Elgin Chardonnay Colloquium 2023

By , 24 January 2023



Elgin has for some time now aimed to tie its regional brand identity to Chardonnay, the first ever Colloquium aimed at celebrating wines of the district from this variety held in 2016. Today there are 130ha of Chardonnay vineyard in Elgin, this apparently amounting to more than rival producing area Hemel-en-Aarde can lay claim to. In addition, Elgin is South Africa’s coolest wine growing area, something that beneficially affects the development of both acidity and flavour.

At the 2023 Colloquium held recently, 16 wines were tasted semi-blind in four flights of four, the idea being to explore how Elgin compared to a selection of international wines. As to why this wasn’t completely a blind tasting, guests were given a list of all the wines included in the line-up before the commencement of proceedings and the relevant local producers took the stage before each flight was tasted.

The flights were as follows:

Flight One
Larry Cherubino Margaret River 2020
Highlands Road 2020
Shannon Oscar Browne 2021
Idun Callipyge 2020

Flight Two
Paul Wallace Reflection 2021
Paul Cluver Estate 2020
Ch. de Chamirey Mercurey En Pierrelet 2020
Neil Ellis White Hall 2021

Flight Three
Iona Highlands 2021
Dom. Marc Morey Rully Blanc 2020
Oak Valley Groenlandberg 2021
Thelema Sutherland 2020

Flight Four
Sandhi Santa Rita Hills 2019
Almenkerk 2019
Kershaw Clonal Selection 2019
Tokara Cap Classique Blanc de Blancs 2014 (sighted)

I ranked the wines as follows (scores according to the 100-point quality system alongside):

  1. Neil Ellis Whitehall 2021 – 96
    2.= Larry Cherubino Margaret River 2020 – 95
    2.= Oak Valley Groenlandberg 2021 – 95
    4.= Highlands Road 2020 – 94
    4.= Iona Elgin Highlands 2021 – 94
    6.= Almenkerk 2019 – 93
    6.= Thelema Sutherland 2020 – 93
    8.= Kershaw Clonal Selection 2019 – 92
    8.= Marc Morey Rully Blanc 2020 – 92
    8.= Paul Cluver Estate 2020 – 92
    8.= Paul Wallace Reflection 2021 – 92
    12.= Ch. de Chamirey Mercurey En Pierrelet 2020 – 91
    12.= Shannon Oscar Browne 2021 – 91
    12.= Tokara Cap Classique Blanc de Blancs 2014 – 91
    15. Idun Callipyge 2020 – 90
    16. Sandhi Santa Rita Hills 2019 – 88

The feeling in the audience was that the defining characteristic of the Elgin wines was a certain leanness or, as moderator Cathy van Zyl MW put it, “cool fruit and fresh acidity”.

Some contended that the wines were possibly a little too skeletal, the acidities too hard. Burgundy aficionado Remington Norman, however, politely disagreed. “If Elgin is truly to take ownership of Chardonnay, then it needs to make wines to age, not necessarily for 10 or 20 years but certainly for five years. You need acidity to keep Chardonnay going as you don’t have the phenolics of red wines”.

My wine of the day was the Neil Ellis Whitehall 2021, which certainly doesn’t lack for freshness in any technical sense. Total acidity is 6.8g/l and pH is 3.28 while alcohol is 13% and residual sugar is 2.1g/l.

Grapes were fermented and matured for nine months in 228-litre barrels, 30% new. Of note, malolactic fermentation was restricted to 20% further contributing to verve and vigour. On the nose, citrus, flowers, herbs and a hint of struck-match reduction while the palate shows great fruit concentration matched by driving acidity, the finish long and dry. A wine of refinement with plenty of detail.

Again, the issue of seeming discount pricing of the South African wines were raised. The Whitehall 2021 sells for R325 a bottle compared to R962 for the admittedly very good Larry Cherubino Margaret River 2020 and R837 for the oxidative and peculiar Sandhi Santa Rita Hills 2019, to take two of the international wines (all international wines served imported by Radford Dale).

The point is, however, Elgin acquitted itself well against some ordinary international wines – there was no Corton-Charlemagne or Montrachet in the mix, for instance. The local wines probably are under-priced in global terms but increases are only going to happen incrementally as reputations are built over decades and while that must frustrate local producers, that’s good news for consumers.  


4 comment(s)

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    PK | 6 February 2023

    I would to agree only partly with the last sentence of the article/review of the Colloquium. Yes global reputation plays a role, but in saying that, most of these wines have that reputation and have been receiving great reviews, scores and critic over continuously over the last 5 – 8 years.

    The thing that nobody seems to mentioned is that an industry needs a strong domestic market in order to get away from being mostly reliant on export markets. A strong and growing domestic market gives producers much more power when it comes to negotiating and setting prices for export markets. Unfortunately with a weak domestic market, due to a shrinking middle class, South African producers have to say ‘ja and amen’ to international buyers and distributors who then controls pricing completely.

    A good example is the USA, yes they have a much larger population and probably comparing a 1st world country to a 3rd world country in terms of economics is a little skewed, but with a strong domestic market, they set the prices on the global market and if distributors are not willing to pay in a certain market, the lose out.

    Unfortunately the tail is wagging the dog a little in terms of the South African industry and the global market, as producers are reliant (apart from a select few) on exports and international markets to survive. Not sure how to get around that, as a handful of producers have tried going into the market with a little more ambitious pricing internationally, but the nail that sticks out most gets hammered and you’ve seen that in the likes of the UK market.


    Lisa Harlow | 25 January 2023

    No surprise to me to see SA Chardonnay performing so well vs other countries
    My comment would be that all the wines need more age
    If I look at UK pricing, SA versions range from around £20 to £45 (Kershaw), with the avearage probably around £30. This is the same price as the Cherubino

    Daryl | 25 January 2023

    Very interesting seeing your top picks/rankings cf some others who were at the event. Have to say I love the Neil Ellis wines & buy them with confidence! Glad this one scored so well.

    Mike Froud, Top Wine SA | 24 January 2023

    Nice to hear about how promising the 2021 Neil Ellis Whitehall Chardonnay is following such good reviews for the 2020 vintage from the panels of Decanter and the International Wine Challenge!

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