​Glenelly, Glass Collection Unoaked Chardonnay 2015 Stellenbosch


From ZAR80, £12.50 (or £65 per case of 6), $15 

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I did a double take when I tasted this wine because it has so much depth and complexity for a young wine that I found it hard to believe it was unoaked. However, winemaker Luke O'Cuinneagain assured me that this flavour and texture were due to the inclusion of ‘a lot of the fluffy lees’ in the fermentation tank, fermentation with ambient yeast and then, post fermentation, eight months on the lees without stirring. To keep the freshness, the grapes are picked relatively early – earlier than for the barrel-fermented Estate Chardonnay (which is also very good and good value at around £16.50). The alcohol is 13.5%.

While it has plenty of flavour and a fine aroma (I thought the suggestion on the back label that it had an aroma of honeysuckle was fanciful until I actually poured a glass), its classic restraint was a lovely invitation to drink. On the palate, it has excellent freshness and a very fine grain to the texture which adds depth and length. It's not super-concentrated but refined, pure and very good value indeed – extremely classy for the price. It's made for early drinking but I am sure it will still be very good in a couple of years, thanks also in some degree to the screwcap.

Glenelly is the South African coup de coeur of May-Eliane de Lencquesaing, former owner of Bordeaux’s Ch Pichon Lalande. The story of her love affair with South Africa and the search for a suitable property was first reported by Jancis in 2004 in Pichon Lalande moves into South Africa. By the time I visited Glenelly in 2009 (see Jewels from South Africa), the winery (pictured) was almost complete and they had planted 60 ha (150 acres) on the foothills of the Simonsberg with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Merlot and Petit Verdot, plus Chardonnay.

It was dark when I saw the new building so I am grateful to Tim James’s account in his excellent book Wines of the New South Africa (University of California Press, 2013) for this description: ‘It is a huge, austere concrete block, yet one designed to be eventually sympathetic to the environment, and showing great innovation within, even beyond the careful design to ensure that gravity is responsible for most of the vinous flow … at least until the bottling is done, many floors down. As for other innovations, there is, for example, the largest cast-concrete roof in southern Africa, the barrels rest on beams made from recycled plastic, and ambient temperature control is done in an energy-efficient manner via cooled concrete rather than air conditioning.’

May-Eliane de Lencquesaing has invested not only in vines and concrete. Her heart for people is demonstrated by the community she has created as part of the estate, sponsoring the farm workers’ children through school, for example, and setting up a care centre for farm children and proper housing owned by those who live in it. There’s far more detail on their recently refurbished website.

If this Chardonnay is anything to go by, the vines are starting to come into their own and O'Cuinneagain, with Swartland maestro Adi Badenhorst as winemaking consultant, and viticulturist Heinrich Louw have the measure of their vineyards and winery. The reds in the Glass Collection range (named for Mme de Lencquesaing’s other passion, with some lovely examples shown on the label) are also great value for money. For me the Syrah is the best in the range, peppery and elegant with the fragrance of the northern Rhône plus a little more richness from the Cape. Incidentally, a Glenelly 2003 red, one of the first produced by this estate and made from bought-in fruit, was a wine of the week back in 2007.

Glenelly list the following stockists around the world: in the US, California Wine Merchants (NYC), Amherst Wines & Spirits (MA), Deli Boutique Wine & Spirits (Chicago), San Francisco Wine Trading Co; in Japan, Dive to Wine (Tokyo), Takashimaya Senboku (Osaka), Wine Shop Library (Osaka); in Germany, Bremer Weinkolleg; in Belgium, Mouchart & Fils (Brussels); and in France, LM Grands Vins Bordeaux. However, it is possible that not all these stockists have the 2015 vintage yet.

According to Glenelly’s UK importers Seckford Wines, the 2015 vintage of this wine is available from Frontier Fine Wines, Farthinghoe Fine Wine (Banbury), Gerrard Seel (Warrington), Great Grog (Edinburgh), Promotion Wine (Suffolk), Leamington Wine Co (Leamington Spa) and Seven Cellars (Brighton). 

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