Chardonnay is the wine that arguably put Australia on the world stage. The bigger, oaked expressions of the 1980s were a global success, but there has been a style evolution since those heady days. Less is more, and restraint is the way forward, but that doesn’t mean contemporary chardonnay now lacks flavour or personality. Think tight, bright and vibrant fruit flavours, all wrapped up in texture, richness, layers and length. Chardonnay is all grown up.
Growers and makers tend to love working with chardonnay as it's a grape variety that allows them to put their stamp on it. This can be through the choice of clones and winemaking techniques – all while still reflecting site, regionality and terroir. Some expressions lie at the richer end of the spectrum, with malolactic fermentation and lees stirring involved, while other styles are woven a little more tightly, inspiring descriptors that reference the likes of minerality and acidity.
Whatever your preference, you’re spoilt for choice because this variety shines right across the country. Here, we outline a handful of the standout regions and just some of the producers to seek out, which were among the Best of the Best and other highlights in the 2021 Halliday Wine Companion.
Margaret River, WA
Synonymous with chardonnay (and cabernet in the reds), the stunning coastal region of Margaret River enjoys maritime breezes, which combine with this region's climatic conditions to create luscious, intense wines known for their vibrant fruit and richness.
Try: Leeuwin Estate, Vasse Felix, Brookland Valley, Cape Mentelle, Domaine Naturaliste
Chardonnay thrives in cool climates, which is what makes Orange such great wine country. Colder conditions and some of Australia's highest altitudes create chardonnays that are delicate, showing citrus, melon and apple flavours with excellent acidity.
Try: Philip Shaw Wines, Ross Hill, Gilbert Family Wines, Nashdale Lane Wines, Printhie Wines.
This cool-climate region has built a reputation as a premium chardonnay producer. With many other wineries sourcing fruit from this region, these wines are highly regarded for their pure fruit flavours, natural acidity and minerality.
Try: Coppabella of Tumbarumba, Nick O’Leary Wines, Moppity Vineyards, Courabyra Wines
Yarra Valley, VIC
Chardonnay from the Yarra Valley is regaled for its quality, elegance and long finish. Line, length and power are in full flight across these styles, as are pure fruit characters and structure
Try: Giant Steps, Hoddles Creek, Mount Mary, Coldstream Hills, Dappled Wine
Adelaide Hills, SA
This pretty region so close to Adelaide is an ideal home for a number of varieties, including chardonnay. A diversity of sites across the region’s undulating landscape and cool climate produce wines of structure, intensity and length.
Try: Shaw + Smith, Bird in Hand, Tapanappa, The Lane.
The warmer climate of the Hunter Valley has long produced exceptional chardonnay. Typically showing stone fruit flavours, creamy cashew, spice and nut from oak maturation, these much-loved wines unmistakably reveal their regionality.
Try: Brokenwood, Lake's Folly, Meerea Park, Mount Pleasant, Thomas Wines
Mornington Peninsula, VIC
Try: Eldridge Estate, Moorooduc Estate, Stonier Wines, Paringa Estate, Yabby Lake Vineyard
Great Southern, WA
This vast region is increasingly celebrated for a range of distinctive varieties, with chardonnay among those highlights. Fine, citrus-dominant expressions also have all the structure and intensity required for great expressions of this variety.
Try: Forest Hill Vineyard, Castelli Estate, Byron & Harold, Snake + Herring, Singlefile
For more on chardonnay, see here.