Chardonnay, like it or not, is still the most important white grape in the country, making up over 45% of all white grapes crushed, and 20% of total grapes crushed, (Wine Australia figures). It’s the number one white variety and by quite a margin.
More importantly, the quality of local Chardonnay is now so high that we can finally ditch the cringeworthy ‘need’ to benchmark domestically produced wines against Burgundy’s best. They’re different, Chablis will always be Chablis, and Australia makes fucking good Chardonnay.
These 20 new(ish) release wines are the evidence to back that up…
Oakridge Vineyard Series Hazeldene Chardonnay 2017
Superb white from the best Chardonnay label in the country. Every egg at Oakridge is a bird. If you want a lazy generalisation this is more Chablis than Montrachet, playing on the edge of perfect ripeness, the flavours all lemon and grapefruit but flirting with creamier, riper edges. Buzzy acidity and bone dry, the palate is long, even a little stem but near perfectly poised. Amongst the leaner of the ‘17 Oakridge Chards and so svelte and sleek. A racehorse in Group A form. Buy some. Best drinking: no need to wait, good now and for 5+ years. 18.7/20, 95/100. 13.1%, $42. Would I buy it? I should have already bought some
Oakridge Vineyard Series Hazeldene Chardonnay 2018
Singing. It’s riper, fuller, more concentrated than you expect. More force, less funk (though not missing the funk, it’s there). Definitely thicker compared to the ’17 but no less of a wine. Grapefruit rather than lemon acidity, figs and nuts, oak and lees. There’s a certain ripeness – a weightiness – that is more Burgundy, less trophy winner. Acidity is not shy though. Complex, ripe and refreshing it’s a perfectly weighted wine. Best drinking: I’d have this before the ’17, both will still be good in 5 years. 18.7/20, 95/100. 13.2%, $42. Would I buy it? Heck yes.
Shaw + Smith M3 Chardonnay 2018
Another day, another excellent M3 Chardonnay. I know very little about art but I can appreciate craftsmanship when I see it. Ultra fine white peach fruit, perfectly defined palate is refined, the flavours both ripe and of fruit, but with acidity and tang. Utterly delicious. Masterpiece of delicacy and purity. Yes yes. Best drinking: ten years of you want, otherwise from anytime now. 18.7/20, 95/100. 13%, $49. Would I buy it? Also very much yes.
Oakridge Vineyard Series Henk Chardonnay 2018
Bang! Nuts and peach. Careful reductive elements but thats about all the funk thanks. A bloody lovely Chardonnay. Everything works – the oak supports the white peach fruit, the acidity is spot on, the palate full but you’d never doubt the balance. It’s maybe a little broader and a little thicker to finish than exceptional 2017, but it’s just an extra level of ripeness. Satisfying wine. Best drinking: over the next five years. 18.5/20, 94/100. 13.7%, $42. Would I buy it? Middling 1er Cru Burgundy or a few bottles of this? A bargain in world terms.
Burton McMahon George’s Vineyard Chardonnay 2018
From Matt Burton (Gundog Estate) & Dylan McMahon (Seville Estate) using fruit from a block in the Upper Yarra. I had this after the D’Aloisio (below) and it just won out thanks to a bit more x-factor. Both are lovely pure modern styles though. Funk, but understated, as liveliness is the game. This sneaks up on you with that cleansing acidity. Very pure. The barest creaminess and the pristine flavours make this so drinkable. Best drinking: Six plus years, might even be a better wine next year as the palate gets weightier. 18.5/20, 94/100. 13%, $40. Would I buy it? Yes.
Tokar Estate Chardonnay 2017
Winemaker Martin Siebert has done such great work with Tokar Estate. Onwards and upwards. This is Yarra Valley Chardonnay, fermented in large oak. Fig, grilled nuts and peach but it pivots towards acidity rather than fullness. Excellent. Lovely balance of flavour here. Grapefruit and winemaking influence in cohesion. 👏👏👏. Best drinking: now and five years again. Though why wait? 18.5/20, 94/100. 13%, $40. Would I buy it? Also yes.
Burton McMahon D’Aloisio Chardonnay 2018
It feels like nitpicking to have this a rung down from its brother. They’re both very good wines. Fine and filigreed, this is all whipped butter and funk. Nice balance of flavour, if tending towards that no malo leanness mode. The epitome of a clear, modern, lightly creamy Chardonnay. Best drinking: I’d wait until next year and then drink for plenty of years (six plus). 18/20, 93/100. 13%, $40. Would I buy it? It’s also a yes.
Pike & Joyce ‘The Kay’ Reserve Chardonnay 2018
Welcome back Chardonnay varietal character. The top Pike & Joyce white and has presence. Nutty, peachy with popcorn oak, with attractive oak driving the mid palate and then grapefruit acidity. It’s a wine of contrasts, power but with really quite taut acidity. I’d wait a bit for better flavour integration, but style and flavour are unquestionably attractive. Best drinking: from 2021 onwards. 18/20, 93/100. 13%, $65. Would I buy it? Worth a bottle next year.
Sunshine Creek Chardonnay 2017
Each year the Sunshine Creek wines get better and this Chardonnay is on-form. Golden peach fruit and leans towards robustness rather than delicacy – perhaps all the better for it. Oak, ripe fruit, lots through the middle, though doesn’t feel heavy. Good stuff, in an old school ripe and full mode. Best drinking: oh you can drink it now. The oak may integrate more in years to come, but enjoyment there now. 18/20, 93/100. 13.5%, $?. Would I buy it? I still don’t know the price, but maybe.
Aylesbury Estate The Pater Series Chardonnay 2018
From the Ferguson Valley, which will always suffer from being ‘not Margaret River’. I like some of the region’s wines though, and value to be had. Plenty of ambition for Aylesbury Estate too, across whites and reds (side note, the winery name is shared with a council estate in SE London. That’s not an easy connotation sorry Aylesbury). Anyway, this is whole bunch pressed and wild fermented, matured in 25% new oak for nine months. Funk on the nose, backed by a palate with tension between white peach fruit and oak, the palate complex, worked and full. Power and volume. Intensity through the roof but it’s teetering on the brink of overdone. Good acidity all things considered. I don’t mind it, even though things get a bit fat and fleshy through the finish. Best drinking: nowish. 17.7/20, 92/100. 14%, $55. Would I buy it? A glass or two.
Jacobs Creek Lyndale Chardonnay 2017
Jacobs Creek/Orlando/Pernod et al. Chardonnay can be most underestimated. This clever wine illustrates it. Adelaide Hills Chardonnay in a massaged style with gumball reductive character on a fresh white nectarine palate. Has a surprising width given the early picked acidity that ultimately helps carry the whole wine. It’s just a bit ‘made’, with a lemonade and whipped butter flavour persona, but it’s quite likeable too. Best drinking: of a leaner style that will get better in a year or so and flourish for yrs after that. 17.7/20, 92/100 12.2%, $49.99. Would I buy it? A glass or two.
Steels Gate Shantell Vineyard Chardonnay 2018
Delicate Yarra Chardonnay from Brad Atkins & Matthew Davis. All the Steels Gate wines are bright and lively, actually, so let’s call it a house style. Light colours, a perky, white peach style that sits just on the right/ripe side of sparking base. Appley, crisp flavours. Understated and well balanced. Maybe a little lean to be superb – the acid is a bit chalky. But the right sort of vitality. Best drinking: a year more in bottle won’t hurt, then 5yrs+. 17.7/20, 92/100. 12.5%, $30. Would I buy it? Worth a glass of three.
Soumah Equilibrio Chardonnay 2018
The top dog Soumah Chardonnay. From the Hexham vineyard in Gruyere. Wild fermented and matured in 27% new oak. All Mendoza clone, if you care about those sort of details. Mealy white peach nose is obvious and correct, but the palate is very tight, with just-ripe white stonefruit and somewhat shrill acidity. Elegant and effortless though, with a tight palate of sophistication, if slightly shrill acidity. Quality, if a little style over substance. Best drinking: wait and you will be rewarded. 12 months more in bottle will be welcome. 17.7/20, 92/100. 13%, $80. Would I buy it? Nah I’d take the single vineyard stuff below.
Austin’s Chardonnay 2018
Geelong Chardonnay. Don’t be fooled by the low alcohol, this has nougat and caramel, the palate thicker and richer than you’d expect. Has an enjoyable mid palate charm, if a little flabby all things considered. Has some complexity though. Best drinking: now to four years. 17.5/20, 91/100. 12.6%, $45. Would I buy it? A glass.
Silkwood Estate The Walcott Chardonnay 2018
Pemberton Chardonnay. The Silkwood wines are on an upward trajectory too. Has some nutty oak and oatmeal richness through the palate that drives things along, with a finish that is crisp enough to be refreshing. Maybe not quite the concentration for more points, but good. Best drinking: nowish. 17.5/20, 91/100. 13.5%, $30. Would I buy it? A glass.
Soumah Hexham Single Vineyard Chardonnay 2018
Similar handling to the Ngumby below. Wild ferment. 8 months in barrel. Some malo. Has a nutty golden yellow peach fullness that is genuinely open and attractive – 2018 Yarra in the bottle. Plump, a little toasty and again all golden stonefruit. Easily attractive. Maybe some dried fruit in the mix given the slightly inelegant finish? Still enjoyable. Best drinking: now. 17.5/20, 91/100. 13%, $40. Would I buy it? A glass.
Soumah U. Ngumby Single Vineyard Chardonnay 2018
Don’t mind me, but every time I see Ngumby I just see Gumby. And then start singing ‘with his pals Pokey Prickle & Goo’. No walls to walk through here though. Wild fermented, spends 8 months in barrel. Taut and citrussy, lean and fresh. Certainly crisp but maybe just a little stunted too – early picked. Will grow in the bottle, at the moment it’s a nice wine that’s somewhat monotone. Best drinking: next 4 years. 17.5/20, 91/100. 12.5%, $40.
Varney Wines Chardonnay 2018
Mark Varney Wines down as a label to watch, if more for reds than whites. Fruit for this Chard comes from Rathdowne Estate in the Adelaide Hills. Hand picked and whole bunch pressed, the juice spends 7 months in used barrels. Peachy, with just enough funk. Has an approachable, stonefruit palate, if leaning a little too far into tinned fruit juiciness to be glorious. Has flavour through the middle though. Solid, if just a little simple. Best drinking: nowish. 17.5/20, 91/100. 12.9%, $32. Would I buy it? A glass.
Bird on a Wire Chardonnay 2016
A surprisingly shy wine for the vintage, with a lean, bony palate that only grows on the finish. I had to double check the alcohol, as it seems so delicate and light. Yet, after a while it tastes warmer and richer with some coaxing. I’m still on the fence here – there’s class here but not the conviction, though time in bottle promises to pull things together. Best drinking: maybe next year? 17/20, 90/100. 13.5%, $40. Would I buy it? A glass now.
Passing Clouds Chardonnay 2018
I find the Passing Clouds wines frustratingly variable. This Macedon Chardonnay hints at but just falls short. Pushes towards elegance on first pass, with just a little solidsy funk on a lean, barely-ripe white nectarine nose. The palate picking up a little more flavour, but still lean. Fresh but it never feels ripe. It’s sort of stuck with understated flavour but overstated acidity and sweet/sour. Good, but should be better. Best drinking: maybe from next year for this one too. 17/20, 90/100. 13.6%, $47. Would I buy it? A glass