Are you an ABCD-er? Anything But Chardonnay Darling? You wouldn’t be alone – there are plenty of wine drinkers who get to Sauvignon Blanc and never make it any further in fear of the dreaded oak.
Because a lot of the time, it isn’t the actually Chardonnay which offends, it’s the oak flavours of spice, vanilla, toast and butter which people don’t like. Why don’t they like them, because they sound delicious and attractive enough?
I think it’s because it is so easy to overdo them, to add in so many oaky flavours that you mask the fruit completely instead of simply supporting and enhancing it to make a balanced, more complex wine.
Wooded wines tend to cost more than unwooded ones as well (A new barrel generally costs around R9,000 to buy) so there’s another reason to stick with your safe Sauvvie and not venture into the scary, potentially chewy world of wooded Chardonnay.
But you do miss out if you remain an ABCD-er for ever.
For a start, there are all the lovely unwooded versions full of crisp, clean lemon and melon fruit –yum.
But you’re also going to miss out on some real complexity and interest, so here are a few wooded Chardonnays which have come my way recently and which hopefully will inspire you to change into the new version of ABC for the 21st century – Always Buy Chardonnay!
Kleine Zalze Vineyard Selection Chardonnay 2012 R73
I think this is my favourite range from Kleine Zalze – it’s the one where cellarmaster Johan Joubert is starting to show his influence and style but it’s still affordable enough to drink on a regular basis.
It says ‘Barrel-fermented’ on the label, but fermentation actually started in stainless steel tanks before being moved into barrels of varying age, thus making for good oak/fruit integration without being over-powering.
Because of the extra wood-contact, Johan prevented the wine going through ‘malo’, leaving the acidity fresh and tingly, offsetting the delicious citrus cheesecake flavours to perfection.
KWV Cathedral Cellar Chardonnay 2012 R85
This is an excellent example of using oak to gain complexity in the wine.
It’s already pretty interesting before you even get to the wooded part because it comes from 5 different areas around the Cape, but after the wine is made, half of it is matured in new oak, just under a quarter in 2nd fill and another quarter in 3rd fill barrels with a small amount of tank-fermented wine just to add freshness and liveliness.
The result is smooth and spicy rather than harsh and spiky and the oak just adds creaminess and weight to the fresh lemony fruit.
Holden Manz Chardonnay 2012 R160
Once again, this wine has been divided into different batches which have then undergone different treatment to add interest and mouthfeel.
In this case, there is 50% new oak and 50% older oak but there is a further difference in that not all the wine underwent malolactic fermentation.
This is a bacterial conversion which changes the tart, apple-y acids into milky, yoghurt-y acids – basically, it softens the wine and adds creaminess.
Most of the wine retained their apple-y acids making for a clean, lipsmacking wine with just a hint of ginger biscuits and cream.
Oldenburg Vineyards Chardonnay 2012 R130
This one has had pretty much all the oak you could throw at it and it is a measure of the quality and intensity of the fruit that it manages to handle all that wood with style and aplomb.
It was barrel-fermented and then it all spent a further 9 months in oak, 50% of it, new.
But you wouldn’t know it – you really wouldn’t, because all you get is a rich and opulent mouthful of fruit, beautifully-balanced by natural acidity all offset by wonderfully-integrated oak.
A class act. It really is.
Hartenberg The Eleanor Chardonnay 2011 R199.50
The Grand Dame of the Hartenberg Super Premium stable and pretty much the grand dame of these lovely examples listed here.
This is simply wonderful – beautifully-balanced,creamily-fruited, elegantly oaked with effortless chic, style and sophistication.
I feel at least 20kgs lighter when I drink this wine and somewhere in the deep recesses of my mind, I am transformed into Audrey Hepburn, full of glamour, dash and verve.
All that for under R200 – it doesn’t get much better than that!!