It’s the most widely planted white wine grape in the world, and for many years Chardonnay’s reputation suffered from the focus on quantity over quality.

Winemakers on the Mornington Peninsula like myself are more aware than most how times have changed.

Today experts such as James Halliday proclaim Chardonnay as the most exciting Australian variety, and critics overseas are just as impressed.

“It’s hard to think of any other region or country that has taken its stereotype style and turned it on its head quite so effectively and in such a short space of time,” said the UK’s Daily Telegraph newspaper.

Another review in The Guardian was equally glowing. “Of all the wines that Australia produces, this one has undergone the most dazzling transformation, reminding us what a sexy, sumptuous, delicious wine Chardonnay can be.”

Montalto leads Chardonnay revival

At Montalto, we’re delighted to be at the forefront of this revival. Chardonnay is one of our two signature grape varieties, and our 2013 Eleven was named by James Halliday judges as the Mornington Peninsula’s best Chardonnay – one of eight regional winner from around the country.

The award was a vindication of our drive to push the boundaries with Chardonnay, producing the kind of wine that has boosted Australia’s reputation overseas in recent years.

Unlike the popular varieties that helped put Australian wine on the international map in the 1980s, these wines are nuanced; producing a complexity and characteristics that satisfy more sophisticated palates.

In the video below I talk about the techniques we use at Montalto to get those results from our Chardonnay grapes.

Our Chardonnay making process

Of course, it all starts in the vineyard – where great wine is made or lost.

Ultimately, I look to create wines with balance that encompass complexity, concentration and finesse – with the potential for longevity.

Picking decisions play a vital role in creating restrained and focused wines that exhibit a citrus flavour profile. At Montalto, that includes limes, lemon, grapefruit and tangerine, with touches of stone fruits like nectarine and white peach, together with floral and mineral notes.

Whole-bunch pressing is utilised. No sulphur dioxide (SO2) is added until bottling.

Consequently, there is oxidative juice handling throughout the vinification period. The pressed juice is transferred to French oak barriques and/or puncheons, depending on the cuvee, together with a considered amount of suspended solids.

New oak represents between 25% and 40%, depending on the blend. This is important because oak imparts flavour and tannin to the wine, enhancing the complexity and structure.

Natural malolactic fermentation (MLF) proceeds relatively quickly, and occasionally before the end of primary fermentation. As a consequence of MLF, the acid profile in the wine changes and softens, bringing further balance and increased complexity.

Carbonic Maceration and Aged Lees

In recent years, carbonic maceration has played a part in adding additional complexity, and we’re seeing some remarkable textural results, as well as new aromas and flavour.

The wine is left to mature on lees, which are stirred as appropriate following appraisal. Lees stirring assists in keeping the wine fresh, and aids in building mouth feel and texture.

The yeast lees are collected from previous vintages – some batches are batches up to 4 years old – and added to enhance flavour and texture.

I talk more about these processes in this post on The Eleven.

The right result

Our overall goal is to create complex wines that express the unique qualities of our six vineyards on the Peninsula.

And for me, there’s nothing better than Chardonnay. It allows a winemaker like me to have a bigger influence on the outcome.

And when you get it right, as we at Montalto and other wineries around Australia are increasingly doing, the results are sensational.