First of all… some words about oaked Chardonnay. A few years back, before I started seriously learning about wine, I was lucky enough to be sent on a press trip to Los Angeles. Lunching by the sea in Santa Monica, I drank a Napa Valley white that changed the way I think about Chardonnay. It smelled of something familiar, but I couldn’t put my finger on it until… bang, it hit me. This white wine tasted like… red wine. I had no idea at the time why this should be the case, but now I know that it was, of course, heavily oaked, giving it that leathery, vanilla quality.
Red wines are often aged in oak barrels, but whites not so much — apart from the ever-versatile, full-bodied Chardonnay. But the use of oak can be divisive. Some people hate it. Personally, I think it’s ok as long as it doesn’t overpower the fruit (oaking’s often used to mask deficiencies in cheap reds. They dip oak chips or staves into steel tanks to add flavour because it’s cheaper than using oak barrels). I’ve had Pinot Noirs that just taste of oak. What’s the point of that?
Anyway, forgive the digression because today I’m talking about a proudly unoaked Chardonnay — and a very good one too. I’ve been getting more into South African whites recently and this one’s great value at £9. It has lovely notes of honeysuckle. See how I’ve cunningly photographed it on a yellow cushion to emphasise its yellowness, haha.
Using a blend of grapes from the Stellenbosch-Helderberg vineyards (providing depth and weight) and the Robertson Valley (which give it a citrus zing), it’s been stored on the lees (dead yeast cells) in stainless steel tanks for six months.
To quote the blurb on the producers’ website. “This is not a one glass wonder, but a wine that you can enjoy a bottle of. For those of you who despairingly thought that Chardonnay had to taste like butterscotch, this will restore your faith in this beautiful grape.” Defiantly anti-oak then. Perhaps a touch harsh, but I’m not going to argue. And yes, I did drink the whole bottle myself.
13.5%, 2015, £9 from Seven Cellars in Brighton.
Click here for the producers’ website.