Complexity and freshness rule in this, one of my perennial white favourites. David Finlayson is a master of the blend and has perfected a choral harmony from three varieties: Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier. Sauvignon Blanc provides the typical bolt of zesty freshness, while the Sémillon gives a welcoming firm mouth-feel and educated waxiness.
Perfection, or near perfection, must be a heavy burden. How do Carl Schultz and his team at Hartenberg Estate handle it? Such a diverse range of wines, all made to such high standards – it’s all enough to make a French vigneron kick a hole in a vat of 1928 Armagnac.
Hartenberg makes a mean Merlot. Stupendous Shiraz. Riveting Riesling. Cracking Cabernet. But my heart was won over, again, recently by the Chardonnay. Not the iconic Eleanor, but the straight-up Hartenberg Chardonnay from the very classy 2009 vintage.
This came courtesy of a good offer from my sales agent at the Wade Bales Wine Society at a price that made me wonder if this stuff hadn’t fallen from the back of some truck. But I bought a case, most of which has been sent down the hatch, leaving me half-a-bottle from which to contemplate.
The wine is clear and attractive with a lovely greenness to the golden robe, as usually worn by a classic Chardonnay south of the Beaune region in Burgundy. A chunky firm attack on the palate leads to an armada of ripe fruit, from stewed quince, grated Packham pear, kumquat and Key Lime Pie. This is all supported by a zesty acidity, giving the wine more life and verve than a Mavericks’ dancer on Free Russia Day.
Unlike said dancer, the Hartenberg Chardonnay only has a bit of wood, not enough to mask the life in the wine but just the right amount to provide a silky, buttery mouth-feel and a lingering finish.
Heading off to Arcachon outside Bordeaux later this month, part of my visit will entail presenting a tasting of South African wines to some local journalists, rugby players and vignerons. As the first American on French soil?+¦-+?+¡during D-Day said: ?+¦?+º?+¦There ain’t no free lunch.?+¦?+º?+æ
Despite the calls to duty asking us to embrace Chenin Blanc as the National South African White Grape and the reactionary colourful spats generated by the Sauvignon Blanc fraternity, there is only one real South African white wine worth taking to an international gun-fight, and he be Chardonnay.
So I get this craving, and I must have it. Feel the stirring. The brooding expectation. The sense of “what am I going to do if I don’t get it”?
Drive down to the dodgy part of town to satisfy the desire. Park in darkness. Enter the subtly neon-lit building in one of Cape Town’s side-streets. They are waiting. And yes, there is the object of my want. In front of me. To be had for a few bucks.
The place is DVD Nouveau, the movie Barton Fink. An all-time favourite, the kind of film that calls to be viewed periodically.
It is made by the Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan. Tells the story of an anal pseudo-intellectual playwright whose pretentious writings stir the attentions of Hollywood. Pretty soon this stuck-up pseudo has sold his soul, exchanging the intellectual zone of Broadway for the cheap commercialism of Hollywood.
Pretty much like Tim James leaving the Mail & Guardian for a wine gig with the Daily Sun.
Anyway, got the movie. And heading off to Casa Emilio for cinematic satisfaction, a spot of thirst gets me to stop at Vino Pronto, a cute little wine shop in the Gardens. Despite the shelves of aforementioned Casa groaning with freebies, I decide to drop some cash on the wine industry. Help them pay for their WIETA audits, methinks.
Believe in fate? The zone? In Pronto Wine Shop?
Right there, before me. On the Chardonnay shelf: Crystallum Chardonnay.
Yup, that’s the vino connected to one Peter-Allan Finlayson, a winemaker who has always reminded me of someone who has just stepped out of a Coen Brother movie. Trendy. Cool. Dishevelled in a cultivated manner. Most of all, self-effacing and humorous. Like the Coens, it must also be said that the dude’s bit of an artist.
,Crystallum’s set of Pinot Noirs has built-up a pretty solid reputation since the release of the 2008 vintage thanks to the superb quality of the wines made from Hemel-en-Aarde fruit, with some Elgin stuff thrown into the Peter Max wine. The other number is, of course, the pants-wetting brilliant Cuv+¬e Cinema.
This was, however, my maiden venture in to the realm of Crystallum Chardonnay 2009,which, incidentally carries the name of “The Agnes” who was Peter-Allan’s great-grandmother.
Having dropped just over R150 on Crystallum The Agnes Chardonnay from Peter-Allan Finlayson I headed off for a date with Barton Fink.
Look, if Barton Fink the writer ever did kick back to talk about wine, he could have told one helluva story about this. Problem is, it would be long and boring and aimed at sparking off a riot by page 23.
But I’ll just stick to the fact that this is one helluva wine.
Made from three vineyards – two Hemel-en-Aarde way and one out towards Greyton ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ there is a lot going on here in terms of expression. The first is a perfumed decadence and the second a trance-inducing broadness. No lean mineral linearity of limestone soils. No calculated intricacies of lees management to coax a featured Chardonnay personality from the fruit. The wine just gushes rich beauty and deliciousness and is a fine example of why Chardonnay remains the greatest white grape on the planet. No other variety is able of deploying this level of sensorial seduction on an unsuspecting movie lover just wanting to concentrate on a favourite film.
I had to stop Barton’s rantings every now and again with the “pause” button, enabling me to get to grips with the wine.
Was that a hint of Meursault-like hot buttered popcorn on the Crystallum? Yes. Montrachet potpourri? Indeed. O look, a bit of Santenay pebbles. Beaune waxiness? Is true, my bru.
Completing the myriad flavours is aforementioned heady perfume. If more wines smelt like this beautiful aromatic number I’d understand why wine-buffs are forever sticking their schnozzes into the glass.
The other is the palate weight. Like a fine silk kimono, it lies lightly, lies softly. Feels fine.
Just to be sure, I went back to Pronto the next day for another two bottles of Crystallum. And was assured that, yes, nostalgia can indeed be what it used to be.
On a factual basis, the wine is wooded, 2nd fill French. Nine months on the lees. Minimal stirring, shaking and prodding.
Less is more, dude, less is more. No matter how big the craving.
Got into Burgundy. Wished I was nowhere else. Headed from Dijon, south past the Mustard City’s urban sprawl. Dig the bowling alleys and pizza parlours. Then came the vineyards, and then the names: Gevrey-Chambertin. Vougeut. Vosne-Romanne. Nuits-St Georges. More Holy Grails than in a poker-hand of five aces.
Heading out to Beaune, France in September, my Frog Mates have asked me to present a tasting in Pommard. I love doing tastings in Burgundy. Most would think it is all quiet, serious, scientific and critically French.
The beautiful people were there, tanned and bare-fleshed; long-limbed with gleaming white teeth and discreetly clattering jewellery, and smelling o-so-lovely as you walked by. And those were just the guys.
French Toast, wine and tapas emporium in Bree Street, Cape Town is hot, hip and happening. Also very good. Hammer wine selection. Fine stemware. Also, it understands tapas. Fresh and tasty, and just-so portioned with fresh bread. White anchovies and calamari to die for. Check out the charcuterie. Cheese. Sausage. Sauces.