Unwooded Chardonnay is a small but growing category, whose emergence can be explained as providing a counterpoint to ubiquitous Sauvignon Blanc. Broadly similar in taste profile, unwooded Chard trumps a middle-of-the-road Savvy by having slightly more palate weight and none of that seering acidity. Examples to look out for include Constantia Uitsig, Jordan Unoaked and Springfield Wild Yeast.
Paarl winery Glen Carlou, well known as a practitioner of Chardonnay, recently released its own unwooded version for the first time and very good it is, too. From the 2011 vintage, it shows yellow apple on the nose and palate. There’s plenty of juicy fruit on entry, relatively good palate weight and then a pithy finish. I also noted a slight oxidative note which elevates the wine above the ordinary. Cellar price: R78 a bottle.
What’s relatively unusual about this offering is that it was vinified in Nomblot Eggs. Made from cement, these eggs were designed by French vatmaker Marc Nomblot as an alternative to tank or barrel. As Glen Carlou winemaker Arco Laarman explains, a white wine fermented in tank can become reductive, robbing it of its bouquet. Because the cement walls are porous, measure oxygen exposure occurs.
Another advantage of the eggs is its shape which facilitates longer lees suspension. The lees are dregs consisting of dead yeast cells and other matter post fermentation which add complexity to the wine ‚ gentle temperature variations naturally stir the lees, these rising in a vortex and because an egg has no angles to interrupt the vortex, the lees remain in suspension much longer.
Laarman, incumbent since May 2009 after his predecessor David Finlayson left to start Edgebaston, has acquired two of these Nomblot Eggs for now. 1 600 litres in capacity, one egg costs between R75 00 and R80 000 but as Laarman points out, it lasts forever so depreciation does not have to be factored in as is the case with barrels.
Laarman used one egg to produce the Unwooded Chardonnay and the other egg remains full, its contents destined to be a component of the Quartz Stone 2011, Glen Garlou’s ultra-premium wooded Chardonnay.
Grapes for the Quartz Stone are sourced from a single 1.25ha block planted in 1989, making it the oldest on the property. This wine traditionally gets the full monty in terms of vinification, receiving 11 months of maturation in 100% new French oak and Laarman feels that the addition of the portion from the Nomblot egg will add extra freshness. The Quartz Stone 2010 is powerful stuff: blue orange and baked bread on the nose, rich and broad on the palate with a delicate line of acidity. Cellar price: R275.
More readily attainable is the standard-label Chardonnay, alternatively known as the “Green Label”, the 2010 selling for R90 a bottle. Out of the 65ha under vineyard that Glen Carlou has under vineyard, 18ha are Chardonnay and production of this wine amounts to an impressive 14 000 cases. This wine, modern in the best sense with good fruit expression and carefully judged oak, is a perennial award winner with the 2009 most recently taking the regional trophy at this year’s Decanter World Wine Awards.