Opinion, Rants, and Stories, Wine Reviews

Iona Chardonnay 2012 and a Musing or Two

iona chard 2012

Have you ever tasted a wine and been unsure of yourself? In blind tastings this will happen almost immediately, but I’m talking about a sighted, straighforward tasting. You taste a bit of wine and just are not sure what you think. It’s weird. It doesn’t happen that often to me, especially with straightforward wines, but it happened last night, and it’s why I’m sitting here at 9:30 am with a small pour of Iona Chardonnay in front of me, awaiting my final decision.

Thankfully a night in a decanter solves many things. When I opened the Iona there was an initial waft of new oak. Not buttery, not spicy, just straight up oak. The barrel itself. This was slightly perplexing. The nose was muted vanilla and lime, the palate also rather straight, lacking breadth, and the finish a little choppy.

I remember the 2009 Iona Chardonnay. It was beautiful. It opened my eyes to the Chardonnays of Elgin a little wider than before. I remember the intense citrus, the warming buttery oatmeal spice, the long finish. I remember how I thought this is why we love oak on Chardonnay. Balanced and delicious.

Musing one: Why is it that wine, an obviously complex and nuanced beverage, is so beset by dichotomies? New world/Old world, new oak/old oak, cool climate/warm climate, shiraz/syrah, Natural/everybody else, Chardonnay/Anything but. Is it because there is so much going on in a bottle of wine, so many explanations, ideas and differences that we shrink to the laziest categories to make sense of them? Tom Robbin’s wrote that there are two types of people in the world, those who think there are two types of people in the world and those who don’t. The interest in wine lies in between these lackadaisical avenues of description.

So. I left the Chardonnay for an hour or two an came back to it. There was some broadening. That toasted oat character had risen, the new oak notes dissipated and the vanilla less powerful. The lime – not exclusively an Elgin trait but I’m finding more forceful there than in Chardonnay’s from other areas of South Africa – had been been turned up a notch, and the palate more intense, with a longer finish. How many wines are dismissed because we haven’t had the time to decant them for an hour or two? I wonder how many I’ve done this to?

Musing two: The oak has been so wonderfully judged on this and yesterday’s wine that you could almost forget the 100% new oak monsters that lurk in wine stores and cellars waiting for you; waiting to stick splinters into your teeth, and a 2×4 to your face. I wonder how it all began? Was it the Americans? I am encouraged to think it was. They love making things bigger and louder and, well, more American. Of course this is a rather sweeping statement and there is elegance all over the US. It’s just us outsiders see more shouting, invading and super-sizing than anything else. I can imagine Americans tasting a particularly good white burgundy, appreciating the oak, and thinking, “you know what we should do in California? Turn this shit up to 11.” I have tasted one or two more ridiculous examples. Wines so big and oaky that if the 2nd pig had chosen them to build his house out of the wolf wouldn’t have stood a chance. In South Africa we still find them, these oak monstrosities, with their lashings of sugar, alcohol, and depression. But it’s a fad that is dwindling. Perhaps a sign of the times. Frugality means less new oak. Bring on the austerity, I say.

Back to the Chardonnay, and my final decision.

The nose now is fruit first, oak second. Lime, citrus, orange peel. Underneath there’s spice, toasted oats, and vanilla. The palate is far better integrated than last night. Lime dominates with toasty oats. Or a bowl of shredded wheat with lime zest on top instead of sugar. There’s a good core of fruit/oak/minerality. It’s tight, but not nervy. The finish stretches out. There is a little bitterness at the end which does not help the wine much. The intensity is good. It’s balanced and juicy, with well judged oak. It will improve in your cellar. It is yet another very good Elgin Chardonnay. It leaves nothing to complain about, except a hankering for the 2009.

Technical stuff:

  • Alcohol.  13,5%
  • Residual sugar.  1,7 g/l
  • Total acid.  6,4 g/l
  • pH.  3,42
  • Cellar Price: R154

This bottle was supplied for review

5 thoughts on “Iona Chardonnay 2012 and a Musing or Two”

  1. Good stuff Harry.

    “How many wines are dismissed because we haven’t had the time to decant them for an hour or two?”

    I often do the reverse and overrate a first impression of good balance/other, then get ambushed a while later by the slow crescendo of a party-pooper (salt/oak/whatever). Then I sheepishly scrap my first call. 🙂

    1. I’ve just had another similar experience with the Webersburg Cabernet Sauvignon from the Helderberg. It just got fresher and juicer with every glass. I’m writing it up this week. It’s one of the most elegant and understated South African Cabernet’s I’ve tasted.

  2. Thanks Harry, By coincidence I opened a bottle of the 2009 Chardonnay this week and felt that it has started to age sooner than I would have expected, even a slight oxidised character which some people love. Give this baby some time! Andrew Gunn

    1. Well that’s interesting. Yup, I think this wine will get better and better. I guess it’s a good indicator if the 2009 was ‘better’ in youth, and now showing its age a little that the 2012 will give us lots of future pleasures.

  3. Webersburg IMO is one of SA’s finest Cabs. The 2005 is quite sublime and clearly a total surprise to me, the uninformed.

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