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A guide to my favourite South African Chardonnays

I LOVE CHARDONNAY

Ok, I love all wine. I love the smells and the flavours and the stories. I love visiting wine farms, going on the top wine tours and learning about how the earth and the wind and the proximity to eucalyptus influence what we eventually pour into shiny wine glasses. I love meeting wine makers and hearing all about their processes and how they imagine people enjoying their wine. I love long lunches with bottles of cold and creamy whites. I love endless evenings fuelled by big, heavy reds. But what I love most of all, is a great big glass of Chardonnay.

Incidentally, my favourite MCC's are all 100% Chardonnay
Incidentally, my favourite MCC’s are all 100% Chardonnay

For me, Chardonnay is an every-occasion-wine. Need a good cry? Chardonnay is there for you. Hosting a dinner party and don’t know which wine to pair with your food? Ummm…how about a Chardonnay? Spending the day next to the pool? Try a Chardonnay with that. To me, a great Chardonnay is the perfect balance of crispness, acidity, creaminess, fruity flavours, a bit of wood (no unoaked for me, thanks) and plain old deliciousness.

I’ve spent the last four years since moving to Cape Town actively learning about wine. And you know what my wine mentor, Cathy Marston always says? The only way to learn about wine is to drink wine. See, your brain has a certain amount of flavour profiles stored in files in the back of your brain. You might start off by smelling a glass of wine and thinking “ahh yes, it looks like wine, smells like wine and tastes like wine and that’s all I need to know”, and that is perfectly fine.

Cheers ChardonnayBut the more you drink and smell and swirl and look at the wine, the more you train your brain to scan through those files and identify a certain flavour. Guavas? Sure, maybe in a Sauvignon Blanc. Christmas cake? You could be describing a big, bold Shiraz.

The point is, there is no wrong answer. Your tastebuds are your tastebuds and your brain is your brain. So next time someone hands you a glass of wine, lift it up to the light and look at it. Look at the colour. Look at the way it clings to the glass when you swirl it. A sweet wine is more likely to linger around the glass when you swirl, while a low-sugar wine (like Sauvignon Blanc) probably won’t.

Chardonnay with bubbles? Keep 'em coming!
Chardonnay with bubbles? Keep ’em coming!

Smell the wine. Stick your nose deep into the glass, and inhale. Think about what you’re smelling. Your grandpa’s cigar box? Fruit salad? Wet dog? If you get all three of those in one wine, I’d probably put it down. But the point is, don’t be scared to shout out answers. They are all there. There are only so many flavours around and you’ll eventually learn to identify them – with lots of drinking practise, of course.

Anyway, back to Chardonnay. Lots of people think they don’t like Chardonnay because back in the 80’s, wine makers used to put it into French Oak barrels for a long time, so the wine took on a very heavy, buttery, oaky flavour. People got so over it that they eventually popularised the term ABC – Anything But Chardonnay. These days however, a new school of Chardonnay is sweeping the market.

Unoaked, meaning the wine didn’t spend any time in oak. Lightly oaked, which means the wine likely spent a few months in a French barrel, but not a new one. Because oak barrels are like teabags. The first time you use them, they release a lot of flavour. But the more you use them, the more they get diluted. Some wine makers will even use a combination of new barrels and second-or third fill barrels to get a balance of oak flavours.

So now that I’ve revealed my unnerving obsession with Chardonnay, allow me to list a few of my favourites.

1. Baleia Wines Inge Chardonnay

I only discovered this wine a couple of weeks ago but I am besotted with it. It’s got great balance – enough fruity acidity to keep it light but enough of that woodiness that I like.

Baleia Baleia Inge Chardonnay

Check out their website here.

2. Cape Point Vineyards Chardonnay

I discovered this wine thanks to a dinner I was invited to at Graciales. I ended up having about three bottles and not even the terrible headache I experienced the next day could cloud the fond memories I have of this wine. It.is.delicious. It’s fruity and oaky in all the right ways.

South African Chardonnay
Cape Point Vineyards Chardonnay

Check out their website here.

3. Arendsig Wild Yeast Chardonnay

This was the first Chardonnay I truly loved. Grown in Robertson, it’s a nice warm climate wine, which is how I like them – lots of fruity flavours at the party. The farm makes small batches, which makes it feel more special to me.

South African Chardonnay
Arendsig Chardonnay

Check out their website here.

4. Creation Chardonnay

Creation is famous for Chardonnay, and for good reason. Grown in the Hemel-and-Aarde Valley, South Africa’s premier Chardonnay (and my second favourite, Pinot Noir) region, it’s perfectly balanced.

South African Chardonnay
Creation Wines Chardonnay

Check out their website here.

5. Lourensford Chardonnay

The farm just released their new Chardonnay and I bought a bottle to take home after my first sip. I mean, I don’t want to keep repeating myself. What more can say? It’s a perfectly balanced wine. Fresh fruit, nutty oaky flavours, enough acidity to keep it from tasting like a mouthful of butter.

South African Chardonnay
Lourensford Chardonnay

Check out their website here.

6. Hamilton Russel

This is basically the crown jewel of Chardonnays in South Africa. It’s pricey, but worth it.

South African Chardonnay
Hamilton Rusell Chardonnay

7. Bouchard Finlayson Missionvale Chardonnay

Another of the famed Hemel-en-Aarde Valley’s crown jewels.

South African Chardonnay
Bouchard Finlayson Chardonnay

Check out their website here.

8. La Vierge Jezebelle

This is one of the wines I always forget about, but should really be at the top of my mind. One of the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley’s unsung heroes, if you ask me.

South African Chardonnay
La Vierge Jezebelle

Check out their website here.

9. Moreson Mercator Premium Chardonnay

If there’s one farm that is known for Chardonnay, it’s Moreson. Their Premium Chardonnay is a shining example for all the little baby Chardonnays out there to look up to and want to become when they are big.

South African Chardonnay
Moreson Mercator Chardonnay

Check out their website here.

 

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5 comments

  1. Do try Chamonix and Paul Cluver Chardonnays as well!

  2. Maison chardonnay, nuf said.

  3. This is so useful! I also prefer unoaked chardonnays, so will be trying all of these out x

  4. My best, by a long shot, is Kaaimansgat from Bouchard Finlayson. Give it a bash. (Jezebel is an awesome find too!)

  5. Hartenberg Chardonnay’s all the way!