Youthful Beauty in Chamonix’s Early Wines

The proof is in the pudding. So, with all the hype surrounding the quality of the Cape 2021 wine vintage and the fostering of a focused sense of duty, I ventured into the Chamonix winery in Franschhoek to check-out this year’s young wines.

From the outside, things are looking good for vintage 2021. Producers’ organization Vinpro recently issued a media release underscoring the health of this new vintage, both in terms of grape volume and early signs of wine quality. The latter resulted from a cold 2020 winter and a cool, mild summer which led to slow ripening of grapes, something winemakers deem favourable to ensuring balanced chemistry in the fruit as well as completeness of flavour development.

Truth be told, a cellar filled with young wines in tank and barrel, just-fermented and some still going through malolactic fermentation, daunts me. Only wine professionals, mostly winemakers, have the tasting equipment to cut through the aggressive young acids and the meaty clods of dying yeast cells which prevail in these raw, underdone wines. The promise and fulfilment are distant, unattainable to the average casual drinker used to imbibing finished wines.

But there is nothing quite as vividly stimulating to one’s olfactory tools than a winery just after harvest. Aromas are heady and intense, sour-wild fermented skins combining with wet oak barrel and a feral, musky smell. Barrels are lined-up like worshippers in a cathedral, and the full tanks glisten with the film of condensation set-off by their cool vinous contents.

Neil Bruwer, Chamonix winemaker, ushered me to the tanks of white wine to align the palate. Actually, these tanks of unwooded Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc were finished wines, awaiting bottling. But they would set the tone for what was to follow, the two un-barrelled varieties having no place to hide any unagreeable characters.

Sauvignon Blanc, this was tropical, accurate and with just the right amount of green on the rim. A finished, full mouth-feel ending crisply with a flurry of cymbals. The unwooded Chardonnay, well, this is going to be a stunner. Green apple and lemon-peel abound, with a blousy, floral presence that I found truly striking. From a wine of only a few months old.

Bruwer watched my nods of approval. “That’s the vintage you are tasting,” he said. “Everything was in the grapes this year. Perfect ripeness, bracing acids and everything in balance.”

Neil Bruwer, Chamonix winemaker.

With his wine-thief in hand, Bruwer marched myself and Stefan van Rooyen, Chamonix CEO, to the first row of barriques. He drew a 2021 Pinot Noir into the glasses. The surprise was all mine, as while obviously presenting a woody toastiness, that characteristic whack of red cherry juice and tobacco leaf was coming right through the barrel’s timber limbs. Fresh, zippy and tart, the three-month old Pinot Noir was already showing a developed fruit core of blackcurrant and slight hit of Turkish delight. Mouthfeel was lovely and already charming, coaxing the palate with fruit and forest. If I closed my eyes and forgot about where I was standing, I would have thought that this was a young vintage Pinot Noir poured out of bottle.

Onto the Chamonix Chardonnay 2021, and with the unwooded version having provided a glimpse into the quality of this year’s offering, it was no surprise that the wine out of barrel lit the place up with the glow of great things to come. Power and grace had already drowned the wood, leaving one with a young Chardonnay audaciously showing a ridiculous maturity, development and a mark of the classic. Citrus of all sorts ride on a tide of fresh, brisk acidity while white flowers and nuts stand on the side-line, waiting to climb onto the wave over the next few months in barrel. Extraordinary, really, and what a privilege.

Onto the last barrel of yet-nameless wine, and I would have flattered myself with my tasting-skills if it had not been so obvious. The wine was white, its scent rose from the glass like a snake-charmer’s pet and flooded me with quince, salt, kelp and lime-peel. On the mouth the stuff stomped over all the senses, gripping onto the inner-jowls with a tartness that was eye-watering, yet pleasant.

It had to be…..and I called it….the Chamonix Old Vine Chenin Blanc. Stern, complex, loud and attention-demanding. Released for the first time last year, the 2021 offering will undoubtedly further this wine’s reputation that has already reached lofty heights.

Various other young works-in-progress were tasted, including a juicy, sensually warm Pinotage and a densely classic Cabernet Franc, but nothing changed the opinion that this, 2021, is going to be a very special year for Cape wine. The good are going to be better, the better will become classics and the classics shall show greatness. As I once knew, there is beauty in youth.

  • Lafras Huguenet

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