There’s More to South Africa than the World Cup: Chamonix Chardonnay 2006

29 Jun

So now that the emotional roller coaster that was following the USMNT (United States Men’s National Team, not United States Mutant Ninja Turtles) is over after a tough loss to Ghana in the knock-out stages of the World Cup, most fair-weather fans of the Beautiful Game have turned their attentions away from South Africa.  Beyond World Cup soccer and Apartheid (what, too soon?), South Africa has long produced the best wines on the Dark Continent.  As a former European colony, winemaking took hold in South Africa in the 17th century.  Only recently, however,  has their wine become widely available on the international market.

Initially dominated by dessert wines and niche varietals like Chenin Blanc and Pinotage, the influx of so-called flying winemakers on the New World wine scene brought popular Old World varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay to the industry.  In particular, the Huguenot settlers of the Franschhoek (‘French Corner’) brought their rich winemaking tradition with them, transforming the Western Cape Province into the premier wine region of South Africa.

This past Friday saw me pouring a variety of Chardonnay from across the world to an intimate group at Barriques Wine and Spirits (tasting schedule) in Middleton.  Out of the 8 wines I poured (3 American, 2 French, 1 Australian, 1 Argentinian, 1 South African), the later was one of the more unique.  Aside from being the eldest of the group, the Chamonix Chardonnay 2006 stood out with its unique blend of fruit and oak complexity.

Chamonix Chardonnay 2006

Varietal: 100% Chardonnay

Vitals: 13.5% abv; nearly a year on mostly new French oak

Company line: none to be found for the 2006 vintage, 2008 notes here

My take: pours a vibrant golden yellow.  Ripe tropical fruit and grapefruit weave a juicy bouquet while richer notes of oatmeal, caramel and spice lay a smooth, oaky foundation on the palate.   Finish is clean with a pleasant, citric acidity and light buttery note.

This wine blends Old and New World chardonnay characteristics in a rich, complex, and ultimately satisfying way.  At ~$14.99 bottle at Barriques, this wine makes for a solid value for the level of fruit and oak interplay going on.  Notes on the 2008 vintage suggest their Chardonnays hit their peak around 5 years, so the 2006 is just reaching the height of its maturity.  Also available by the glass at Restaurant Magnus in downtown Madison.

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