Anecdotes aside, I have been trying a series of more accessibly-priced Chardonnay from around the world and I stumbled across Ataraxia in September. Ataraxia means tranquillity - a freedom from preoccupation (rather suitable, as it freed several ABCers from their preoccupation with saying ABC). Before I am accused of being intelligent enough to speak Greek, this is helpfully provided on the back of the bottle!
Kevin Friend, the winemaker at Ataraxia (who also have a Sauvignon Blanc and a red, which I can't remember) has made a conscious effort to make Ataraxia a Burgundian-style Chardonnay and has been greatly praised for his excellent work at Hamilton Russell, a particularly fantastic South African vineyard. So, onwards we proceed:
Colour: I tend to think that the colour of the wine is more relevant for whites than reds, as there are only so many ways of saying 'ruby' or 'garnet'. This is a rather appealing rich straw colour, continuing all the way to the edges.
Nose: There is a significant amount of vanilla, confirming the presence of oak (on research, they use 34% new oak and 66% old oak barrels). Along with the vanilla there's a lovely dollop of honey and an almost caramelised smell - perhaps maple syrup? This is a buttery, soft, smooth nose and yet has some real power behind it. Rather strangely there is a slight almost imperceptible hint of chocolate and perhaps some salt as well. I must see if I can confirm that over some more bottles.
Palate: The best bit. After a stellar nose we get everything a person could want with a top Chardonnay: punchy stone fruit is immediately present, smoothed off with vanilla and honey. Indeed, in time the honey becomes even more distinct and the wine becomes exceptionally smooth - almost like drinking a good bit of Highland whisky*. This is really full of flavour and cleans itself off with a dash of minerality and lemon at the end. Accomplished stuff here and clearly marking itself against Burgundy's finest.
Body: This is a heavy and 'thick' Chardonnay. Whilst tasting like some of Burgundy's charmers, it definitely has New World 'oomph'. It's full-bodied with high alcohol but retains its exceptional smoothness.
Finish: Medium to long on the finish. It develops a little, but the majority of the finish comes from a gradual receding of the flavours with yet more honey-vanilla sweetness.
Conclusion: Really really interesting wine. One to try next to a top minerally Burgundy (I think it would be great to try next to a Meursault, but remember that you get what you pay for with Meursault, and should really be aiming for £30+, although Labouré-Roi is an acceptable alternative at £20 or so from Waitrose). It ticks every box and has no unpleasantness about it. Having read my notes through a couple of times, I have now decided to buy a case, as this will certainly improve for several years in the cellar.
Points: 93. At £20 a bottle with excellent cellaring potential, what are you waiting for?
*As a side note on whisky, Highland Park 12 is my 'basic expression' tipple of choice. Lovely honey and vanilla aromas that are reminiscent of this! Extremely smooth. In fact, I shall post a review of that next.