The idea of a crisp chilled white wine doesn’t thoroughly appeal right now, as I type with chilly fingers – bring on the port! bring on the brandy! But if and when my space warms up, I might be able to contemplate the idea of a slightly richer, less chilled white – a chenin, say, or a chardonnay. Anyway, I tasted a bunch of those two varieties over the past few months – some of them highly recommendable, some not.
(I’m suddenly reminded of when I was young and poor and living in a little two-up-two-down in outer London in the 80s. I bought a frozen chicken and left it to thaw on the kitchen table as usual. But frozen is how it stayed, until I took it into my one warmed room – but there was a lovely, flame-flickering fire, which was some compensation for the cold and gloom of a northern European winter.)
Two unoaked chards (a desirable category, I think). The 2013 from Seven Springs, a small farm near Hermanus, owned by UK-based Tim and Vaughan Pearson, is pleasant enough, modestly flavourful and vibrant. It’s a touch leaner than the Delheim Chardonnay Unwooded 2013 (more or less the same price at just under R80), which I liked more – very much, in fact: gently rich, lovely integrated acidity, fresh, full flavours with good length. Well balanced, silky, nice note of zesty lime on finish. Unpretentious, very satisfying. I could drink this happily once my blood was warmed.
Moving to the oaked versions: in fact I didn’t much care for the Oaked Chardonnay 2011 from Seven Springs. Whether it’s perhaps past its best I’m not sure, but it had a nutty, slightly oxidative element. Penetrating flavour, undoubtedly – though a bit of a hole in the middle palate – and a forceful finish, but little in the way of elegance or charm. Another slightly disappointing example was the Corder Family Wines Cool Climate Chardonnay 2012 – I’d have hoped for more from Elgin, but this seemed rather unharmonious and straightforward to me and Angela Lloyd, with whom I tasted all of the wines mentioned here, though we didn’t always agree entirely, of course – just most of the time! (The Corder Sauvignon Blanc, on the other hand, was a very pleasing drink.)
Charm and, even more important, character is there aplenty on the seriously made Vondeling Chardonnay 2011, really good value at R85. Ambient yeast-fermented, whole-bunch-pressed, some gentle oaking which is harmoniously integrated and serves more to give texture than flavour. Another winner from Matthew Copeland and his team on this always interesting Voor-Paardeberg property.
Also good value, but at a more modest level of ambition, comes from the KWV Classic Collection Chardonnay 2013, at around R50. No character or real interest, but bags of easy pleasure. It’s showy and exuberant, fresh and clean, with a little sweetness (OK, in fact it’s nearly off-dry, but very inoffensively so; I can deal with this level of winemaking cynicism!).
And a few chenins (there’s no question of which variety I would choose if I was unfortunately condemned to either chenin or chardonnay from the Cape, though I’m a great admirer of the best SA chards – but at all levels they seldom seem to me to have the character of chenin). More expertise and a great deal more depth from KWV with the Cathedral Cellars Chenin Blanc 2013. Deep, slightly apricotty complexity, evidence of oak. Rich. Some apricot on palate too. Almost viognier-like perfume. Balanced, firm, confident, some interest. Good length. Quite impressive, still quite young. Good future.
The excellent Winery of Good Hope makes a number of desirable chenins in different styles and at different prices, under different names – Radford Dale, Land of Hope, Vinum. The home-brand Bush Vine Chenin Blanc 2013 is good value at R55. Forward pleasant nose, with apples, straw. Lightly rich, seriously balanced, but approachable; lively; bit of depth; good fresh acid, decent length. A delight.
From the West Coast rather than Stellenbosch, and slightly cheaper, is the Lutzville Chenin Blanc 2012. Nice oak element on the nose, and a touch more on the palate. Rather too much, perhaps, but many will enjoy it. Less harmonious than the above, I found, even a touch greenish, with the oaking making it a little heavy and coarse.
More expensive is the Beaumont Chenin Blanc 2013 at R75. I was a little doubtful recently about the emphatically off-dry Beaumont Hope Marguerite 2013, and I must confess that I would prefer to drink this wine (at least in the current youth of both), because, although it’s undoubtedly less complex, I prefer its dryness. But delicious too. Friendly, forward, lovely aromas, appealing fresh flavours, easy and delightfully juicy, tied together well by acid, and a bit of phenolic tug. Good length, with sweet-fruited finish.
Way, way more pricey is the Bosman Optenhorst Chenin Blanc 2011, at R200, and I can’t say that I think it really worth the money (wow, when I think of the great chenins and chenin-based blends you could get for this money!). Yellow-gold, rich and mouthfilling, the oak rather obvious on the palate. Plenty of intense flavour, but altogether more heavy than fresh.