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Michael Cooper's top chardonnay picks for 2020

A 1980s staple returns to favour with a contemporary flavour.

The world’s most famous white wine variety, chardonnay, once dominated the market in New Zealand, with champion trophies in the 1980s going to barrel-aged wines that tasted so woody critics complained that drinking them was like gnawing on a tree. Those bold, fat, buttery wines are still around. But they’re heavily outnumbered by a new breed of more elegant, tightly structured chardonnays with vibrant fruit flavours to the fore, fresh, appetising acidity and a subtle seasoning of French oak to add complexity and richness.

Askerne Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2018 ••••

Offering good value, this creamy-textured wine has strong, ripe stone-fruit flavours showing considerable complexity, and a harmonious, well-rounded finish. (13.5% alc/vol). $23

Aurum Central Otago Organic Chardonnay 2018 •••••

Certified organic, this highly refined, mouthfilling wine has fresh stone-fruit flavours that show excellent delicacy and depth, mealy and toasty notes that add complexity, and a lingering finish. (13.5% alc/vol). $45

Collaboration Impression White Chardonnay 2018 ••••½

Already delicious, this wine is sweet-fruited and rounded, with generous stone-fruit flavours, gentle, buttery, nutty characters that add complexity and loads of drink-young appeal. (13% alc/vol). $27

Babich Irongate Chardonnay 2018 •••••

Babich’s flagship chardonnay is grown in the Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay. Fragrant and finely textured, it is weighty, with deep peach and grapefruit flavours, biscuity notes that add richness, and a seamless, persistent finish. (13.5% alc/vol). $40

Cloudy Bay Chardonnay 2017 •••••

This stylish Marlborough wine was grown in the Wairau Valley. Fragrant and tightly structured, it has a good acid spine with citrusy, peachy flavours, a subtle seasoning of oak and excellent delicacy and depth. (13% alc/vol). $41

Delta Hatters Hill Marlborough Chardonnay 2018 ••••½

Still youthful, this wine was grown in the Ure Valley, south of the Awatere Valley. It has fresh, strong grapefruit-like flavours gently seasoned with toasty oak, lively acidity and very good intensity, vigour and complexity. (13% alc/vol). $27

Craggy Range Gimblett Gravels Vineyard Chardonnay 2018 •••••

Showing lovely freshness and harmony, this wine has a slightly smoky bouquet. Mouthfilling, vibrant and youthful, it has finely balanced acidity with deep stone-fruit flavours, mealy, biscuity notes and a lingering finish. (13% alc/vol). $40

Dashwood by Vavasour Marlborough Chardonnay 2018 •••½

Enjoyable young, this wine offers great value. Fragrant, it has good weight and depth of fresh, ripe, peachy flavours, slightly toasty and buttery notes and a creamy-smooth finish. (13.5% alc/vol). $16

Hãhã Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2018 ••••

Delicious young, this wine is great value. Mouthfilling and sweet-fruited, it has strong, peachy, slightly biscuity flavours, gentle acidity and a creamy-smooth finish. (13.5% alc/vol). $18

Grove Mill Wairau Valley Marlborough Chardonnay 2018 ••••

Bargain-priced, this full-flavoured wine is fragrant and full-bodied, with peachy, toasty flavours that show good complexity, finely balanced acidity and very good depth. (13% alc/vol). $20 

Hunter’s Offshoot Marlborough Chardonnay 2017 ••••½

Hand-picked from mature vines and fermented in large oak casks, this tightly structured wine has good intensity of vibrant, citrusy flavours gently seasoned with oak, lively acidity and obvious ageing potential. (12.5% alc/vol). $35

Lawson’s Dry Hills Reserve Marlborough Chardonnay 2018 ••••½

Already enjoyable, this barrel-fermented wine has a fragrant, smoky bouquet leading into a mouthfilling, sweet-fruited wine with concentrated, youthful, peachy, citrusy flavours and toasty notes adding complexity. Best drinking 2021+. (13.5% alc/vol). $28

Luna Estate Eclipse Martinborough Chardonnay 2018 ••••½

This generous wine is full-bodied and sweet-fruited, with concentrated, peachy, citrusy flavours gently seasoned with toasty oak, finely balanced acidity and very good complexity. (13% alc/vol). $35

Mission Barrique Reserve Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2018 ••••½

In the classic regional style, this full-bodied, complex wine has rich, peachy, toasty flavours, balanced acidity and a well-rounded finish. (14% alc/vol). $29

Matawhero Church House Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2018 ••••½

This is a bold, fairly upfront style, but age-worthy, too. Mouthfilling, it has generous, ripe stone-fruit and toasty oak flavours, slightly buttery notes and very good complexity. (13% alc/vol). $30

Morton Estate Black Label Chardonnay 2018 ••••

Offering good value, this Gisborne wine is a bold style, full-bodied, with fresh, generous, ripe, peachy flavours seasoned with toasty oak, and has a slightly buttery finish. (13.5% alc/vol). $20

Odyssey Hera Chardonnay 2018 •••••

Rich and tightly structured, this classy Gisborne wine is still very youthful, with concentrated grapefruit and peach flavours that show impressive complexity, and a lasting finish. (13.5% alc/vol). $65

On Giants’ Shoulders Chardonnay 2017 ••••½

This stylish wine is rare – only 900 bottles were made. It has concentrated, citrusy, slightly mealy and biscuity flavours that show good complexity, and excellent freshness and length. (12.6% alc/vol). $40

Pask Gimblett Gravels Chardonnay 2018 ••••

This Hawke’s Bay wine is fragrant and fresh, with strong, ripe fruit flavours gently seasoned with biscuity oak, and good complexity. (12.5% alc/vol). $22

Quartz Reef Bendigo Single Vineyard Chardonnay 2018 ••••½

Certified biodynamic, this wine is richly fragrant and full-bodied, with generous, ripe, stonefruit flavours, finely integrated oak and excellent complexity and harmony. (13.5% alc/vol). $37

Rock Ferry The Corners Vineyard Marlborough Chardonnay 2018 •••••

This distinctive wine was fermented in a concrete, egg-shaped tank. Mouthfilling, crisp and concentrated, it has lively, citrusy, peachy flavours that show impressive intensity and complexity, and a long finish. Certified organic. (13% alc/vol). $55

Rogue Vine The Debonair Rogue Bay of Islands Chardonnay 2018 ••••

From a Kerikeri-based company, this is a high-impact style. Full-bodied, it has a toasty, buttery fragrance and concentrated ripe stone-fruit flavours. Rich and rounded. (13.5% alc/vol). $30

Sebastiani North Coast Chardonnay 2017 ••••½

This attractive California chardonnay is full-bodied, with strong, peachy, citrusy flavours, lively acidity, biscuity oak that adds complexity and a slightly creamy texture. (13.5% alc/vol). $28

Quarter Acre Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2018 •••••

Instantly inviting, this highly fragrant, full-bodied wine is sweet-fruited, with rich, vibrant stone-fruit flavours that show excellent complexity, depth and harmony. A classic regional style. (13.5% alc/vol). $35

Staete Landt Josephine Marlborough Chardonnay 2017 ••••½

Drinking well now, this estate-grown wine has a fragrant, slightly creamy bouquet, with deep, ripe stone-fruit flavours, well-integrated oak and a long, harmonious finish. (12.5% alc/vol). $29

Tony Bish Heartwood Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2018 ••••½

Fragrant, fresh and youthful, this mouthfilling wine has rich, ripe stone-fruit flavours seasoned with toasty French oak, and very good complexity. (13% alc/vol). $35

TW Reserve Chardonnay 2018 ••••½

From mature vines on the Golden Slope, this youthful Gisborne wine is sturdy, with generous, peachy, slightly spicy and toasty flavours that show good complexity, and a creamy-smooth finish. (13.5% alc/vol). $28

Vidal Anthony Joseph Vidal 1888 Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2016 •••••

This rare wine has a highly fragrant, complex bouquet with a hint of gunflint. Very intense and vibrant, with grapefruit-like flavours, a subtle seasoning of oak, appetising acidity and a lasting finish, it’s well worth cellaring. (13.5% alc/vol). $120

Wither Hills Single Vineyard Benmorven Marlborough Chardonnay 2018 ••••½

This wine offers fine value. Already delicious, it is sweet-fruited, with good intensity of peachy, slightly toasty flavours, oak-derived complexity and a slightly creamy finish. (13.5% alc/vol). $26

Zephyr Marlborough Chardonnay 2017 •••••

This classy, complex wine was grown in the lower Wairau Valley. Mouthfilling, with a slightly smoky bouquet, it has intense, citrusy, slightly biscuity and creamy flavours. It is very finely balanced, with a long finish. (13.5% alc/vol). $33

This article was first published in the February 15, 2020 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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