Sure, Shiraz gets all the attention, but for my money, Australia’s most consistently drinkable premium variety is Chardonnay.
That’s simply a result of style. So much top tier Australian Shiraz – and I’m looking in a South Australian direction – reaches for impact, rather than drinkability. Intensity, rather than balance. Add in excesses of alcohol/oak and you’ve got wines that are less drinkable.
Of course, that’s just me, and you can choose your own adventure. Plus, I’m making a crude generalisation given the volume of middling, sub-$20 Chardonnay out there plus the appeal of good modern Shiraz.
But the sentiment stands, and my ‘for drinking’ wine fridge at home has very little Shiraz and plenty of Chardonnay as a result.
For evidence of how good Australian Chardonnay can be let me present 23 bloody good Australian Chardonnay.
Oakridge Vineyard Series Henk Chardonnay 2017
Dave Bicknell has done it again. There’s a lip-smacking freshness in this single vineyard Yarra Chardonnay, in direct contrast to the weight and ripe fruit. Tension! Oak and funk and power. Masterful wine with a palate wavering between nutty and generous, and then taut and terrific acidity. Masterclass Chardonnay of perfect balance from a great vintage. I could drink oceans of this. Best drinking: Now to five years. 18.7/20, 95/100. 13.6%, $42. Would I buy it? Would I ever!
Shaw & Smith Lenswood Vineyard Chardonnay 2017
Yet another stunning Adelaide Hills Chardonnay from Shaw + Smith. From a single vineyard at Lenswood, the fruit is whole-bunch-pressed and matured for 10 months in new and used oak. What I like best about this Chardonnay is the acid balance. It’s acid-shaped, precise, delicate, yet not lacking in flavor. It screams quality winemaking at every turn, the marshmallow oak so well handled, the even palate has that mid-palate Hills richness and obviously pristine acidity. A delight. 1er Cru (at least) Burgundy quality, but with a screwcap and distinctly Australian. Best drinking: Now to five years easy. But lovely now. 18.7/20, 95/100. 13%, $90. Would I buy it? Yes, yes I would.
Curly Flat Chardonnay 2017
Such an underrated region is the Macedon Ranges. It’s a GI where acidity is a given, and yet flavour is achievable. Curly Flat is one of the largest producers, and yet it’s still small scale in the scheme of things (and a top site). This Chardonnay has volume too, but acidity as well. There’s a flush of brioche and custard citrus, the oak a rich and weighty component, then a palate of melon, citrus, more brioche and then natural, primed acidity (and full malo judging by the acid profile). Overt, yet balanced all at once, this is a top tier example of contained power. Best drinking: Good now, likely even better next year. 18.5/20, 94/100. 13%, $46. Would I buy it? Yes.
Shaw + Smith M3 Chardonnay 2017
A different shape to the taut Lenswood Chardonnay and easily more accessible now. A delicious drink too. Lovely lemon cream, an interplay here between tight and lemony acidity and then layers of fine white nectarine fruit. Acidity is on point. More-ish lean style, but more mid-palate grunt and less high-toned acid than the Lenswood. Another delicious wine though. Seriously yum. Best drinking: Now to six years. 18.5/20, 94/100. 13%, $49. Would I buy it? Yes!
Tokar Estate Coldstream Vineyard Chardonnay 2018
The latest Tokar Estate releases are excellent, with Martin Siebert on form. This is a single vineyard release from a block at Coldstream. More oak than the standard Chardonnay and carries it well. Perfectly judged ripeness – varietal, oak a supporting layer, the finish long and fine. Modern Chard, traditional ripeness. Long and satisfying. Best drinking: Now to five years plus. 18.5/20, 94/100. 13.5%, $50. Would I buy it? Yes.
Alkoomi Victrix Chardonnay 2017
Alkoomi’s whites are always underrated. Or is it just me who thinks they’re underrated and I’m not seeing the press? Mealy. Cool and poised Chardonnay with a delicate touch (yet not lacking), there’s some stonefruit, nectarine, a little sulphide funk and then crisp – but not hard – acidity. It’s Chardonnay from a Riesling maker (in its acid-shaped form), but the balance and delicacy is spot on. Lovely. Best drinking: Now to six years. 18/20, 93/100. 12%, $40. Would I buy it? Yes.
Eldridge Estate Wendy Chardonnay 2016
Wendy is the top Eldridge Chardonnay and David Lloyd has turned out a classy release. A different wine in this lineup, with more width and richness, but so well handled. Lemon oatmeal with a little straw. A real evenness to this, bottle age adding an extra whiff of gentle mealiness. You can see the warmth of ‘16 in the mandarin ripeness, the palate moderate despite the richer flourishes. Great push/pull between overt flavour and acidity. Best drinking: Over the next four years. 18/20, 93/100. 13%, $55. Would I buy it? Yes.
Levantine Hill Katherine’s Paddock Chardonnay 2016
Finely finessed in every way. Whipped butter, filegreed palate with this oyster shell-like sulphide delicate touches, the palate just ripe white peach, the oak a very fine vanilla bean touch. Maybe a little generous through the middle given the delicacy of nose and finish, but such precision winemaking. Best drinking: Over the next five years. 18/20, 93/100. 13%, $125. Would I buy it? Price is steep. Just a glass for the $$.
Livewire Chardonnay 2017
Bellarine Peninsula Chardonnay, barrel fermented and spends 8 months in old oak. Delicate Chardonnay, as you’d imagine with that alcohol, that’s not unripe at all – the pristine palate drives it forward, chalky acidity is not harsh either. Refreshing lemony flavours and fresh and fine. Just don’t come looking for walloping flavour. Best drinking: Good now or up to six years. 18/20, 93/100. 12.2%, $35. Would I buy it? A bargain in the scheme of things, yes.
Nautilus Chardonnay 2017
Golden peach juice, a peek into old school Chardonnay flavour, complete with the straw-coloured colour and a whiff of butter. The flavours here are heading towards apricot, the oak appropriately toasty and delivered with (just) enough acidity. Enjoyable, round and generous Chard in the big-boned mode. Crowd pleaser done well. Best drinking: Now. 18/20, 93/100. 13.5%, $35. Would I buy it? A few glasses.
Nepenthe Apex Chardonnay 2016
Worked, classy modern Chardonnay that trades on delicacy, the style early picked and with quite grippy acidity, sulphide funk on nose and with this vanilla bean lees character that transcends nose into texture. It’s not overwrought, but super modern almost to a fault. I don’t mind the texture and flavour here though. On the right side of the balance fence (just). Best drinking: Now to six plus years. 18/20, 93/100. 12.5%, $65. Would I buy it? A glass or so.
Tyrrell’s Vat 47 Chardonnay 2017
Fascinating to see the evolution of Vat 47 in the last 15 years. Now, it’s an essay in power with restraint – the fruit obviously ripe, but the palate held back by restricted malolactic fermentation and careful oak to deliver a wine of contrasts. Mandarin/melon fruit, cashew oak and citrus acid, the shape warm year plump. At the moment it’s an embryonic drink, but the lines are so classic, and history tells me this will be delicious in 2-3 years (and it’s a Chardonnay shape that is very appealing with a few years bottle age). Quality. Best drinking: Hold for a good few years. 18/20, 93/100+. 13%, $70. Would I buy it? A bottle for the cellar thanks (the ’14 is looking good now FYI)>
Castle Rock Estate Diletti Chardonnay 2017
Wild ferment, spends 10 months on lees in barrel. The acidity on these Castle Rock Chardies can often be so prominent that everything else falls in behind, and no difference here. The oak sits on top, with banana cream over a taut, citrussy and bony form. Lovely sense of lightness here, but I do wonder if it’s picked just a little too early. Class, however. Best drinking: No doubt better next year and will live for at least six years with that acid form. 17.7/20, 92/100+. 12%, $30. Would I buy it? Worth a glass or two.
Coppabella The Crest Chardonnay 2017
Classy single vineyard Tumbarumba Chardonnay that is so pure. Pristine white flowers and marzipan, lemon butter cream and a super defined palate. Fine lemony acidity and another dash of marzipan. Clean and vital that feels more like blanc de blancs sparkling than a 13.5% Chardonnay. Maybe a fraction too lean to be truly satisfying. Best drinking: Good next year and for six+ years easily. 17.7/20, 92/100. 13.5%, $35. Would I buy it? Worth a glass or two.
Robert Stein Mudgee Reserve Chardonnay 2017
Single vineyard Chardonnay, wild ferment and matured in 50% new oak. Partial malo. A forgotten style this, that harks back to the Chardonnay of the 90s and noughties, just with acidity. Still retains the white peach fleshiness of Mudgee, but there’s acidity too. The oak plays a part adding some biscuity width, but it’s not overt. Good generous style, if anything but delicate. Best drinking: Good now. 17.7/20, 92/100. 13%, $40. Would I buy it? Worth a glass.
Tokar Estate Chardonnay 2018
Not quite in the same league as the super Coldstream Chardonnay but not far behind. Has some of that just-ripe peaches rolled in straw modern Chardonnay style (that can be a bit samey) but the palate has some depth. Acidity is all natural and a balance between delicacy and flavour is pretty good. Well handled. Best drinking: Over the next four years. 17.7/20, 92/100. 13%, $30. Would I buy it? A glass or so.
Eastern Reach Chardonnay 2018
Cellarmasters Exclusive Eden Valley Chardonnay. Talk about knowing your audience! Ripe, old school rich Chard style but with new school acidity. I don’t mind that chunkier white peach fruit and oak when it’s balanced out by reasonable acidity. Makes for a real mouthful of Chardonnay. A blunt instrument maybe, but made in a style and done well. Best drinking: Now, not going to get any better. 17.5/20, 91/100. 14%, $25.99. Would I buy it? A glass.
Eldorado Road Beechworth Chardonnay 2017
The third release of this wine. No new oak, whole-bunch pressed, warm, largely wild ferment to get funk. 10 months in barrel, 20% malo. Balance here between biscuity oak, some white peach and then fine acidity. I like the freshness, but it moves too far to leanness and the fruit is simple and a bit peachy. Good quality, but not my preferred mode. Best drinking: Better next year and for five years plus. 17.5/20, 91/100. 12.7%, $37. Would I buy it? A glass.
Longview Macclesfield Chardonnay 2018
Great packaging on this Longview. It straddles the fence between fruit and winemaking edifice, gentle white nectarine, the acid soft (but clearly there), the oak a passing phase. It’s just a bit simple; a little fruity, a little too generous. Most agreeable, but I wanted more lines and depth. Best drinking: Now to five years. 17.5/20, 91/100. 12.5%, $40. Would I buy it? A glass.
Oakridge Yarra Valley Chardonnay 2018
Not quite in the same quality tier as the superhuman ’17 Chard above, but appealing Yarra Chardonnay. Wild ferment, spends 9 months in barrel. Ripe peachy style with minimal oak, acidity is fresh (restricted malo) and a gentle finish. Maybe a simple and peachy, but nice flavour here. Best drinking: Now. 17.5/20, 91/100. 12.9%, $27. Would I buy it? A glass.
Wirra Wirra The 12th Man Chardonnay 2018
Wild fermented Adelaide Hills Chardonnay. Candied whipped butter, but classy white peach fruit in there too. Banana oak character is just a fraction dominant for a delicate style, with some gumball sulphides work too. Complexity of winemaking here, if just a little light on the fruit weight. Good, if simple. Maybe a bit fatter later in the year? A solid drink, but not quite the slam dunk. 17.5/20, 91/100. 13%, $35. Would I buy it? A glass.
Bellvale Athena’s Vineyard Chardonnay 2017
The Bellvale wines are always concentrated, with the dry-grown vineyard delivering so much intensity. They can be variable, however, and this doesn’t quite hold together. It’s a full-tilt style, with vanilla bean oak, sulphide funk, hessian, the lot. It’s a bit too forward for the acid profile, though, the simmering palate concentrated and flush with almond meal but somewhat too broad. There’s almost an autolysis yeast character here. Unquestioning length, such power, even if it’s not quite together. Best drinking. Now, don’t delay. 17/20, 90/100. 12.5%, $35. Would I buy it? A glass.
Pike & Joyce Chardonnay 2017
Golden toasted peach on nose and palate, the lemony, biting acidity a contrast. Broad flavours but tart finish. Handy enough with its toasty flavour. But hardly contemporary. Best drinking: Nowish. 17/20, 90/100. 13.5%, $36. Would I buy it? A glass.