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Hemel en Aarde Valley

South African 'top 10' chardonnay producers

We asked a great friend of ours and a person knowledgeable about SA wines (the Good Value Guru) to suggest his Top 10 Chardonnay producers within a 2 hour drive from Cape Town. These estates consistently produce excellent wine year after year. 

The estates ate spread around; in Constantia, Paarl, Stellenbosch, Hermanus and Elgin.  The estates are grouped in Constantia / Paarl / Stellenbosch and in Hermanus / Elgin in alphabetical order.  I have done it that way as they are two separate trips.  We also tasted some award winning chenin blanc en route.

Constantia / Paarl / Stellenbosch (in alphabetical order)

Buitenverwachting

Located in the incredibly beautiful Constantia valley Buitenverwachting also has a pretty good restaurant and provides luncheon picnics during the summer.  The ’11 Chardonnay (R100) was honeysuckle and clean new oak on the nose and pronounced oak on the palate.  We bought this. www.buitenverwachting.co.za

Jordan

 Jordan tasting room
Jordan tasting room

Jordan is located at the end of the road three quarters of the way up the hill which gives their restaurant a spectacular view.  Their tasting room is behind plane trees.  They have 3 chardonnays; an unwooded, a wooded and a single vineyard.  The unoaked ’11 (R76) was soft, lemoney and easy drinking.  The barrel fermented Chardonnay ’10 (R109) had clean fresh oak on the nose and palate.  The palate also had citrus flavours and was full and round.  Very good.  The Nine Yards single vineyard chardonnay ’10 (R225) spent 12 months in new oak; it was too oakey for our taste.  We bought the unwooded and the barrel fermented.  www.jordanwines.com

Glen Carlou

 Glen Carlou tasting room
Glen Carlou tasting room

This estate was on the list for both Chardonnay and Cabernet (one of only two such estates).  We started with the ’11 unwooded chardonnay (R78) which is only available on the farm.  It had citrus notes on the nose and a clean, lemoney palate.  The ’10 Chardonnay (R90) is wooded; clean new oak is subtle on the palate but full on the nose, lemoney also on the palate.  This used to be our benchmark chardonnay.  Has it gone down or are others just better?  People we spoke to who also love this chardonnay were of the opinion that it has not gone down; others had improved.  We bought the unwooded. www.glencarlou.co.za

Neil Ellis

 Neil Ellis tasting room
Neil Ellis tasting room

Neil Ellis is a wine maker who buys in grapes from farmers; one of the very few with this operating model in the Cape.  He has two chardonnays, both wooded.  The Aenigma ’10 (R90) is so name because the chardonnay vines include a muscat clone which gives the wine a hint of sweetness on the palate.  It was not to our taste.  The Stellenbosch ’11 (R90) was peaches and a hint of oak on the nose, whilst the palate had more obvious oak and lemons.  Very good.  We bought this.  www.neilellis.com

Rustenberg

 Rustenberg shade
Rustenberg shade outside the tasting room

The other of the two estates that was nominated for both Cabernet and Chardonnay. They had 3 chardonnays; an unwooded, a wooded and a single vineyard.  The unwooded ’10 (R70) we found sharp and not typical of a chardonnay.  The Stellenbosch Chardonnay was barrel fermented in new and second fill barrels.  We tasted the ’10 in half bottles (R70).  It had obvious wood on the nose and palate and a lemoney palate; everything one would expect.  The 750ml cost R155; most unusual for the half to be priced at less than half the full bottle price.  Their chardonnay reputation is built on their Five Soldiers single vineyard chardonnay.  The ’09 (R320) was not available for tasting so we bought a bottle to try later.  www.rustenberg.co.za

Hermanus / Elgin (in alpabetical order)

Bouuchard Finlayson

Bouuchard Finlayson view
Bouuchard Finlayson view past winery across turning vines to the sea

This estate has 4 chardonnays sourced from a vineyard near the winery and from a vineyard called Crocodile’s Lair near Villiersdorp which is quite a way inland. The unoaked Sans Barrique ’10 (R108) had flowers on the nose and very pleasant fruit on the palate with time spent of the lees to add complexity. The Kaaimansgat Limited Edition ’10 (R151) was a blend of 50% new oak and 50% unoaked chardonnay. This was quite stunning – the complexity of oak backed by the freshness of unoaked wine. The Crocodile’s Lair ’10 (R114) is fully oaked but not overpoweringly so and full of citrus. The Missionvale ’10 (R142) is also barrel fermented but again the oak is subtle and accompanied by the expected lemon flavours. We bought the Limited Edition. www.bouchardfinlayson.co.za

Newton Johnson

 Newton Johnson view
Newton Johnson view

The Family Vineyards ’10 chardonnay (R170) had new oak on the nose with a lemon and oak palate. What one would expect. The ’10 chardonnay was not available for tasting because it was a small crop that had been sold out so I bought a glass to have with lunch in their restaurant. Their second label Felicité chardonnay ’11 (R52) was unoaked and didn’t really taste like a chardonnay. Must have been given a different name for a reason. I also tasted the Pinot Noir as this was my first visit to the estate. The ’10 (R240) was their third vintage but even so had been awarded a 5* by Platter and a 93 by Parker – not bad! It was a light red, quite spicy – very pleasant. But, if one comes from the UK one is bound to think that for over £20 one can get some serious Burgundy so why bother. Pinot is rare in SA and most comes from the Hermanus / Elgin valleys so it is really a sellers’ market; imported burgundy is even more expensive. We would have bought the chardonnay. www.newtonjohnson.com

Oak Valley

 Oak Valley cellar door
Oak Valley cellar door surrounded by oaks

Oak Valley’s ’10 chardonnay (R150) is oaked in the usual manner using new and second fill barrels and undergoes malolactic fermentation.  This gives it a buttery vanilla and citrus palate with a lemoney, oakey nose.  We bought this. www.oakvalley.co.za

Paul Cluver

 Paul Cluver road
Paul Cluver road with apples and grapes

The vineyards are part of a more extensive farming operation and the picture above shows the history.  Elgin was apple country and it is only in about the last 20 or 30 years that vineyards have been established by grubbing out the orchards.  Paul Cluver chardonnay has been coming on in leaps and bounds and last year we decided that it has supplanted Glen Carlou as our benchmark.  The ’10 (R120) confirmed our view!  It had great new oak and lemons and a full mouth taste.  We bought this. www.cluver.com

You may think that we made an error by omitting Hamilton-Russell vineyards near Hermanus from the top 10 chardonnays.  Our friend assures us that this was deliberate.  We found that the cool climate chardonnays from Hermanus and Elgin were our favourites with Paul Cluver being our best charsonnay.

On the way to Hermanus after one turns off the N2 at Botriver the road goes through what we always think is a desolate area irrespective of the time of year.  Over the years we have watched with some admiration the establishment of the only wine farm in the area.  We appreciate the quixotic nature of this investment and always wonder if any good will come of it.  So it came as a pleasant surprise to learn that Barton is producing award winning chenin blanc.  We just had to stop off to visit.

Barton

 Tree lined avenue up to Barton
Tree lined avenue up to Barton
 Barton tasting room
Barton tasting room

The ’11 chenin blanc (R55) was full of fruit on the nose and had great acidity and fruit on the palate; a sauvignon blanc drinker’s chenin.  Unfortunately their sauvignon blanc ’11 (R60) was too sweet and flowery for our taste.  We bought the chenin blanc. www.bartonvineyards.co.za  Barton also told us about a ‘neighbour’ in Bot River who was also making award winning chenin so we went there too.

Beaumont

 Beaumont view
View from road upto Beaumont
 Beaumont tasting room
Beaumont tasting room

The ordinary chenin blanc ’11 (R66) was full of fruit but had a touch of sharp acidity.  The wooded Hope Marguerite ’11 (R145) had obvious oak on the nose but was full of great fruit.  We bought both.  www.beaumont.co.za