If you try different wines, you are bound to figure out what works for you. The flip side to that statement is, if you try different wines, you are bound to figure out what does not work for you! Wine and personal taste have a very unpredictable relationship. I recently tasted a Hartenberg Chardonnay 2015 Reserve Collection. I figured it would be a great wine to try for our wine of the week, seeing as Hartenberg is a wine estate that I rate highly.
Hartenberg wine estate is in the valley of the Bottelary Hills, in Stellenbosch. It is a wine farm I have yet to visit. I rate them highly because I have had a few of their red wines and they were fantastic. You can say I have sentimental attachment to them too, as I first came across their wines well over 9 years ago, when I still lived in Joburg. I was invited to one of their tastings at 10 Bompas Road, then a funky boutique hotel in Johannesburg (Hyde Park to be exact).
I needed to find a decent Category C Chardonnay, so being a familiar name, theirs was the bottle I picked at Woolworths. If I am not mistaken, this Chardonnay bottle is specifically bottled for Woolworths, which might explain the difference in tasting notes on the website. The price was R99-00 (hence it’s a Category C wine). If you missed last week’s wine of the week, which was a Thelema Sauvignon Blanc, can I suggest you refer to the blog post, to understand why I say this is a Category C wine.
I picked it up after work, whilst I still had my family here, as my blogging is heavily dependant on my resident photographer, and eldest daughter, Jordan Hermanus. I had time to chill it in the fridge when I got home, whilst Chomba and I prepared supper. Out temptation with white wine is to really get it to an ice cold temperature. However, you know your white wine is too cold when you can barely smell any of the compounds that give it its aromas. So it was an overcast day, with a Joburg thunder storm looming. It was relatively cold for summer, which helped me not be too aggressive in how cold I had the wine. Before opening it, I was somewhat excited, given I knew this was going to be the wine of the week to blog about, and I am excited about this journey of wine we are taking together.
I am over the screw cap gap with wine. I have had some fantastic wines in Category B and Category C price range with a screw cap. Having said that, I do know that for some, the psychological baggage is too big to bear. You want your cork! This Hartenberg Chardonnay 2015 Reserve Collection was topped with a cork, and as I used my waiter’s friend, to pull the cork, I could sense my excitement wane. It was not quite the soft texture of cork I expected to go with ‘Reserve’ as per the label.
I have no clue what gives a wine ‘Reserve’ status, and one wine maker I asked said to me that it wasn’t quite a clear science, and so it was subjective relative to the winemaker feeling that the stars aligned for a particular vintage of wine from the estate. That left me with the impression that ‘Reserve’, is attached to something special, when the universe conspires with you from the soil, the weather and the vines, all the way to fermentation, aging and bottling of the wine.
I got over myself. Time to pour, nose, taste and take notes. I poured the wine… The colour surprised me. For a Chardonnay, it was a lot more pale than I am accustomed to. I don’t like reading the label and tasting notes before I smell and taste as it takes away my opportunity to observe. I swirled the wine, and nosed it. It definitely was aromatic. Only, I smelt a more minerally aroma with hints of green. I only believed it was a Chardonnay because of the label, as from the hue (colour remember) and the nose, I would have guessed it was a Sauvignon Blanc if I did not know already that the wine was a Chardonnay.
I kept an open mind, as much as I could, but I could tell the judgements in my head were not in agreement already. I was expecting the mothership of white wines, which is the boldness a Chardonnay comes with. I sipped it, and gave Chomba the glass to smell and taste. The drink had a lot more acidity than I am accustomed to in a Chardonnay. Chomba picked up a citrus nose, but the body was light. It was not at all a complex wine. It was neither an assault on my palate, nor was it attention grabbing and present, with a long finish. Disappointing for what I would expect of a Chardonnay in body. It was more zesty, like a Sauvignon Blanc.
I didn’t spit it out, I continued to drink it with my supper, but I can’t say it was memorable for the right reasons. Just as it is true that with age a wine gets better, sometimes this is also true with every sip. Not this chardonnay. As I continued to sip, I was trying to find my connection with the wine, but to no avail. I am curious to see what my experience is the next opportunity I get to drink this chardonnay. I won’t be surprised if on a different day, under different conditions, my opinion will be different. That’s why I think rating wine using scales or points is simplifying what is a much more complex process.
Having said that, your experience might be totally different. If you like Sauvignon Blanc, I would be curious to know your opinion on tasting this. I am willing to bet that much as this Hartenberg Chardonnay was a MISS for me, it’s a HIT for many… Take this independent tasting note from John Platter 2014, on the Hartenberg Chardonnay 2015 on their website; “Seamlessly merges tangerine vibrancy with vanilla cream from barrel ferment. Textured and rich yet lean and focused throughout. A peaches and cream delight with a dry finish”. I wonder what their view would be on the 2015 vintage, particularly this Reserve Chardonnay blended exclusively for Woolworths.
As per the website, the Hartenberg Chardonnay wine is aged for 11 months in a barrel. What makes me think Woolworths exclusive offering of the wine was not aged in a barrel is Chardonnay does not have the dominance of green flavours a Sauvignon Blanc does. Unoaked Chardonnay on the other hand is far closer to a Sauvignon Blanc. Depending on how ripe the grapes were when picked the flavour can range from the lemon and green apple flavours for less ripe, to the more pineapple and sweeter fruit when very ripe.
Maybe 2015 was just a hot year, and the grapes had to be picked earlier than usual for Hartenberg, resulting in the Chardonnay grape being less ripe than normal? If the wine was in a barrel for aging, maybe it did not sit in wood for long enough. If you like Sauvignon Blanc wines, and dislike heavy wooded white wine, then you should definitely give this a try. If you like body and structure that’s complex, or a wine with a fruity finish, then you might not enjoy this vintage of the Hartenberg Chardonnay 2015 Reserve Collection.
In South Africa, Chardonnay is the 6th most popular grape varietal, following on the heels of Sauvignon Blanc, which is in 5th place as per the Wine Folly wine map. Try this and let me know your thoughts. If not for me, for the rest of the people that stop by and read the blog, in search of what to try next in their South African wine tasting journey. Next week’s wine will be a red wine. It’s also a Category C, and is a well known estate, so likely you have tried it. You have no idea how hard it is for me to stick to the game plan, and not share on some of the exciting Category B wines I have been tasting lately, but patience…