From the tasting team

Australia's great value-for-money chardonnay

By Philip Rich

29 Nov, 2023

Australian chardonnay is not just world class, but great value, writes Tasting Team member Philip Rich.

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In 2000, in my Australian Financial Review Magazine column, I wrote that my favourite Australian chardonnay had just been released. At $75 a bottle, Giaconda’s 1998 chardonnay was worth every cent. That was a huge amount of money back then when Giaconda didn’t have a lot of competition. Around the same time, I was critical, in another article, of Penfolds' Yattarna; their first foray into premium chardonnay and, whilst the likes of Leeuwin Estate, Petaluma, Cullen and Tyrrell’s Vat 47 and a handful of others were flying the flag, the tipping point, so to speak really wasn’t until the early 2000s.

Nearly a quarter of a century later, it’s a completely different story. I, and others, have written, almost ad nauseam, about the quality of Australian chardonnay and that there are now any number of producers making wines that give topflight white Burgundy a run for its money. What also needs to be stated is that, again, compared to white burgundy these wines are ridiculously well priced.

Giaconda viewGiaconda in Victoria's Beechworth wine region.

Going back to Giaconda for a moment, the 2021 Estate Vineyard Chardonnay (98 points from Jeni Port who writes, "the wonder that is chardonnay is laid out beautifully") was recently released to their dedicated mail order customers at $150. It sold out in eight minutes!

Apart from Cloudburst from Margaret River ($250) and Levantine Hill Optume – who don’t submit their wines to the Companion and which the cynic in me wonders how one bottle could possibly be worth five times the price of a single bottle of Giaconda – nearly all of what I consider Australia’s greatest examples are all under $150. To name just a handful of producers: Seville Estate, Oakridge, Tolpuddle, Penfolds, Xanadu and Vasse Felix. There are more, but you get my point.

Compare this to Bonneau du Martray and their justifiably famous chardonnay, Corton-Charlemagne. I’ve picked this wine for a few reasons. The first is because Corton-Charlemagne has long been considered a source of affordable grand cru. With just over 70ha planted, there is fair bit to go around. Indeed, Bonneau own a whopping 9.5ha and since the early 2000s, not only has this wine been glorious, it’s also been extremely well priced.

Chardonnay grapesGiaconda's 2021 chardonnay sold out in just eight minutes.

That is until 2017, when, in what has become an all too familiar tale in Burgundy, the American billionaire Stan Kroenke reportedly purchased Bonneau du Martray for $300 million (AUD) which equates to around $27 million per hectare. This is, however, considerably less than the reported $50 million a hectare that French billionaire François Pinault paid for the 7.53ha Clos de Tart in Morey-Saint-Denis in the same year. 

And the buying frenzy hasn’t stopped, with Pinault’s Artémis Group recently buying a majority stake in Maisons & Domaines Henriot; owners of Bouchard Père & Fils, themselves the largest owner of premier and grand cru vineyards (with 130ha of vines combined) in Burgundy. The figure that’s been bandied around is $1 billion (AUD)!

The net result, sadly, is that grand cru Burgundy, in particular, is fast becoming the domaine, pardon the pun, of the very wealthy. Bonneau du Martray Corton-Charlemagne, for example, has gone from a reasonable $300 a bottle to nearly $900 since 2017. And even then, this doesn’t seem ridiculous compared to what you will pay for a bottle of Le Montrachet – regardless of who made it.

Philip RichPhilip Rich.

Which brings me back to where I started, and that is that while $75 may have been seen as a lot of money for a bottle of Giaconda chardonnay in 2000, one could argue that at $150 – for the current release if you can find it – is a bargain!

At the other end of the spectrum, if you’re still not convinced to fork out over $100 for a bottle of Australian chardonnay, what Australia is producing at under $30 is also worth sitting up and taking notice of. Even under $20, I commented in my review of Hoddles Creek Estate's Wickhams Road Yea Valley Chardonnay 2023 that you have to wonder how winemaker Franco D'Anna can make a wine this complex at the price.

Mountadam, Yering Station, Rob Hall and Xanadu are just some of the names to look out for when it comes to affordable introductions to inexpensive, good quality chardonnay.