Look at moi! It's Cardy, but not as we knew it

Kath and Kim

I have many fond reminiscences of 1980s Adelaide, and not just because that was when I came of legal drinking age.

It was fast and flashy. Huge hair, house brick sized mobile phones, roaring F1 cars, maxi yachts, David Byrne baggy linen suits, enormous shoulder pads, bulky computers, and in many instances, even bigger and bolder (not necessarily beautiful) Chardonnay (shar-dun-nay). TV’s foxy ladies Kath and Kim would have been right at home.

Sipping Australian “Cardonnay” back then was akin to licking a cricket bat that Dad had just treated with raw linseed oil and then rather peculiarly smeared with butter.

Now, like 80s Adelaide, it’s evolved. This versatile and popular grape has its origins in Burgundy, France. It’s made into a range of styles, suited for different foods and occasions globally. Chardonnay wines can be lean and nervy as the wines from Chablis, or fresh commercial styles from Chile; brilliantly sparkling Blanc de Blancs from Champagne or Northern Italy’s Franciacorta; or a voluptuous, creamy, nutty, fruit salad fermented and/or aged in oak, like those super-premium wines from Burgundy, California and Australia.

In Australia, this superb white wine has taken a while to be debuted in all its complex glory. It has gone from the buttery, bombastic, oak bomb; through an undemonstrative, flinty struck match phase and emerged as a poised but magnetic wine with pristine fruit, showcased in a dainty, armoire of oak, slowly unveiling fruit aromas, spice, toffee and nut top notes like an expensive parfum, all wrapped in creamy, ripe French soft cheese flavours and textures.

This is welcome intelligence, as the 2022 National Vintage Report from Wine Australia indicates Chardonnay was the second most crushed wine grape variety (46.1 per cent of all white grapes crushed) and had a value of over $200 million at the weighbridge. Furthermore, Chardonnay has beaten Shiraz as the number one exported Australian wine due to growth in the USA and Canadian markets, and decline in Shiraz exports to the UK, USA, Denmark, Germany and New Zealand, the latter of which also make cracker Chardies.

Chardonnay’s fruit spectrum spans white and yellow stone fruits, apple, pear, melon, citrus, pineapple, guava, and mango. This can be layered with secondary winemaking characters of honey, vanilla, butter, brioche, cheese, yoghurt, spices, nuts, toast and oak.

Often textural with a creamy mouthfeel, they tend to be medium to full bodied, and excluding those crisper wines coming from cooler climates like New Zealand, are naturally moderate in acid. They are not naturally high in grape tannins but oak tannin. Reasonable acidity and good fruit intensity means that some will age up to 10 years and develop bottle age complexity.

These wines are food versatile. The leaner, unoaked styles marry well with shellfish, sashimi, risotto, salads, paté, and chicken. But pasta carbonara, crab linguine, pork ragu on soft parmesan polenta, roast pork, fennel and apple sauce, truffled scrambled eggs, grilled mushrooms with anchovies, tarragon chicken, or pumpkin soup, desire the bolder, creamy oak styles.

Chardonnay is often called the “winemaker’s wine” (although we know quality begins in the vineyard), because the winery is from where many of Chardonnay’s symbolic nuances stem. Buttery, caramel notes and softness from malolactic fermentation; cheesy, yeasty notes and creamy texture from time spent on yeast lees; flint and charcuterie savouriness from barrel ferment and nutty, tobacco, vanilla notes from judicious use of oak. They can be remarkably alluringly, complex.

The Australian wine sector is currently facing difficult operating conditions, but Australian Chardonnay looks better than ever.

Whether you never stopped loving a good Cardy, or you were driven away by the butter and linseed oil cricket bats of the past, perhaps it’s time to take a leaf out of Kath and Kim’s book and have another crack at a Cardy.

Gather some vino-loving friends, spend what you can afford on a bottle of an Australian leaner, crisper cool climate style and/or bolder oaked style, make some complementary cuisine and support the local wine industry.


Our reviewer, Sue Bastian, is Associate Professor in Oenology and Sensory Studies, Manager WIC Sensory Laboratory, and Deputy Head of School, Agriculture, Food and Wine (International).

Tagged in lumen, lumen spring summer 2023, wine, Reviews