If you still associate Australian chardonnay with obnoxious oak-flavours and dinner parties from a time when Christopher Skase was making headlines, there’s never been a better time to revisit the white wine. Results from the 2018 Sydney Royal Wine Show Awards held on Thursday night at Barangaroo Towers suggest “Aussie chard” has changed a lot.

Stuart Hordern, from Brokenwood Wines, says there’s been a real renaissance in Australian chardonnay.

Stuart Hordern, from Brokenwood Wines, says there’s been a real renaissance in Australian chardonnay.

“We’re seeing an end to chardonnays that taste like you’re pulling splinters out of your mouth,” says Stuart Hordern, senior winemaker at Brokenwood Wines in the Hunter Valley, awarded Best NSW Wine for its 2016 Forest Edge Chardonnay.

“There’s been a real renaissance in Australian chardonnay over the last decade and in NSW particularly. Chardonnay makers from Orange, Tumbarumba and single-vineyard sites in the Hunter Valley have stepped off the oak to let the region to shine through.”

A record number of 2332 Australian wines were tasted across 66 classes at this year’s Sydney Royal, now in its 192nd year. The trophy for Best Wine of Show went to the 2017 Reserve Bin 17A Chardonnay from South Australia’s Penfolds, famous for its flagship Grange.

“Penfolds' commitment to sourcing good fruit and letting the winemaking team have a proper crack really shows in the winning wine,” says PJ Charteris, chairman of a judging panel comprised of 30 industry experts. “For a chardonnay to have such power, but also poise, puts it almost in a league of its own.”

“It articulates the fruit complexity and mouth-watering attributes of cool climate Adelaide Hills chardonnay,” says Penfolds' winemaker Kym Schroeter. “Reserve Bin A is the result of many years of experimentation and refinements that have evolved since the inaugural 1994 vintage.”

The overall quality of wines in the show is improving year-on-year, says Charteris, with semillon and riesling continuing to perform particularly well. “Those wines represent incredible value for the consumer. They’re made in Australia like nowhere else in the world.”

Penfolds winemaker Kym Schroeter, whose 2017 Reserve Bin 17A Chardonnay  was named Best Wine of Show.

Penfolds winemaker Kym Schroeter, whose 2017 Reserve Bin 17A Chardonnay was named Best Wine of Show.

Charteris says there was also a strong showing of Mediterranean red varieties such as tempranillo, sangiovese and barbera as local winemakers are developing a better understanding of grapes less traditional to the Australian wine industry. “They’re just delicious drinking wines with beautiful fruit and a texture we associate with being quite food friendly.”

Climate change is a serious concern for winemakers in warmer regions, however Charteris says consumers shouldn’t expect Hunter Valley and Barossa wines to drop in quality anytime soon.

Brokenwood Wines 2016 Forest Edge Chardonnay.

Brokenwood Wines 2016 Forest Edge Chardonnay.

“Harvest times have moved forward considerably over the last few years. Climate change is a terrible thing we’re facing globally but we need to look at ways we can use it our advantage and understand it. How vignerons and winemakers adapt to the changes is what’s important. There’s a chance we might see more diversity in a broader range styles.”

Best NSW Wine

Brokenwood Wines 2016 Forest Edge Chardonnay – Orange, NSW. RRP $55.

“Chardonnay fruit characters drive this wine with careful winemaking influence adding another dimension,” says Sydney Royal Wine Show chairman of judges, PJ Charteris. “Sophisticated and another great reason to enjoy chardonnay – as if we needed one.”

Brokenwood was founded in the Hunter Valley by a trio of Sydney-based solicitors in 1970 and grapes for its first vintage were transported from vineyard to winery in the backseat of wine legend Len Evans’ Bentley. Now the the winery sources fruit from across Australia, including cool-climate Orange where the “Forest Edge” vineyard was established in 1988 and produces world-class chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and pinot noir.

Best Value White

Two Rivers 2018 Stones Throw Semillon – Hunter Valley, NSW. RRP $20.

A beautifully delicate wine with an intensity that defies its lightness. The definition and detail in the varietal and regional expression is just fantastic. Lifted floral and citrus characters fill the aroma and palate profile with a delicate and vibrant acid line making for a refreshing and lively palate. Classic statement of variety from a good vintage. Great drinking.

Best Value Red

De Bortoli Wines 2017 La Boheme Act 4 Syrah Gamay – Yarra Valley, Vic. RRP $22.

This is just a cracking wine – juicy, lip-smacking and very drinkable. A powerful intensity of shiraz fruit layered with abundant spice and brightness. Fresh and vibrant with defined tannin structure adding intrigue and energy. Shiraz and gamay is not a common blend – there’s probably only two or three producers in Australia that do it. So enjoyable.

Best White and Best Wine of Show

Penfolds 2017 Reserve Bin 17A Chardonnay – Adelaide Hills, SA. RRP $125, available from October 18.

Layers of fruit are seamlessly woven into an amalgam of winemaking complexity. All with a degree of concentration that defies this wine’s balance. Harmonious oak plays support in a wine almost without peer. Great length and persistence.

Best Red

Bleasdale Vineyards 2016 Wellington Road Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon – Langhorne Creek, SA. RRP  $29, available from late November.

Rich and powerful wine showing all the hallmarks of the classic Australian red blend. Depth and power from shiraz, structure and length from the cabernet. A classic.

Best Rosé

Longview Vineyard 2018 Nebbiolo Rosato – Adelaide Hills, SA. RRP $26

Contemporary style showing savoury elements and balance. Most importantly not relying on residual sweetness in place of fruit flavour to drive the texture. Eminently drinkable wine.

Best Pinot Gris / Pinot Grigio

Bird In Hand 2018 Pinot Gris – Adelaide Hill, SA. RRP $25

A fine expression of a variety on the move. The varietal definition with careful winemaking make this wine a beacon for this variety. Fruit focused with structural refinement.

Best Sauvignon Blanc

Watershed 2016 Senses Sauvignon Blanc – Margaret River, WA. RRP $30.

A refreshing shift to multi-dimensional sauvignon blanc showing layers of complexity woven through concentrated varietal fruit. Thoughtful winemaking adding depth and intrigue to this variety.

Best Riesling

Peter Lehmann Wines 2015 Wigan Riesling – Eden Valley, SA. Yet to be bottled for commercial release.

A fine example of riesling at its peak. Fruit power with finesse and elegance. Great line of acidity runs through the heart of this wine. A distinctive expression of varietal and regional synergy.

Best Semillon

Bimbadgen 2013 Signature Semillon – Hunter Valley, NSW. RRP $50

Perfect example of semillon hitting its straps. Enough youth to show freshness, enough maturity to show complexity. A great drink now with a long life ahead in the cellar.

Best Pinot Noir

Giant Steps 2017 Yarra Valley Pinot Noir – Yarra Valley, Vic. RRP $35

Lift and perfume you would expect from quality pinot noir with a touch of aromatic “X-factor” that carries to the flavour profile. Delicate yet complex, gentle yet structured with careful winemaking influence creating a complete package.

Best Shiraz

Windance Estate 2016 Shiraz – Margaret River, WA. RRP $25

Open and fragrant shiraz with primary fruit and a silky texture. Well balanced with length and persistence.

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