The quality of Tasmanian wines was quick to find attention, curiously for cabernet sauvignon and riesling initially, but it was not long before interest in chardonnay swelled, for both sparkling and table wines. Chardonnay is now in second place behind pinot noir, which is in a distant lead.

Chardonnay’s success is the end of its inexorable spread south, through Yarra Valley and Mornington, to increasingly cool regions. Tassie’s climate is overall cool and maritime, and particularly so for the vineyards, which are mostly at lower altitude and not far from a coast. There is a general trend of cooling temperature as you move from north to south, Launceston to Hobart, with the Huon area south of Hobart and the east coast distinctly cooler. Rainfall varies dramatically from west to east: 4,300mm per annum at Queenstown to 490mm at Hobart Airport. Yes, the Coal River vineyards to the north of the airport and Cambridge are in a rain shadow.

Tasmanian vineyards are subjected to large swings in weather throughout the growing season, more, arguably, than any other region. Strong winds or rain at flowering can radically reduce crop levels. Wet weather in summer and before harvest can damage grape quality and, again, reduce yields. The state-wide crop has ranged from a high of 17,180 tonnes – about 1.24 million dozen – in 2017 to 12,308 tonnes in 2020. The trend line is consistently increasing, however, with the rapid planting of more vineyards as demand grows.

Amongst Australia’s Geographical Indications (GI), Tasmania appears as a single region. The grape-growing areas are quite well defined, geographically and to a large extent stylistically, so there is currently much discussion on whether Tassie should get GI subregions officially confirmed. While the reasons for style differences between ‘subregions’ fascinate me, this is an argument I’ll butt out of as at present, I think Tasmania is the name that should be promoted. And so, to the tasting.

As more vineyards are planted to chardonnay, expect more great wines, like our top picks.

All our lives have had upheavals, even tragedies. Planning a wine tasting is, in comparison, trivial, but planned it still must be. Being Canberra-based would have brought me 14 days’ quarantine on return home had we done the tasting at GT WINE’s Sydney office. Orange-based Peter Bourne, similarly, had no wish to spend two days in locked-down Sydney. After three weeks of postponements, we therefore decided to do the first tranche of the tasting in Orange, at the good facilities of Ferment Wine Centre. There we were joined by two local winemakers, both experienced judges: Nadja Wallington of ChaLou Wines and Jeff Byrne from Byrne Farm.

After the tasting, Bourne, took the wines to Sydney where regular tasters Toni Paterson MW and Andrew Caillard MW tasted them the following day.

Bourne and I had slight concerns about the additional breathing the wines would get, but when I compared the mean scores from the initial four and then the full six tasters, there was no change in the wines we included: none crept in or dropped out. There was a slight shuffling in the order of the top wines, as it was clear that the young wines had actually benefitted from the air. A few older wines confirmed their exclusion by performing worse.

What struck me was the few times my notes mentioned oak. Certainly, there was no lack of funky, mildly sulphidic and leesy barrel fermentation characters, but it was clear that the fruit intensity of the wines was so great that distinct new oak was rarely apparent. A few 2020 wines showed tropical notes and appeared to be ageing quickly, probably the result of late rain. Overall, however, the freshness, finesse and intensity of the wines was excellent. There’s a lot of enjoyment to be found here.

Tasmania is still defined as a single region, despite the geographical diversity in the state.

2018 Barringwood Chardonnay, A$36, started with a subtle nose, showing savoury complexity. This led to nicely married flavours of stone fruits, savoury hints and further complexity from development. The wine gained top points from Byrne, who thought it “bright and fresh, with nice texture and saliva-drawing acidity”. The pale colour and slow ageing show that this has a good future ahead.

2019 Bream Creek Estate Chardonnay, A$36, greatly pleased Paterson, who wrote, “This is in a class of its own with its weight, intensity, and balance. In terms of full-flavoured wines, it has successfully controlled its power to deliver a satisfying, harmonious and complex wine with a long acid line. I adore the creamy mouthfeel and succulence, the detailed savoury tones and all accented by gorgeous spice. Rich, intense, somewhat assertive and completely lovely.” I loved the mingling white peach, touch of funk and subtle oak that together create a harmonious whole.

2019 Brown Brothers Patricia Chardonnay, A$48, won wide approval, particularly from Wallington, who told us, “savoury, citrus fruits. Mineral acidity with great drive and depth”. Caillard thought the palate “slightly hard, with pronounced acidity”, while I found it beautifully balanced. It’s fine on both nose and in the mouth, yet with intense stone fruit and a little cashew. The wine’s flavours build through the mouth to give wonderful length. It’s further evidence of the company’s successful venture to Tasmania.

2018 Clarence House Estate Reserve Chardonnay, A$35, is fine and fresh on the nose, with ripe white peach aromas. It’s still quite tight in the mouth, countered by body from alcohol and with distinct texture. Bourne noted, “A rich bouquet of yellow peach, honeydew melon and ginger snaps. Generous, mouth-filling flavours of the same rich, almost tropical, fruits, any excess curbed by a brace of lemon spiced oak.” The wine will fill out further in bottle.

Many cab savs demonstrated great potential for ageing.

2019 Clemens Hill Aurelia Chardonnay, A$55, had universal support. I loved its complexity, the intense fruit combining beautifully with funky, savoury characters. The palate has excellent drive and length, with depth of flavour and fine, well-judged texture. Byrne thought it “bright and mineral, a light touch with some reduction and nice fruit”, while Caillard added: “Intense lemon curd, peach aromas. Attractive mid-palate density and crisp refreshing/lemony acidity.”

2019 Craigow Chardonnay, A$35, shows finesse on the nose, with white peach and hints of lees. Paterson enjoyed its subtlety, writing, “A well-made wine with lovely elegance. Youthful and unevolved right now. The palate is discreet and long, with high acidity and a tiny hint of almond. Excellent mid-palate fruit intensity without being over sweet. Long, lingering flavours on the finish. Delightfully quiet.” This will develop beautifully for several years in bottle, filling out further in flavour.

2018 Dalrymple Cave Block Chardonnay, A$38, gained top points from Bourne, who described, “Buoyant perfumes of white peach, grapefruit and lemon zest. The palate is tight and fresh with a linear structure and long, power-packed finale.” Subtle oak adds further interest to the stone fruit aromas, and the rich, ripe flavours are dried by distinct texture on the finish. The wine’s showing a little development and will be at its best over the next couple of years.

2017 Dawson & James Chardonnay, A$64, greatly impressed me, especially on the nose, which combines yellow peach with nicely developing suggestions of honey. The palate’s tauter than the nose suggested – perhaps not surprising at 12% alcohol – yet with good length and complexity. Wallington noted “high acidity, still tightly wound”, while Bourne was highly enthusiastic, telling us, “A bright bouquet of lemon sorbet, green nectarine and oyster shell. Tight palate with lots of energy and drive, the citrus flavours underpinned by a savoury lemon shortbread complexity. Needs food.”

2019 Delamere Chardonnay, A$55, has delicate aromas of white flowers and nectarine, followed by an equally fine, tight palate. Paterson enjoyed that, noting: “A taut, chiselled palate defined by a backbone of acidity rather than fruit sweetness. The wine is quiet in the glass at first, but builds and grows with time. Excellent delicacy and harmony with a discreet winemaking thumbprint. I like that the palate is built around savouriness and grapefruity acidity, rather than sweet fruit. It has gentle complexity and a long acid line. I expect it will cellar well.”

2018 Derwent Estate Calcaire Chardonnay, A$89, shows very fine, delicate aromas of white nectarine and lemon. There’s a sense of purity in its fresh flavours, perfect seamless line and balanced acidity. Wallington was enthusiastic, telling us, “Lovely savoury, citrus and stone fruit flavours. Green nectarine, fresh acidity. Depth and interest.” The wine’s quite youthful, and its beautiful poise and structure should see it age well over several years.

2018 Derwent Estate Chardonnay, A$50, showed similar purity to its stablemate, on the nose at least, with white nectarine prominent. Its intensity builds through the mouth until distinct texture dries the finish. Caillard noted, “Classic grapefruit, white peach aromas with toasty notes. Fresh creamy wine with supple grapefruit, white peach flavours. Fine loose-knit textures, lovely toasty complexity and fresh linear acid cut.” I gave top points to both this and Calcaire, above, but this wine’s more obvious generosity marks it as the one to drink first.

2020 Dr Edge South Tasmania Chardonnay, A$55, combines stone fruits, cashew and savoury characters to make a highly complex wine. The intense flavours support a tight balance and brisk acidity, maintaining context. Caillard was less impressed, finding the acidity “high-pitched”, but Wallington had no doubts. “Lovely fruit, savoury,” she began. “Juicy acidity. Very elegant, with layered complexity.”

The fruit intensity of the wines was a stand-out feature.

2017 Freycinet Chardonnay, A$40, benefits from an extra year on its companion below, developing savoury, toasty characters alongside its funky overtones. Wallington found it, “Savoury, with spices, preserved lemon and mealy characters. Driving acidity.” For all its complexity, the wine retains supporting sweet fruit flavours and the balance is excellent. My notes finish, “at its best” but, knowing the provenance and how almost every Freycinet wine ages superbly, I’ll add “will age further, gracefully”.

2018 Freycinet Louis Chardonnay, A$27, appealed to me with its combination of fresh lemon, funky complexity and hint of garden herbs. The flavours are intense, accompanied by a suggestion of sweetness, and drive through the palate to finish with good length and that refreshing herbal note. Bourne found: “An understated bouquet of ruby grapefruit and lemon essence. Taut and lean but in no way mean with good structure and a power-packed palate. A thrust of citrus-bright acidity adds a flourish to the finish.”

2019 Josef Chromy Estate Chardonnay, A$39, had a great reception from Caillard, who wrote, “Intense nectarine, lemon curd, chamomile aromas with underlying vanilla notes. Creamy, expressive flavours with stone fruit, attractive vanilla, chestnut oak nuances and fine textures. Long refreshing acidity. Finishes chalky firm with very good length.“ This is an elegantly structured chardonnay with fine lemon flavours and the crisp acidity to match, yet not lacking strength of fruit and persistence. It will age beautifully, gaining more breadth and complexity.

2014 Josef Chromy ZDAR Chardonnay, A$80, is in great shape for a seven-year-old, although the hint of bronze to the colour is in line with its age. I loved the rich stone fruits combining with funky, smoky complexity. The oak was clearly beautifully managed. In spite of its depth, the palate is fresh and tight, and shows great length. Byrne was equally impressed, telling us, “Bright, flinty and mineral with stone fruits. A great drive of fruit and acidity.”

2020 Marco Lubiana Lucille Vineyard Chardonnay, A$50, intrigued Bourne, who wrote, “Funky aromas of lemon pith, yuzu and ginger beer. Rich flavours that reflect the nose with an intriguing texture and well-structured finish – sans any overt oak influences.” I thought the wine was developing quickly, showing slightly tropical and preserved lemon characters in accord with the mid-yellow colour. The palate, nonetheless, is well-balanced and finishes crisply. Caillard added, “Early drinking style but delicious.”

Pronounced black fruits were a feature of the cabernets the panel sampled.

2018 Marions Vineyard Chardonnay, A$40, found Caillard enthusiastic. “Attractive flinty, aniseed, chamomile white peach, white apricot aromas with grilled nut and marzipan notes,” he began. “Well-concentrated flavours. Fine loose-knit chalky textures and underlying grilled nut/savoury oak. Finishes minerally, a hint of saline. Rather lovely.” I liked the understated peach aromas and flavours, the light texture and lively acidity. The wine is beginning to show some bottle-development and will age further.

2020 Mewstone D’Entrecasteaux Channel Chardonnay, A$60, shows intense white peach aromas, with tropical hints and underlying complexity. The palate’s full-bodied and full-flavoured, with broad, developing flavours. Caillard wrote, “Attractive stone fruit, grilled nut, vanilla aromas with some musky notes. Creamy and full-bodied, with layers of stone fruits, malt and hazelnut. Supple textures – and integrated, minerally, long acidity.” The wine has generous, immediate drinkability and is nearing its best now.

2019 Milton Reserve Chardonnay, A$46, has intense, sweet-fruited aromas of white peach, with a fragrance of white flowers. These lead to rich flavours, accompanied by excellent balance and line through the mouth. “Fresh marzipan, toasty, white peach aromas,” Caillard began. “Well-concentrated palate with plentiful nectarine, apricot fruits, fine lacy textures, vanilla toasty notes and linear fresh acidity. Beautifully balanced wine!”

2018 Penfolds Bin 144 Yattarna Chardonnay, A$175, shows such a close combination of fruit, oak and other complexities that it’s difficult to see anything other than the integrated whole. There are suggestions of white nectarine in the rich, sweet fruit and subtle, funky complexity. More savoury characters appear in the mouth accompanied by a balanced, dry texture, but the overall impression is one of finesse. Byrne noted, “Delicate, bright, crunchy acidity, with good use of oak and texture.”

The freshness, finesse and intensity of the wines was excellent.

2019 Pipers Brook Vineyard Chardonnay, A$45, starts with a delicate nose of white nectarine and subtle oak, but this barely prepares you for the fabulously intense flavours. The palate’s fine, with good flow through to the long finish. Byrne thought it, “Super-bright, with white flowers and light mineral. Lightly funked, with nice texture and tons of power.” It’s good to see that one of the great Tasmanian pioneers is back on song with this wine.

2019 Pooley Butcher’s Hill Chardonnay, A$65, won maximum points from Caillard, who wrote: “Fresh flinty grapefruit, nectarine, tonic water aromas with chamomile star anise notes. Classically proportioned palate with plentiful melon flavours and fine lacy textures. Underlying nutty, toasty, yeasty notes and fresh persistent crisp acidity. Very good density, definition and vinosity. A reference style highlighting meticulous attention to detail.” Without the day of breathing for Caillard, I found the nose reticent, but the wine came alive on the palate, with powerful flavours that seemed to accelerate to the finish.

2019 Pooley Cooinda Vale Chardonnay, A$65, gave Paterson a turn to be impressed. “A strong core of grapefruit is the backbone of the wine, corseted by amazing, high acidity that channels the flavours through the entire length of the palate. Then at the moment when other wines fade, the flavours build and fan like a peacock’s tail. The mid-palate is full and gently juicy, with room to grow. I love the line of the wine. Long, fine and intense. A stylish wine in a class above all others and utterly delicious.” I loved the perfumed, white stone fruit flavours interwoven with subtle, savoury complexity. Byrne added: “Funky notes, textural, long drive.”

Cabernet can perform well in the Great Southern region of WA.

2019 Stefano Lubiana Estate Chardonnay, A$70, has intense white peach aromas and these follow to a beautifully balanced palate with rich, sweet fruit, good line through the mouth and poised acidity. Paterson thought it, “A delicious, citrus-focused wine that has zesty grapefruit and ripe lemon flavours. The gently fruity palate is tight and intense, with excellent succulence. The acidity is in perfect balance, heightening and defining the pristine flavours. Impressive length of flavour and gentle spiciness on the close. A supremely classy wine.”

2017 Stefano Lubiana Collina Chardonnay, A$114, opened understated at the earlier tasting, showing fresh, sweet stone fruits, beautiful, subtle complexity and light texture. With the additional day’s breathing it opened up to impress Caillard. “Fresh lemon curd, white peach, tropical fruits and baked apples. Well balanced with plentiful apricot, sweet fruit flavours. Hints of tobacco, toasty and amontillado notes. Supple textures and refreshing crisp acidity. Lovely minerally complexity. Beautiful wine showing primary, secondary and tertiary notes, all in harmony.”

2020 Stefano Lubiana Primavera Chardonnay, A$36, is a lively young wine, with white stone fruit and citrus aromas and subtle oak funk. The flavours build well through the mouth to crisp acidity and good length. Paterson thought it “a bright and fresh wine. The aroma has superb clarity and intensity with faint lemony tones. The palate is simply fabulous, with excellent fruit concentration and deliciousness I love the energy of this wine as well as the succulence of the fruit. The palate is bursting with lemons and finishes with lingering zesty grapefruit flavours.”

Four points separated the two Rockburn pinots.

2017 Tertini Tasmania Chardonnay, A$60, is a highly complex wine, with sweet stone fruits given further drive, partly by funky oak characters and also by toast from bottle-age. There’s a sense of power, although the texture is balanced and the characters all combine well. Wallington dissented somewhat, finding “heavy fruit”, although Paterson approved, writing, “Intense, with passionfruit, white peach and pineapple. Preserved lemon and lychee, too. So expressive and succulent. Bright and high-toned. A unique style.”

2019 Tolpuddle Vineyard Chardonnay, A$84, had us all clamouring with comments. It’s intense, with fresh lemon and funky complexity, the nose almost aromatic, the palate fine and fresh. Bourne thought it, “ A tip-top chardonnay with wondrous purity and poise. Abundant citrus and white stone fruit aromas framed by classy oak. There’s plenty of power here with the high-toned spine of acid effortlessly carrying the finish.” Byrne added: “Perfumed, floral, funky, apple and stone fruit. Loads of power.” Tip-top indeed!

2019 Tolpuddle Vineyard Chardonnay, A$84, had us all clamouring with comments. It’s intense, with fresh lemon and funky complexity, the nose almost aromatic, the palate fine and fresh. Bourne thought it, “ A tip-top chardonnay with wondrous purity and poise. Abundant citrus and white stone fruit aromas framed by classy oak. There’s plenty of power here with the high-toned spine of acid effortlessly carrying the finish.” Byrne added: “Perfumed, floral, funky, apple and stone fruit. Loads of power.” Tip-top indeed!

Four points separated the two Rockburn pinots.

Tassie Chardonnay, Top Wines

★★★★★
96 2019 Pipers Brook Vineyard Chardonnay, A$45
96 2019 Tolpuddle Vineyard Chardonnay, A$84
95 2018 Penfolds Bin 144 Yattarna Chardonnay, A$175
95 2019 Pooley Butcher’s Hill Chardonnay, A$65

★★★★
94 2019 Clemens Hill Aurelia Chardonnay, A$55
94 2017 Freycinet Chardonnay, A$40
94 2018 Derwent Estate Calcaire Chardonnay, A$89
93 2019 Brown Brothers Patricia Chardonnay, A$48
93 2019 Stefano Lubiana Estate Chardonnay, A$70
93 2017 Stefano Lubiana Collina Chardonnay, A$114
93 2019 Pooley Cooinda Vale Chardonnay, A$65
92 2020 Stefano Lubiana Primavera Chardonnay, A$36
92 2018 Derwent Estate Chardonnay, A$50
92 2019 Josef Chromy Estate Chardonnay, A$39
92 2018 Velo Wines Chardonnay, A$35
92 2014 Josef Chromy ZDAR Chardonnay, A$80
91 2020 Dr Edge South Tasmania Chardonnay, A$55
91 2020 Mewstone D’Entrecasteaux Channel Chardonnay, A$60
91 2019 Milton Reserve Chardonnay, A$46
91 2018 Dalrymple Cave Block Chardonnay, A$38
91 2017 Dawson & James Chardonnay, A$64
90 2017 Tertini Tasmania Chardonnay, A$60
90 2019 Craigow Chardonnay, A$35
90 2018 Clarence House Estate Reserve Chardonnay, A$35
90 2019 Bream Creek Estate Chardonnay, A$36
90 2018 Marions Vineyard Chardonnay, A$40

★★★
89 2019 Delamere Chardonnay, A$55
89 2018 Barringwood Chardonnay, A$36
89 2018 Freycinet Louis Chardonnay, A$27
89 2020 Marco Lubiana Lucille Vineyard Chardonnay, A$50