Joelle Thomson

Wine writer and award winning wine author

What I am drinking, reading and savouring each week


The who, what and why of 12 top Chardonnays

If you're a lover of Chardonnay, the time has never been better - nor more diverse - to enjoy New Zealand's best from this most popular of all white grapes and wines. But where do the best New Zealand Chardonnays come from? Is there one top region? In terms of volume and the sheer diversity of Chardonnays produced, it may well be Hawke's Bay but a growing number of great white contenders from the South Island give this great region a run for its money today. 

This top 14 new Chardonnay post features two Otago whites alongside Hawke's Bay's collaborative annual top 12 Chardonnays, which they employ wine consultant, Cameron Douglas, to select each year. The first release of the wines was last year, 2021, and the second bunch of the best have just been announced in a top 12 selection out of 57 wines that Douglas tasted. All of the top 12 wines were sent to me for rating, ranking and critical analysis. It's a hard job and all that jazz, especially when someone else has already gone through these wines meticulously searching for the best. 

My ratings are all high because the wines are superlative and even though they vary widely in style, they all shine a light on great white wine made from the world's most popular white grape - Chardonnay. 

I have also rated two outstanding new Central Otago Chardonnays in the line up below. 


2019 Carrick Cairnmuir Terraces EBM Chardonnay RRP $47
This is one of my top picks of all 14 Chardonnays in this line up, thanks to great quality grapes and a winemaking philosophy that allows the grapes to take pride of place in style and flavour. Organically certified grapes grown on Carrick's Cairnmuir Terraces Vineyard in Bannockburn have produced a wine with great concentration - flavours of lemon zest and nectarine are balanced by a creamy texture and subtle spicy notes from extended barrel maturation time for18 months in French oak, 8% new – a judicious amount that really allows the wine to shine rather than the winemaking.

2020 Folding Hill Central Otago Chardonnay RRP $35
This is the fourth vintage of Chardonnay from Folding Hill Vineyard in Bendigo, a warm dry site where three clones of Chardonnay grapes add complexity and depth to this medium bodied wine. It's creamy and smooth in texture with hints of buttery appeal that never take over the wine. Aging in French oak, 12.5% new, also holds the wine in lovely balance. 

The top 12 Hawke's Bay Chardonnay Collection 2021

* All wines in this year's top 12 come from the 2020 vintage


2020 Askerne Estate Reserve Chardonnay RRP $35

Powerfully pronounced aromas of caramel popcorn and citrus flavours lead into full bodied, wine where fruit flavours are pronounced with hints of zesty lemon peel and peach, buttery nuances and a lingering finish. 


2020 Bilancia Tiratore Chardonnay RRP $90

Creamy, smooth, full bodied and taut, this Chardonnay suggests lots of deliciousness right now as well as a long life ahead with aging potential of eight to nine years+. Flavours of nectarine and notes of red apple are held in a tight structure with a textural smoothness. Winemakers Warren Gibson and Lorraine Leheny established their Bilancia brand after winemaking experience around the world, including Italy where the name Bilancia means balance. It's extremely apt in this new addition to their well known wine brand.


2020 Te Awanga Estate Quarter Acre Chardonnay RRP $40

The quirky nod to Kiwiana is in the name only because Quarter Acre Chardonnay is one of Hawke's Bay's classic elegant Chardonnays best buys each year. Its medium body is balanced beautifully by creamy hints on the nose and a smooth mouthfeel leading into citrus flavours of lemon, a note of grapefruit and a touch of spice. Always a winner on taste and value for money and again so this vintage. 


2020 Clearview Estate Reserve Chardonnay RRP $45

Full bodied, creamy and buttery in aroma and taste. This is a big wine that lives up to wWinemaker Tim Turvey's aim to create Clearview Reserve Chardonnay as a next level go to for Chardonnay devotees. He has now passed the winemaking over to Matt Kirby, who continues to make this big, bold Chardonnay in a crowd pleasing style. 


2020 Collaboration Aurulent Chardonnay RRP $35

Crisp and succulent with depth from oak ageing followed by no fining and only minimal filtration which means this wine retains powerful richness of flavour from ripe grapes given malolactic fermentation for creamy texture and a long finish. 


2020 Coopers Creek Swamp Reserve Chardonnay RRP $40

Words like dry grown and hillside vineyard are gold when it comes to great Chardonnays and this wine benefits from both with its great concentration of flavour with citrus tangy notes adding freshness to the full bodied, creamy, ripe peach flavours. Lots to love in this Hawke's Bay classic.


2020 Elephant Hill Salomé Chardonnay RRP $75 

Elegant and beautifully structured wine with great balance of piercing acidity and pronounced citrus flavours. Absolutely outstanding Chardonnay with its tangy tastes of ripe ruby grapefruit, candied lemon zest and a zingy long finish. Outstanding wine. 


2020 Hello Chardonnay RRP $35

A bold and powerful Chardonnay from Hawke's Bay winemaker Matt Kirby who pulls out all the stops to create a memorably full bodied, creamy smooth and ultra complex take on the world's most popular white wine theme. A winner. 


2020 Trinity Hill 125 Chardonnay RRP $80

Big, buttery and powerful Chardonnay made from grapes grown entirely on the stony Gimblett Gravels in Hawke's Bay. Citrus notes add depth to the mid palate and a lingering finish. A great white for now or age for up to five years. 


2020 Squawking Magpie The Gravels Chardonnay RRP $34

Super buttery flavours and strong malolactic notes add creamy flavours to this wine which is balanced with fresh zesty citrus notes on the finish which is long and zingy. Refreshing long finish.


2020 Tony Bish Heartwood Chardonnay RRP $35

One of my favourites from the Bay each year, due to its clever integration of lees work, creamy mouthfeel and citrusy flavours on the finish following the ripe peach notes on the mid palate. 


2020 Villa Maria Keltern Chardonnay RRP $80

A powerful wine from a special vineyard in Hawke's Bay, which contributed great quality Chardonnay grapes to other great whites for many years, prior to becoming a single vineyard wine in its own right. Richness, bold buttery flavours and balancing acidity all bring depth of flavour to this wine.