly-sauced roast chicken or chicken satays. (AUD $65)

Vive la différence!

One thought on “Three ways with chardonnay”

  1. Ray Wilson says:

    An excellent description of chardonnay styles. Could be applied to riesling and semillon too.

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