How times change. Not long ago, England was the holder of the Ashes - now, in â¨a topsy-turvy world, it is at rock bottom. Similarly, Australian wine has gone through â¨a massive journey - especially when it comes to Chardonnay - and it now produces someâ¨of the finest wines in the world: light, elegant and perfect for fine dining.
What we are seeing from Australia now are wines that are lower in alcohol, with less oak, more finesse and with great acidity and freshness - and this is especially true for Chardonnay.
The country can also claim credit for â¨changing many people's perception of wine drinking, and it has led with numerous â¨innovations - for example, screw tops (see box) - that have improved and increased â¨the sale of wines.
With a country as vast as Australia, there is inevitably a huge variance of styles, from Chablis-like Chardonnay from areas such as Adelaide Hills, to a richer, more Montrachet style from Margaret River.
Recent comparisons have shown how â¨Australia can produce a sublime, richly â¨textured, multi-layered, balanced Chardonnay to grace the very finest dining table, as well as â¨Chardonnays that are easy drinking, unoaked, fresh, zingy and perfect as an aperitif or â¨for casual drinking. Therefore, I make no excuses for concentrating on the greatness of Australian Chardonnay.
Margaret River Margaret River has always had a great reputation for world-class Chardonnay, with top names such as Moss Wood, Stella Bella, â¨Cullen, Leeuwin and Vasse Felix.
But search further afield and you will find gems such as Pemberton, home to Picardy, Salitage and Houghton (Wisdom). Further down in the Great Southern area, there is Howard Park (especially the Marchand & Burch brand), Harewood, Ferngrove (Diamond), Rockcliffe and Alkoomi. Because these wines are away from Margaret River, they often offer exceptional value for money.
Adelaide Hills You can't mention this area without naming Shaw & Smith and its outstanding M3 Chardonnay, surely one of the best-value premium Chardonnays on the market. Other top names include The Lane, Petaluma and Bird in Hand.
Mornington Peninsula Home to a vast range of boutique wineries making sublime premium Chardonnay and Pinot. Top names are 10 Minutes by Tractor, Ocean Eight, Paringa and Kooyong.
Yarra Valley The Black Saturday Bush Fires of 2009 are estimated to have threatened or affected 25% of the viticulture area. But this area is better known for leading the charge on leaner, more acid-driven styles of Chardonnay more closely aligned with Burgundy. The winemakers reducing or entirely preventing malic acid â¨conversion and minimising the time spent in oak include Phil Sexton from Giant Steps, â¨De Bortoli, Green Point, Coldstream Hills and, more recently, Oakridge Wines.
Hunter Valley Home to what is possibly Australia's first and most famous Chardonnay - Tyrell's Vat 47 - this area is better known for its wonderful aged Semillons. Other top names include â¨Brokenwood and Lakes Folly.
Tasmania This is an increasingly important area for both still Chardonnay and for the production of Chardonnay for sparkling wine. With lots of recent investment from the mainland, names to look out for include Tolpuddle, Dalrymple, Dawson & James and Tamar Ridge.
The Josef Chromy 2011 Chardonnay won The 2013 Decanter World Wine Awards International Trophy for a wine over £15 and was described as: "Great nutty complexity… toasty undertones, juicy lees, intense fruit."
Orange This is not that well-known in the UK, but it is a cool-climate area, and it really was cold when I visited last year. It produces incredible â¨value, clean, fresh, vibrant Chardonnays that â¨have great purity with some stone fruit, melon and fig, but overall it's the purity from theâ¨high altitude that makes them stand out. Names to look for are Logan, Cumulus and Philip Shaw.
Penfolds It would be rash not to mention Penfolds when discussing Chardonnay. Of course, â¨red wine and Penfolds Grange comes â¨hand in hand, but these guys have been â¨producing white wines from the time they made Hunter White Burgundy in the 1960s - this is not necessarily a Chardonnay â¨grape, but more probably a white Pinot or Riesling mix.
Seek out and try some of the more recent innovations, including their flagship, Yattarna. More recent vintages are sourced from â¨cool-climate regions, with Tasmania as the main source.
Reserve Bin 'A' is funky and expressive, â¨with wild yeasts and generous with Adelaide Hills fruit. The next vintage release will â¨be Penfolds Bin 12A. The more affordable â¨Bin 311 is a cool-climate style which, in more recent years, has been sourced from Tumbarumba or Henty.
Why screw tops aren't heresySealing a bottle of wine with â¨a screw cap (Stelvin is a brand name) was experimented withâ¨in Australia even as far back as â¨the 1970s. We now have Burgundy and even some Bordeaux under screw-cap closure.
Screw-caps seal a wine and keep it in the manner that the winemaker made it, without it being affected either to its good â¨or its detriment by the cork. â¨Wines will still age in a bottle with a screw cap - it just takes longer.
The Classic Australian Oaked Chardonnay
This wine is pale straw in colour, sometimesâ¨with a touch of lemon yellow. The bouquet â¨is an exciting mix of white flowers and buttercups with some grapefruit, pear, a touch of tropical fruit and brioche, enriched with layers of soft hazelnuts with a creamy texture and toasted vanilla oak. The â¨wine should have a bright citrus finish â¨with some creamy flavours left on the â¨palate.
The Classic Cool-Climate Unoaked Australian Chardonnay This is zesty, whistle-clean lemon, white peaches, honey, figs, nougat and racy acidity with freshness and bright, clean flavours.