MICHAEL FRIDJHON: Cape chardonnay no longer a hard sell
Local producers can compete with the best in the world but at the fraction of the price
My recent review of some of the country’s best and most interesting white wines — all of high quality, all true (though often diverse) expressions of the cultivar — indicated that chardonnay would need a column all on its own. SA’s best examples are world-class and plentiful. Unlike viognier, where, despite extensive plantings, it’s a challenge to find a wine worth recommending; or riesling, where there are now only a handful of growers; chardonnay has an ample presence and offers a cornucopia of vinous treasures. Quality chardonnay material is a relatively recent addition to the national vineyard. After an abortive start in the 1970s — some of the vines smuggled into the country turned out to be Auxerrois — the variety only achieved commercial volumes in the 1980s. This coincided with SA’s winemakers discovering small-barrel vinification. The lethal combination of fruit from young vines, poor quality barrels foisted upon naïve producers by devious suppliers and sheer technical inex...