Sunday, 27 January 2013

Ataraxia Chardonnay 2009

Chardonnay is a much-maligned grape in my view. What particularly peeves me is when someone declares that they are an 'ABC' man or woman. What, I ask, does that mean? Oh, comes the glib response, it means 'anything but Chardonnay'. In order to emphasise a point one day I bought an extremely nice bottle of Meursault (I'll review it one day) to a well-known ABC acquaintance, who proceeded to wax lyrical about the wine's plump stone fruit, smooth edges and excellent zing of minerality. Needless to say, they were most distressed to find that they had been drinking Chardonnay - confirming my view that ABCers are only against Chardonnay because someone else told them to be, rather than based on their own experience.

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.

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.

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