Prescient Chardonnay Report 2019: Top 10
By Christian Eedes, 15 October 2019
Winemag.co.za has undertaken a detailed examination of the Chardonnay category on an annual basis since 2010 and this year’s findings in the form of a report sponsored by multinational financial services company Prescient are now out.
There were 93 entries were received from 65 producers and these were tasted blind (labels out of sight) by a three-person panel, scoring done according to the 100-point quality scale – 52 examples or 56% of the line-up rating 90-plus on the 100-point quality scale.
The 10 best wines overall were as follows:
- De Grendel Op die Berg 2018
- Delaire Graff Banghoek Reserve 2018
- Highlands Road 2017
- Paul Cluver Estate 2017
- Stellenbosch Vineyards Unwooded 2018
- Creation Reserve 2018
- Journey’s End 2018
- Kershaw Clonal Selection Elgin 2018
- Simonsig 2017
- Stellenrust Barrel Fermented 2018
Which areas are to the fore?
Out of the top 10 (five rating 93, four rating 94 and one rating 95), five are from Stellenbosch, three were from Elgin and one each from Ceres Plateau and Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge.
De Grendel was overall top performer with its Op Die Berg 2018 being the wine to pick up the highest rating of 95. The Durbanville cellar with Charles Hopkins as head winemaker is enjoying an impressive run of form, its Elim 2017 coming up trumps in the Shiraz Report and its Op Die Berg 2017 likewise in the Tonnellerie Saint Martin Pinot Noir Report earlier this year.
What does top chardonnay go for these days?
The average price of the 52 wines to rate 90- plus is R162 a bottle while the average price of the top 10 is R233 a bottle. Of particular interest to those wine lovers on a tight budget would be the Stellenbosch Vineyards Unwooded 2018, this wine selling for R90 a bottle and placing among the top 10 with a rating of 94. There were also another three wines under R100 that each scored a straight 90, these being Durbanville Hills 2018 at R69 a bottle, Meerhof 2018 at R70 and Nederburg The Winemasters 2018 at R75 (prices are ex-cellar and as supplied by the producer at the time of tasting).
Are unwooded entries tasted separately?
Unwooded entries are not tasted separately as we believe fruit integrity rather than winemaking technique is what matters most when it comes to determining quality and in addition to the Stellenbosch Vineyards wine mentioned above, another example to catch the eye was the Sans Chêne 2018 from Kruger Family Wines with a rating of 92.
Were bottle fermented sparkling wine considered?
For the first time ever, there were two examples of bottle fermented sparkling wine entered (the rules do not exclude this method of production so an entirely legitimate entry) and of these, the panel particularly liked the Blanc de Blancs 2016 from Durbanville Hills for its elegance and verve, rating it 91.
The general state of chardonnay
As for the general state of the category, the panel was concerned to note that quite a few of the 2018s looked unduly developed and it is hoped that we are not facing the “premature oxidation” phenomemon that beleaguered white Burgundy not so long ago. Over-ripe fruit due to drought/global warming, excessive stirring of the lees, lower levels of sulphur dioxide and poorly performing corks are all factors to consider in this regard. That said, they were also wines that were excessively reductive (exacerbated by being closed under screwcap in some instances) and once again, it is clear that achieving winemaking perfection is no easy matter.
One other explanation concerning how the 2018s showed might simply be vintage variation – it may be that growing conditions were a tad less favourable than they were in 2017 and there’s nothing more to the matter than that. And before 2018 gets too bad a reputation, it’s worth noting that seven of the top 10 are from this vintage so evidently some producers were able to work around whatever challenges the year posed.
More generally, Chardonnay is an extremely important category within the industry – it is the seventh most widely planted variety, total area under vineyard amounting to 6 660ha, the equivalent of 7.16% of the national vineyard and because of its well established credentials around the world, the best examples are able to demand a price premium and ensure profitability that so often eludes producers. The Chardonnay Report, now in its ninth year, hopefully helps steer the category in the right direction and in this regard, Prescient’s involvement as sponsor is greatly appreciated.
The judging panel was chaired by myself, Christian Eedes (editor, WineMag.co.za) and further consisted of two trusted colleagues, namely Roland Peens and James Pietersen, both of Wine Cellar, Cape Town merchants and cellarers of fine wine. We tasted blind, ratings done according to the 100-point system. Final scores were awarded on the basis of discussion that involved retasting where necessary rather than relying solely on arithmetic averaging.
The best chardonnay of 2019
De Grendel Op die Berg 2018
Score: 95Fermented and matured for six months in French oak barrels, a third new. Some flinty reduction before lime and lemon and a little biscuit-like character. The palate, meanwhile, appears tightly coiled with a great core of fruit to go with an exhilarating line of acidity, the finish long and pithy. Classy stuff.
Total production 8 100 bottles
Delaire Graff Banghoek Reserve 2018
Score: 94No malolactic fermentation. Matured for 10 months in French oak, 40% new. A hint of reduction before lime and lemon. The palate has great flavour intensity without being weighty – good depth of fruit and nicely coated acidity, the finish long and savoury. A wine of refinement that should mature with benefit.
Total production 22 000 bottles
Highlands Road 2017
Score: 94Spontaneously fermented and matured for 10 months in French oak barrels, one-third new. 50% malolactic fermentation completed. Some struck-match reduction before citrus and oak-derived vanilla and spice. The palate is rich and full with a creamy texture, the acidity nicely coated, the finish long and savoury. Plenty of Wow! factor.
Total production 4 000 bottles
Paul Cluver Estate 2017
Score: 94Spontaneously fermented in barrel, 38% of the wine undergoing malolactic fermentation. Matured for nine months in French oak, 33% new. Some smoky reduction before pear, white peach and citrus on the nose. The palate is well balanced and nicely energetic with pure fruit and fresh acidity before a savoury finish. Carefully assembled as you’d expect from this cellar.
Total production 41 160 bottles
Stellenbosch Vineyards Unwooded 2018
Score: 93Spontaneous fermentation, matured for six months on the lees. A pretty nose with notes of blossom, pear and citrus while the palate has a lovely vitality about it with lots of clean fruit and fresh acidity before a pithy finish.
Total production 2 900 bottles
Creation Reserve 2018
Score: 93Fermented and matured for 10 months in French oak, 40% new. A complex and subtle nose with notes of pear, citrus and herbs while the palate shows good fruit concentration, punchy acidity and a pithy finish. Possessing layers of flavour, this is elegant and composed.
Total production 12 000 bottles
Journey’s End 2018
Score: 93Half of the must underwent spontaneous fermentation while the other half was inoculated. 20% malolactic fermentation. Matured for nine months in French oak, 30% new. A complex nose showing a herbal top note before pear, peach and citrus plus some leesy character. The palate has a great energy about it – lovely fruit purity and freshness before a finish that is long and pithy.
Total production 10 000 bottles
Kershaw Clonal Selection Elgin 2018
Score: 93From four clones planted across nine different sites. Spontaneously fermented and matured for 11 months in French oak, 39% new. White flowers before citrus and some yeasty complexity on the nose. The palate balanced with a good fruit concentration and nicely coated acidity, the finish long and savoury – precisely made and full of detail.
Total production 15 982 bottles & 70 magnums
Score: 93No malolactic fermentation. Matured for nine months in French oak, 40% new. A hint of reduction before lime and lemon on the nose while the palate shows plenty of juicy fruit and bright acidity. Clean and correct, this is well balanced and unshowy.
Total production 33 400 bottles
Stellenrust Barrel Fermented 2018
Score: 93Spontaneously fermented and matured for 12 months in French oak, 30% new. The nose shows smoky reduction before lime and lemon plus some waxy complexity. The palate has plenty of fruit power to go with nice tart acidity, providing a pleasantly sweet ‘n sour drinking experience. A wine of particular richness.
Total production 6 794 bottles
As always, we welcome your thoughts in the comments below.
For the report in PDF format, download the following: Prescient Chardonnay Report 2019