Australia’s Best Value Chardonnay
The chardonnay grape is undeniably Australia’s most important white wine varietal. According to the 2020 Wine Australia report, it’s the second most widely planted grape (after shiraz) and the most widely grown. With 285,000 tonnes crushed, it accounts for some 19% of the total crop in Australia and (at least in my opinion) remains the most noble of white wines (my apologies to the misguided Savvie-philes out there). Once the golden haired child of the Burgundians in France, chardonnay has made its mark around the globe as a style of grace, charm and finesse; not least of all here in Australia.
But as happens with any popular style of wine, there is a chasm between the calibre of the offerings of the various producers. The spectrum of quality when it comes to chardonnay is arguably wider than with any other varietal. From the mass-produced grapes of the Riverina bound for goon bags tucked inside cardboard boxes, to the highly sought-after collectibles like Giaconda or Yattarna, there’s a dichotomy of both class and price which creates a minefield for the inexpert consumer. So, it begs the question, which are Australia’s best value chardonnays?
As Plato famously said, opinion is the medium between knowledge and ignorance – and so it is with wine. My views are just that, but at the risk of copping a gobful, I’m going to share my perspective on what is undoubtedly a touchy subject.
Firstly, it’s fair to say that price alone doesn’t define the quality of the bottle. We’ve all had cheap bottles that have exceeded expectations – and vice versa. Secondly, marketing and branding can help wineries to extort higher prices, but it doesn’t change what’s inside the bottle. Thirdly, high profile or well-established regions may have a reputation for particular varietals, but that doesn’t mean that there can’t be pockets of exceptional quality fruit in the lesser known districts.
So, my verdict?
At the top end, it’s impossible to go past Rick Kinzbrunner’s Giaconda Estate Chardonnay. I started collecting this stuff 15 years ago. These days, if you can get it, you’ll pay over $150 a bottle. It’s clearly the domestic market leader. At the pointy end, you’ll also find the Leeuwin Art Series Chardonnay from the Margaret River which sells at a similar price point and the 2017 edition was named James Halliday’s best chardonnay in 2021. Other contenders include the Pierro or Cullen chardies from the Margaret River region.
In the mid-range it’s a cluttered space. If you can find it, the Canobolas~Smith Estate Chardonnay from the Orange region is a standout – though you’ll pay upwards of $80 a bottle. If the Adelaide Hills tickles your fancy, then the Bird in Hand Nest Egg Chardonnay is probably in your wheelhouse, though at a similar ask of $75. The price point is understandable, however, given that the wine spends good time in oak, and 40% of the barriques used are expensive new French Oak.
At the more affordable end of the spectrum are wines like the Petaluma White Label Chardonnay ($28) or the 2021 Taylors Estate Chardonnay which is only about $15 a bottle and now sports refreshed labelling. It punches above its price point with all the hallmarks of a more expensive wine – nice nutty characters overlayed on rivers of peach, honeydew and even ripe nectarines. Maybe it’s the Padthaway fruit that does the trick?
Another of the contenders for the title is the 2019 Lenton Brae Southside Chardonnay. You’ll buy it at the majors for no more than $25 a bottle and this creation by winemaker Edward Tomlinson is undeniably under-priced. The fruit hails from the vineyards in Wilyabrup in the Margaret River region of Western Australia and exudes fleshy white stone fruit across the palate, laced with lemon zest and a crisp grapefruit edge. The French oak influence is subtle, though it’s creamy texture is irresistible! Is it the best value on the market? Maybe, or maybe not. But one thing is certain – you’d rather have six bottles of this than a single bottle of the Penfolds Yattarna!
– As published on The Cairns Post