The opportunity for those of us who like chardonnay is enormous. Because so much of this grape is grown, niches of unknown production must exist in the same way that big cities hide little secrets – there’s room for subversion when there are lots of diversions.
So while everyone’s falling over each other for Burgundian anything, drooling over Margaret River and thinking of moving to Otago, you and I can sit back and turn our attention to South Africa. Although Cape Town is a kind of perennial long-distance destination for the glitterati, the really sexy stuff is happening in their wine business.
That line of thought’s for another time though, because what we have to hand here is an inexpensive beauty. Mildly oaked but still crisp, mid-ripe fruit that works in some green apple and pineapple notes and delicious zesty acids that resolve nicely. There’s even a nice mildly salty lick to let us know that two great oceans aren’t far away. Don’t tell anyone. This niche will be our secret.
Since 1859, or so says the equine heraldry on the label, and I believe it. Learning your vines, your land and your markets takes a long time, and whomever keeps the knowledge of these elements at Excelsior clearly knows their stuff.
This is from their own tasting notes for the prior vintage:
This crisp, mouthwatering bottling is a blend of Excelsior’s three best Chardonnay blocks. It displays lively flavors of green apple, citrus, and pineapple on a full, creamy palate. Traces of peach, orange blossom and delicate toasty notes combine with a mineral edge to round out this…(wine)
Ahhhh, yup. Key words here are lively (which we might upgrade to zingy) and delicate toasty oak which I’d amp down to nuanced toasty oak. Refreshing is an overworked word in wine, but in this case it’s accurate.
There’s some whisper that something like 3%^ of this bottle contains viognier, which has done it no harm. (Sarcasm. I like the idea.)
A first class glass, super value for the money. Nothing more need be said.
There are no free lunches, Hortense, as much as we’re promised them. Nope. But there are unicorns, for sure; of that I am certain.
I think I might be drinking a glass of such a thing right now. It’s a straightforward glass of Argentinian chardonnay, unoaked. Ripe apples, apple juice, vanilla, tangerine fill out the aromas. On the palate a ripe fruit almost umami-like quality of mouthfeel and richness close the circle.
Let’s call it a natural creaminess, and not take it too far.
No, there’s not a lot of nuance or layering here. Close your eyes, and you can see mountains, gauchos and beautiful grape vines stretching across the pampas. Plump, ripe chardonnay grapes just itching to be crushed an fermented.
As the glass warmed, a desirable note of honey emerged, too. Mmmmm. With that warmth came the earthiness I expected from wines of Mendoza. It’s as if the earth hitches a ride with the wine, to remind us of its provenance: I am proudly Argentinian, and we want you to taste it.
From the blurb on the bottle, five generations of Luquets have been making this wine, and more power to them. Wine’s allure is at least partly because of its links to the past, a collective memory that goes beyond last night. The ancient Romans drank wine; I drink wine; therefore I might have been a Roman.
That’s silly on many levels. Romans breathed air and waged war and built aqueducts, but we don’t daydream about those. Consumption of wine implies sophistication. Who wouldn’t want to associate with that, as well as togas? Togas are awesome.
Ahem. So yes, the knowledge of vineyard, weather, vine, fermentation and maturation is something that gains patina with time. It’s what makes Old World wine old world wine, and therefore different from New World wine. In a modern universe of the consumer driving style, the Old World wins hands down in my mind. Consumers often know nothing.
But if they did know something, they’d buy this wine. A glass of this is a glass of history. It’s also a glass of geography. And it happens to be a glass of delicious wine. You might find a nose of salted nuts, petroleum and simple chardonnay aromatics.
After that, look for bright citrus and fresh-cut Granny Smith apples, minerals, flowers, and a creamy saltiness that gives way to deliciously oily acids. Contradiction in terms? Okay. You win. Now taste the wine.
Some winemakers must think “Ach, good enough” when they finish their work. That’s fair enough, because making wine is a business, so that if the input costs and quality are x, there’s not much of a multiple of x one can reasonably expect in the glass.
There are exceptions, naturally, and this might be one. Immediately notable is the powerful nose, and by powerful I mean complete rather than a punch in the nose. I smelled oak, vanilla and a wonderfully deep fruit suit of clothing that was well-made and fit well.
We don’t talk much about how wines are layered from the inside out, just like a person. An impressive first impression travels a long way with people; wine is the same. On the nose alone the vocabulary of whomever made this win impressed me. Although there’s clear oak aging here, it’s the fascinating fruit (tropical and pears, with some mild honey-like notes) that takes one’s attention.
On the palate, delicious honeyed, creamy fruit, like a very ripe fruit compote with the mildest squeeze of lemon. This is a large mouthful, but not in the least overpowering, with the oak and acids balanced to the end.
Mmmmmm most inviting nose of unripe pears, apricots and something else I have yet to figure out.
Apple juice, fresh apple juice, a squeeze of lemon citrus. All very nice. Juicy acidic fruits are what we like, right?
A slight oily nature to the palate, which highlights the heavyset nature of this glass, quite an interesting subtext to an unoaked chardonnay.
Tangerine, oh, what a blessed thing; tangerine flesh and pith along with some minerality, but mostly the tangerine thing. Almonds, fresh almond meat. Definitely something along the lines of petroleum, but it’s not offensive, merely a droll note in an entertaining sip.
As she warms, I realize that there are layers here to be found. Fruit, nuts, hydrocarbons and acid – all the food groups. And this with grapes, ferment, steel and glass.
Mmmm, nose. Here’s why I delight in chardonnay; a wine like this. When you take your first inhalation, there’s so much of interest zipping about our sinus cavities. Exotic fruits zing about the place, along with apples and oak. There’s a kind of oily persistence, perhaps some nutty notes along with the barest hint of petroleum.
Exaggerating the rejuvenating nature of this kind of wine is difficult. Bland-oh bulk wine from Australia and California teeters on the cliff-edge of quality, reaching oh so desperately for a standard they simply cannot reach. On the other hand we have Chilean wine, which understands the limitations of fruit, vineyard, weather and – importantly – the money available to maximize all of those inputs. I like the honesty and willingness to be different.
But back to my glass. As she warms, I’m nosing canned pineapple, that lovely oily thing, some apricot. From there the palate is full, acids underlying are solid and complete with oak creating a weighty element to the finish.
C’mon, this is an adventure! No, not everything blends together seamlessly, and an unkind critic might make something of that. Tosh! Compared to a lot of oak-heavy Californian numbers I’ve tasted lately, this is a circus of flavor.
South Africa, specifically Stellenbosch, is the birthplace of this wild number.
I say wild, thinking of wildlife, wild weather and wild scenery, but that might be too much of a stereotype to be of use. Southern hemisphere wine as a distinction separating it from Old World, and that is simply that there’s less land in the south, therefore more sea, and that means…well it means something.
A pale green with gold reflections shows a medium plus body. The nose tells of medium plus alcohol, strong citrus and milder harvest fruit aromas. Green apple. Lemon juice, but in that mild way chardonnay has, not in that sauvignon blanc mode. Can we call it tart lemon curd? Let’s.
As well there’s a mild white flower note; gardenia, perhaps? Something quite dense but not cloying, it’s very pleasant.
The palate is really nice, a plush, full mouthfeel, especially interesting because we have only the fruit and fermentation as inputs here; no lumber to woodify matters.
Acids are consistent throughout, providing an adult finish with satisfying tartness. No woolly ending here. What’s fascinating is how different this glass is from my Chilean friends. The same type of grape gives us strikingly different wine.
Sometimes all I want at the end of a day is a glass of wine; a simple, crisp, clean, dry glass of wine.
I think I might have found it.
For a start, the colour is just right, a pale lemony yellow. Next, the nose has beautiful ripe pears with note of tropical fruits as well, in the background. No tricks so far, and straightforward as they come.
On the palate a controlled balance of low-key fruit and acids with a defined, shortish finish.
Bloody hell, I could drink this for the forseeable future, happy and refreshed.
All for $7.29. Enormously good value.
Medium body plus, straw gold, vanilla nose.
I didn’t notice apple aromas, but there sure was a lot of vanilla and oak there, vying with, and winning over, any fruit hints. Try as I might, I looked cold, I looked warm, but I couldn’t find the apples and melon the notes talked about. Apple is a variable feast, if you’ll excuse the shattered metaphor, but nothing here was clearly reminiscent of anything reminding me of anything apple-ish.
Butter. Oak. Vanilla. Smooth on the palate, low acid, round finish.
I dunno, these butter-chasing wines are immensely tiring. They’re all trying to find the ideal butter and sugar balance that appeals to people whose diet consists largely of dairy, sugar and protein. There’s no challenge, no interesting facets, not even a hint of a sharp edge to these things.
I can’t imagine drinking this stuff week after week, each glass making one’s palate more and more dull, weighed down with the sheer mass of “flavour”.