Chardonnay is perhaps the most famous grape variety of them all. Indeed, there are very few wine regions where Chardonnay’s presence has not been not felt. It turns up everywhere, from Burgundy to Bío-Bío, from Sonoma to Stellenbosch.
There are a number of reasons for Chardonnay’s popularity. First of all, it’s incredibly versatile. It can be fresh, clean and fruity; it can be taut, lean and mineral; or it can be fat, buttery and rich. There are few grapes that give a winemaker so much freedom to tweak the style and make the wine they want.
Secondly, when New World wines started to make serious inroads into the Old World dominance of the early 1990s, Chardonnay was out in front. In the UK and elsewhere, a new breed of wine drinker was quick to embrace these loud-and-proud wines that offered sunshine in a bottle and cut through the dusty, old-school image that wine had up to that point.
Unfortunately, Chardonnay became a victim of its own success. The arrival of too many overly oaked examples helped create the “Anything But Chardonnay” brigade, and saw people turn to more aromatic varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc in their droves (although, admittedly, they carried on drinking Chablis…)
But as winemakers toned down the oak and strived for more elegance, so people came back to this world-class grape variety. There are now fantastic Chardonnays made all over the globe, such as Bouchard Finlayson Missionvale Chardonnay 2018 from South Africa, which was awarded 97/100pts by the IWSC judges.
Burgundy – home to Chablis, Meursault and Puligny-Montrachet – will always be the benchmark for top-quality Chardonnay, but you can now find world-class examples as far afield as Canada, Argentina and New Zealand. Here are 15 of the best Chardonnays to try, based on the 2020 IWSC tasting.
Missionvale Chardonnay 2018
Very classy wine with nicely judged oak that adds vanilla spice to the tropical fruit and toffee apple flavours. Perfectly poised with crisp acidity and an elegant, long finish. 13.5%
Polished and refined excellent class exemplar. Bursting with pure bright citrus, yet rich and concentrated full flavoured elegance. Charming savoury elements mingle with mineral highlights and beautifully linear integrated oak. 13%
Il Liris Chardonnay 2018
Richly-layered cornucopia of aromatic oral pleasure; ripe yellow plum, exotic blooms, woodsmoke, citrus, lime curd, bacon and pineapple. Elegant, refined, controlled with a mouth-watering acidity and a finely textured palate. A superb citrus scented, stone fruit finish. Longevity and grace. 13%
Apogée Chardonnay 2018
Intense nose of baked apples and caramel. Very harmonious palate with ripe stone fruit, golden apple and white grapefruit with nicely integrated oak. Appealing creamy texture and linear acidity throughout the lingering finish. 13%
TED Edward Andrew Chardonnay 2017
Bird in Hand
Creamy, seductive, jasmine-scented honeyed beeswax and lemon meringue adorn this dreamily textured, harmonious cornucopia of a wine. Sublimely lengthy, substantial of weight, acidity and fruit; made for food. Classical profile and the potential to live forever. 13.5%
La Pierrelée 2017
Unashamedly grown up Chablis, aged and proud of its classic typicity. Glorious harmonious medley of fruit intertwined with minerality. Super fleshy stone fruit layered with ample fresh lemons on a pure lean mineral backbone. Lovely and long. 12.5%
Felseck Vineyard Chardonnay 2017
Hidden Bench Estate Winery
Unctuous and layered, this cracking Chardonnay presents sweet and savoury flavours aplenty. Packed with candied lemon and stone fruits, the flinty minerality offers a lively sensation throughout while graceful mouth-watering spice leads toward a long, toasted finish. Top marks. 13.5%
International Procurement and Logistics
Gloriously sophisticated benchmark, a textbook example of an aspirational Chablis. Attractive and tasty exemplar - fresh, bright and persistent. Pithy lemon fragrance leads to fresh crisp bountiful lemon palate, tempered by refined minerality and a lovely lingering finish. 12.5%
50th Parallel Estate
Toast, ripe lemon, weighty green apple and a touch of struck match fill the nose. On the palate, zesty lime and grapefruit cavort against a backbone of savoury oak and steely acidity. A charming, racy wine with exceptional poise and class. 13.1%
Nest Egg Chardonnay 2018
Bird in Hand
Purity of form; wafting honeysuckle, pithy citrus, glorious late summer fruit, candied peel and a bitter toffee apple finish. Seductively restrained and laced with fine ripe acidity and minerals. Artful. 13.5%
Alta Chardonnay 2019
Delicate perfume of royal jelly, lime curd and ripe peach. On the palate, there is a seamless, luxurious butterscotch depth with orange and grapefruit rind. A big, bold style that is very well executed. 13.5%
HRB Chardonnay 2017
Seduced on the nose by aromas of smoke and reductive notes. The palate has a lovely texture and acidity, creating the hallmarks of a wine that will age well in bottle. 13%
Diamond Chardonnay 2019
Juxtaposition of cool, fresh, zingy fruit and buttery biscuit. Heady blooms and well-calibrated oak supplies smoke, toast and a balancing bitterness. Outstandingly focused, linear with luscious depth. Huge ageing potential. 13%
Grgich Hills Estate
Concentrated fruit and mineral richness, with tart juicy citrus and tropical notes of ripe guava. Crisp and complex with a smoky roundness and an appealing balance of acidity. 14.1%
Clean, glowing lemon glides seamlessly from the nose to the palate on fine layer of minerality. A creamy note adds lovely weight and texture through to crisp acidity on finish. 13%