South African Chardonnay a Blue-Print for Excellence


?+¦-+?+¡Having smuggled the Chardonnay vine-cuttings into the country with which the industry was founded, we Jouberts have always been partial to South Africa’s interpretation of the royal Burgundian white. From the smoky sweet clunkers of the 80’s, the high-alcoholic 90’s and the experiments with malolactic fermentation in the early 2000’s, the advent of South African Chardonnay has been well-documented and discussed during family gatherings. Not to mention consumed. In fact, all the grand-children of Fritz Joubert, the mule who clandestinely carted the cuttings from the Clos des Mouches to Robertson, were Christened with a thumb-print of Louis-Jadot Meursault on the forehead.

Sitting back today and looking over the industry, one has to ask whether Chardonnay has not become the King of South African whites?

Those who have been privy to the past two Celebrations of Chardonnay on De Wetshof, now one of the world’s great Chardonnay events, would have been astonished, surprised and to use that awful wine PR word delighted in discovering the amazing quality of South African Chardonnay when tasted alongside some of the world’s finest.

International visitors to this event share this. Jean-Charles de la Morini?+¦-ú??re, from the iconic Domaine Bonneau du Martray, announced he was ?+¦?+º?+¦shocked?+¦?+º?+æ after tasting the South African line-up during 2010’s Celebration of Chardonnay. This year our wines more than held their own among the glory boys of Hanzell and Cullen from Sonoma and Margaret River respectively, although the Burgundian depth of the French wines remains the Holy Grail.

There has been much talk about what South Africa should be doing to capture the imagination of the wine world. A unique variety, such as Pinotage, is one way especially now that it has reached the next level in terms of control in the cellar as well as the sourcing of site-specific grapes.

But as that quaint, nuanced and subtle Afrikaans saying so gracefully states: If you want to walk with the big dogs, you’ve got to learn to piss high.

With Chardonnay now more than ever being regarded as the finest white grape of them all, South Africa’s Chardonnay is set to rock the world stage. Barring, of course, the relevant parties responsible for generic promotion follow the light.

A case to prove the excellence of local Chardonnays was made this year by two superb producers. Hamilton Russell clocked in at 32nd spot on the Wine Spectator’s list of the 100 Most Exciting Wines in the World. For a ubiquitous grape like Chardonnay to even make a top 100 list of the planet’s most pants-wetting wines, says barrique-loads.

The other producer who hit the C-spot this year was Jordan. The Nine Yards 2010 took the Decanter Chardonnay Award at the 2012 Decanter World Wine Awards.

At this year’s Chardonnays du Monde Durbanville Hills, De Wetshof and Rietvallei each won gold medals, and the annual success of South African wines at this showcase must surely not have gone unnoticed.

Everyone has an opinion on awards. But considering that Chardonnay entries at international competitions are about as congested as a bunch of farm workers at a Cosatu-sponsored boerewors-roll stand, South Africa’s success on the global show-front must surely affirm the fact that our Chardonnay is now of exceptional quality.

Is there a style? The great thing about Chardonnay, is that there is only one style and that is Chardonnay. Mineral and brisk. Stony and crisp. Unctuous and perfumed. Fruity and frisk. Bulky and smoky. One Chardonnay character remains king. It’s like Kate Moss at a fashion event no matter what she is wearing, at the end it is the woman herself that steals the show.

If a wine industry is to be judged on its ability to produce great Chardonnay, there must now be no further doubt that South Africa’s time has arrived.

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