Saturday, October 19, 2019

The Fourth Annual Elgin Chardonnay Colloquium

It is well known in wine circles that Chardonnay grows better in South Africa's cool climate areas; the flavours are more complex and interesting, the wines more long lasting and commercially they command better prices. There are two such areas, Elgin and the Hemel and Aarde Valley who have both done in depth seminars to examine, explore and compare their wines. This time it was the turn of Elgin and we were very pleased to be invited to take part in the Chardonnay Colloquium last weekend, which was also being celebrated as the Blossom weekend. Elgin's apple and pear orchards were in bloom
The Colloquium was held in the new cellar at South Hill 
We were amused by this art installation on the lawn, a pile of log pencil crayons
More pleased to be offered a glass of Charles' Fox's lovely crisp Cap Classique Blanc de Blancs, as we'd had a very early start
to get there by 8.30 on Saturday morning after being at the Veritas Awards dinner until after midnight
Ethan Fox, son of Charles and Greta Fox, was pouring his family's Charles Fox Chardonnay MCC
There was also a table full of muffins and tea and coffee, breakfast for many of us
At 9 on the dot, we took our seats 
Wines of Elgin Chair, Nicky Wallace gave the welcoming speech and told us how the day would proceed. The three conveners were Richard Kershaw MW and winemaker; Joe Wadsack, British wine writer, columnist, radio and television personality and wine enthusiast and Cathy Marston who runs the WSET wine courses in Southern Africa. Co-incidentally, all of them are British, but both Richard and Cathy live here; Joe was the visiting judge. He was also a judge at the Veritas competition
Joe Wadsack kept the day light and amusing while giving us lots of information about the wines
Richard gave us an in depth slide presentation about Chardonnay 
Supported by rather interesting and sometimes quite technical slides showing the grapes statistics. "What makes wine special? Its sense of place, or terroir", said Richard. We looked at climate, altitude, wind, vineyard sites, topography of regions, dominant regional features, humidity, availability of water, light intensity, exposure and temperature variability in relation to Elgin and its Chardonnay. We learned a lot about Elgin and other wine areas, especially in relation to Chardonnay. It was a very useful part of the day thanks to Richard, his erudition and study of wine which he so generously shares
Cathy was there to contribute, discuss, answer questions and to talk about Chardonnay and food pairing. She told us that there is a Chardonnay to suit everyone. Acidity and the amount of oak should be considered when pairing it with food. A no no is the huge use of new oak; it is not food friendly. Some of our younger wine makers seem unaware of this
They took discussion from the floor while we tasted through the Chardonnays
In the morning session, we were to taste 11 Chardonnays of the Elgin Valley in three flights, all from the vintage of 2017 
There should have been a fourth contributor, Dan Nicholl, but he could not come due to a family crisis, so various Elgin wine people took the vacant seat and contributed during the tasting. This is Paul Wallace, a renowned viticulturist who works as a consultant with many SA farms and makes wine on his own Elgin farm, Wallovale
The first flight was Almenkerk made by Joris van Almenkerk, Paul Wallace Reflection, Oak Valley Groenlandberg and Lothian Vineyard Selection, which was made by Richard Kershaw, all from 2017. While all were excellent examples of Chardonnays from the valley, what was evident on this round was the freshness of the wines, the classic citrus notes and the gentle wooding. Some encourage malolactic fermentation, others avoid it and others try to prevent it, not always with success
Michael White, owner of Highlands Road estate also took the stand to talk about his wine
Attending were Paul Cluver and an interested bystander (and competitor) from the Hemel and Aarde valley,
Anthony Hamilton Russell, who also produces one of the top South African Chardonnays
Highlands Road by Vanessa Simkiss, Paul Cluver by Andries Burger; Neil Ellis by Warren Ellis and Sutherland by Rudi Schultz, again, all from 2017. Two of these have natural fermentation, the others inoculate with yeast. All showed the cool country characteristic crispness, but all have other elements, some with richness, some herbaceousness and all have good minerality. Some stir the lees, others avoid it at all costs
Cellarmaster JC Becker and Farm Manager Anneliese Fourie of Rupert & Rothschild Vignerons with Sommelier Juliet Urquhart
Werner Muller, Winemaker at Iona, also took the stand
The final flight of three, Iona Monopole,  Elgin Highlands by Werner Muller, Kershaw Clonal Selection by Richard Kershaw and Boschendal Elgin Chardonnay by Lizelle Gerber (who has moved to Nederburg). This was the most complex round, showing light use of wood but also getting great complexity, and layers of flavour. They all are very good examples of what Elgin can produce with good Chardonnay grapes
At the end of a magnificent tasting that taught us so much more about the Chardonnays of Elgin,
how to recognise them for their freshness and quality, the Elgin participants posed for a group photograph
Lunch was a cold collation of lovely things prepared by Sandy King
The local cheeses were really special, a classic Brie wheel, a Boerenkaas and a very good blue Gorgonzola
Chicken kebabs wrapped in bacon and cooked on an open fire
The Colloquium's host, South Hill estate owner Kevin King was enjoying it too
There were interesting salads and some cold meats
Some small pastry tarts topped with melted cheese and slices of pear were crisp
and showed how well cheese and pear go together. Especially with a good Chardonnay
Small squashed baked potatoes, filled with cream cheese and topped with a red onion and tomato salsa
Vegetable kebabs
Good black olives marinated in wine
A rich chicken liver paté and some excellent sourdough bread
A view of the vineyards from the wine cellar
It was time for the afternoon session to start and it was going to be a blind tasting of different vintages of Elgin Chardonnay,
seeded with some foreign Chardonnays and we were to try to guess which was which
Tasting, puzzling, guessing, concluding and writing his answer was winemaker Michael Langenhoven
who has moved from La Motte in Franschhoek to Boschendal
The first flight of five. Reflection 2018 from Paul Wallace; intense, layered and complex. Errazuriz Las Pizarras 2017 from Chile, which was rather shy with a note of sulphur, lean and crisp; Lothian 2016, made by Richard Kershaw, a classic Chardonnay; buttery, classy, minerality and dark toast with lime and long flavours, a 10 plus year wine; Blackbook 2017 from Essex in England, vegetal and green with lots of acidity, long flavours and minerality. Boschendal 2016, golden fruit, caramel wood. Intense with good acidity and minerality and ageing capability 
The second flight of five. Thelema Sutherland 2016, golden marmalade, classy, herbal, crisp, good minerality; ageing possibility, definitely. Tabula Rasa 2016 from Oak Valley; good fruit, toffee caramel wood, long flavours and minerality, ageing well. A magnum of Chablis Grand Cru Les Preuses 2016, which we recognised; the style does not change, it’s a classic. Aromatic, fennel, good fruit, complex orange and limes, soft wood supports. Of course it will age well. Highlands Road 2015, green nose, good acid balance, yes to age; Ramey Russian River 2016 from Sonoma valley, California. Smoky, perfumed, lots of acidity, dark oak, minerality, but fruit shy
The third flight of five: Iona 2014. Classic Elgin Chardonnay, elegant, French in style, clean, crisp, well made 10 year wine. Marc Moray St Aubin Charmois 1er Cru Burgundy 2015. A classic; perfumed, wood shows, clean crisp minerality, built to age for years. Almenkerk 2014, golden fruit, dark toast, strength, will age more. Yabby Lake Block 6 2015, Mornington Peninsula Australia. Sulphur, shy, perfumed, clean, lean, dry, has legs and only 12% alcohol. Neil Ellis 2015 Elgin. Full on fruit, incense wood, marmalade, grapefruit, heavy wood, minerality, yes can age
The last flight of four. Catena Zapata White Bones 2015  from Mendoza, Argentina. Pretty nose, incense wood, perfumed floral muscat, intense, layered, herbal, crisp and lean. Ata Rangi Petrie 2014, Martinborough, New Zealand. Creamy, full on fruit, sweet, complex, apple, minerality, caramel wood. Richard Kershaw Clonal Selection 2013. Pretty floral, herbal, sweeter, layered, older, lots of wood, intense fruit, some malo. Ageing well, more to go. Paul Cluver 2009. Some hints of lemon and blossom with a few pyrazines, sweet & crisp, good finish, long wood, integrated. Superb, ageing well. So pleased that we still have one bottle
It was a marathon tasting. We found identifying the foreign wines quite difficult (although not all were impossible) because we do not get to taste that many Chardonnays from France, Australia, Chile, California, New Zealand or some of the other places it is made. We did when we were studying wine, but they are just not very available to us in SA. We do buy French Chardonnays when we can afford to; the good ones are quite expensive

However the style of making Chardonnay has changed dramatically worldwide and many are made to show similar characteristics, wooding is being done in similar ways or amphora are being used which confuses the expected profile, so it is not easy. The three conveners do have much more opportunity to taste foreign wines in their jobs. Perhaps in future some help in analysing what each foreign wine is trying to say to us, what their terroirs bring to each wine and what we should look for, might be very instructive. What is certain is that the Chardonnays from Elgin do not have to stand aside for competitors from other regions

It had been a great day, but some of us really needed a cleansing ale to counter the many wines and the fruit acid
Some great Pizzas were served to help soak up the alcohol and some of the fruit acids encountered

We were very honoured to be invited by the Kings to stay for supper in the South Hill restaurant, where we enjoyed a good Butter Chicken topped with a crisp poppadom and some very good conversation. It was an early evening though, as we were very tired after a long and busy week, a late night at the Veritas Awards the night before and a very early start. What a memorable and enjoyable day

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