In 1971, Murray Tyrrell made the first widely available chardonnay-semillon blend in Australia. It was a sensation. The appreciative wine-lovers of the nation beat a path to the door of his cellar in the Hunter Valley. Since then, hundreds of vintners in every region of the country have planted thousands of hectares of chardonnay grapes. The dry continent seems awash with various versions of the wine, in every hue from the most pale yellow to the richest buttery gold. Mr Tyrrell, guru of the upper Hunter Valley, still makes a wide selection of chardonnay types. Of those available in Hong Kong (imported by Remy, fax: 2877-2476) there is the Long Flat chardonnay semillon, which is closest in style and heart to the wine he pioneered. It sells here at $74 in a shop or $64 - including delivery - by the case. Tyrrells labels also appear on the Moore's Creek chardonnay ($85) and the Old Winery range ($114). There is also a top-of-the-line Moon Mountain Tyrrells chardonnay with the 95-96 now on sale at $191. This is a most elegant drop. The bottles are numbered as a mark of rarity and prestige, and I plunged the corkscrew into number 15,129. The aroma is a nicely balanced mix with a soft herbal touch. The colour is a pleasing gold with green highlights. It tastes delightful, with plenty of fruit but no unwanted sweetness. Mr Tyrrell says this will last until 2002; not with me around and a corkscrew handy. Like many big wine firms with a conscience, Tyrrells has a policy of making enormous quantities of its large-selling popular and less expensive wines (the Long Flat range in their case) and then smaller amounts of premium vintages. This has advantages for the public. You can get the less costly versions for everyday drinking or for parties and barbecues, and explore the more expensive versions at smaller dinner parties. That was what I did with the Moon Mountain. On one of those rare warm days recently, I went to the market and bought fresh mushrooms, small squid and plump mackerel steaks. I sauteed the vegetables in butter, grilled the squid and baked the fish with onion and lemon; the chardonnay went perfectly with them all. Tyrrells has had plenty of practice; the family crushed its first vintage on the Hunter in 1864 and have been in continuous production ever since. The company has in many ways set the benchmarks by which much Australian wine is produced, having won more medals than any general. Because of the insistence on making small batches of wine with distinctive, individual labels and character, like the Moon Mountain, the huge House of Tyrrell manages to preserve the feeling of a small boutique enterprise under the large corporate umbrella. If you should drop into their tasting room, which is to wines in Australia what the Opera House is to architecture, you are likely to bump into an unkempt figure chatting to visitors. The fellow looks like an old farmer and has extremely sharp and opinionated views on the wine, expressed in the Australian vernacular. 'Why don't you drink the good stuff?' I heard him mutter to one startled American trying some gewurztraminer. This rugged individual with baggy trousers and boots covered in manure is the venerable Mr Tyrrell. It pays to sip deeply and listen intently because the enduring master of the Hunter Valley is an encyclopedia of Australian wine lore and history. Well, why not? He made much of that history with his own gnarled hands.