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Words: Richard Holmes

It wasn’t long ago that many wine-drinkers’ preferred choice of white wine was ABC: Anything But Chardonnay. Too much time in oak lent the wines a buttery texture and a palate packed with vanilla and butterscotch flavours. Wooded Chardonnays certainly have their place, but for many it was a case of too much wood and not enough fruit.

But in the last decade there’s been a shift away from over-oaked Chardonnay, and a new respect from winemakers – and drinkers – for the fresh, fruit-forward character of unwooded Chard.

“The most famous examples of oak-free Chardonnay is the wine from Chablis, which remains an international favourite through its personality of being fruity and refreshingly bright,” says Peter Finlayson, cellar master of Bouchard Finlayson in the Hemel-en-Aarde valley.

There’s certainly no shortage of great examples from local vineyards, and these three perennial crowd-pleasers will certainly have you asking for ABC: Another Beautiful Chardonnay.

Bouchard Finlayson Sans Barrique 2017

With grapes sourced from the Hemel-en-Aarde estate and cool mountain vineyards near Villiersdorp, this is a classic example of unwooded Chardonnay. Brimming with fresh apple, guava and melon notes, with an underlying complexity thanks to five months spent on the lees (the dead yeast cells left over after fermentation). A perfect pairing with sushi and seafood.

De Wetshof Limestone Hill 2018

This acclaimed Breede River cellar produces five site-specific Chardonnays, and this wine certainly shows its roots, says Johann de Wet, CEO of family-owned De Wetshof. “Like all our Chardonnays, the Limestone Hill is made from vineyards growing on selected patches of terroir that influence the individual style of each wine.” That means lots of limestone in clay-rich soils, delivering bright apple, lemon and peach notes on the palate. Little wonder American critic Robert Parker raved about its length, balance and “sheer drink-ability”. Who are we to disagree?

Vriesenhof Unwooded Chardonnay 2017

Jan Boland Coetzee has long had an affinity for Chardonnay, not least because he is (in)famous for smuggling a handful of French vines into the country in the 1980s. Today, the cellar master famous for his Pinot Noir also turns out a darn delicious Chardonnay, and this unwooded example is bright, fresh and fruit-forward.

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