One of the truly noble white wine varieties, Chardonnay is a wonderful grape. The best wines of Chardonnay are without peer. It makes some of my favourite wines; be they Chablis, Champagne (especially Blanc de Blancs), White Burgundy or good old Chardy from the New World. Chardonnay is probably the most flexible grape in the world. Don’t let anyone tell you it is rubbish, to write off such a diverse flavour spectrum with one sweeping statement and remorse from over indulgences of years gone by is folly or worse. There is at least one style of Chardonnay out there for you. I want to help you find The Best Chardonnay… for your tastes.
In the vineyard
You can plant it in any soils, in any climate, and then work it how you want in the winery and it will still taste like an OK wine. When people hit the sweet spot of site, climate, cropping and winemaking, Chardonnay becomes a magical wine that will age gracefully, charming you at any age you choose to pop the cork.
In The Winery
Chardonnays greatest strength is also its weakness. Because it is so workable, some winemakers trick it up and forget to let the grape speak for itself. That is how we have a generation of people who refuse to drink Chardonnay due to the trend of buttery, oaky, creamy Chards in the 80s and 90s.
In The Bottle
Chardonnays can range from cool climate lean and citrusy, to warmer climate tropical and overt. Oak and lees can add flavouring, as can malolactic fermentation. And let us not forget Chardonnay is an important grape in the production of Champagne and quality Sparkling wine from around the world.
It is hard to generalise on Chardonnay as a whole and really, the best way to know what a Chardonnay is like is to taste it. If you’re not feeling adventurous but want a decent Chardonnay I suggest sticking to classic producers whose style you enjoy as the safest course.
Peach, melon, green and red apple, grapes, white and yellow flowers, grilled nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, mineral, flint, river pebbles/white stones.
Oak can be a big flavour. Adding toast, spice, nuts and woody characters.
Malolactic fermentation can add milky, creamy, butterscotch notes.
With age honeycomb and savoury notes develop too.
Champagne – Do you like Champagne? If no, why not? (kidding… sort of… haha!). Chardonnay adds the finesse, length of acidity to a lot of blends and the great Blanc de Blancs (i.e. 100% Chardonnay Champagnes) are essence of the grape.
Chablis styles – Lean, crisp dry white. Emphasis on acidity, mineral notes and generally little to no oak. Generally quite subtle and often built to age.
Savoury styles – In the White Burgundy mould of earth, pure fruits, oak can be present but balanced, hints of funk. Good richness on the palate and plenty of obvious but nuanced flavour.
Buttery/creamy styles – Full, rich, creamy dry white (sometimes seems a bit sweet though). Lots of character that tends to not change much. Creamy, butter, oak, vanilla, big in the mouth and not subtle.
Regions Of Note
France – Champagne, Chablis, Burgundy, Jura
Australia – Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula, Beechworth, Geelong, Macedon, Gippsland, Tasmania, Adelaide Hills, Margaret River, Tumbarumba, Hunter Valley
Argentina – Mendoza
New Zealand – Auckland, Waiheke Island, Martinborough, Waipara, Marlborough, Nelson
USA – Napa Valley
Most styles are delicious from day one. They evolve and change slowly over the years, with no times where it shuts down. Mostly I would drink Chardonnay 3-7 years from release with a few standouts from all of the world that can improve long term (over 15 years or more).
As they age, they tend to mellow out and go quite savoury and the colour changes drastically. The texture is a highlight and one of the best parts.
Find The Best Chardonnay
A lot of the time, people will have their favourite Chardonnay (I love Main Ridge Estate for example) and because we are creatures of habit, we’ll go for what we know. But with its versatility the best Chardonnay is the one that suits the situation you find yourself in. Are you having Oysters? You need Chablis. Experiencing abundant sunshine? Let’s grab some Champagne. Are you indulging in Crayfish in a rich sauce? A big chardonnay might be your friend here.