If you consider yourself part of the ABC [anything but chardonnay] club, it might be time for a re-think.
Results from the 2022 KPMG Sydney Royal Wine Show, announced on Thursday night, suggest Aussie chardonnay is back in favour.
Unlike the buttery mouthfuls of decades past, modern chardonnay is made with much less oak and more fruit character.
"Back in the '80s, chardonnay was generally overly oaked and really buttery," says Daniel Maroulis, winemaker and co-owner at Hunter Valley's Boydell's Wines. "Some people still have that burnt in their brains."
Daniel and his wife Jane Maroulis were thrilled to win the trophy for Best Small Producer Wine for the 2021 Boydell's Reserve Chardonnay.
"Chardonnay is one of my favourite grapes because it's easy to manage in the vineyard and you can do a lot with it in the winery," Maroulis says. "We only make a small volume of our Reserve because we put all of our premium fruit into that style."
Back in the '80s, chardonnay was generally overly oaked and really buttery. Some people still have that burnt in their brains.winemaker Daniel Maroulis
The Maroulis family has noticed an increase in demand for the food-friendly drop at their cellar door and restaurant in Morpeth.
"I find that there are two quite distinct Chardonnay consumers out there; those who like it lean and those who like the classic buttery flavours," he says.
"We do two styles. Our Reserve Chardonnay is a classic rich, ripe style with a bit of oak influence and we also make a lighter, leaner, fresh style with less oak."
More than 1800 Sydney Royal entries were judged across four days at Sydney Showground. A team of 31 judges awarded 134 gold medals across 65 classes.
The trophy for Best Wine of Show went to the 2021 Penfolds Bin A Chardonnay from South Australia's Penfolds, famous for its flagship Grange. The wine, made with Adelaide Hills fruit, also took out the award for Best White and was officially released as part of The Penfolds Collection 2022.
Meanwhile, Western Australia's Larry Cherubino Wines won the trophy for Best Single Vineyard Wine with the 2020 Cherubino Dijon Chardonnay.
"Australian Chardonnay has never been as good as it is right now," says chair of judges Sarah Crowe, general manager and winemaker at Victoria's Yarra Yering.
"What's nice about the results is they've shown the diversity of the variety in regions across the country. The top wines were up against some really stiff competition."
Handpicked Wines winemaker Peter Dillon says interest in the grape has picked up. Photo: Bonnie Savage
Victoria's Handpicked Wines was awarded gold for its 2021 Collection Mornington Peninsula Chardonnay and Handpicked Wines 2021 Highbow Hill Yarra Valley Chardonnay.
Winemaker Peter Dillon says consumer interest in chardonnay has "bubbling along" for some time. "That has really picked up and I suspect part of that is because consumers who are newer to wine are entering via realms like the natty [natural wine] movement," he says.
"As part of trying new things, they've realised that chardonnay actually represents a premium offering with a lot of diversity and interest. There has always been an appreciation for the classic Burgundian style, but I think that appreciation has intensified and become more refined.
Advances in the vineyard also improve what's in the glass. "The biggest changes have been through a revolution in planting material for the vineyards," Dillon says. "There's been a boom in new clones that give us flavour ripeness at lower baume [sugar levels], with higher natural acidity."
A new Royal Sydney class for no- or low-alcohol wines attracted nine entries, one of which was awarded bronze.
The Royal Agricultural Society of NSW (RAS) Wine Committee also introduced a new trophy for Best Grenache. This went to Hentley Farm's 2021 The Old Legend Grenache, from Barossa Valley, South Australia.
On the red front, McLaren Vale's Shingleback scooped four trophies with their 2021 Davey Estate Tempranillo Touriga (Best Other Red Blend), 2019 The Gate Shiraz (Best Shiraz), 2021 Local Heroes Shiraz Grenache (Best Shiraz Dominant Red), and the 2021 Red Knot Classified Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre (Best Value Wine).
The judges were particularly impressed with the quality of fiano. "It did exceptionally well in the Other Whites classes," Crowe says. "There were a lot of fiano golds."
Adelaide Hills-based Artwine won the trophy for Best Other White Varietal with the 2022 Wicked Stepmother Fiano.
"As a country, it seems that we recently got to a point in time where all these other 'alternate' varietals have a bit of vine age on them and have settled in a bit," Crowe says.
"Winemakers have become a bit more comfortable with them in the winery so I think they've improved a lot in the last couple of years."
From left: Yarran; Scarborough Wine Co; Domaine Naturaliste; Paringa Estate and Pike & Joyce chardonnays. Photo: Supplied
Five chardonnays to try
Yarran 2019 Chardonnay, Yenda, NSW, $16
Like a decent lick of toasty French oak? This chardy from family-owned Yarran is a steal. yarranwines.com.au
Scarborough Wine Co. 2021 Offshoot Chardonnay, NSW, $25
Elegant with a zippy lemon finish. scarboroughwine.com.au
Domaine Naturaliste Discovery Chardonnay, WA, $25
A fresh drop out of Margaret River. Subtle oak makes this just cuddly enough. domainenaturaliste.com.au
Paringa Estate 2021 Peninsula Chardonnay, Vic, $30
Citrus, stone fruit, precision… tick. paringaestate.com.au
Pike & Joyce 2021 'Sirocco' Chardonnay, $32
A beautifully balanced Adelaide Hills drop that begs for pork. Extra crackling. pikeandjoyce.com.au