By Rowena Collings, Client Relations

With romance in the air after Valentine’s Day, I started thinking about my big loves and I have come to the conclusion that for most of my adult life, and a little to my partner’s annoyance, I have actually been married to Chardonnay!

Like most marriages, it’s been a long and winding path with a few lows but mostly highs. We met when I was quite young, on a student’s
budget and drinking it from a carton that lived on the top shelf in my fridge with a conveniently placed tap attached to it.

I distinctly remember once enquiring with the bottle shop sales person why it gave me headaches, and he, too polite to ask the obvious
“what quantities are you drinking?”, proceeded to explain the concept of different levels of quality found in the grape’s juice pressings  (the best pressings being kept for the vineyard’s bottlings). I quickly upped my spending to the $20 cardboard boxes.

As I began working and going out in the late 80’s and 90’s I struggled with my relationship a little. The glass of Chardonnay I would order from behind most bars in Australia was that odd combination of alcohol tasting like woodchips with added acidity, not pleasant at all. Yet I persevered, and was soon finding fresher, vaguely fruitier, apple and melon versions that were easier to enjoy.

When I moved to the UK and landed my first job in wine, my Chardonnay world opened! I was enjoying more modern versions from North America, particularly California, where it was big, fruity, and bold, from Chile and Argentina, where it shows finesse, and I found it in Chablis where unoaked, it has refined minerality. I knew I was deeply and truly in love when I discovered Chardonnay in its Burgundian homeland of the Cote de Beaune. It’s here that Chardonnay is at its most artistic and profound. Tiny plots of land, just a single row of vines on one of the premier or Grand Cru hills, demonstrates the difference in taste, and not only between the geographical villages but between neighbours bottlings.

Chardonnay on its own as a grape variety is quite neutral and highly influenced by its terrior and the nurturing of the wine maker. It responds to a far wider range of wine making techniques than most varietals, making it a true expression of the collaboration of nature’s elements and man’s creativity… it’s Art! And like all art it’s subjective and changes with current fashion and trends.

In Australia there is an interesting modern Chardonnay renaissance happening which brings a change from the big fat, buttery oaky
Chardonnays to a whole new level of power, elegance and subtlety. In sampling a collection of Chardonnays from our own Cellar at the
Club, I’ve fallen in love all over again.

The 2015 Patricia from Brown Brothers, using Chardonnay grown in Tasmania, shows complex aromas of stone fruit, citrus and roasted cashew. It is well balanced and an example of malolactic fermentation.

The Petaluma 2018 Chardonnay from Piccadilly Valley is bright yellow in colour, with notes of butterscotch and lime, peach and citrus, and a nutty character entwined with a smokiness on the palate.

1er Yarra Valley by Hoddler Creek Estate brings a Chardonnay from a great cool climate area that is only made by winemaker Franco d’Anna in years when he deems the fruit worthy. It is filled with white florals, peaches and citrus, and a spicy subtle cedar oak.

On trying the new 2018 Vasse Felix Heytesbury Chardonnay I had one of those wine moments that made everything stop and I floated away on a cloud of true Chardonnay happiness. Perfection in a glass! Seamless and elegant, big but subtle, everything in harmony, grapefruit and flinty notes married to lemon, sage and very soft vanilla from the French oak, balanced acidity and a lusciously long finish… I’ve since stocked up on this.