Top 10 NZ Chardonnays


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Chardonnay is the new black!

It's back. The popularity of Chardonnay is once again restored. Plantings are on the rise all over the country, and producers and drinkers are finally moving in the right direction with Chardonnay in New Zealand.

We have finally accepted that big, bold and buttery is not our style. We’re now seeing a winning recipe that allows purity to shine through and creates a beautifully textured palate – techniques like barrel fermentation and wild ferment to increase complexity, using majority seasoned barrels with a small percentage of new oak for maturation, and employing malolactic fermentation to soften the acidity.

Currently, Chardonnay is the second most planted white variety in the country with 3,222 hectares. It’s planted in all the regions of New Zealand and performs well with shining examples from each; my Top 10 Chardonnay truly reflects that. From the North to South:

Gisborne - Warmer climate, plentiful rainfall combined with high water retention clay and silt loam soils enable dry-farming in the region. Gisborne used to be known as a high quantity producing region of Chardonnay. However, more producers are now focused on quality production, showing good concentration and a broad palate with lush tropical and stonefruit characters.

Hawke's Bay - The east coast of the North Island with the Pacific Ocean’s cooling influence provides vibrant acidity. Producers here often use malolactic fermentation to soften the acidity and give the wine a creamy mouthfeel to accompany the citrusy, grapefruit and stonefruit characters. Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay often shows elegant texture and minerality, ranging from medium to full-bodied.

Martinborough/ Wairarapa – Located a short drive from Wellington city on the east coast of the bottom North Island, small family-owned producers are the majority here. The Chardonnays in this region are usually medium-medium+ bodied, age-worthy and showing citrus and clean stonefruit, thanks to the free-draining soil and the dry, cooler climate.

Marlborough – There are 1,086 hectares of Chardonnay planted here out of the total 27,808 hectares, so very similar in size to Hawke's Bay and just slightly in the lead as the most planted region for Chardonnay. Typically high in acidity with citrus, grapefruit zest and nectarines; they work well with or without oak, but malolactic fermentation is almost necessary to tame the bright acidity created by the mild Maritime climate. With long sunshine hours, the diurnal shift of warm days and cool nights allow the grapes to ripen slowly and to retain acidity here.

North Canterbury – A cool, dry climate with good sunshine and a long growing season combined with diverse soil types, from free draining stony soil with alluvial deposits to limestone derived clays on the hillsides. The Chardonnays here are often concentrated, broad on the palate with great acidity. There are some powerful and age-worthy examples coming out of this region. Only 90 hectares planted.

Waitaki Valley – A small region with just 5 hectares of Chardonnay planted and a few more in the coming years. The wines here are outstanding in a good year. Complex limestone/ Greywacke/ Schist soils along the braided Waitaki River, with hot, dry summers, long, dry autumns and cold winters provide magical conditions for Chardonnay; however, there is little margin for error. Apple, citrus and crunchy minerality are the feature of Chardonnay in Waitaki.

Central Otago - "The desert" is extremely dry with a huge diurnal during the growing season, seeing long hot days and cold nights; it’s the only region in the country that offers a Continental climate. Mainly schist base soil with windblown loess soils, Chardonnays here are citrusy, minerally with taut acidity and fine-textured.

Here I share my Top 10 Chardonnays tasted in the past year with you.


  • Tony Bish Skeetfield Chardonnay 2019, Hawke’s Bay
  • Matawhero Church House Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2020, Gisborne
  • Lime Hill Chardonnay 2019, Wairarapa
  • Nga Waka Home Block Chardonnay 2018, Martinborough
  • Greywacke Chardonnay 2017, Marlborough
  • Two Rivers Clos Des Pierres Chardonnay 2019, Marlborough
  • Giesen The Fuder Series Clayvin Chardonnay 2016, Marlborough
  • Black Estate Home Young Vines Chardonnay 2020, North Canterbury
  • Q Wine Chardonnay 2019, Waitaki Valley
  • Domaine Rewa Chardonnay 2019, Central Otago

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