Chardonnay – aka the king of white wines (which makes Riesling the queen) – gets pride of place in the Graham household, regularly jumping the barrier from ‘tasting’ to ‘drinking’ wine.
As a result, when the big dogs of the Chardonnay world enter into the (typically crowded) Australian Wine Review samples department, they go straight to the register with no queue.
This lot of 11 of the best new Australian Chardonnay this September (and a Jura interloper) is exactly what it says on the tin. And what a fine collection it is too.
Bicknell FC Applecross Chardonnay 2018
It’s a well-worn cliche, but there is plenty of Burgundian complexity in David Bicknell’s Upper Yarra Chardonnay. A complexity which you don’t always see in many ‘lean is good, lean (with some sulphur characters) is even better’ mod Aussie Chardonnay. This 2018 white reminds me of a warm year Corton, which is also cliche, but I don’t care because I bloody love warm year Corton. Grilled cashews, the inside of a crusty bread roll, a little twist of cheddar and all sorts of Chardonnay descriptors. The palate is powerful, nutty, even a little bit warm, and expressive at every turn. Satisfying. Full. Acidity never feels cowered, the right amount of funk and then long. You get to the end and it’s taut but at various times it was bold and golden too. Excellent wine, I may even be underrating it.
Best drinking: now to 2027 at least. 18.8/20, 95/100. 13.6%, $48. Would I buy it? Yes.
Oakridge Vineyard Series Barkala Chardonnay 2019
Same maker. Same region. Different year. A different sort of wine too – here, it’s less about grunt and width, and more about fine lines and the competition between flavour and acidity. A tightrope, but one expertly walked by this, my favourite of the 2019 Oakridge Chardonnay range. It’s a wine that manages to be at once weighty enough to be satisfying but with scintillating acidity and control. Lemon butter with a dash of funk, the fine, lightly creamy palate a taut, and spankingly fresh ride without losing generosity. Excellent. Just excellent.
Best drinking: I’d drink the Applecross first, then this next year and until 2028. 18.7/20, 95/100. 13.6%, $44. Would I buy it? Also yes. Make it a pigeon pair.
Tapanappa 1.5m Tiers Chardonnay 2020
Fascinating that I like this wine so much more than the ‘normal’ Tiers, though I think both are just too young. Regardless, this wine – from the tight spaced newer plantings on the Croser family’s landmark Adelaide Hills vineyard is a fine, lean, ultra-classy rendition of the Tiers tradition. Beautiful layers of white-fleshed fruit, that are so perfectly defined, crisp and delicious. It’s maybe a bit stark this vintage, but those layers of leesy weight, of finessed oak and the inherent delicacy, are top class. Lovely wine, even if it’s a little lean this vintage. You don’t see the alcohol, notably
Best drinking: wait until next year. Really. Then this will live until 2030 or more. 18.5/20, 94/100+. 13.9%, $55. Would I buy it? Yes.
Bénédicte & Stéphane Tissot Les Graviers Chardonnay 2018
I love the Tissot Chardonnay wines, as they always give such pleasure and expression. This is one of the chunkiest wines from this Jura legend, and it’s quite a ride – a full-throated, ripe and golden yellow wine. Alcohol wafts out the top, along with grilled nuts, lanolin, butterscotch, almonds. Still has that waxy Tissot texture, and the finish doesn’t feel hot or heavy either. You want to drink this now though – it’s built for maximum impact now, and what a mouthful. Imagine if a noughties Napa Chardonnay and a Jura classic had a baby. This is it.
Best drinking: I wouldn’t wait. Go over the next few years. 18.5/20, 94/100. 14.5%, $130. Would I buy it? I did and would buy again.
About Time Chardonnay 2020
Well, this is a welcome surprise wine. Background:
“A collaboration between Adelaide locals Henry Borchardt (Sidewood winemaker) and James McLeay (Chardonnay lover). About Time Wines represents our overdue foray into the small-batch production of expressive chardonnay that highlights single vineyards in the beautiful cool climate of the Adelaide Hills. We’ve made chardonnay that we like to drink. We hope you like it too.”
Well yes, yes I do. Sourced from a vineyard in Echunga, it sees 25% new oak. Wild fermented, unfined and unfiltered. 130 cases made. Lots of promise. Not an easy vintage to start with either, but this is very nice wine. Creamy, whipped butter mode with some funk overtones. There is plenty going on. Oatmeal, a certain chalkiness and cleansing natural acidity. It’s still a little wound up in itself, but unquestioned mod Adelaide Hills style and swagger. Long too. Points will get higher with more time in the bottle, undoubtedly, and I love the fuller texture
Best drinking: A year wouldn’t hurt, but it’s in a good place now. Will be kicking on in 2026 as well. 18/20, 93/100. 13.2%, $38. Would I buy it? Sure would.
Oakridge Vineyard Series Willowlake Chardonnay 2019
I had this next to the 2018 Tissot Les Graviers and it was such an unfair comparison. The Tissot is a beast, compared to this nuanced white. A rather delicate Willowlake Chard it is too – grapefruit, lemon citrus and fine fresh cream. it is restrained, built on acidity and very fine, but just a bit shy for immediate drinking. Lovely lemon balm finish though and not unripe. Just a bit taut.
Best drinking: From 2022 at least, then until 2030 no probs. 18/20, 93/100+. 13.2%, $44. Would I buy it? I’d take the Barkala personally.
Soumah Equilibrio Chardonnay 2019
Equilibrio is Soumah’s best barrels release and it’s always a sophisticated Yarra Valley Chardonnay. No difference this vintage. Barrel fermented, and matured in 25% new oak, although it tastes like more with its unsalted cashew vibe. No shortage of acidity, and this lovely creamy width to counter the acidity. It’s just a bit lean for the oak tannins to take it to gold medal status, until the palate resolves. Quality wine though, with a lovely delicacy.
Best drinking: I sound like a broken record, but next year. And until 2030 easy. 18/20, 93/100+. 13%, $80. Would I buy it? I’d share a bottle for this price.
Tapanappa Tiers Chardonnay 2020
Achingly young, but no doubting the DNA. Tiny crop and a cooler year, although this is unquestionably ripe. It’s green coloured, yet toasty and oak forward. If anything, the oak makes it look broader and more forward, and I noticed the alcohol as a result. Yet the acidity and the power of classic Tiers is underneath. Fascinating how different this is to the 1.5m, which currently beats this wine on balance. You’d probably drink the standard Piccadilly Chardonnay before either, tbh. Still, history says the arms and legs style will come together, and it’s very long and powerful. Maybe not a classic Tiers though.
Best drinking: Wait. As the vertical showed, four years post-harvest is the sweet spot. A decade is a very reasonable drinking window. 18/20, 93/100+. 13.9%, $90. Would I buy it? Worth a bottle for later.
Oakridge Henk Chardonnay 2019
A tricky wine to get your head around I think. Finely crafted, with flinty reduction a centrepiece, the palate achingly tight but typically complex, the acid a slightly raw spine. It’s still formative, with understated mandarin citrus fruit. That mandarin vibe is a bit distracting. Still, the layers of flavours give this character, but for mine, it’s just too young.
Best drinking: from 2022 to 2030, easy. 17.7/20, 93/100+. 13.3%, $44. Would I buy it? See above.
Dalrymple Cave Block Chardonnay 2018
Finely balanced, but maybe not quite as convincing as the Pinot. That’s my impression of this Tasmanian Chardonnay. Very much a delicate style of oatmeal, apple juice and funk, the fruit underplayed, the mode lean and tight, but also missing the detail on the finish. This is stylish and entirely drinkable, even though it feels like there is a missing layer of weight and precision that you expect at this price.
Best drinking: until 2026 for a start. 17.5/20, 91/100. 13%, $40. Would I buy it? A glass or so.
Steels Gate Melba Block Chardonnay 2019
A bigger wine for Steels Gate, yet still leans on freshness. It’s appley, with minimal oak save for a little hessian at the edges, the palate fresh and sprightly if a little short on complexity given the slight palate broadness and a bit choppy acidity to finish. A warm season, and looks like it has sucked a little life out of this.
Best drinking: nowish. 17/20, 90/100. 13.5%, $35. Would I buy it? Not quite.
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