Excelsior Chardonnay 2002
The picturesque Robertson Valley is nestled between two rugged mountain ranges near the Breede ("Broad") River. It was here that the De Wet family purchased a large tract of land in 1859, subsequently channeling the river and planting the region’s first vineyards. Today the estate is owned by Freddie and Peter De Wet, the fourth and fifth generation of De Wets to farm the property.
Robertson’s limestone-rich clay soils are ideal for quality wine production, and Excelsior boasts over 200 hectares planted to noble grape varietals, with a focus on Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Shiraz. The wines consistently receive "Best Buy"/ "Best Value" accolades, and Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate recently noted that Excelsior "represents another of those South African instances where one wonders how the wines can possibly be well-made, distinctively-packaged, exported to the States, and still sell for a mere ten dollars."
The De Wets have always embraced innovation, and in 1969, Excelsior became the first wine estate in South Africa to install drip irrigation. In 1981, a modern, state-of-the-art winery was constructed with capacity to allow for future expansion. In addition to producing a series of delicious and approachable value wines, Excelsior also has a long history of horse breeding. The estate’s longstanding horse breeding tradition is reflected in the equine theme on the Excelsior labels.
With an important wine renaissance in full swing, impressive red and white bargains abound in South Africa. The country has a particularly long and rich history with winemaking, especially considering its status as part of the “New World.” In the mid-17th century, the lusciously sweet dessert wines of Constantia were highly prized by the European aristocracy. Since then, the South African wine industry has experienced some setbacks due to the phylloxera infestation of the late 1800s and political difficulties throughout the following century.
Today, however, South Africa is increasingly responsible for high-demand, high-quality wines—a blessing to put the country back on the international wine map. Wine production is mainly situated around Cape Town, where the climate is generally warm to hot. But the Benguela Current from Antarctica provides brisk ocean breezes necessary for steady ripening of grapes. Similarly, cooler, high-elevation vineyard sites throughout South Africa offer similar, favorable growing conditions.
South Africa’s wine zones are divided into region, then smaller districts and finally wards, but the country’s wine styles are differentiated more by grape variety than by region. Pinotage, a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault, is the country’s “signature” grape, responsible for red-fruit-driven, spicy, earthy reds. When Pinotage is blended with other red varieties, like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah or Pinot Noir (all commonly vinified alone as well), it is often labeled as a “Cape Blend.” Chenin Blanc (locally known as “Steen”) dominates white wine production, with Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc following close behind.
One of the most popular and versatile white wine grapes, Chardonnay offers a wide range of flavors and styles depending on where it is grown and how it is made. While it tends to flourish in most environments, Chardonnay from its Burgundian homeland produces some of the most remarkable and longest lived examples. California produces both oaky, buttery styles and leaner, European-inspired wines. Somm Secret—The Burgundian subregion of Chablis, while typically using older oak barrels, produces a bright style similar to the unoaked style. Anyone who doesn't like oaky Chardonnay would likely enjoy Chablis.