The Kaaimansgat or Crocodile’s Lair vineyard is hidden away in the Elands Kloof Valley behind the village of Villiersdorp, just 80km from Hermanus. A beautiful spot inside a blind valley nestling amongst majestic Cape mountains.
Bouchard Finlayson has been linked directly to this vineyard for close to twenty-four years. It is located 700m above sea level, ripens a month later than other Cape Chardonnays and benefits enormously from cool autumn temperatures. The vines are not irrigated and they usually produce smaller than normal berries with a high skin to juice ratio, adding an extra flavour component to the wine.
The 2014 vintage commenced on the 12th of February, much later than normal, after a long and possibly the wettest summer on record with 610mm of rainfall recorded from October to March. This atypical vintage initiated a keen sense of urgency from both vineyard and cellar staff. Peter Finlayson’s experience and attention to detail ensured a successful harvest and an excellent vintage for the estate’s white wine.
The optimally ripened grapes were whole bunch pressed to utilise the added complexity derived from the skins and stalks. The acid component of the fruit assisted in arriving at high malic acid levels that enhance the wood maturation according to Peter. The point of departure for this particular “Limited Edition” cuvee was the fact that 50% of the wine was matured in premium new French oak while the remaining 50% was aged in inert stainless steel. (Alcohol: 12.48%, Acid: 5.4g/l, Residual Sugar: 1.6g/l, pH: 3.44, with only 305 x 12 cases produced.)
The first thing that strikes you about this fascinating wine is how totally and utterly European it appears on both the nose and palate. The aromatics are both exotic and hugely restrained and classical at the same time, crossing boundaries and pushing boundaries. The nose is seductively fresh, perfumed and complex with lemon grass, grated lime peel, waxy crab apples, incense, quince jelly and bruised yellow summer orchard fruits. But simultaneously there is a real presence of minerality, wet chalk, river pebbles, and petrichor nuances. On the palate, you get hints of smokey reduction, sweet / sour yellow plums, green melon, crunchy white peaches and lime cordial. Plenty of yin and yang but at no point is there ever any discord or dissonance. There is exoticism twinned with linearity, with subtle hints of creamy butterscotch oak emerging on the elegant finish, very much in the mould of a fresh, lightly wooded premium 1er Cru Chablis. Steely, textural, and ultra cool, this is a truly spectacular expression from one of South Africa’s most premium cool climate Chardonnay regions. Drink now to 2030+
(Wine Safari Score: 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Footnote: Elandskloof fruit is certainly big news in winetrade circles at the moment after the recent maiden release of the Leeu Passant Elandskloof Chardonnay 2015 from the Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines. Indeed, one of Andrea Mullineux’s winemaking Eureka moments occured while drinking a bottle of Kaaimansgat 1997 Chardonnay from Bouchard Finlayson. I myself only drank my last bottle of the 1997 about 2 years ago and the memory is still very vivid, such was the incredible quality and youthfulness of that particular wine. Elandskloof fruit also notably makes it into the uber premium Capensis Chardonnay from the Jackson Family Winery joint venture with Anthony Beck.