It’s a party with chardy
Chardonnay is the South African wine industry’s leading light, and those from Stellenbosch are the best.
Much to the chagrin of my good south African “buddy” Nev, I love little more than watching the YouTube clip of British comedian Michael McIntyre take the mickey out of the South African accent. It’s not that the accent is in any way offensive to my auditory canals, but just that, like McIntyre, the “Seth Efriken” twang makes me cackle. But mirth aside it’s difficult to ignore the local influence of our friends from the other side of the Indian Ocean. After all, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, there’s over 180,000 of them in the country, making South Africans the 3rd largest group of immigrants to our sandy shores. And if you ask me, there are two standouts amongst their cohort; the great cricketer Kepler Vessels, and Stellenbosch Chardonnay!
My friends are sick to death of me espousing the (many) virtues of chardonnay as a varietal, but when it comes to wines from the Stellenbosch region, the list of superlatives needs its own postcode! And it’s not that I’m any great fan of South African wines; I’m certainly not. They do a great pinotage and some reasonable Chenin Blanc and Cabernet, but to my palate, their Chardonnay is the industry’s leading light. I’d happily see them keep the rest of their wines at home!
The Stellenbosch region is situated in the Western Cape province about half an hour or so to the east of Cape Town. Grapes were first planted in the region in the late 17th Century but it has only been in recent decades that the Stellenbosch star has risen, and the region gained international acclaim for its viticultural offering. Rather ironically, it has been their cabernet that has perhaps been most highly regarded by the experts and judges, but if you ask me, I’d suggest they graft all of their rootstock over to Chardonnay; it’s amazing!
Rustenberg Stellenbosch Chardonnay
There are a number of big-name producers in the Stellenbosch region – names like House of J.C. Le Roux, Vergelegen and Waterford, but to me the best that’s available in Australia is the Rustenberg Stellenbosch Chardonnay. It’s a wine that ticks all the boxes with great fruit, alluring texture, a generous mouth feel and an austerity to the conclusion that would test the best that Burgundy has to offer. Perhaps it’s the way that the winemaker embraces the Mediterranean climate, or just the rolling hills and sandy and decomposed granite soils, but the fruit is sublime. The hot and dry 2016 growing season was less than ideal, yet the outcome in the glass is nothing short of spectacular. Apricot and citrus zest enliven the taste buds from the first sip, while hints of honey and pear appear through the middle. I love the roundness and buttery edge that full malolactic fermentation offers yet there’s ample acid to focus the finish and leave you sucking in your cheeks in readiness for the next sip.
To really appreciate the nuances of the Stellenbosch Chardy I’d suggest allowing the bottle to warm slightly before pouring; the fruit is fresh, lively and beautifully balanced but if you don’t kill it in the fridge the French Oak will allow it to present at its curvaceous and Rubenesque best and leave your taste buds pining for another glass.