Chardonnay is one of the traditional noble cultivars which is celebrated around the world and is often called the queen of the white wine grapes. The origin of this cultivar is still debated but is believed to have originated in the Burgundy region of France by crossing Pinot Noir with Gouais Blanc. Burgundy is the cultural home of Chardonnay, while also playing a starring role in Champagne. Its popularity spread around the world and is grown in all wine regions making it the most grown white cultivar and the 4th most planted white wine grape in SA.
Chardonnay has an openness to its natural character making it ideal for expressing terroir and the winemaker’s skill. The flavour profile starts with citrus, yellow apples, and honeydew melon, and evolves significantly to the climate and soils. Warm regions grow a fuller and riper profile gaining pineapple and apricot, while cooler regions pick up lemon, lime, and citrus blossom. The soils in which the vines grow are crucial when looking for an elegant minerality. The famous Old-World Chablis from northern Burgundy experiences a cooler climate with less intense wooding creating leaner bodied wines of quince, starfruit, lime peel, white flowers and chalk. As Chardonnay grew around the globe, it grew a sort of cult following of new-world bold wooded styles where vanilla and creamy butter became key characteristics. This hit critical mass in the ’80s and we have seen a recalibration of preference that now apricates an array of Chardonnay styles.
Martin Smith, Paserene’s winemaker, created the Paserene Chardonnay from grapes grown in cool Elgin which brings refined femininity to the wine. This region allows for an extended ripening period which creates greater depth of character capturing both fruit character and delicate floral aromatics. The bunches are chilled in the winery to encapsulate the cool climate quality and whole-bunch pressed, with the unsettled juice transferred immediately to French oak barrels (30% new). Fermentation happened spontaneously from wild yeasts, and Malolactic fermentation gently took place over 12 months. The barrels were rolled as opposed to stirred for bâtonnage, encouraging texture while limiting oxidation, with a total of 16 months in barrel.
This handcrafted wine is a vibrant green to gold in colour with exceptional clarity. The nose is forward with bright citrus and hints of rich lemon sponge cake overlaying floral honeysuckle. There is also mineral chalk and salinity that further shows the breath of this cool Elgin terroir. The nose follows through to the palate heralded by limes and rich, yet delicate, tropical fruits. The wine has a long and lingering finish which points to the balanced acid backbone that ensures its ability to age gracefully for many years to come.
This Chardonnay is a versatile food wine pairing effortlessly with rich fish dishes such as grilled salmon with a buttery béarnaise sauce served with asparagus almondine. For heartier dishes think of a classic roast chicken dinner or push the boat out with Duck a l’Orange where the acidity of the wine cuts through the richness.
The Paserene Chardonnay’s combination of Old-World elegance and New-World character makes it the perfect wine to celebrate and pay homage to the queen of the white wines.