There are a lot of very decent South African Chardonnays on the market, but only a few exceptional examples as many producers do seem to be using either fruit from areas that are perhaps just a little bit too warm, are using grapes from vines planted on the wrong terroir, or perhaps some winemakers have simply hit a bit of a glass ceiling of knowledge when it comes to pushing the boundaries of quality and complexity for this generic grape that is so easily shaped by its terroir but also the hand of the winemaker. In reality, I suspect most of the stumbling blocks in trying to reach ever higher quality relate to vineyard terroir, micro-climates and how much insight a specific winemaker intrinsically has into the Chardonnay grape itself within a Burgundian or a New World style context.
When I was contacted by the owners of Draaibroek Wines, a new Hemel-en-Aarde brand a couple of years ago, and asked if I would be prepared to review their maiden release 2019, I have to say I did not expect much beyond the ordinary. However, as the provenance of the grapes became clearer and who their consulting winemaker was, it is fair to say my interest was substantially peaked. The maiden Chardonnay was made by accomplished winemaker Stephanie Wiid of Thistle and Weed fame, from grapes sourced in the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge from the La Vierge farm. My full 92-point review from August 2020 can be read here… https://gregsherwoodmw.com/2020/08/19/an-exciting-new-release-from-the-hemel-en-aarde-ridge-tasting-the-onskuld-chardonnay-2019/
But this is a winery project in a hurry and not content to dabble with mediocrity as witnessed by the exceptional quality of only their second release. The 2020 was rated an impressive 95/100 points on the Fine Wine Safari and only narrowly missed out on 5 Stars (95/100 points and higher) in the South African Platter’s blind tastings. It was indeed a very accomplished wine that augured well for future releases. I then tasted the third vintage 2021 release at Cape Wine 2022 in October last year but did not manage to write a substantive tasting review until retasting this wine again recently. In the interim period, the wine has scored an impressive 96/100 points blind and been awarded 5 Stars in the annual Platter’s Guide.
Sourced from the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge ward in the Walker Bay wine region, the grapes are grown in a single 11-year-old North – East facing trellised vineyard at around 300 metres altitude consisting of clay-rich Bokkeveld shale soils. Made with a philosophy of minimalist intervention, the grapes were hand harvested on the 5th of March and whole bunch pressed before being fermented in French oak barrels, 30% of which were new, and matured on its fine lees for 11 months. A barrel selection was then made prior to blending and bottling.
Draaiboek Wines Onskuld Chardonnay 2021, WO Hemel-en-Aarde, 13.5% Abv.
2.30 g/l RS | 6.1g/l TA | 3.28 pH
The 2021 Chardonnay from Draaiboek Wines is certainly an impressive creation. Immediately lifted and expressive on the nose, the aromatics boast complex layers that slowly unfurl to reveal pristine notes of white flowers, freshly baked baguette, spicy green apples, white citrus, waxy lemon rind and subtle hints of nutmeg. The palate is beautifully weighted with a medium bodied palate breadth and tangy acids that show deliciously racy, saline notes of Seville oranges, tangerine, granny smith apples and warm apple strudel pastries. Such a mouth-watering, joyful expression from one of the best white wine vintages in South Africa in the past decade. Drink this now or cellar comfortably for added complexity for 3 to 8+ years. (3,670 bottles produced.)
(Wine Safari Score: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
The wines are available in South Africa from www.draaiboek.wine and in the UK from Ben Prior at Vino SA www.vinosa.wine at circa £32pb.