Chardonnay - The Kate Moss of the Wine World


If you thought that Kate Moss was polarising, then let me introduce you to my friend Chardonnay. There is no varietal in our tasting room that divides the crowd more than Chardonnay. Some people think it is the holy grail of white wine, whilst others look at you like you offered them hemlock. Never have I seen a grape variety evoke such mood swings amongst wine drinkers.  But to be fair, never have I seen winemakers gamble with its fortunes so dramatically either.

Which brings me to the second of my Kate Moss references. Wine is in many ways just like the fashion business – it’s fickle and it keeps changing. In the 80’s and 90’s Chardonnay was like the shoulder pads I used to wear, they started out as quite modest little inserts into jackets and the odd blouse, however by the early 90’s I was a geometric tour de force, with shoulder pads that looked more like gridiron kit, than haberdashery items. So to with Chardonnay, we used to put them into oak barrels for some extra interest and texture; then we started letting the grape skins have lots of contact with the juice for more texture, then we kicked in the malolactic (or secondary fermentation) which turbo charged the buttery flavours and the mouth feel, and dialled up the oak to 11.

Not a culture known for our subtlety, we sensed we were onto a good thing and we ran with it…too far. When you’ve lost that level of perspective, there’s really only one thing to do – deconstruct it! So just like the shoulder pads, we had a massive reaction and swung the pendulum wildly the other way.

We stripped back all the oak, dispensed with the skins and canned the malo – it was refreshing actually to see her without all the make-up. In fact Hugh Hamilton was the first person in Australia to do this; in 1993 he had more wine than he did oak barrels, so out of practical necessity he made a new wine style and launched it onto the Sydney market, and guess what? The crowd went wild! It was the start of a new era of fashion. Unoaked, or unwooded, was the grunge era of Chardonnay.

Like Kate Moss, Chardonnay has proved itself to not only endure the fashions, but to also be an amazing clothes horse that you can hang just about any style on. Just like Kate, Chardonnay is an adaptable canvas, capable of making the finest Champagnes, delightful Chablis and delicious Chardonnays with all sorts of flavours and textures possible.

These days our Chardonnays seem to be like our fashions, more balanced. In Australia we’ve made our peace with oak, which is a lovely accompaniment to the fruit so long as it not over amped. Our Scallywag is created from pristine Adelaide Hills fruit. The majority of the wine sees no oak, but a small amount goes into fine French oak barrels where it is fermented on its lees (the tasty sediment) in barrel – this gives 'The Scallywag' balance between being delicate and refreshing with just a hint of yummy richness.  I’ll be enjoying it tonight with some prawn tacos, because it’s one of the most versatile food friendly wines under the sun.

So what’s best style for this noble chameleon?

Perhaps just like Kate Moss, who despite being able to carry off all sorts of fashions in spectacular style, she really looks fantastic just with a light dusting of make-up and a pair of faded blue denim jeans.


Mary Hamilton