If Chardonnay is not regarded to be an aromatic grape, what the hell is going on in this glass of Glenelly? Perhaps it was the dull, grey weather following a late-winter cold front or the impending gloom concerning another piece of news originating in the areas of State Capture or Bosasa that caused the senses to be so surreptitiously sparked by this wine. But there, sitting in Glenelly’s Vine Bistro with a piece of gelatinous pork-cheek, fat and sauce oozing in all directions, it was a Chardonnay made to rethink the border-transcending possibilities of the grape.
The wine was the Glenelly Estate Reserve Chardonnay 2017, one of the signature wines from this property in Stellenbosch’s Idas Valley region on the southern end of the Simonsberg. And if Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Gewürztraminer can lay claim to being aromatic varieties, the exuberant onslaught on the olfactory senses and this bright, breezy palette of chiming flavours in the mouth certainly would make Glenelly Chardonnay a contender in the aromatic category.
Of course, this patch of manicured Glenelly Simonsberg dirt is manna for Chardonnay, as neighbouring Rustenberg Estate has shown. Join the dots of crumbled mountain soil, cool clay and a gentle, yet elevated topography allowing cool air flow and expansive sunlight radiation, and the figure ends-up picture-perfect for growing a number of varieties. With the Chardonnay being quite extraordinary.
I cannot, however, recall the Glenelly Chardonnay being quite this exotically charming. But perhaps the 2017 vintage is turning out to be a hum-dinger after all. Dry winter in the vines. Temperate spring, making for evenness in the bud-break and an overall earlier harvest.
Grapes were whole bunch-pressed, a possible contributor to the juice’s overall complexity, with natural fermentation kicking-in while the sap lay in new and second fill barrels – 500 litres. Wood-time was a healthy 11 months, with the quality of the blond-toasted barrels playing a major role in the end-result’s majestic structure.
The colour is pale-gold with a slightly emerald hue. The nose is about as shy as a Hollywood hostess after three Martinis: text-book southern Burgundy notes of white flowers, honeysuckle and warm unsalted butter drift from the glass, with a hint of dried bergamot citrus peel leading to the mouth salivating in anticipation of what is to come.
And it is a wonderful thing. The attack on the palate is cool and commanding of attention. Firm and assertive, the wine immediately spreads out revealing complexity and deliciousness in equal measure. Hints of toasted Macadamia nuts are complemented by groin-alerting sparks of citrus, peach, wet, green fennel and sun-kissed bay-leaves. The texture of the wine is cashmere-like in its refinement, yet restless and energetic as the mist from a jungle waterfall.
There might be a lot of talk going on about new, different, odd, adventurous grape varieties being planted in the Cape, either on an experimental or commercial basis. But the measure of a wine country will always lie in its ability to make good wine from wine civilisation’s great grape cultivars, of which Chardonnay is right at the top. And with the kind of brilliance South African Chardonnays are showing through Glenelly, we are measuring up. Fantastically so.