Creaminess helps chardonnay, sauvignon blanc brands rise to top

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Creamy may seem an odd description for a white wine – after all, the wine is perfectly clear and tastes nothing like a dairy product.
It’s more about texture and body than taste, though. Creaminess or butteriness is that velvety smoothness on the tongue, sometimes slightly oily (in a good way), and a bigger, richer, more mouth-filling body than you would expect in zestier, more acidic white wines.
The rich creaminess comes from fermenting and ageing the wine in oak barrels – often older oak – so as not to overwhelm the wine with wood influence and rather retain the fresh fruit and floral characteristics in balance with the richness.
Lees contact helps too – rather than filtering out the dead yeast particles after fermentation, they are left in the barrel to add complexity, body, and creaminess to the wine – and that’s where descriptions like fresh-baked bread, toasty or nutty come from.
Malolactic fermentation – often seen in chardonnay – is another contributor to creaminess and oiliness, through the introduction of bacteria that convert the tart malic acid that gives wine its zingy acidity into softer, creamier lactic acid – the same as found in milk.
Most often associated with chardonnay, all or some of these processes are also used in wooded sauvignon blanc and wooded chenin blanc, to produce bigger, richer white wines that are often at their best with food, and great for the chillier days heading our way.
Today’s mini science lesson is by way of introduction to two new releases that showcase the deliciousness to be found in a richer, complex wooded white wine.
From Stellenbosch comes the new vintage 2017 Tokara Chardonnay – ageing on the lees in older French oak barrels lending sumptuous texture and subtle creaminess.
There’s gentle vanilla and nuttiness on the nose, along with orange blossoms, and that balance of nuts and some spice, with fresh citrus flavours, carries through onto the palate.
This isn’t one of those big chardonnays that smacks you over the head with its oakiness – it’s pale, subtle, flavourful and finely balanced.
A win with chicken or fish, possibly lightly spiced or creamy dishes, or on its own for some sundowner sipping, and good value at R100 (cellar door).
Creaminess is not something you generally expect in a sauvignon blanc, but fermenting and ageing in large, older oak barrels, and some separately fermented in concrete “eggs”, has given a creamy, velvety texture to Steenberg’s 2018 Rattlesnake Sauvignon Blanc (R160 ex-cellar)
Tasting the wine is rather a delicious surprise. Its richness balanced with citrusy zing and the touch of minerality from its cool climate Constantia home. Complexity meets freshness and fruit purity in a wine that will really please those who avoid sauvignon blanc for its acidity.
Steenberg’s executive chef Kerry Kilpin developed a comforting, creamy risotto to complement the wine, with artichokes, peas and chevin that will play nicely with the balance of creaminess and freshness in the wine...

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