It’s difficult to imagine a cool day in Australia, even in the relatively temperate state of Victoria where this year’s stinking hot summer and raging bushfires did nothing to support grapes that thrive in coolness. So it may surprise you to hear there are more graceful Australian cool-climate wines today than ever before.
Australian chardonnays, pinot noirs gewürztraminers and even sauvignon blancs are emerging as elegant drops rather than the clumsy clunkers of old. Many Australian winemakers are paring back their big-bodied, full-flavoured wines in a bid to attract a wider, often more health-conscious, customer base.
Rejecting high alcohol levels, enormously sweet, fruity flavours and the steaming heat that results in both, many Australian winemakers are courting new customers with their toned-down wines.
The best place to ensure lower levels of alcohol and sweetness is the vineyard. As the winemaking cliché goes, wine is made in the vineyard, which means that too much heat will usually result in a wine that is intense and over-the-top.
The beauty of Australia’s rare cool-climate vineyard areas is they are part of a continental land mass, which provides climatic consistency as well as nuances. Unlike the string-bean-like country that is New Zealand, which is assailed by wind and rain while being without the protective, moderating influence of a continental land mass, Australia has a relatively established and stable climate.
The first cool-climate Australian wine that triggered an enthusiastic rave was a chardonnay from Domaine Chandon in the Yarra Valley, Victoria. Originally set up in 1986 as an outpost of champagne giant Moët & Chandon to solely make sparkling wine, Domaine Chandon was built on the old Green Point farm. It has lived up to its goal of producing good sparkling wines in a wide range of styles, including an unusual bone-dry bubbly. Now it has another string to its bow.
By experimenting with grapes from untried areas, Domaine Chandon senior winemaker Matt Steel has joined the dots between cool climates and elegant wines. By elegant I mean restrained rather than jammy in terms of taste. These wines are unobtrusive in style and are all the more drinkable for it.
There are six new Domaine Chandon still wines. Of the pinot noir, rosé, two chardonnays and two shiraz, the pink wine is the weak link in the chain. Simple, light and fresh, it’s passable but not a patch on the others. Even the shiraz are more restrained than many.
The winemaking team decided to match grape varieties to vineyards in Victoria that deliver more subtle flavours than most, sourcing grapes from the regions of the Yarra Valley, Heathcote, Strathbogie Ranges and Alpine Valleys.
Victoria has more cool-climate wine regions than any other part of Australia. Paradoxically, its wines are hot because they are grown in the cool.