Chardonnay is a grape of many names, usually shortened versions: chard, chardy, card-onnay… more, perhaps. A most adaptable grape to site, winemaking style/input and vintage: yet it has found its mecca in Margs.
Australia is responsible for a really exciting array of chardonnays. Really exciting. There are some steely and mineral laden examples from Tasmania; fine, spicy and acid driven in Victoria (Yarra Valley, Beechworth etc); rich and complex from the Hunter Valley… in fact, if one was to get stuck into describing the different styles from the different regions, we would be here all day. Suffice to say, where there are grapes there is chardonnay and like your group of friends, they come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, moods, personalities and virtues. So, what makes Margaret River such a hotspot for chardonnay?
The Gin Gin clone has a lot to do with it, but not everything. Gin Gin is grown elsewhere and hasn’t elevated other regions to the status of Margaret River: so what is it? The clones + the maritime climate + the location of the vineyards (proximity to the oceans, angle of hills, sunshine, sea breeze and all other things) … all in combination form the unique terroir of Margaret River. Add to that the talented winemakers who have chosen to make Margaret River their home and focus, and you’re essentially up to speed.
“an iron-clad structure, intensity with generosity, and sweet fruit with flowing natural acidity” James Halliday
“I spent all last week tasting 2016 burgundies, but the more whites I tried, the more I lusted after the Western Australian alternatives I came across during a visit there last November.” Jancis Robinson
“All five of my favourites of the 22 wines, scoring 18 or 18.5 out of 20, were from Margaret River. What’s great about them is that they have all the tension and precision (as opposed to fatness or, heaven forfend, oakiness) that is currently in vogue but, unlike many Chardonnays from the rest of Australia or even from cooler parts of California such as the extreme Sonoma Coast, they have enough fruit to counterbalance the acidity and austerity.” Jancis Robinson
In the 2020 Wine Companion awards, Margaret River took out twenty one of the top forty two chardonnays in the country – not a bad result for a little region with a comparatively tiny (compared to national) output.
Margaret River was also responsible for five of the twelve Single Varietal awards (Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Sauvignon (and family), Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon Sauvignon Blends), winemaker of the year (Vanya Cullen) and Best Value Winery of the Year (Domaine Naturaliste).
The Margaret River chardonnay style is typified by the presence of ripe yellow peach, pink grapefruit acidity and a savoury salty spice character that underpins it all. If you’ve ever read one of my chardonnay tasting notes you may notice the use of ‘curry leaf’ as a descriptor. I find this in many of the Margaret River chardonnays, although I do not think it is a character endemic to the region. Red apple skins, white stone fruit, brine, crushed nuts/cashews and a fine minerality all feature heavily too. The chardonnays from Margs are distinctive from the chardonnays from elsewhere, primarily due to the shape of the fruit profile, which to my palate, forms a comet-like shape over the palate: rounded and powerful at the front, driven and focused, with a tapering, long, fiery tail into the finish.
International Chardonnay Day is coming up on May 21st, so here are five to get you going:
Pierro Fire Gully Chardonnay 2018
Deep Woods Reserve 2018
Xanadu Stevens Road 2017 (splurge, but worth it)
Vasse Felix Heytesbury 2018 (another splurge, also worth it)
Windows Petit Lot 2017
And one for something a little bit different:
Walsh and Sons Little Poppet (Semillon/Chardonnay blend and bloody delicious, value!)