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I know that I raved about the finesse of top quality white burgundies last Saturday but for value in the style we might call Greater White Burgundy, I am convinced that nowhere can beat South Africa. The best Cape Chardonnays are made in very much the same way as white burgundy, the have a sleekness, ageability, and the fruit has lovely natural acidity, thanks to all that Antarctic influence. (Interestingly, climatologists are predicting that South Africa will be one of the places on earth least affected by climate change, so we can look forward to a perpetuation of this style.)
Rustenberg, allow me to explain to those who know next to nothing about South Africa, is one of the most respected producers with a tradition stretching back to 1682 but with the regulation long-haired, free-spirited winemaker that any modern winery deserves. Adi Badenhurst has crafted surely the best Rustenberg Chardonnay ever in this 2005. Rustenberg Chardonnay 2005 Stellenbosch is wonderfully complete yet fine and delicate too, spreading smoothly over the palate with real integrity of flavour, as befits the produce of some of the oldest Chardonnay vines in the South Africa (I am braced for Tim James’s correction here, 18 year olds on the slopes of the Helderberg). According to the analysis the residual sugar is 3.6 g/l but the pH is a low 3.32 (you did want it to the second decimal place, didn’t you?), the acidity refreshingly prominent and the sweetness certainly isn’t intrusive. This is a real bargain, and apparently available in the UK (£9.95 Lea & sandeman, £9.99 Waitrose and Waitrose Direct online and many other retailers), the US, Holland, Germany, Switzerland and Belgium.
It’s delicious already but I bet will continue to evolve over at least the next four years, which is more than you can say for most Chardonnays and all too many white burgundies.
That said, as you read this I will probably have my nose in a glass of white burgundy and my feet on the floor of some freezing cold Burgundian cellar.
Simon Barlow, Rustenberg's owner, has famously pioneered the importation of promising vine varieties into South Africa via his own nursery. I had a chance to taste the Rustenberg Roussanne 2005 Stellenbosch which costs much more than the Chardonnay but couldn't see quite enough varietal character yet to justify the premium.
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but be careful that you find the right wine. Simon Barlow of Rustenberg also has his less expensive Brampton range, sometimes listed under Rustenberg, and there is also an unwooded Chardonnay.