TOMORROW, May 21 marks International Chardonnay Day, so fill your glass and take a sip to understand why this classic grape variety is one of the world’s most widely planted grapes.
Two main types of Chardonnay are produced – an unoaked version, which is lighter, more citrusy and crisper than a Chardonnay that is matured in oak barrels, and an oaked Chardonnay, which tends to have nutty, buttery flavours on the mid palate. If you happen to raise a glass of South African-made Chardonnay this week, consider how Vriesenhof’s founder Jan “Boland” Coetzee helped to make this happen…
As much as he was a legend on the rugby field, playing for Western Province and South Africa in the 1960s and ’70s, Coetzee has also become a wine legend in his own right, receiving an honorary doctorate – Doctor of Science in Agriculture – from Stellenbosch University last year. More recently, he was awarded the 1659 Medal of Honour at the annual Wine Harvest Commemorative event held at Groot Constantia.
Not only has he made some of South Africa’s greatest wines and influenced other winemakers, but he played a major role in “introducing” the Chardonnay grape to South Africa in 1980, while working in France. Coetzee’s passion for the potential of this green-skinned grape was laid bare in a 1986 newspaper headline that read: Boland Coetzee Het Druif Gesmokkel (Boland Coetzee Smuggled Grapes). At the time the South African wine industry mostly consisted of plantings of just two other white grapes, and Coetzee and other Chardonnay-loving winemakers realised that if they waited for the establishment of a new grape variety through normal processes, the country would fall behind the rest of the world both as a producer and exporter.
To this day, Chardonnay has a special place in Coetzee’s heart. Now cellar master for the Stellenbosch estate, he has passed the winemaking baton to Nicky Claasens. “I have a philosophy of ‘unobtrusive manipulation’,” Claasens says, “where I combine what nature provides with my knowledge to make the best wine possible without harming its intrinsic qualities.” He seeks to make “Chardonnays of refinement” and he is certainly succeeding in continuing one of Coetzee’s legacy wines.
The current vintages of Vriesenhof are the Unwooded Chardonnay 2019, which has beautiful aromas of citrus and gooseberries, with flavours of fresh apple and a lingering lemon freshness, and the Barrel Fermented Vriesenhof Chardonnay 2016 which has aromas of almond and hints of white peach and pear on the palate, with a citrus finish. The wine has spent 12 months in 1stand 2ndfill French oak barrels.
If you are sadly contemplating your dwindling or non-existent wine collection, take a look at the website for low prices on offer until May 31, 2020 so you can stock up on Vriesenhof’s great Chardonnays and enjoy them with your loved ones soon.
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