Chardonnay is made everywhere in Australia, and to a very high standard. Very few regions however are able to boast genuinely unique styles, or at least a regional typicity. The same can be said of Burgundy, where warm, early vintages have increased the diversity within appellations and vineyards. Terrior is becoming harder to grasp, as producers grapple with new viticultural/vinification techniques and changing tastes towards “fresher” styles. Many wine drinkers today would not remember the significance of Tyrrell’s Vat 47 Chardonnay, or the style it once was. Tyrrell’s too have abandoned the rich, bulkier style, in favour of a lighter, fresher and more tense experience of Chardonnay.
Throughout the last two decades of vinous upheaval, one region has absorbed the changes and moved with the breeze. More than any other region in Australia, with the possible exception of the Hunter Valley, Margaret River has maintained it’s sense of place, regardless of winemaking. Certainly not a ‘cool’ climate, rather maritime. Those of us who have swum in the bloody cold waters of Dunsborough in high summer will understand how cooling the southerly sea breezes can be, tempering what can be a stifling summer. Summers here are defined by the contrasting southerly busters and hot winds coming off the Nullarbor. My mother still remembers her holidays here, explaining the clash of air, telling me her days were marked by a cloak of heat, a delicious sea breeze and a refreshing ‘sun shower’. Beautiful memories create great wines.
Same, same but different
Wet cold winters, hot dry summers, it’s this tension between dry heat and cold that defines Margaret River’s unique Chardonnay. Luminous fruits of grapefruit, melon, white and yellow peach and lime. Tertiary flavours of savoury spice, cashew, flint, white flowers, butter menthol and cream. But it’s the roundness in the mouth, scythed by precise, laser like acidity that marks this out as a very different beast. All the flavours and their combinations are familiar, but the structure and feel are different. Richness and tension, the warmth and brightness of the fruit has a cool freshness to it.
There are some sour, miserable anorexic Chardonnays coming out of the Yarra Valley, described as ‘fresh’ and ‘mineral’. The Hunter Valley struggles with weight and flab and long beamed oak. There are some terrific ‘Burgundian’ styles emerging from Beechworth, Geelong and the Mornington, but they are not necessarily unique in style. No matter what you throw at Margaret River Chardonnay, be it Moss Wood, Cullen, Leeuwin, or whatever, the region always manages to exert its grandeur.