Chardonnay and the Classics


Ballerinas doing "Swan Lake".
Ballerinas doing “Swan Lake”.

Being an unrepentant classicist, I was not going to drink just anything after watching the St Petersburg Ballet dance Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake at Montecasino in Johannesburg last week. All those prancing Russian swans made me work-up quite a thirst and appetite, and I needed a wine about as big as that thing ballet-dancer Dmitry Grotzdik was hiding under his tights.

When I, thus, sat down for dinner with Peggy at Ritrovo Restaurant in Pretoria after the show, I made it clear to proprietor Fortunato Mazzone that I was not going to pussy-foot around. He was horrified, the sensitive Italian introvert was. But Chardonnay it was going to be, and we were going all the way: no half-arsed flinty, mineral, white fruited delicacies. Big and broad, Brother. And bring it on.

Jordan Nine Yards Chardonnay 2012 was procured, and it has been a while since I allowed this God-given gift to splash into my orifice. Well, the one on my face in any event.

The Nine Yards is consistently rated one of the best Chardonnays in the country, which means it is one of the best Chardonnays in the New World, for when it comes to New World Chardonnay, we folk down South are king. And it is about time South Africans start shouting about our ability to delectably and superbly interpret the King of White Wines, something Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc will never be.

Fortunato Mazzone from Ritrovo, the one and only reason to visit Pretoria.
Fortunato Mazzone from Ritrovo, the one and only reason to visit Pretoria.

I ordered a piece of fresh hake with olives and capers, while Peggy jumped into the fresh Scottish salmon wrapped in prosciutto.

The inaugural sip of Nine Yards was foodless. A hit of ripe citrus, more ruby grapefruit than the typical Stellenbosch Chardonnay hit of Sicilian orange was the first impression, after which the wine progressed to a new level, offering a length oozing honeycomb, cantaloupe and the faintest finish of orange peel. But such flavours mean zilch without a superb structure and mouth-feel, and this is where the Nine Yards dances a mean fouetté.

Fortunato would forgive me for – well I hope he will – for using this analogy about something consumed in his restaurant, but the texture of the Nine Yards is akin to the perfect breast: both silky smooth and youthfully firm at the same time, while best enjoyed in small mouthfuls.

What a gorgeous wine, and with Ritrovo’s superb cuisine and the images of jumping and twirling Russians, it offered an overall mind-blowing experience.

Back in Cape Town, and I was all feasted-out on Fortunato’s offerings, big wines and the mad rush of Gauteng. Sat back, so I did, for an un-wooded Chardonnay to clear the palate and brighten that leaden zonked-out feeling.

Neethlingshof Un-wooded Chardonnay 2013 arrived and I placed it under the cosh as un-woodeds are the next big thing, but in a South African context they yet have to achieve the same quality as their wooded brothers.

De Wet Viljoen, Neethlingshof wine-maker, ensures that everything from that winery is in good hands, so I had no doubts of the Chardonnays quality, although I was curious about the style. Certain non-woods are awfully watery and show a puffiness from too much oxygen in the fermentation process and insufficient autolytical management during the period on lees.

The Neethlingshof did not have the verve and zest of De Wetshof, who lead the way in South African un-wooded Chardonnays, but had an lovely floral air to it I found most pleasant and reassuring. The wine is still an infant, but already walks a neat line between fresh acidity and agreeable fruit-forwardness, with pear and litchi complementing a crunchy yellow apple quality.

The word “quaffing” is a little raw, but this un-wooded Chardonnay went down like a homesick mole, barely touching sides as it rejuvenated the soul and added a bright and rythmic tune to the drumbeat of life.

And then we danced.

A great Chardonnay is a wonderful thing.
A great Chardonnay is a wonderful thing.

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