Rolling the bold out of chardonnay, bolstering a merlot

WINNING TECHNIQUE: Martin Moore rolling the Rhinofields Chardonnay barrels
WINNING TECHNIQUE: Martin Moore rolling the Rhinofields Chardonnay barrels

MERLOT and chardonnay must be two of the most maligned and misunderstood wine varieties around.

The “Anything-but-Chardonnay” club says it’s just too bold, while at the other end of the scale, merlot’s detractors find it too soft, flabby and bland.

An Easter get-together with wine-loving friends made the ideal opportunity to put top-class examples of both to the test.

After a rocky start, producing heavy, oily wines that smacked you in the face with their woody butteriness, South African winemakers are now getting it right, treating chardonnay with a subtle, gentle touch resulting in luscious, fruity, balanced wines.

If any proof was needed that Durbanville Hills cellarmaster Martin Moore is one who’s got it right, then his 2012 Rhinofields Chardonnay being named in the world’s Top 10 at the 2014 Chardonnay du Monde in France, should do the trick.

“We believe that a chardonnay should never be overpowered by wood. To ensure a seamless integration between oak and fruit we ferment and mature 60% of the wine in stainless steel tanks over 12 months. The other 40% spends the same amount of time in French oak barrels,” he said.

The secret to the wine’s success, he says, is the technique of rolling the barrels, rather than opening them to stir the lees.

The result is a delicate golden colour, creamy texture and full-bodied rich with flavours of citrus, wood spice and almonds. Delicious or, as one of the taste- testers put it: “This one’s a corker!”

It sells for about R100 and is great on its own or with food – think creamy sauces, smoked salmon, cured ham or eisbein, Moore said.

Merlot is a great team player in red blends but on its own, especially on the reasonably priced easy-drinking shelves, it has a bad rep for tending to slightly sweet, soft fruitiness – easy-drinking, but also a “bit of a nothing wine”.

Well made, it has soft tannins, ripe red fruits like cherries, and a hint of chocolate or vanilla, and goes well with chicken or lighter red meat dishes.

At the top end of the scale, it can be quite posh stuff, like the 2011 Mount Bullet from boutique artisan winemakers Shannon Vineyards, in Elgin. This multi-starred wine is considered one of SA’s top merlots.

Limited quantities, close attention to detail in the growing and the making, and its stellar reputation no doubt all contribute to the roughly R285 price tag.

Our Easter tasters enjoyed it and reckoned it was a really good example of merlot. But worth the price tag? A resounding no. – A Vine Time, with Samantha Venter


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