During a recent blind tasting of South Africa's leading Chardonnays - facilitated by the authoritative UK Decanter Magazine - the top six wines all hailed from the Elgin and the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge. But the judges' top honours went to Ataraxia's 2015 Chardonnay.
CHARDONNAY'S FASCINATING JOURNEY TO SOUTH AFRICA
While Chenin Blanc, Muscat and Semillon are widely considered to have been here since the start of the Cape colony, Chardonnay only made its first appearance in the 1920s when an experimental vineyard in Stellenbosch tried to grow it.
Their attempt was unsuccessful, but by the 1970s, producers were importing it again - this time, illegally from Germany under the code name, Auxerrois. The varietals flourished, but authorities soon caught wind of the truth and they all but disappeared until the mid-1980s, when Peter Finlayson smuggled back some cuttings from California via Swaziland.
Again, the law stepped in, but what became clear was that Chardonnay could thrive in South Africa. Producers have only been free to grow Chardonnay since 1992, but in the last 25 years, our Chardonnays have reached world-class status.
ATARAXIA CHARDONNAY 2015
The Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge provides this cultivar with the perfect growing conditions. With vines rooted in stony, clay-rich soil, and breathing in the salt-spray air of a mostly maritime climate, conditions lend this wine a richly saline, briny and mineralised taste - all hallmarks of some of the best wines in the world.
Kevin Grant, acclaimed winemaker and co-owner of Ataraxia Wines is considered to be one of a handful of Chardonnay experts in South Africa. He built a considerable reputation during the ten vintages he worked at Hamilton Russell, after which he left to establish Ataraxia in 2004.
In the last decade, 2015 was one of the best vintages for Chardonnay alongside 2009 and produced some of the most ageworthy Chardonnays in recent memory. Experts recommend drinking this particular wine between 2017 and 2022.
White flowers and vanilla cream on the nose (but not too heavy), with elements of struck match reduction and hints of green apple zest.
Crunchy acidity with a stony and citrussy tang and an undertone of toast.
I'm currently hooked on chestnuts and figs, which would go perfectly with this Chardonnay.
Visit Ataraxia Wines to buy this special vintage.