We’re now at the halfway mark of Chardonnay May, and I can confirm I’m not tired of the noble grape yet.
Instead, despite the roughest weeks in yonks outside of this website, I’m enjoying more Chardonnay in the diet just because I love the contrasts. What other white variety can yield such hedonistic richness and yet wines of such finesse?
Two more observations at the halfway mark:
- You’ll need more patience with many of the 2021 Adelaide Hills Chardonnay releases, which look achingly tight. La Nina vintage = plenty of backward wines. The 2022s are too-young as well. Patience is required (and I have a mental sticky note of this when tasting them).
- That said, I grow weary of early-picked and flavourless Chardonnay. I know the balance between vitality and flavour volume is hard to get right, and full malolactic fermentation is deeply uncool in 2023 (unfairly), but making bony, unripe peach acid water is a waste of everyone’s time (and what customer is asking for that style)?
That’s enough for the generalisations; let’s take a look at a few Chardonnay highlights from week 2.
Sawyer Chardonnay 2022
It took a while for me to get into this, but the quality is undoubted. It just needs another year. Michael Sawyer is the man behind this wine, sourced a vineyard in Balhannah, with the wine made at Tapanappa. Sawyer (and his wife Zoe) have just 19 rows of vines in a plot originally planted back in the 1990s to Pinot Meunier and grafted over to Chardonnay in 2008. This Chardonnay feels polished (and promising) too. Matured in 18% new oak for ten months with carefully controlled malo. Ripe white peach nose here – there is a nice golden openness, which contrasts with the svelte, filigreed and lean palate. There’s a creamy overtone to the middle before a notably chalky finish. I want more body after the nose, as the palate feels just a little stark. Classy wine, though – you feel like it just needs time to grow into its body, as the finish and poise are spot on. Best drinking: from next year. Actually, from 2025 is even better. 18/20, 93/100+. 13%, $38. Would I buy it? Worth a bottle (for drinking next year).
Crittenden Kangerong Chardonnay 2021
I’ve included a swag of current release Crittenden Chardonnay in this lineup in order of preference. Both these 2021 single vineyard wines are taut things with excellent delicacy, but acknowledging that they are teetering on too lean. Time will be king. This wine comes from the family’s Kangerong vineyard, planted in 1982. Light lemony nose with just a little white butter. Really delicate, too – just-ripe white peach and clay with a real light touch. Despite the low alcohol, this still has a stonefruit flourish. Really chalky acidity, though. I like the airy delicacy and purity. Interesting that this feels a bit more balanced and moreish feel than the fuller Zumma. Still could do with more ripeness. Best drinking: from 2024. 18/20, 93/100. 12.5%, $55. Would I buy it? Worth a few glasses at least.
Crittenden The Zumma Chardonnay 2021
This is basically the best barrels release but seemed less pure (and firmer) than the Kangerong (which has less malo and less new oak). I wonder if they’ll swap with bottle age? Another tight and quite restrained mode of Mornington Chardonnay. Yellow apple fruit with appley acidity too. There’s a sour pear vibe, too, with just a little cheesy creaminess at the edges. That appley acidity is very fresh and prominent. Obvious quality (as the score shows) here, even if it feels a bit arms and legs. Best drinking: I want to come back next year. 17.7/20, 92/100+. 12.5%, $65. Would I buy it? Worth a few glasses.
Crittenden Peninsula Chardonnay 2022
A more open and peachy pineapple expression with generous stonefruit through the middle driving it. You’d pick it for more than 12.5%, given the plump pine peach middle and a very different wine after the lean other two. The finish gets a bit lean and tinny, though. Easy drinking and decent concentration here – it’s about spot on for an approachable Mornington style, even if it’s a bit tinny and simply fruity. Best drinking: nowish. 17.5/20, 91/100. 12.5%, $37. Would I buy it? A glass.
Cobb’s Hill Cellar Reserve Charlotte Chardonnay 2020
From the Greenleaf vineyard in the Adelaide Hills. 50% new oak for 15 months with extended lees ageing. Expressive custard powder-driven thing it is too. Milky lees and oak on the palate too, with a certain chunkiness as well. It’s chunky packed with just ripe stone fruit dipped in vanilla bean flavour through the middle, with slightly abrupt acidity to finish (and some oak tannins). Plenty of volume, I don’t mind the sheer drink me-now power. Best drinking: nowish. 17.7/20, 92/100. 13%, $68. Would I buy it? A glass.
Briar Ridge Briar Hill Chardonnay 2021
The Hunter Valley does rich Chardonnay so well, and glad to see it continue (as it has a place). We’re in milky, nutty, Chard mode with golden butterscotch oak and citrus, atlhough limited malo tightens the finish. I like the blend of old-school nutty width and just enough acidity in the Scarborough Yellow Label style. It’s a bit broad and nutty, complete with oak tannin, but pleasure here. Best drinking: now. Best drinking: nowish. 17.5/20, 91/100. 13.5%, $50. Would I buy it? A glass.
Heggies Vineyard Reserve Chardonnay 2021
These Heggies Reserve Chardonnay wines are so curious – they’re often so early-picked that they never seem to resolve. Anyway, this release is from the ‘I’ block on the Heggies Vineyard. All Bernard clone, wild fermented, aged in concrete egg and barrique. Matured for 12 months on lees. Cool and restrained, save for some oak straw and hessian. That palate is backward, overly light and only lifted by a bit of leesy complexity. There is custardy flavour here and oceans of tangy acidity, but it never feels like it joins up. Has power, though, which makes you question whether this will actually get better (it probably will). Best drinking: maybe later. Two to three years for a start. 17.5/20, 91/100. 12%, $52?. Would I buy it? A glass.
Three Bridges Chardonnay 2021
This Tumbarumba Chardonnay has a bag of trophies at the Tumbarumba Wine Show. Clever drinking at this price too. Stylish marzipan and light citrus with a light and very taut palate. It’s a light wine, but the modern style is refreshing and well-made. I’d like more intensity, but I can’t fault the style and deliciousness. Best drinking: nowish. 17.5/20, 91/100. 12.5%, $24.95. Would I buy it? A glass.
Howard Park Miamup Chardonnay 2022
Margaret River fruit. Well-proportioned, entry-level Margs Chard. It’s a bit simple with a buttered lemon and Sao nose and then a lean grapefruity palate just kissed by lemon and butter popcorn. Affable, crisp, and long enough – it just needs another gear for greatness. Best drinking: nowish. 17/20, 90/100. 12.5%, $30. Would I buy it? A glass.
Daosa Natural Reserve NV (5th edition)
Incidentally, the Daosa Blanc de Blanc turned up this week for ChardoMay, but this blend of Pinot Noir (89%) & Chardonnay (11%) was already in the fridge. I really enjoy the Daosa sparkling wines – much more than just another boring NV Champagne. This fizz is based on 2020 fruit, includes 20% reserve wines, and matured for 18 months on lees. Some barrel-fermented parcels for texture too. Lovely nose to this – custard and vanilla bean. Has proper Champagne volume, too – sometimes it feels like still wine with bubbles in its mouthfeel. But I’m not complaining; that’s my preferred style anyway. This Natural Reserve doesn’t lack finesse, for that matter, either. Best drinking: now, no hurry though. 17.7/20, 92/100. 12.9%, $55. Would I buy it? Yes.