Chardonnay. Victim of fashion, champion of versatility, or destroyer of variety? It’s been the darling of the wine world, then the scourge. It was everywhere, then it was everywhere. It is the most versatile grape variety planted worldwide. It is a blank canvas on which the winemaker can daub the terroir and paint their masterpiece. It goes from steely, flinty, fresh-as-a-granny-smith to luxuriant, tropical fruit-laden, butter-on-toast. It takes to oak like a duck to water, and is the go-to example for wine educators worldwide when they want to demonstrate how tasting wine can tell you where it comes from.
Even if you think you know Chardonnay, chances are there’s one waiting to surprise you. The 26th May is International Chardonnay Day, so here are the top 10 Chardonnays that show you just how good this grape can be.
In no particular order…
1. Chablis – Domaine Servin
When I was a store manager, I’d usually call this when running a Wine Course for customers. It’s archetypal entry-level Chablis (yes, Chablis entry level is £10 and up) with crisp green apple, laser precise acidity and fresh lemon with a palpable mineral character. There’s a hint of richness to it, which is an odd thing to say for a super-fresh wine like this, but you’ll see it when you taste it.
2. Macon – Domaine des Terres Gentiles
Tete de Cuvee basically means the best of the juice. This is a wine that bucks the trend of increasingly expensive white Macon wines (Burgundy, bit south of the exceptionally expensive part) by being not expensive and still very good. White peach and ripe apple, a lick of honey, and a delicately refreshing feel.
3. Sud de France – Domaine de l’Aigle Limoux Chardonnay
When I was 18 I worked in a local French Bistro which had a dish on the menu called Aiglefin à l’indienne. Turns out it was a fancy way of saying Kedgeree. Years later I discovered this wine was a smashing match for said dish, with more than enough body and fruit to match the lightly spiced fish, rice and egg. And that was just for breakfast.
4. Australia – Wynns Coonawarra Estate Chardonnay
Coonawarra is best known for Cabernet Sauvignon, but this Chardonnay deserves a mention – Wynns is a local benchmark for the variety. White peach and mandarin, poached pear and orange-peel with lemony freshness and freshly buttered toast.
5. California – Edna Valley Chardonnay
There might as well be a picture of this wine next to the wikipedia entry for California Chardonnay. It’s everything you’d expect – and in a very good way. Fresh citrus, ripe green apple and a smidge of tropical fruit wrapped up in a toasty oak beach towel.
6. Argentina – Catena Barrel Fermented Chardonnay
This used to be a slightly clumsy oak-monster which we all loved for being a slightly clumsy oak-monster. At least, that’s how many of us *think* we remember it – rosy spectacles and all. Now it’s a superbly well balanced Chardonnay with fresh peach, a touch of banana and lemon with a delicate lick of oak to add complexity and a slightly honeyed finish.
7. Chile – Luis Felipe Edwards Gran Reserva Chardonnay
8. Italy – Stella Alpina Chardonnay
Better known for Pinot Grigio and crisp zippy whites than Chardonnay, but the international variety has made a splash in some seriously good wines in Sicily and especially Alto Adige. It’s definitely not white Burgundy, but definitely not Australia either. Fresh white and green fruits, blossoming flowers and a dusting of gingery, oak spice.
9. South Africa – Rustenberg Estate Chardonnay
Literally my favourite Chardonnay in the entire Majestic Wine range. An exceptional Estate wine from an outstanding wine estate, made by really lovely people. The Barlow family put a lot of love into their Chardonnay, and it shows. Ripe citrus and tropical fruit, lightly honeyed buttered toast, a slightly nutty twist and a long refreshing finish. Has great balance of richness, body, and freshness, and is consistently impressive.
10. New Zealand – Cloudy Bay Chardonnay
Just when you thought the grape had passed, you go and save the best ’til last. Forget Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc, as delicious as it is, the Chardonnay is where it’s at. Exceptionally well made wine of great balance, structure and complexity and any other wine-words you’d like to chuck at it. Just really well made wine that is worth it’s premium price-tag.
Explore even more amazing Chardonnays from all over the world on our website here.