Words: Johlene Lehnberg ǀ Photos: Courtesy of Danie de Wet, OBiKWA, Fleur du Cap, Paul Cluver, Simonsig
Chardonnay might have originated in the Burgundy wine region of eastern France, but today it is one of the most widely planted varieties in the world. In South Africa, it has had its ups and downs with over-wooded examples a decade or more ago spawning the ABC (anything but Chardonnay) brigade. With winemakers applying more gentle oaking to this marvellous grape variety, this is thankfully all in the past now and Chardonnay is most certainly making a comeback.
Most people associate Chardonnay with deliciously opulent, dry white wines, but it is also one of the noble varieties used in the making of Champagne, or Méthode Cap Classique as bottle-fermented sparkling wine is called in South Africa.
Even though white wines are usually not aged in wooden barrels, this gorgeous grape loves a touch of oak. Wooded Chardonnays are buttery and fuller on the palate with plenty of vanilla, smoky, and toasty flavours. A great wooded Chardonnay will always be balanced with a lovely acidity. Wooded Chardonnays are usually rich and full-bodied and do not have to be served ice cold, making it a great alternative to red wines during the chilly months.
On the flip side, Chardonnay can also be unwooded, which basically means that the wine is not aged in barrels. The result is a refreshing, crisp wine with lots of fruit flavours that can include anything from apples and pears, to citrus and melon.
Here are some examples to get you on the right track and who knows, perhaps the beginning of a new love affair with Chardonnay:
Fleur du Cap Bergkelder Selection Chardonnay
This medium-bodied Chardonnay is highly fruit driven, whilst the wood adds to the fullness without dominating it. Beautiful balance between sweetness and acidity is complemented by a lingering finish. Try it with rich fish dishes, especially shellfish and geelbek (Cape salmon) or a creamy curry.
Cellardoor price: R55
On the nose this wine shows complex hints of citrus and butterscotch. The palate is full-bodied with a silky texture that tempts with layers of ripe apple, roasted almonds, and toasty French oak ending in a long, dry finish. This wine begs to be enjoyed with seafood. Try it with fresh wild oysters, fish curry, creamy crayfish pasta, or a shellfish salad.
Cellardoor price: R90
As a pocket-friendly alternative, easy drinking OBiKWA Chardonnay is soft on the palate with ample layers of fresh, fruity pear and peach. It bursts with flavour and is known to encourage lots of laughing, talking, and smiles. If you're looking to crack open a bottle of OBiKWA Chardonnay, try it with salad, poultry, or cured meats.
Recommended price: R30
Paul Cluver Chardonnay
This Chardonnay is pure royalty. Fermented naturally, with no added yeast, it has developed beautifully. After maturation in French oak barrels for nine months, the wood is perfectly integrated yet the palate remains crisp with ample citrus fruits. Try it with creamy pastas or salmon dishes.
Cellardoor price: R150
Danie de Wet Chardonnay Sur Lie
A great example of an unwooded Chardonnay, this wine was matured on the lees (the spent yeast cells after fermentation has been completed). It is a zesty lemon-flavoured wine with a grapefruit, yeasty, nutty aftertaste. Try it with seafood and salad.
Cellardoor price: R57