11 best chardonnays that aren't over-oaked

Light and fruity or rich and full-bodied, these are modern white wines 

Stacey Smith
Tuesday 07 April 2020 16:30
Enjoy with a crispy salad or fresh seafood in the sunshine
Enjoy with a crispy salad or fresh seafood in the sunshine

It’s fair to say chardonnay is not a particularly fussy grape, which is why we see it doing so well around the world. It’s a cheerful blank canvas for winemakers to leave their mark on – the chicken of the wine world if you will.

However, as you can imagine, not all chardonnay is created equal, with varying flavour profiles depending on the climate and technique applied.

From cooler climes such as Burgundy, the best examples are steely and elegant with minerality and good acidity – indeed, they’re some of the best dry white wines money can buy – with the price tag to match. While from warmer climates such as Australia, you can expect to find softer more tropical fruit.

In the not too distant past chardonnay was often released over-oaked (hence people’s perception that they don’t like this grape – despite its starring role in champagne).

Now we’re seeing a move away from this, with well-integrated, more balanced styles coming through. Although not all chardonnay is oaked, so don’t be put off if you’re dead set against this.

Thanks to this vast difference in styles, it’s particularly food friendly – with wines like chablis pairing well with fresh shellfish and white fish, and fuller bodied styles perfect with smoked fish, chicken and creamy sauces.

Purists would expect us to start this round-up with wines from Burgundy (chardonnay’s spiritual home) however it was a bottle from California that really blew us away.

Without wanting to start another “Judgement of Paris” (a blind tasting of Californian and French wines which took place back in the Seventies in which the American wines controversially came up trumps) let us begin with a selection of new world wines. And to make sure you can get your chardonnay fix fast; we’ve only included wines from companies still able to fulfil orders during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.

Spell chardonnay 2016, 14.5%

It's wines like this that make us so very thankful for this job. Rich and textured with moreish butterscotch notes, this Burgundian style chardonnay from Sonoma County is a total steal. Be warned however, it’s made in small quantities (only 120 cases) and Wanderlust confess to completely selling out each year. Pure elegance.

Frog's Leap chardonnay 2017, 13%

California’s Nappa Valley is well known for its cult-status wines, and this is a truly modern chardonnay, which happens to be organic too. On the nose we have highly aromatic lemongrass, alongside ripe stone fruit, leading to a lovely clean mouthfeel. Bright, with good acidity, this full-bodied wine is fresh enough to be paired with all seafood, but particularly freshly shucked oysters.

Channing Daughters scuttlehole chardonnay, 13%

When we talk about American chardonnay, we’re normally referring to California, however, this zippy number comes from Long Island, New York City. With searing heat in the summer and very cold nights from the coastline, they have an excellent microclimate for these grapes to develop. Clean and unoaked, this funky chardonnay lets the fruit do all the talking. Ridiculously easy to drink, we can see this disappearing rather quickly on a hot summer’s day with friends.

Domaine de Montille bourgogne blanc, 13%

Possibly one of the best hidden secrets in Burgundy – this one has the humble bourgogne blanc title (as opposed to location-specific appellations such as Grand Cru villages), however it really works in our favour here. Produced by the well-regarded Domaine de Montille, the vines come from a village which was owned by Chateau de Puligny Montrachet. It’s a baby Puligny Montrachet with great class and style, but at a more affordable price. Win, win.

Berry Bros. & Rudd white burgundy by Collovray & Terrier 2018, 13%

Fans of white burgundy will be well aware of the sometimes-dizzying prices associated with it, so we’re pleased to bring you this great value bottle from Berry Bros. & Rudd – a steal at under £15 a pop.

It’s made by the dream team Jean-Luc Terrier and Christian Collovray (who were recently named Burgundy's winemakers of the year by the renowned Gault-Millau guide – an influential French guide to the wines, restaurants and hotels of France). Full of creamy nectarine and zippy lemon freshness with just a whiff of smoke, try pairing this with a crisp summer salad or fresh seafood.

Gusbourne chardonnay 2017, 12%

Produced in the “garden of England” (otherwise known as Kent), Gusbourne has picked up an impressive array of awards for this one – and if you’re a fan of cool climate styles like those found in Burgundy – you seriously need to try it. Medium in body, this has had nine months in French barrels resulting in a lightly toasted, oaked style with fine mineral notes, warm peach, honey and a touch of vanilla too. We’ll be serving it with new season asparagus or a creamy mozzarella salad.

Langhe chardonnay 2017, 13.5%

Although excellent chardonnay isn’t found all over Italy, this one is from the Barolo Cru of Bussia (home to some of Tuscany’s finest wines) so it is particularly interesting. It’s rich and full-bodied with notes of baked apples and a little spicy oak, so works a treat with meaty white fish dishes or even lobster should you be so lucky.

Leeuwin Estate art series chardonnay 2016, 13.5%

Considered one of Australia’s most premium wines, the “art series” by Leeuwin Estate is the country’s answer to Burgundy – with a price tag to match. However, if you’re looking for something very special, we think it’s worth the splurge. Elegant with layers of complexity, it starts with notes of lemon peel, building on that with hints of creamy hazelnut and brioche, all of which is then underlined with a fresh dose of minerality. With beautiful length, it’s clearly not cheap but is certainly memorable.

Hunter's chardonnay 2017, 13%

New Zealand may be better known for its award-winning sauvignon blanc, but chardonnay is the country’s second most planted grape. It’s also a cool climate (like that of Burgundy) so as you can imagine is a great place to experiment. This award-winning style is a great example, with a floral nose, white stone fruit, and creamy well integrated oak.

Meerluts chardonnay 2018, 13%

Considered by many to be one of South Africa’s finest chardonnay, the Meerlust vineyard is ideally positioned to deliver a complex wine. Rich and robust with a textured mouth feel, and elegant minerality, you can expect creamy lemon, baked apples, ripe pineapple and a spicy, salty oaked finish. We told you it was complex! This will take on rich creamy dishes with gusto.

Tucumen Reserve chardonnay, 13.5%

This single vineyard chardonnay situated in the Argentinian region of Mendoza shows an intense concentration of fruit. Although it’s seen some oak ageing, it’s well balanced, imparting vanilla, honey and coconut notes. Full, yet clean on the palate, with fresh, crisp acidity, this would make a cracking accompaniment to your Sunday roast chicken.

The verdict: Chardonnays

Spell chardonnay is a dreamy find. If buttery white wines float your boat, you’ll be thrilled with this elegant expression. However, if we were you, we’d put this new world bottle up against the excellent Domaine de Montille bourgogne blanc to recreate your own “Judgement of Paris”.

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.