Chardonnay has never looked better according to Peter McAtamney, from Wine Business Solutions. But the challenge is to get the message out.
CHARDONNAY, perhaps more so than any other grape variety in the Australian context, has been through the fashion ‘ringer’.
The great success of Australian wine on the global stage during the 1990s was in large part due to the selling of Chardonnay as a popular wine idea. Along with Cabernet Sauvignon it was pitched as the ‘vanilla and chocolate’ of the New World Wine assortment well before Shiraz emerged as the heir apparent to Australia’s winemaking future.
Consequently, Chardonnay was grown everywhere.
The wines produced from it were not aimed at achieving excellence but being consistent, reliable, branded product. This was a masterstroke as, until Australia’s largest producers succeeded in doing this, no one really knew what they were buying when they purchased wine from a supermarket.
It enabled Australia to become the dominant supplier to the UK and a force to be reckoned with in many major markets internationally.
A consumer then emerged that the Australian wine industry didn’t see coming. She knew what she liked and she knew that it was not heavily cropped, overripe, warm climate, acid adjusted, oak chipped Chardonnay.
People blame Kath and Kim, but the hard truth is that Australia lost 40 per cent of its white wine market to the Kiwis principally because this supermarket Chardonnay just plain didn’t taste very good.
Kim: “Let’s celebrate, would you like a Cardonnay, Kylie?”
Kath: “Stupid girl, Kim it’s not Cardonnay, the correct pronunciation is Chardonnay.”
Kim: “Mum, it’s French, the ‘h’ is silent. Back me up here Kylie.”
Kylie: “Yeah, she’s right Mrs D. I’ve been to Paris and the ‘h’ is silent. It’s Cardonnay.”
Kath: “Well excuse me for living.”
After a period of denial, Australia then set about making less ripe styles of Chardonnay with a big emphasis on acidity.
Some of these wines were very good but most simply presented as a warm climate attempt at copying New Zealand.
By picking earlier and going for greener fruit, Australian producers can achieve the acid profile but not the fruit ripeness needed to make great wine. This couldn’t last.
Finally, the stars have aligned for Australian producers.
Both restauranteurs and their customers now have a very clear idea of what the relatively small number of regions where Chardonnay achieves excellence.
Chardonnay is grown in a very limited number of locations in France so why would it be any different here? This is happening at the same time that the best winemakers in those regions are really hitting their straps.
What our research appears to show, as it does across for all categories, is that exposure to the best wines globally, in this case white Burgundy, has help people understand quality where each variety is concerned.
You can see from the data above, taken from our Wine On-Premise Australia 2016 research, the way in which Chablis listings are dropping off and Burgundy listings are growing showing the shift in preferences from simpler, crisp, acidic styles to more layered, richer and complex ones.
You can also see the way in which this change in style preference plays heavily into the hands of Margaret River and well as cooler regions such as the Adelaide Hills, Mornington and Tasmania.
Chardonnay is now neck and neck with Sauvignon Blanc again in terms of share of listings.
The average bottle of Chardonnay achieves $62 on an Australian wine list compared to just $48 for Sauvignon Blanc.
Australian Chardonnay has never looked better as a category. The challenge now is to get that message out to the world.
This article first appeared in the Grapegrower & Winemaker magazine.
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