Iona Chardonnay 2017/18 Elgin

Another wine of the week suggestion from Andrew Gunn's property on the Cape coast.

From £17.94, €19.80

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In the interests of research for a forthcoming trip to the Cape Winelands, I picked up a bottle of the 2017 Iona Chardonnay on my way home. It is wines like this which underline why Elgin has garnered such a reputation in recent years and why I will be spending a few days in the region, to dig deeper into its cool-climate style.

I’ll definitely be planning a visit to Iona.

Elgin, east and a little south of Cape Town, built its reputation on growing apples and these remain a major product for the region. But pioneers like Paul Cluver have established this as a zone for truly cool-climate, fine wines. Indeed, it is probably the only place in the Cape notable for its Riesling.  

Opening onto False Bay on the west side and being up in the hills over Sir Lowry’s Pass, the region has cooling influences from both the cold ocean and elevations of 250–400 metres above sea level. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are therefore, unsurprisingly, widely planted. For the background to this cool, windswept property, see Iona and Cloudy Bay push the boat out and Richard's 2018 wine of the week, Iona Sauvignon Blanc 2017/8 Elgin.

I have been particularly taken by the quality and style of Iona's Chardonnay. Though there are of course variations between producers, there are commonalities that are drawing me to explore the region’s wines in more depth. First, a purity of fruit that finds a delicate balance between ripeness of the sunny Cape and freshness – often as a mix of ripe lemon and white peach. Second, a crystalline thread of acidity that really lifts the palate.

Iona, based in the south-eastern part of the region, brings precisely those two qualities to their 2017 Chardonnay. They then add the two additional qualities that mark them out as one of the region’s top producers: a deft use of oak that adds a subtle, baking-spice complexity without covering that fine fruit, and good quality of fruit that gives attractive length.

The 2018, at £17.94 in the UK, is a more affordable introduction to fine Elgin Chardonnay than, say, the excellent Clonal Selection Chardonnay from my fellow Master of Wine, Richard Kershaw.

The 2017 Iona Chardonnay is available in Austria and Spain, as well as in South Africa, while the 2018 seems only to have reached the UK so far. We don't have a note on the 2016 but it should still be drinking well, and is available quite widely in the US too, from $18.24. A rare and welome example of a fine South African wine that's fairly easy for Americans to find. 

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