Thamnus Adds to Cape’s Rosy Chardonnay Scene

The introduction of another extraordinary South African Chardonnay to the magnificence of the variety’s Cape portfolio is such a regular occurrence that a tendency to greet the arrival thereof with a shrug of complacency could be tempting. But we lovers of the glorious Burgundian white soldier on, duty-bound to admit enamoured admiration while attempting to supress the inner-thigh tremble of titillation when seduced, once again, by a wine confidently striding onto the stage of greatness.

Most recent to arrive on this scene was the Thamnus Chardonnay 2021, a number that took a graceful run-up, extended its right-arm and let rip, bowling me over, middle-stump and out.

Before getting to the wine itself I had to source the origin of the name, initially supposing it to be some poncy and forgotten reference to London’s River Thames. But no, the title is soundly based in the Cape, originating from Orothamnus Zeyheri. This might sound like an oily, yet well-read, Greek playboy, but is actually a wild rose. Part of the Cape fynbos kingdom and indigenous to the surrounds from where Thamnus wines sources its Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes. Namely, in the Overberg, Caledon side of the Hemel-en-Aarde, a magnificent wilderness, rugged country with shrubby ridges and broad valley-like indents and lots of ancient poor soils.

Orothamnus Zeyheri also goes by the name of the Marsh Rose in English or the Afrikaans Vleiroos, and I can’t help but think that – objective, despite my Afrikaner rootstock CY Bellville – that the latter is the more beautiful name of the three.

In any event, it is vitis vinifera that rules, Chardonnay to be more specific, and Thamnus 2021 is, well, I have never seen a Marsh Rose, but if it is as gorgeous as this wine I better start looking.

The site of fruit origin is 250m above sea-level and 20km from Walker Bay. But being just over the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, it has to be slightly sunnier and warmer, in this case a benefit. Half the grapes were pressed whole-bunch, settled for two days in tank and racked to barrel. The other portion was destemmed and pressed. Fermentation was done in wood, taking two weeks, and then maturation ensued for nine months, 29% of the barrels being new.

My first impression of this wine was that it was going to be hard to swallow as the aroma is so intoxicating one wants to linger on the nose. There is a traditional dessert made in the Gers region of South-West France which entails butter and cream being heated with flour and then, once warmly bubbling, honey is added to the mixture. This is what my nose detected on the wine, a homely, comforting scent of honeyed buttery-ness with a whisper of cake-in-the-making.

True to focus, I shoved the nostalgia-evoking aroma aside and took the first sip. Now, if one asked any producer of Chardonnay in Meursault, Burgundy, what he or she dreams of in a wine, Thamnus is going to tick a reasonable number of boxes.

There is a taste of perfect, accurate ripeness which could be the result of the even and extended ripening of the 2021 vintage, but knowing the Overberg region well, for me this feature also reflects the place where the Chardonnay grows. This sensation, glowing shards of dappled sunlight coaxing succulence and juice from the wine’s life-affirming core, is something European winemakers strive to achieve. They dream of it while lying awake during their summer nights where the effects of weather on their vines is as dangerously erratic as a vodka-fuelled Russian soldier on week-end pass, as unpredictable as the colour of Taylor Swift’s next choice of underwear before showtime.

This long run of fruit gives Thamnus Chardonnay something I find non-debatable in any wine purporting to be great, and that is deliciousness. Tasty. Nourishingly moreish. Yes, the texture is all Moroccan silk and the first flow of oil from Kalamata olives. The acidity is animated, buoyant and breezy, not snappy and brittle but alive and present with the charm of a steady, anticipating heart-beat. Flavours of honey-suckle, ripe Packham pear and persimmon run true, and they run sure, with just a touch of grilled hazelnut on the finish.

The entry on the palate is trustworthy in the immediacy of the perfection, the mid-palate secure in its calm power. And it all ends in a taste of fond memory, the desire to top the glass and begin all over again.

Thamnus 2021 is a brilliant wine, text-book in its completeness in displaying the cultivar’s noble pedigree and shows that, indeed, a rose by any other name would taste and smell just as sweet, but more so if it is this Chardonnay.

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