Wine of Australia put on a blind tasting of 50 "world class" chardonnays at this year's annual tasting. Why chardonnay? Well, Australian chardonnay is big business. Of the top 10 most popular chardonnays in the UK, the top four are Aussie: Hardy's, Jacobs Creek, Lindemans and a supermarket own-label (Tesco's presumably). As liked as they may be, no one would pretend that these four are world-class. So we were being asked whether the claim that Australian chardonnay has evolved into a plethora of styles at different levels of quality, holds good.
There were three groups: Crisp and Refreshing, Fine and Elegant and Rich and Complex. The first group contained everyday wines and failed to set the pulse racing. The wines that stood out were a 2008 De Bortoli Estate Chardonnay, Jacobs Creeks' 2005 Reeves Point Chardonnay and Punt Road's 2008 Napoleone Vineyard Chardonnay (none yet in UK, alas). The Jacobs Creek 2008 was good but Andrew Peace FuturPak 2009, Lindemans Bin 65 2009 and Brown Brothers Bankside 2008 were as unimpressive as France's 2008 Blason de Bourgogne Mâcon-Villages and Italy's 2007 Felsina I Sistri.
The Fine and Elegant section lived up to its billing with Giant Steps Arthur's Creek 2008 Chardonnay, £17.80, OW Loeb (020-7234 0385), stylish opulence with subtle oak nuttiness; and Kooyong's 2006 Estate Chardonnay, £22, Great Western Wine (01225 322 800), delicate melon and peach overtones with underlying sweet coconut icing. In the same category Penfolds Bin 311 Tumarumba 2006, £17.99, Waitrose, tesco.com, showed well with its burgundian complexity, as did Shaw & Smith's 2008 M3 Chardonnay, around £19.99, Majestic, Philglas & Swiggot (020-7924 4494), Bennetts (01386 840392), for its subtle complexity of flavour. The surprise package was the 2008 Shelmerdine Chardonnay from Victoria, around £12.49, Cooden Cellars (01323 649663), Henderson Wines (0131-447 8580), a delightfully creamy-textured, pure white.
In the final group, the zesty-intense 2008 Ten Minutes by Tractor McCutcheon Vineyard, £18.49-£20.15, The Wine Library (020-7481 0415), bancroftwines. com, and equally cool climate-style 2006 PHI Lusatia Park Vineyard Chardonnay, around £22.99, Dunell's (01534 736418), Corks Out (01925 267 700), belonged more naturally in the Fine and Elegant section. Hardy's 2006 Eileen Hardy, £19.99, Ocado, Swig (08000 272 272), Planet of the Grapes (020-7405 4912), mingled oatmealy characters with grapefruity zestiness, the 2007 Penfolds Reserve Bin 07A, £27.99, Hailsham Cellars (01323 441 212), Addisons (0800 197 3555), was superb with an intense, nutty, lees-derived complexity and the 2007 Vasse Felix Heytesbury, Margaret River, £16.99, Mill Hill Wines (020-8959 6754), Handford (020-7589 6113), also showed a fine pineappley fruitiness in a complex framework of layered flavours. They performed particularly well given genuine world-class competition in the form of an excellent 2008 Hamilton Russell, £18.95, from South Africa, a fabulous 2006 Bruno Colin Chassagne Morgeot Premier Cru, £36.95, and a brilliant 2007 Ramey Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay, California, £46.99, all at Noel Young (01223 566744). Overall, though, this was a confident demonstration, showing that Australian chardonnay is back, and by some distance its greatest white hope for the future.