A Guide to Aussie White Wines this Spring

Nick Willcock March 01, 2023

Bondar Chardonnay. Wine Brothers HK

To think that white wine is limited to NZ Sauv’ Blanc, or the crusty 3-day old Chardonnay at the pub, is to miss out on an array of superb white varieties.

You’ll be scouring winelists for hours, hunting for new grapes to try and buy. From bright and crisp to full-bodied (and almost savoury), there is such a wide selection that Australian winemakers are expanding on every vintage. Lucky for you, we have three suggestions that give a peek into the world of classic Aussie whites.

From Western Australia to McLaren Vale, and finally Victoria, these wines have as much variety in them as the distances between their cellar doors - from crisp and fruity for day drinks, a medium bodied drink for the beach and seafood, and a fuller bodied wine to go with lighter meats and cheeses. It’s time to branch out from the ‘glass of house white’.

Slide into Semillon Sauvignon Blanc ‘SSB’

Semillion Sauvignon Blanc. Deep Woods Estate. Wine Brothers HK

'Ivory' Semillon Sauvignon Blanc. Deep Woods Estate. Margaret River, WA

SSB is an old world style from Bordeaux that has found a new home in the winemaking journals of Australian wineries - particularly Western Australia. The semillon grape comes with weight, lusciousness and a smoothness to it; whilst the sauvignon blanc is lighter, more aromatic and has an acidic ‘zipiness’. Together they make a beautifully balanced wine that has the best of both worlds - not mouth puckering in acidity or too rich/flabby to be enjoyed on its own.

Margaret River can produce some really powerful reds in warmer years, but in the south the cooler weather gives the sauvignon blanc a longer season to ripen, whilst maintaining acidity. The semillon, however, comes from far north, where it will ripen more and give bright, fresh flavours. For all of this flavour, the acid drops off at an alarming rate, so the sauvignon blanc balances the wine, whilst adding a little extra freshly cut grass and lemon peel to the wine. 

Can this wine age? No, but that’s not a bad thing. One of the stigmas behind a wine that can’t age is that it isn’t good. This simply isn’t the case as this bottle was designed to be enjoyed now; with the primary fruit flavors of peach, lemon, cut grass, some minerality and even a saline aspect. That’s not to say it has an expiry date of a few weeks away - this wine is best from after it’s released to a few years from now.

As a wine ages, the fruit flavours slowly fade. Unless they are replaced, the wine just becomes a little...dull. In fact, it’s estimated that less than 5% of wines produced annually across the world are intended for long term aging. So for the Ivory - drink now, in the sun, with friends.

When in drought, pour a Fiano. 

Australian White Wine. Wine Brothers HK 

Fiano is like Piano, with an F. Fact. If you see it on a winelist without having heard of it before, it’s quite easily mistaken as just a cooky label name. After all, winelists are hard to interpret when all you may get is a name, a year - sometimes a grape - and that’s it. Good luck!

Fox Gordon's Fiano is seductive but not weighty. No longer an emerging variety, Fox Gordon have been making Fiano since 2007 when vines were planted in the cool Mt Lofty Ranges. In the vineyard, a big sprawling canopy creates a full-flavoured wine. Caned pruned, the Fiano spends time on lees (stirred every two weeks) giving a lovely mouth feel and texture while producing subtle layers of honey and toasted hazelnut, finishing with a fresh note of orange zest.

But Fiano isn’t a grape (or an instrument) you should gloss over, Fiano is a thick skinned white grape found in Campania, in central Italy and also in the south in Sicily. High temperatures, low rainfall, long growing season - it’s no wonder this grape has found a similar home at the vineyards of Fox Gordon in Adelaide Hills. 

The 90’s Oak-bomb craze: Chardonnay

Some question why Australian Chardonnay fell out of fashion. The answer is...it never did. Whilst Australia's total acreage declined the premium end of the market was never affected. The rise of Sauvignon Blanc had a small affect but the Chardonnay was always popular. In recent times, a growing number of premium Chardonnay producers have been desperately trying to shake off the "peaches and cream" caricature by emulating their rivals in Chablis – particularly growers in the cooler climes such as Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula, Adelaide Hills and Margaret River. I'm sure that some members of the trade love the restraint that flows through these wines. Their appeal to hipster sommeliers is clear – they take Aussie Chardonnay in a bold new direction. 

Are you ready to ponder? This Chardy was made for a spot of pondering. Not old school wine snobbery elitism, don’t you worry. But it’s got a bit going on, and will unwind in the bottle over the next three to six years. It’s full of ripe stone fruit and a hint of oak-driven character. And it’s perfect for those contemplative days. Or if contemplation isn’t your thing, just knock it back.

The wine, like most from Australia, is under screwcap. Screwcaps aren’t porous like corks, so the wine will almost always benefit from a swirl in the glass to help ‘open up’. The wine softens, the initial acidity subsides slightly and delicate aromas and flavours to appear. 

White wines are so much more than the said fruit bombs, full body oak bombs, or eye watering acidity. Aussie winemakers are doing such great things with regional classics like the West Australian Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc, new drought-resistant varietals like Fiano, and of course takes on ‘minor grapes’ only seen in blends like the marsanne. For us, the wine drinker, it means an ever expanding list of potential wines to try, and for the winemaker new challenges where grapes are finding their place within the melting pot which is the Australian wine scene. My tip for you - go out and try them, and each vintage there is going to be something new!