Celebrate International Chardonnay Day on May 25 by raising a glass to this much-loved wine
— Janine Greenleaf
Arena Holdings PTY
Chardonnay is the second-most planted white grape varietal in the world yet, surprisingly, it is a relative newcomer to the South African wine landscape. This country has an impressive wine history dating back to 1659, with the first bottle being produced in Cape Town by Jan van Riebeeck. However, this luscious and globally feted Burgundian white grape only piqued the interest of local winemakers in the late 1970s and early ’80s. The story of how it arrived on our shores is the stuff of legends — vine stocks were smuggled in during apartheid isolation and under draconian South African wine laws. It is said that in 1976, father and son Michael and Sydney Back, defying authorities, smuggled some of the first chardonnay buds into the country from Europe in a suitcase. The result was 60,000 chardonnay vines. Chardonnay is a grape variety used in producing white wines that are considered to be some of the most refined-tasting — and for winemakers FAT bastard, their varietal is one of South Africa’s top-selling chardonnays. The wine is created from crossing two of the most prestigious grape varieties — pinot noir and Gouais blanc. The international day in celebration of this unique white wine encourages wine lovers around the globe to raise a glass in its honour. In the early 2000s there was a backlash against this wine that took the world by storm. Remember the ABC (“anything but chardonnay”) criticism against wineries making an over-oaked style, where you couldn’t taste the grapes for the trees? However, it was because the grape is so versatile that it fell out of favour when it was overworked by winemakers. The grape grows in a diversity of climates and is easy to work with in the cellar, meaning it is enjoyed for its elegant citrus flavours or chalky textures, or when it comes in rich and full-bodied. An example is the FAT bastard Chardonnay, a medium-bodied wine with tropical fruit aromas which intermingle with rich buttery notes and undertones of vanilla. The delicately spiced quality of vanilla is carried through on the palate, along with fragrant notes of acacia flower that present an added layer of complexity. The finish is bright and crisp, ending on an uplifting citrus finish. The beauty of chardonnay is that it’s so varied there’s a style for every wine drinker. Choose one that is flinty and crisp, such as FAT bastard Chardonnay, or go for a 100% chardonnay champagne or cap classique paired with oysters, chicken in a cream sauce or risotto. Or what about a lean, more mineral, unoaked chardonnay with sushi or charcuterie? Whether it’s a celebration, a kuier or a come on over, there’s a chardonnay (or two) waiting to be opened. And the only thing better than one with wonderful colour and a rich, round palate is another glass. Cheers!