One of the newer varieties of South African white wines, established during the 1980s and 90s, is Chardonnay. This ever-popular wine is one of the most widely drunk around the world, but it is only in the last two decades that it has begun to gain ground in South Africa. Nevertheless, it is one of South Africa’s best exports, and has a distinctive flavour that can be enjoyed with a variety of meals.
One of the most common methods of introducing flavour into Chardonnay is to mature the wine in oak barrels. When it has been fermented in a good oak barrel, and allowed to mature in that same barrel, it takes on a particular taste which increases the very light natural flavour of the wines. With South African grown Chardonnay grapes, a blend of tropical fruit tastes can also be added to the wine in order to give it a more interesting taste.
Chardonnay is not always easy to produce, since its individual taste can easily be overwhelmed by introduced flavours such as the oak fermenting method described above. This problem, known as over-oaking, is particularly difficult for first-time growers to avoid, and so producing a Chardonnay wine is seen as something of a rite-of-passage for wine-makers. Old-world traditions typically encourage the use of a number of different flavours and bouquets in the Chardonnay mix, and flavours such as smoked or spiced woods (usually oak that has been treated on order to pass flavours onto the wine), cinnamon, cloves, and caramels, all of which add a rather nutty or toasted taste to the original grape. In South Africa, more exotic spices can be introduced, including mango, pineapple and coconut, which can change the typical flavours of the Chardonnay to something more fruity or flowery. Some South African farmers are also experimenting with mixing Chardonnay grapes with other white wine grapes such as Chenin Blanc. The most experimental area in South Africa, the Western Cape, has blended Chardonnay with Cape Riesling, a plant which has been developed in South Africa, and Sauvignon Blanc, a newer vine which has been planted in a number of areas.
Chardonnay is a very versatile wine and can be consumed with a number of meals, although it tends to be used almost exclusively with white meats and fish such as chicken, turkey and cod. This is because its original, subtle flavour goes well with these types of meals. It can also be used with mildly spiced dishes such as mushroom soup or a roast chicken dinner. More heavily smoked Chardonnay wines can be paired with spiced foods, or smoked fish such as kippers, since it does tend to overpower more delicately flavoured dishes. The more oak-based Chardonnay tends to need a meal with sharp flavours in, so garlic, guacamole or tomato dishes are all good meals to consider when serving this white wine.