I was introduced to lightly wooded Chardonnay one evening in the company of a good friend at Noop restaurant. She was my wine mentor at the time and often blew my mind with incredible wines and insightful titbits. According to her, South African Chardonnay winemakers had used too much wood in the past, blindly following the Old World.
Chardonnay is a green-skinned grape variety used in the production of white wine. The variety originated in the Burgundy wine region of eastern France, but is now grown wherever wine is produced, from England to New Zealand.
The Chardonnay grape itself is neutral, with many of the flavors commonly associated with the wine being derived from such influences as terroir and oak. It is vinified in many different styles, from the lean, crisply mineral wines of Chablis, France, to New World wines with oak and tropical fruit flavors. In cool climates, Chardonnay wine tends to be medium to light body with noticeable acidity and flavors of green plum, apple, and pear. In warmer locations, the flavors become more citrus, peach, and melon, while in very warm locations, more fig and tropical fruit notes such as banana and mango come out. Wines that have gone through malolactic fermentation tend to have softer acidity and fruit flavors with buttery mouthfeel and hazelnut notes.
Chardonnay is an important component of many sparkling wines around the world, including Champagne, Franciacorta in Italy and MCC in South Africa.
Modern DNA fingerprinting research at University of California, Davis, now suggests that Chardonnay is the result of a cross between the Pinot noir and Gouais blanc (Heunisch) grape varieties. The Romans are thought to have brought Gouais blanc from Croatia, and it was widely cultivated by peasants in eastern France. The Pinot of the French aristocracy grew in close proximity to the Gouais blanc, giving the two ample opportunity to interbreed. Since the two parents were genetically distant, many of the crosses showed hybrid vigour and were selected for further propagation. These “successful" crosses included Chardonnay and siblings such as Aligoté, Aubin vert, Auxerrois, Bachet noir, Beaunoir, Franc Noir de la-Haute-Saône, Gamay Blanc Gloriod, Gamay noir, Melon, Knipperlé, Peurion, Roublot, Sacy, and Dameron.
Chardonnay in South Africa
Due to quarantine restrictions, plant cuttings were often smuggled into South Africa in the 1970s and 1980s and many times were misidentified as to what grape variety it really was. A large portion of the Chardonnay plantings from this period turned out to be Auxerrois blanc. A similar event happened in the German wine region of Baden during the 1980s. By the late 1990s, efforts to promote “authentic" Chardonnay helped to increase plantings and by 2004 it was the third-most widely planted white wine grape behind Chenin blanc and Colombard. Winemakers in the Western Cape have experimented blending Chardonnay with Riesling and Sauvignon blanc. Today, Chardonnay is widely planted in South Africa and Hemel-en-Aarde and Elgin is best known for producing top quality wines.
New to Hemel-en-Aarde and surrounds, I have made a point of sampling the region’s Chardonnays. And, I have to say, they all reflect my friend’s wise words. Two of these have stood out for me. Dabar 2017 Chardonnay and Sumaridge 2015 Chardonnay, both available at Wine Village at very different price points, evidence that price should not always be the deciding factor when buying fine wine.
Both these wines burst with primary fruit aromas and flavours of citrus blossoms, Honeysuckle and apple. The palate is creamy yet elegant with a crisp minerality. The Sumaridge Chardonnay, with five years of bottle maturation, shows great depth of tertiary character like honey, toast and hay.
Below, I have listed our most popular Chardonnays with links to our website.
Happy shopping! Hope to see you soon.
Subtle and intense. Creamy with intriguing complexity and good length.
Ripe tropical fruit, dried peaches and hints of butterscotch and toffee.
Bouchard Finlayson Kaaimansgat 2018
Sleek and refined, spicy lemon drop aroma complexity announces white peach, nectarine and pear.
Bouchard Finlayson Missionvale 2017
Underexposed wood tones with over-layers of vanilla, pear, mango yeasty lees.
Bouchard Finlayson Sans Barrique (Unwooded) 2018
Mineral rich with peach, lime and gooseberry. Creamy and complex.
Layers of sun-kissed pear and peach on the nose, enhanced by fresh minerality and a hint of vanilla.
Creation Reserve 2018
Vibrant aromas of fresh grapefruit and fragrant apple mingle with a hint of honey and cinnamon.
Domaine Des Dieux 2015
Great depth and well integrated oak flavours.
Hamilton Russell 2018
Prominent pear and lime aromas and flavours. Long dry minerality.
La Vierge Jezebelle 2018
Aromatic lime, white flowers and mineral character.
Newton Johnson Family Vineyards 2017
Green lime, chalk, allspice and citrus.
Newton Johnson Southend 2017
Bracing lemon blossom, green limes and crisp pineapple.
Restless River Ava Maria 2017
Thrilling tension, purity and complexity in spice-edged, ripe lime flavours.
Seven Springs 2015
Aromas and flavours of ripe apples, tropical fruit, white florals, hints of nuttiness and coconut.
Springfield Wild Yeast (Unwooded) 2018
Pineapple and pear drops. Deliciously complex.
Elegant citrus notes compliment the textured palate. Lively minerality.
Clean and lifted primary fruit character and citrus blossom introduce a long, gentle palate, very expressive but also deliciously classical and restrained.