Drunk, Visited

“ABC’s? They need to get a life!” SA Chardonnays are the dogs bollocks

If you heard the screams of “Aieeeee” from the end of the table, people reminiscing about wines that had “raped”  them, or saw those who don’t smoke start lighting up with gay abandon you would be forgiven for thinking everyone was pissed.

But no. We were not drunk (yet), just jubilant, bubbling with the joys of tasting 12 of South Africa’s top Chardonnays. They were mostly from the 2008 vintage so generally quite spritely, fresh and excellent to drink.

Where else would I be drinking excellent wines on a balmy Thursday evening but at The Roundhouse with the always jovial Under the Influence team. Sitting at the bottom of the garden with lines of polished glasses sparkling in the afternoon sun we listened to Fasie Malherbe give a us a little intro on Chardonnay. Here are the bare bones:

chardonnay-sucks
Meet Chardonnay. I found her on google images.

Chardonnay is everywhere, wherever there is wine there is Chardonnay, it is planted in more regions than any other variety; which is seen as great for those who love the grape, but slightly worrying for those who fear it has been planted at the expense of local varieties (what like Pinotage? I’ll have another glass of the Ataraxia, thanks.).

lees
The lees.

Fasie described the grape as a “blank canvas”, which if you have ever tasted a Chardonnay grape from the vine will make sense as it tastes quite neutral; many of the flavours we find in the wine come from terroir and wine-making desicions. For example a typical Burgundian practice is that of bâttonage where the dead yeast cells or lees, are stirred up with wine. What goes on then is called autolysis, which is simply the lees and the wine getting it on – in a sciencey kind of way that is. The result of the various compounds being released into the wine is a creamy mouth feel, added complexity, and a host of other things. If you want to know more about autolysis please feel free to Google because I’m moving on.

Chardonnay In the brave new-world we generally cold ferment Chardonnay which gives it tropical flavours like mango, pineapple….oh sod it you know what tropical fruits are. Another factor that influences flavour is oak. One of the primary reasons I don’t drink nearly as much Chardonnay as I should is that I find there are too many chewy, goupy, over-oaked wines that taste like a caramel coated 2×4. Ag sis.

Thankfully the selection chosen by the master palates of Under the Influence did not include any of these nasty numbers. The wines across all flights were very good, and my usually stingy scoring registered a good couple 17’s and one 18.

Fasie then started the tasting. I’ve mentioned Fasie before but not in great detail, let me give you a brief description . Fasie is a man with a mouth (large), a palate (perceptive and experienced), a beak  (nose), a brain (full to the brim with a vast knowledge of wine and cheese), he prefers his Chardonnays leaded (wooded) and has a wonderful turn of phrase. The latter, however, was shown to be some what fallible when he described a certain wine – I won’t name it for the possible detriment it might have to the brand –  as being “delish”. Delish? Really? I have heard over perfumed women in coffee shops describing over-gymed under-read guys as delish, but fresh and bright South African Chardonnays of this quality? Tsk Tsk Mr. Malherbe. Although one must concede that you can’t argue with the man, the wines were, without question, “delish”.( I can write it in quotes, but I would never say it).

The wines were tasted blind which adds a little spice, trying to see if you can spot any of the wines. We started with the Goat Door 2008 from Fairview, this really impressed me especially when it was revealed as it offers excellent value. The wine went through an interesting range of aromas in the glass; from a vegetative asparagus note, through a touch of strawberry sherbet, and finally  settling on a spicy lemon rind marzipan vibe. The palate was far more straightforward and finished a little short.

Next was the Jordan 2008, a well balanced safe Chardonnay, I wouldn’t write home about it, but I would have another glass, and maybe another before heading home.

The Paul Cluver 2008 was a step up from the last two with great structure and mouthfeel. It danced the line of creamyness and taut acidity exquisitely, leaving your mouth feeling like you had eaten a lemon cream (without the crumbs).

We hit a little pot-hole on our road to Chardonnay euphoria with the Cordoba 2006. The first bottle was as funky and nasty as a bergie’s underwear, rotten and sour. The second bottle, however, was delicious. A quirky number with asian spice notes, kind of had a miso soup smell that followed through faintly onto the palate which I thought was bloody fantastic. The wine was definitely made in an oxidative style which added some rich waxiness to the mix, the honey action and integrated oak made this a winner for me. Pity it’s all gone.

DMZ 2008 from De Morgenzon was a little hot for me, but a good solid wine. The best value wine of the evening was Graham Beck’s (I refuse to link to their website as it is annoying and plays music) Waterside Chardonnay 2009 it had a milky character, with flavours of citrus and winter melon. This is really excellent value. I wonder if it has anything to do with the limestone soil out there in Robertson? Hmmmm.

The smoking good Iona 2008 was up next and had and nose of granola and pears with a gorgeously rich palate of pear drops and limes, delicate oak treatment gave the wine elegance and it’s finish was long and satisfying. At this point in the evening it was my favourite wine. But after the somewhat over oaked Amani 2006 – all boiled sweets and toffee apples – things to a turn.

Like Jenson Button shifting up through the gears in the final straight and Murray Walker getting all hot under the collar about it, we moved onto our final flight. And my god what a flight.

I just want to list it so you can see the names next to each other and get jealous, maybe even salivate a little:
Ataraxia 2008

Hamilton Russell 2009

Rustenberg Stellenbosch 2008

Jordan ‘Nine Yards’

Yes, my Thursday evening was probably better than yours. Unless you got laid, and then only if it was especially orgasmic.

The Ataraxia was sublime, as usual, with a slight salty note that made me think of a model in a sexy couture gown walking along the water’s edge and  the sea splashing frivolously up against her feet and legs. Elegant, rich, deft but with a sparkle in its eye, this is my favourite South African Chardonnay, easily.

Slightly mineral with some ruby grape fruit, slightly biscuity (like brioche), slightly rich, totally awesome. The Hamilton Russell 2009, one of the grand dames of South African Chardonnay, is living up to the reputation. The mouth feel is textured and restrained almost simultaneously. I love these kinds of wines, those that are seemingly paradoxical in their tastes and makeup.

While the Rustenberg was excellent I preferred the others  in this flight, which is saying something about the quality of wines as this is a chardonnay that sits on the shelf above the top-drawer, believe me. Dried fruits and marzipan were the dominant flavours and it had a juicy acidity that I enjoyed thoroughly.

Then came the big dog, the boss, the don’t-fuck-with-me I’m-wearing-a-tailored-Italian-suit bottle. Jordan say they have gone “the whole nine yards” with this one, hence the name, and by Jove have they done a good job. Tasting notes at his point were difficult as it was pretty dark, but I remember the honeyed character that had Fasie talking about Winnie-the-Pooh; a grown up Christopher Robin would definitely have a few cases of this in his cellar. Delicate and sumptuous, a wine that I want to sip while sitting in my throne,  nymphs gently fanning me as I give blessings to the populous.

This was my highest scoring wine of the night with the Ataraxia half a point behind. I would still go for the mineral elegance and chaste of the Ataraxia than the full blown regal Jordan.

Another excellent tasting, with smart company and even smarter wines. There was enough left over that some calls to husbands had to be made, car keys confiscated, and elbows offered to the especially weary. Weary? I’m lying they were pissed.

Next week it’s Viognier. You Coming?

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