Chardonnay in

South Africa

Chardonnay is a more recent newcomer compared to Chenin, Colombard and Semillon.

 

Over 1,000 hectares are planted in Robertson, Paarl, and Stellenbosch each. Plenty of this goes into commercial white wines as well as the distillation market.

 

In terms of quality, cool regions like Walker Bay, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, Elgin, and Constantia produce world-class wines. Foothills and higher-lying ground cooled by altitude and sea breezes allow areas like Stellenbosch, Paarl, and Franschhoek to also produce quality wines.

 

If you were blindfolded and asked to compare South African oaked Chardonnays, they compare very well to some of the world’s finest but at a lower price. South Africa is making great oaked Chardonnay!

At 7,3% of total grape plantings, Chardonnay is the 4th most planted white grape after Chenin Blanc, Colombard and Sauvignon Blanc.

Frustrated by the red tape in the 70’s & 80’s, the first vines were ‘smuggled in suitcases’ but it turned out to be Auxerrois Blanc. Danie de Wet of De Wetshof Estate was one of the pioneers of the grape.
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Watch and learn

Vino Noir on Chardonnay

Join dynamic duo Qhama and Thulani from Vino Noir as they chat through more about the white grape variety - Chardonnay and what it is.

 
South African Chardonnays range in styles based on the winemaking techniques employed.

 

From leaner, fruit forward unoaked styles that show florals, green apple, citrus and pear, to riper fruits like yellow apples, pineapple and mango. Creamy, rich, oaked examples offer tropical fruits, butterscotch, vanilla, lemon curd, baked apple cloves and coconut.

 
Chardonnay

Tasting Profile

Chardonnay can make classic, mineral blanc de blanc (white from white), assertive, high acid, classic aperitif, high-quality champagne. It can also make a very briny, oyster shell austere Chablis, which is the northernmost region where a Chardonnay can grow. It can range from a very steely mineral style to a full-bodied, rich, tropical, hedonistic, deep, powerful, compelling and flavourful wine from a top Burgundian, Australian or South African producer. It can be a wine where oak is very much part of its DNA. It can also work in a late-harvest, botrytis-affected wine. It’s a chameleon that can do plenty.

 

In terms of taste, it has a broad palate feel - if you think of Sauvignon Blanc being quite linear and direct, Chardonnay is more of a textured wine. It has more richness. It usually has high alcohol, though you can have it at 12.5%. But it generally tends to work better at 13 - 13.5%.

 

It is not especially aromatic on its own - nowhere as aromatic as Sauvignon Blanc or Viognier that both jump out of the glass at you. Chardonnay is usually medium to full bodied and available in a wide variety of styles. From Chablis wines that are chalky, lean, mineral, saline, almost salty notes on the apple and pear spectrum. All the way to tropical, tinned pineapple, piña colada, peach, melon, coconut and toffee characters that are pungent, broad textured and make big-shouldered wines.

 

It can also be fairly anonymous and bland at a commercial level. Top-end chardonnay should last 10 - 20 years.

Taste Profile Flavours_Chalk
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Taste Profile Flavours_Apples
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Taste Profile Flavours_Pear
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Taste Profile Flavours_Lime
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Taste Profile Flavours_Melon
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Taste Profile Flavours_Pineapple
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Taste Profile Flavours_Coconut
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Taste Profile Flavours_Toffee
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Taste Profile Flavours_Almonds Hazelnuts
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Taste Profile Flavours_Butter
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Taste Profile Flavours_Toast
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Taste Profile Flavours_Vanilla
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Taste Profile Flavours_Baking spices
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Chardonnay

Across the world

Chardonnay is the world’s most popular white grape, beaten only in number by Airén, a bulk variety grown in Spain. It is a chameleon of a grape in the vineyard and is easily grown anywhere and everywhere, though it prefers limestone more than anything else.

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For a young viticulturist or winemaker just coming out of school, this relatively disease-resistant grape that doesn’t need much attention in the vines, will get them an acceptable crop that will make reasonably good wine.

 

It makes a broad variety of wine styles, in a manner best described as chameleon.

Two interesting things:

 

  • It is the grape variety that took the white wine world away from knowing wines by the name of the place that they came from e.g. Chablis or Corton Charlemagne or Meursault in Burgundy, to recognising the wines by the grape.

  • It was the grape variety that introduced the globe to the New World in the late 1970’s.

At the same time, there was also an outcry out against Chardonnay with the acronym ‘ABC’ (anything but Chardonnay) often used by those with negative reactions to Chardonnays that were very oaky, very obvious, very sweet, and rich wines that were mega-successful commercially.

‘Chardonnay has a wide-ranging reputation for relative ease of cultivation and ability to adapt to different conditions. The grape is very "malleable", in that it reflects and takes on the impression of its terroir and winemaker.

In the vineyard

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Food Pairings

Young, unoaked wines from cooler climates go exceptionally well with fish. Chablis pairs well with oysters. Intense wines can pair with raw fish like sushi or ceviche. Prawns, steamed or grilled fish, chicken, pasta, spring vegetables and creamy vegetable soups are all fantastic with a lighter wine.

 

Fruity, unoaked or lightly oaked wines are better suited to cooked meals that are slightly richer. Dishes like fish pie, fish cakes, grilled salmon, chicken or pork. Pasta in a creamy sauce or mild curries are lovely pairings. Salads with peach, mango and macadamia nuts makes for a fresh, vegan option.

 

Full bodied wines that have been aged in oak are able to stand up to even richer dishes like eggs Benedict or steak béarnaise. Red peppers, corn, butternut and pumpkin are fantastic with a fuller bodied Chardonnay.

 

Mature, barrel fermented Chardonnay wines pair best with foods like grilled, seared or roasted shellfish. Roast chicken, wild mushrooms and truffles (or a combination of all three) will also go well with a bigger wine.

 

Dishes with hazelnut could align with similar oaked notes in the wine.

LEARN ABOUT OTHER WHITE VARIETALS