The winemaker's grape
Its malleability makes chardonnay a superb grape for showcasing both terroir and technique, able to evolve swiftly as trends and tastes change. Contrast the overtly oaked and buttery chardonnays of yesteryear with the taut, reductive and mineral styles that are currently in vogue. Chardonnay is no limelight-seeking changeling, though. This globetrotter is one of the classics.
My selection showcases chardonnay's range whilst highlighting the current zeitgeist in chardonnay production.
Burgundy, chardonnay's spiritual homeland
Chardonnay's birthplace is the obvious place to start. There are myriad styles to be found across many quality levels, from northerly Chablis to the Mâconnais in the south. For those first dipping their toes into the Burgundy bath, here are several to test the waters: The Society's Chablis 2020 shows typical firm, taut, unoaked, steely character alongside citrus fruit and savoury notes. For a step-up in quality, look to Domaine Duplessis, Chablis Premier Cru Montmains 2018. Domaine Cordier, Mâcon-Fuissé 2019 displays the more generous, richer, oaky side found in the warmer south, whereas Domaine Cordier, Mâcon Milly-Lamartine Clos du Four 2019 provides a welcome midpoint. For classic rich, buttery and nutty Meursault you'll be well rewarded with Coche-Bizouard's 2017.
After Burgundy you'd be hard pressed to find a greater range of styles than in the USA. Those who love classic all-American chardonnay should check out Bogle's 2019 from Yolo County. For modern America head north to Oregon for a trial of Salem Wine Co's lime, almond and flint-infused 2018, or turn south to Santa Barbara for Fess Parker's 2018 giving richness and freshness in equal measure.
Chile often offers chardonnay in its purest form and Lascar's unoaked Central Valley Chardonnay 2020 is hard to beat for out-and-out drinkability. For a taste of terroir head to Limarí and The Society's Exhibition Limarí 2020. The limestone soils give a refreshing, mineral style that is really exciting, packaged here in a wine that punches well above its price tag.
Cool is current in South Africa, with regions such as Elgin providing both concentration and clarity of fruit. Oak Valley's Groenlandberg 2019 is testament to this – rich fruit with great lift and classy oak. De Morgenzon's DMZ 2020 from the warmer Stellenbosch area offers a delicious alternative at a cracking price.
Australia pioneers new wave chardonnay, turning 180° on the oaky, buttery chardonnays of recent decades, focusing now on minimal oak influence, pure fruit and reductive smoky, flinty character. Robert Oatley's 2018 Finisterre Margaret River is a classic Aussie chardonnay but in a modern, fresh style and a dead ringer for Burgundy. For a super-fresh, zesty introduction to Australia, Bulletin Place 2020 is right on target.
Now head east to New Zealand and you'll find this modern style comes attractively priced. Grove Mill Marlborough Chardonnay 2019 is packed with smoky character alongside Marlborough's classic ripe citrus and spice. Our Exhibition New Zealand Chardonnay 2019 offers elegance and restraint, as you might expect from world-renowned chardonnay producers Kumeu River.
You don't need to go too far from home for some truly exciting chardonnay – Simpson's 2020 Gravel Castle is a worthy introduction to English chardonnay. At the other end of the spectrum is Isole e Olena's Collezione Privata 2018, possibly Italy's finest chardonnay, offering creamy brioche and complex minerality – a must try or one to cellar for years to come.