The mofo guide to chardonnay
Chardonnay; it may have fallen out of favour due to the excess of the 1980s, but the new wave of chardonnay has cemented its place as one of the great Aussie styles. Whether it’s the leaner drops coming from the Yarra (elegance and citrus), or the fuller-bodied Hunter Valley beauts, to the icons of WA - the possibilities are endless.
A fan of grigio or savvy b? Go for unoaked styles. Need something bolder? Look to WA, Hunter and Mornington. The King of white grapes is a complex, divisive and crowd-pleasing drop that's definitely worth exploring.
Why mofos like chardonnay
Celebrated as one of the most iconic white wines in the world, it’s hard to summarise chardonnay’s impact on the wine world. It can be found in every winemaking region globally and is the 5th most planted grape, with 198,000 hectares planted globally.
There’s no grape that has simultaneously been a victim of fashion trends (remember ABC, Anything But Chardonnay?), but at the same time such a worldwide phenomenon. Chardonnay is a representation of the vineyard, the climate and the winemaker more so than any other white wine, so it’s definitely worth trying a whole bunch of them (any excuse right?) and finding your favourite style.
From the crisp, tart, lean wines of cool climate Chablis, to the creamy and buttery, oak bombs of California - there's a lot on offer. It’s also used as the base wine for excellent bubbles, from Champagne, to the Yarra Valley. Plus, it’s a great mid-week quaffer and a wine that will age beautifully.
What to expect with a chardonnay
Chardonnay is the winemaker's wine because they choose every other aspect of the wine style beyond the grapes on the vines. If you like buttery chardonnay, ask about malolactic fermentation. If you’re after an oaky style, ask about the maturation time and what kind of oak. There are countless possibilities when it comes to chard which vary from winemaker to winemaker, but to offer a helping hand here’s our general guide to the “classic” styles produced in chardy’s most popular Australian regions.
A cool to moderate maritime climate with huge variation of soil, and altitude, chardonnay from the Yarra is generally a bit more lean. You might see a little oak, and there is occasional partial malolactic fermentation (which makes it buttery). Generally, the wines have bright citrus flavours, lemon, grapefruit with a bit of minerality and medium to light bodied. They have a bright acidity that makes them refreshing and food friendly. Usually, if pinot noir excels in a region, chardy won’t be far off and the Yarra is no exception. Plus, they make some killer bubbles here in the traditional method.
Similar to Yarra, Mornington has a cool to moderate maritime climate, with variations in the landscape impacting the warmth of the vineyards. In addition, the wineries here are boutique and small scale so they tend to be a lot more variable. Again, home to excellent pinot. Chardonnay from Mornington generally sees a bit more new oak used, so it's a touch more on the nose. Citrus fruit again, but more toward the grapefruit styles rather than lemon. Stone fruit also plays a part as well as apple and pear. They tend to be more medium bodied, and have high acidity which is softened by malolactic fermentation.
Arguably the most famous region (globally anyway) for chardonnay. A warm maritime climate, the fruit here gets riper, so expect to find that stone fruits like peaches and nectarine dominate the nose. Usually there's a pretty decent amount of oak on the nose too. Malolactic fermentation softens the vibrant acidity here, although not always. Chardy from Margies is concentrated, collectable and generally delicious.
The hot and humid climate of the Hunter produces a more unique style of chardonnay, more akin to the old school style, although some unoaked wines do come from here. Expect medium to fuller bodied wines, that have had a bit of barrel fermentation in french oak, ripe citrus and stone fruit on the nose, with hints of vanilla and creamy on the palate. If you’re into that fuller, richer style, Hunter is probably the chardy you should be reaching for.
A moderate climate and higher altitude than most of the wine growing areas of South Australia (generally vineyards are planted above 400m). Punchy chardonnays with peach, citrus and generally a touch of oak, these wines are refreshing and quaffable. A climate more suited to produce a more elegant style, Adelaide Hills chardonnay is ripe, fresh and medium bodied.
The jewel in Australia’s cool climate wine scene, expect excellent quality chardy with characteristic acidity, ripe citrus and mineral, silky textures. Tassie makes light to medium bodied chardonnay with hints of flinty, struck match character. Tassie produces some excellent sparkling blanc de blanc, or champagne method sparkling from chardy - it’s premium, and you’ll pay a bit more compared to other regions.
Other regions worth a look
Chardonnay is the most planted white grape in Australia, by quite a significant amount. You’ll find it in every region, and it’ll taste different in each one of them. Other South Australian wine regions are warm and chardonnay from these regions will be a bit bolder in flavour, with more tropical fruit and a creamier texture. Victorian wine regions produce so many different styles, with richer examples like those from Beechworth. If you’re feeling really adventurous, try some chardy from all over the world. No matter how you go about it, we guarantee you there's a style and region that’ll suit your palate, even if you (think you) hate chardonnay.
What temperature should I serve chardonnay at?
You’ll need to defer to the bottle in your hand to answer this one mofo - for sparkling non-vintage champagne or sparkling blanc des blancs chardy you’d want your wine to be well chilled (6-8°C - overnight in the fridge); for light, unoaked chardonnay you’ll be looking at 10-12 °C (chilled, a couple of hours in the fridge), and for those big rich styles of chardy you’ll get the best out of them if they’re only lightly chilled, 12-14°C or half an hour or so in the fridge. But you know how you like your favourite wine - our advice is that it’s better to overchill and let the wine come up in temperature, rather than resort to the crime of diluting your wine with ice.
What foods pair with chardonnay?
However it’s dressed, chardonnay is a fantastic wine for creamy cheeses - brie and camembert being classic - as it’s going to either give you a complementary pairing (with those buttery notes from MLF) or a contrasting pairing with citrus and acidity that’ll refresh your palate between each loaded cracker.
Chardy is also a fantastic go-to for roast chicken or meat white fish/creamy seafood dishes (think pan roasted barramundi, prawn linguine or moules marinière), but pssst… come closer and we’ll tell you our favourite pairing. Chardy with classic spaghetti carbonara. The salty, cheesy, rich indulgence of spaghetti carbonara is a great one to pair with chardy as you’re likely to find a heap of complimentary and contrasting notes in the wine that’ll really take each mouthful to the next level.
Want to dive deeper? Check out our guide to food pairings for chardonnay.
When should I be drinking chardonnay?
The best thing about chardy is that there’s a style for every occasion - from sparkling for celebrations (or just because you’ve finished work on Wednesday); to light elegant drops that are perfect for catch-ups with friends, to full-bodied examples when you just want to kick back on a lazy Sunday afternoon. As always, you do you - but it’s versatile for whatever you’ve got going on.
Keen to get the chardy party started? There are countless possibilities, so jump in here and get discovering.