The Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay collection 2021 vintage: some of New Zealand’s best Chardonnays

Hawke’s Bay has a had a good run of recent vintages, despite the awful floods that hit in February 2023, which damaged many vineyards.

One of those good vintages was 2021, which recovered after a cold snap in November 2023 to give warm, dry conditions. For this selection of the Chardonnays from this vintage, 56 wines were submitted and this is the final 12, as selected by Cameron Douglas.

These are my notes on these wines. Chardonnay is definitely one of the great strengths of Hawke’s Bay, which is actually quite a diverse wine region, and this shows in the wines which all offered something a bit different.  

Bilancia Kaikora Vineyard Chardonnay 2021 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
13.5% alcohol. Wonderfully focused aromatics with spice, pear, peach and lime. There’s also some flinty minerality. The palate has depth but also focus with some ripe pear and white peach, some lemony detail, and then a lovely fine spiciness, with some fennel/aniseed as well as subtle cedary notes. Finishes with a juicy flourish. This is another Hawke’s Bay Grand Cru. 96/100

Tony Bish Wines Heartwood Chardonnay 2021 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
14% alcohol. This is barrel fermented in 3 year old French oak. Wonderfully exotic nose is fine, spicy and toasty with some struck flint/mineral character and vivid lime and pear fruit. The palate is concentrated, rich and vivid with keen acidity under the lively lime and white peach fruit with very fine toasty and flinty notes. It’s a really vivid, expressive wine that could do with a few years’ bottle age. Grand Cru level. 96/100

Trinity Hill Wines Single Vineyard 125 Gimblett Chardonnay 2021 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
14% alcohol. Complex, refined aromatics of toast, meal, pear and white peach, as well as some crystalline lemon notes. In the mouth this has a sweet core of citrus fruit, showing texture and elegance, as well as cashew and bread, with subtle flint and spice on the finish. Lovely weight and complexity, with a sweet fruit core. 95/100

Swift Wines Chardonnay 2021 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
13% alcohol. Clone 15 straight from the press to used barrels with full solids. The third vintage of this wine. This is fine and elegant with a mineral, stony edge to lovely lemony fruit. Finely spiced and refined, this has a good core of acidity. It’s not as exotic as some but it has lovely presence and detail, finishing taut and restrained. A beautiful Chardonnay. 95/100

Church Road 1 Single Vineyard Terraces Chardonnay 2021 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
Powerful, lively and spicy with bold citrus fruit and intense notes of lime, marmalade and pear. There some toast and mineral character and it has a crystalline quality. Firm and taut with good acidity and some pithy hints. Needs time to resolve. 95/100

Helio Wines Chardonnay 2021 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
13.5% alcohol. Supple, lively and delicate, this is a really refined Chardonnay offering fine spices and some mandarin and lemon notes. There’s some richness but also refinement with ripe peach and spice on the finish. Such focus and depth here. 95/100

Smith & Sheth CRU Howell Vineyard Chardonnay 2021 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
Powerful nose of grapefruit, pineapple and lime with subtle spice and cream notes. There’s some mealy character here. Great concentration and definition with this precise Chardonnay which shows good balance. 94/100

Collaboration Wines Aurulent Chardonnay 2021 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
Fresh with a nice saline twist to the pear, peach and citrus fruit. Nice bright fruit with some pineapple and mango showing good balance and texture as well as concentration. Supple, fine and elegant. 94/100

Clearview Estate Reserve Chardonnay 2021 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
13.5% alcohol. From the Te Awanga subdistrict. This has a lovely concentration of bold peach and pear fruit with some exotic pineapple notes, as well as some fine toasty hints. Lively and direct, but also plump and quite rich, this is a serious expression of Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay in a slightly riper mould. Has some toast and cashew on the finish. 94/100

Esk Valley Seabed Chardonnay 2021 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
13.5% alcohol. This is from Brian and Lesley Howard’s vineyard planted in 1999 on saline mineral deposits in Bay View. Fermented and aged in French oak for 19 months, 20% new. Complex, intense and lively with some toast, bread and ripe peach richness, as well as salt, marzipan and lime adding focus. This has a broad dynamic range with lush ripe fruit, some tart limey fruit, and then nuts, minerals and spicy oak all in the mix. Refined and expressive with some tartness and minerality on the finish. 94/100

Askerne Wines Reserve Chardonnay 2021 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
14% alcohol. Fine aromatics with some toast, pear and pineapple. The palate has some bready, toasty richness, with a touch of creaminess, and nice sweet pear and peach, as well as a hint of mango. Lovely rich fruit here. A smooth, bold Chardonnay. 93/100

Elephant Hill Earth Chardonnay 2021 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
13.5% alcohol. Pithy, lively and reductive with a green tinge to the lovely pear and citrus fruit. Quite taut and pithy with a bitter grapefruit peel finish. Juicy, lively and bitter on the finish. 88/100