Wandering the wine aisles of your neighbourhood bottle store in search of that perfect bottle can be quite overwhelming, which is why our wine writer Greg Landman has put together this helpful list of the best Chardonnay in South Africa. So the next time you find yourself perusing the wine list at a restaurant or searching for a bottle for your next dinner party, blow your guests away with your new found Chardonnay knowledge and great wine selection.
‘Wine is sunlight, held together by water’ – Galileo Galilei
Just in case you didn’t know it, Chardonnay is a green skinned grape from the Burgundy area of France. Today it is a major player and is planted all over the world, wherever grapes are grown. In SA it is the third most planted white grape (after Chenin and Colombard) and can be found everywhere. Of course, styles vary considerably, ranging from fresh, crisp and clean to heavier wooded varieties. Try them and see which you like. It is an essential component in the making of fine Champagne and MCC wines and is used extensively in white blends, adding that very special je ne sais quoi to a blend. For the purposes of this article we are looking only at so called single varietal Chardonnay wines.
Local is lekker
Some of the very best in the world are made right here. Groot Constantia’s brilliant winemaker Boela Gerber had his Chardonnay 2013 crowned the Best Chardonnay in the World at the Chardonnay du Monde, winning in a field of 800 wines from all over the world – no small feat. Look for Chardonnays from another master, Philip Jonker, at Weltevrede. These have romantic names like Place of Rocks, reflecting the ethos of the Bonnievale area. They are all oaked, with citrus nuances, distinctive minerality, and a beguilingly full mouth feel that’s simply delicious.
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At Bouchard Finlayson near Hermanus, Peter Finlayson makes some of the best Chardonnays the country has to offer. Try the Kaaimansgat/Crocodile’s Lair, very intensely flavoured, or the Missionvale, an elegant high stepper, packed with the fruit flavours of a Cape summer. He also makes one called Sans Barrique, (unwooded) with intriguing melon and apple flavours in among the grapes. Also in this area is the Hamilton Russell Vineyards, whose Chardonnay causes ripples in the UK, the US, and even in Burgundy itself. It is creamy, with typical buttery notes from the wood and some very subtle butterscotch nuances, all of which add up to a hefty price tag. Then there is the fabulous Chardonnay from brilliant wine maker Carl van der Merwe at Wendy Appelbaum’s DeMorgenzon Estate, an international award winner of note, grabbing Best in Show at the Decanter World Wine Awards in 2016. Who can argue with that?
There are hundreds of Chardonnays out there so we’ve selected 15 of the best Chardonnays in South Africa worthy of your attention. Go seek them out, get to know them and live life the Chardonnay way.
20 more Chardonnays to try
Whalehaven Conservation Coast Chardonnay 2012
Barrel fermented at 30% new oak, this vintage is assertive with well controlled acids and plenty of fruit.
Delheim Chardonnay Sur Lie 2016
While also being barrel fermented, Delheim have created a bottle that has plenty of salty rich flavours, citrus notes and is buttery from lees contact. Add this to your wine bucket for R185 a bottle from the cellar.
Glenelly Estate Reserve Chardonnay
It’s a rich, full flavoured, no nonsense knockout from master winemaker Luke O’Cuinneagain.
Glenelly Glass Collection Chardonnay
You’ll find this bottle crisp, clean, fresh and beguiling.
Groote Post Kapokberg Chardonnay 2016
Experienced winemaker Lukas Wentzel has crafted a vintage that is intense with plenty of fruit revealing some spice from judicious wood contact. Buy it from the cellar at R160 a bottle.
Groote Post Unwooded Chardonnay 2018
It’s a cheeky and fresh wine deliciously packed with summer fruits. It’s going for R97 a bottle from the cellar.
Robertson Number One Constitution Road Chardonnay
It’s sophisticated and elegant, and has spent 13 months on new and second fill wood – a serious wine for aficionados.
Robertson Chardonnay 3ℓ BIB
A bargain box which fits nicely into the fridge with plenty of appeal including citrus flavours and some wood (nog!) to give it extra cachet.
Waterkloof Circumstance Chardonnay
It’s an unoaked charmer from those clever people at Waterkloof – gently appealing, creamy and fragrant. Find it for R149 a bottle from the cellar.
Vriesenhof Unwooded Chardonnay 2017
This unwooded Chardonnay is bursting with fruit which makes it the perfect poolside guest this summer. Grab a bottle for R100 from the cellar.
Masters of Chardonnay and hosts of an internationally recognised and very popular bi annual Chardonnay event, thus venerable Robertson cellar has no fewer than five spectacular Chardonnays, ranging from really serious to fun quaffers. No matter your pick, you will love them all.
Plaisir De Merle Chardonnay 2017
This Paarl estate has some great wines, and the Chardonnay is one of them. It’s toasty with some marmalade nuances and will appeal to sophisticates. Find it for R135 a bottle from Vinoteque.
Oldenburg Chardonnay 2016
Each bottle has prominent citrus flavours, especially lime, resting beautifully on gentle oaking with a long finish. Enjoy a bottle for R141.
There are two fabulous wines from here. The first is the Kleine Zalze Chardonnay Barrel Fermented 2017 which is rich and packed with flavour, while the Kleine Zalze Cellar Selection Chardonnay 2017 is fresh and clean. It’s full of summer fruit making it a palate pleaser. I love both.
Waverley Hills Chardonnay 2017
The 15 months spent on new oak, French and Hungarian, shows in this powerful wine. It is rich and fruity with plenty of appeal – a knockout at R155 a bottle.
If you’re looking for a good bottle of bubbly, here’s what we can recommend…
Words Greg Landman
As the wine writer for Country Life magazine for the last 15 years, Greg has met and interviewed more than 150 of the country’s top wine makers. His articles offer unique insights into where to eat, what to drink, and where to go all over the Western Cape. With his dining companion Beryl Ormsby Browne, he has also reviewed more than 60 country restaurants for the magazine and has been a reviewer for the prestigious Eat Out Guide for 12 years. His passion for everything the winelands has to offer has led him into the world of wine tours. To find out more, visit his website Magic Grape Tours.