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A Great Chardonnay Find from South Africa
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Sep 27, 2016
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Glennelly, Stellenbosch (South Africa) Chardonnay “Glass Collection” 2015 (Cape Classics, $18):  For white wine lovers, something feels just right about a good Chardonnay now, after all the pretty Rieslings and Sauvignon Blancs of summer.  When the fleece jackets come out, Chardonnay’s greater weight and more substantial personality seem to bolster us for the serious seasons ahead.

Maybe the early autumn context caused me to love this South African Chardonnay -- but the wine’s indisputable quality and amazing value had more than a little to do with my positive reaction.  Imagine: a Chardonnay under $20 that you can only praise, despite your best critical efforts to detect some shortcoming.

Glenelly is a property in the Stellenbosch region with a long history of agriculture, dating back to the 17th century, but the property became a wine estate only a dozen years ago.  The pivotal event was a change in ownership: in 2003, May de Lencquesaing, owner of Bordeaux’s celebrated Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande in St. Julien, purchased the 300-acre Glenelly property from the Garlick family, which had owned it for 92 years.  In 2004, 148 acres of the estate were planted to vines.  Ground broke on construction of a winery building in 2006.  The following year M.me de Lencquesaing sold Château Pichon Lalande to Roederer Champagne and she has devoted her time to Glenelly since then.

The vineyards of Glenelly are situated on the slopes of the Simonsberg mountain, in decomposed granite soil that is poor in nutrients and good in drainage.  Red grape varieties dominate.  Cabernet Sauvignon occupies 41.7 percent of the vineyard, followed by Syrah at 19.2 percent, Merlot at 13.3, and Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc at 8.3 percent each.  Chardonnay vineyards represent only 9.2 percent of the property, on cooler, east-facing slopes.

Despite the estate’s red wine skew, Glenelly’s two Chardonnays impressed me the most. T he 2015 “Glass Collection” Chardonnay -- a moniker that refers to M.me de Lencquesaing’s lifelong interest in glassmaking -- has the advantage of coming from an outstanding vintage, according to winemaker Luke O’Cuinneagain.  (A South African native, he worked in Bordeaux, Alsace, and for several months at Screaming Eagle in Napa Valley, before making wine at Chateau Angelus in Bordeaux and Rustenberg in South Africa.  Glenelly’s winemaking consultant is Adi Badenhorst, a new traditionalist who is one of South African wine’s rock stars.)

The Glass Collection Chardonnay is an unoaked Chardonnay that had a cool fermentation -- some of the juice at 55°F and the rest at 64°F -- on native yeasts, and did not undergo malolactic fermentation (ML).  As a result, the wine is vibrantly fruity and flavorful.  Aromas and flavors suggesting lemon, lime zest, melon and a hint of green apple are pure and focused.  The flavors are fairly pronounced but do not make the wine top-heavy because the wine’s structure -- moderate alcohol (13.5 percent), energetic acidity and silky texture -- is also strong.  The structure supports the flavors so that they follow through evenly into the wine’s finish, for a tasting experience that is complete and flawless.

The current release of Glenelly’s oaked Chardonnay, the 2014 Estate Reserve ($25), hails from a more challenging growing season that was wet in its early stages.  This wine was whole-bunch pressed and fermented in 500-liter (132 gallon) French oak casks, new and once-used.  Its aroma is complex with rich notes citrus, ripe apple, flint, vanilla and butterscotch, and the flavors are similar, with an additional note of toasted almonds and a hint of tropical fruit.  The wine is dry and full-bodied with a richly viscous, mouth-caressing texture within a perimeter of gentle oak tannin.  In other words, this is a gently oaked Chardonnay with a flavorful fruit profile and texture so compelling that you will be inclined to savor the wine slowly.

I slightly prefer the unoaked Chardonnay for stylistic reasons.  If you are a Chardonnay lover, do try each of these Chardonnays to decide which style you prefer.  In the process, you will enjoy the bonus of great value.

90 Points