Yes, chardonnay can!

The belief that our white wines can’t age has long been sent packing. If five years is still generally regarded as a decent limit, especially for dry wines, that limit has been tested on 10-year-olds, quite often with excellent results. This says much about how both viticulture and winemaking have advanced in recent years even in vintages that don’t suggest the benefits of long ageing.

It’s a long time since I last dug into the cellar for ten-year-old wines; in truth, I was quite surprised to find not one but two from challenging 2013, it wasn’t a vintage I had invested in as the wines didn’t enthuse me.  

The vintage report I wrote for Oz Clarke’s Pocket Wine Guide explains the problems some tackled.

Winter 2012 delivered an abundance of rain and cold. Cool, dry spring allowed for late if even budding, until a three-day, November gale caused localised problems with flowering. Harvest began around two weeks late with intermittent showers. Success depended on picking times. Those who got it right produced flavoursome, well-structured wines; rot was a problem for many. Challenging is how most winemakers described the vintage.

My pair of 2013s were made by two of the Cape’s top winemakers; Hannes Storm, then at Hamilton Russell Vineyards and Gottfried Mocke, then cellarmaster at Cape Chamonix Wine Farm. After leaving HRV in 2014, Hannes started his own label, Storm Wines also concentrating on chardonnay and pinot noir from Hemel en Aarde. Gottfried moved across the Franschhoek valley to head up the Boekenhoutskloof cellar in 2015. It would be difficult to better the winemaking pedigree of Hamilton Russell Vineyards Chardonnay 2013 and Cape Chamonix Reserve Chardonnay 2013. The wines didn’t disappoint; the winemakers most surely ‘got it right’.

Before more detail on each wine, putting 2013 into context is enlightening. Does it seem like yesterday or a lifetime ago? Many will remember some of the major events as sad. Nelson Mandela died on 5th December; Olympic mountain biker, Burry Stander, was killed in a road accident and Oscar Pistorius killed Reeva Steenkamp; in other stories, 15000 baby crocodiles escaped from a farm after flooding. Were they all re-captured? Anyone seen larger crocs recently? My best memories are of a trip to Sicily with the Circle of Wine Writers and seeing Leonard Cohen at his last live show in London.

To the wines. They couldn’t be better paired or contrasted.

Chamonix shimmering, limpid, barely a suggestion of its 10 years; aromatically layered, its distinctive lime-lemon zest topping broader peachy undertones, these refrained and a counterpoint to the creamy oatmeal texture. All are thrillingly harmonious and reflect the elegance for which Franschhoek chardonnay is known.

Coincidentally, I’d looked up my notes on the first (and, I think only), Appellation Grand Prestige awards for Franschhoek wines held in 2014. Winners had to show typicity and quality, only ten wines fulfilled these requirements, of which Chamonix was one. A winner which has lived up to its promise.

Tech details: natural ferment, 80% in oak, of which 70% new; balance in concrete egg.

Cool climate is written all over the HRV. Aromatically intense, lifted with frictionless verve in the toasty, citrusy tones. Day one, unyielding tight, with high acidity overshadowing its oatmeal leesy breadth, which emerged the following day, uniting the wine into perfect balance. Anthony Hamilton Russell has commented that their older chardonnays have coloured up with a strong gold after a relatively short time, with no effect on the wine otherwise. No gold in this, rather a striking luminous farm butter yellow shot with green.

Tech details: 86% fermented, aged eight months in 228l French oak, 31% new. 14% stainless steel ferment. TA and pH tell a story: 7.3 and 3.1.

I found HRV well chilled brought out its best, whereas Chamonix’s texture was better served with a short while out of the fridge.

The quality of both stood the test of four evenings.

An important lesson learned; don’t underestimate any vintage from quality producers; 2013 a good case in point.


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