Gilded promise

Chardonnay has fallen in and out of favour many times. Of late though, it’s been getting a lot of positive press. Many commentators, local and international, are of the opinion that South Africa’s white wines offer more than the reds – and nowhere is this more obvious than with Chardonnay.

The recent Cape Winemakers Guild auction held in Stellenbosch realised a total of R5 286 700, up R1.4million on the previous year’s sale – although it must be said that there were more six-bottle cases of wine on offer (2956 vs 2298 in 2010).

Bidding on red wines was predictably brisk with the top performers on the day being Boekenhoutskloof Syrah Auction Reserve 2009 which sold for an average R5 000 a case – or almost R1 000 a bottle; with Kanonkop’s CWG Pinotage 2009 and Hartenberg Estate Auction Shiraz 2009 realising an average R3 842 and R3 264 respectively – or R716.67 a bottle (when divided by the number of cases sold – 70 and 50).

In 2010 there were just two Chardonnays at the CWG auction – the Paul Cluver Wagon Trail Chardonnay 2009 and the Jordan Chardonnay Reserve 2009. This year there were four with the same two producers joined by Ataraxia 2010 and Edgbaston’s Tête du Ciel Chardonnay 2009 that were knocked down for average six-bottle case prices of R1 174.44 and R1 385 respectively.

Interestingly, the Cluver was the same vintage/wine as previously – and went for an average of R2 100, up from last year’s R1 613. But there were just 26 cases available.

The Jordan realised an average price of R2 285 per case for the 80 cases which went under the auctioneer’s hammer. It was the highest individual price attained by a white wine at the 2011 auction and meant that the bottle price was R416.67! That’s a better average than Jordan’s Sophia red blend which sold for R2 067.50, or R400 a bottle…

Looking at the average bottle prices, the Cluver Wagon Trail went for R366.67, Ataraxia R300 and Edgbaston R316.67.

Chardonnay has come a long way since the 80′s when the first cuttings were planted. There’s a distinct maturity in terms of both viticulture and winemaking. That bottles of Chardonnay could attain prices of R300 and R400+ would have been almost unthinkable 10 years ago. Yet this is a demonstration of both the market and the producer appreciating the value and quality of what is available locally.

Adding more food for thought is what’s Neal Martin recently wrote in his summary of the state of South Africa’s vinous nation, after judging at the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show, along with additional independent tastings before and after the judging. (Titled Pour without Prejudice his report was accompanied by an extensive list of tasting notes and ratings. For a copy of the article and tasting notes, visit )

“Then there is Chardonnay, which currently represents 8% of total plantings. Let me be facetious and remind South African winemakers that a: Chardonnay is comparatively easy to cultivate; b: a great Chardonnay tastes delicious and therefore: c: it is comparatively easy to sell. Ignore all this ‘Anything but Chardonnay’ clamour! A blind tasting of nearly 100 South African Chardonnay proved that this is South Africa’s most consistent white grape variety, and like Chenin Blanc, its greatest exponents produce world-class wines, I would suggest more Burgundy in style than Napa Valley. The biggest change here is patently less reliance upon new oak. The big, buttery, creamy styles of a decade ago are being replaced by crisp, terroir-driven, mineral-rich Chardonnays that are both more intellectual and delicious. Bring it on!”

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