Is it possible to pin down the Top 10 South African Chardonnay wines?

Unsurprisingly, online searches for the best South African Chardonnay wines have climbed steadily in recent years.

In stock trading, the best dividends most often result from just two cornerstones. The first is the pursuit of blue-chip shares; the second, to buy when prices are low. Applying the same to wine, the astute investor knows the time is right for anyone seeking top-tier Chardonnay that delivers world-class returns. Your hunting ground should be South Africa.

A path towards identifying Top 10 South African Chardonnay wines

The reason for the new wave of excitement partly has its roots in an unlikely source. On the one hand, South African Chardonnay is hitting its stride as a premium category. In 2015, John Stimpfig wrote in Decanter: “It seems to me that South African Chardonnay might just be on the cusp of greatness as a new generation of winemakers and growers take it to a whole new level.”

At the same time, global sales of wine have been throttled with the cost-of-living crisis shouldering much of the blame. South African Chardonnay is increasingly outranking even many Burgundian expressions in high-level tastings. However, the outstanding quality and favorable Rand/Dollar exchange rate have the making of a double whammy.

Jancis Robinson says as much writing on her website in June last year in an article titled, South Africa’s answer to Burgundy. “There are so many … sources of exciting South African Chardonnay.” While in a separate column for the Financial Times, declaring what a “significant impact” cost of living has had on traditional premium old world wine regions.

Similarly, top South African wine commentator Michael Fridjhon says: “South Africa has some advantages. Key among these is the absolute quality of our entire offering. A factor not based on our devalued currency – as a number of blind tastings in the past few months has shown.

“[A] recent blind tasting hosted by Wines of Elgin tells its own story. A line-up of several of their best chardonnays were presented against some not unimpressive examples from Burgundy (mostly selling for two to three times the price of our wines). The outcome showed incontrovertibly that our wines are not simply doing well ‘at the price point’. They are doing well, irrespective of the price-point.”

Exciting developments for premium South African Chardonnay

Several recent releases and events have helped to fuel the prominence of South African Chardonnay both locally and internationally.

Among them was the official launch late last year of Calcrete. A brand for producers of the Robertson region to highlight their expressions of unwooded Chardonnay.  It was founded by Philip Jonker of Weltevrede along with De Wetshof, Van Loveren, Bon Courage, Excelsior en Rietvallei.

New launches included the arrival of a chardonnay from Blaauwklippen in Stellenbosch. The first time a single variety of this variety has hailed from the farm since 1993. Groote Post on the Cape West Coast launched Pinch of Salt. Its flagship Chardonnay and companion to the well-known Seasalter Sauvignon Blanc.

As luck would have it, another unlikely source of attention for South African Chardonnay has also come from the name of the country’s official Bird of the Year: the magnificent Bataleur eagle. This is of course also the name given to the top-shelf Chardonnay produced by De Wetshof in Robertson.

The label was created by owner-winemaker Danie de Wet in 1991, and was the farm’s first bottling of a single-vineyard Chardonnay.

How did South African Chardonnay get to South Africa?

Chardonnay’s ancestral home is Burgundy in east-central France. But its history at the southern tip of Africa only began in the late 20th century. The tale is riddled with scandal and subterfuge. A joy to listen to if ever you have a chance of meeting one of the few protagonists still around to tell the tale.

In essence, it was towards the end of the 1970s that Chardonnay vines were smuggled into the country by a handful of South African winemakers returning from a trip to France. They included Danie de Wet of De Wetshof, Sydney Back of Backsberg, Frans Malan of Simonsig and Jan Boland Coetzee of Vriesenhof.

There was great excitement. This meant Chardonnay would be realized faster than official channels might have allowed. But its journey to greatness wouldn’t be plain sailing. Among them, there was a governmental commission to investigate the illegal importation of agricultural material.

Fridjhon writes in BusinessDay: “In the 1980s, good (and authentic) chardonnay was almost unobtainable in SA. The earliest vintages of Hamilton Russell sold for twice the price of a bottle of Mouton Rothschild. Then the variety fell victim to the Anything But Chardonnay cult. While it continued to sell well, it was almost social suicide to order it in public…”

Chardonnay Wins The Day

Ardent fans and passionate winemakers prevailed. In addition to Robertson and Hemel-en-Aarde, Chardonnay found its way across the Cape to places like Elgin at the hand of the pioneering Clüver Family Wines and many more.

“Despite this diversity, most top South African Chardonnays have one thing in common,” says South African wine marketer and writer Emile Joubert, in an article penned for JanOnline. “[That is] a refined elegance more akin to the wines of the Old World than the new wine cultures of America, Australia and New Zealand.”

At its heart, the sophisticated character of South African Chardonnay comes from meticulous farming and winemaking, but also “a healthy respect for Burgundy traditions”, he says.

“Today, South Africa is considered one of the world’s undisputed leaders in producing high-quality and original Chardonnay wines.”

How big is Chardonnay in South Africa?

In considering the quality of South African Chardonnay, one must remember its contribution. With Pinot Noir, in particular – to another of the country’s category-leading styles: bottle-fermented Cap Classique sparkling wines.

These bubblies too are flourishing and have sparked a wave of innovation, as highlighted by South African wine distributor Vinimark points out on This includes experimentation in the use of fermentation vessels, from large foudres to clay pots and amphoras. “Cap Classique in terracotta amphoras imported from Italy, and Krone’s comparative offering, the unmistakably titled Amphora Blanc de Blancs, has notably been listed by the world’s best chef Massimo Bottura in his Gucci Osteria restaurant,” says the company.

In terms of scale, South African Chardonnay comprises close to 7.5% of the country’s total area under vine as of December 2023. The variety is fourth biggest among white varieties after Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and Colombar, and ninth overall. Most Chardonnay vineyards occur in Robertson and Paarl.

So, which are the best South African Chardonnays?

Just a few years ago, it was still easy to pick out the top wines in this category. Compiling a list of the top 10 best South African Chardonnays was a no-brainer. Naturally, South Africa’s pioneers of this variety have the benefit of the most time to find the best sites, learn the lessons and to hone their wines.

But, it’s a different story now as wineries across the South African winelands have joined the fray. Wines making headlines are emerging from Robertson as much as they do from Stellenbosch, Elgin and Hemel-en-Aarde.

Wineries across the spectrum have used the variety to carry the story of their particular terroir. Prominent champions not already mentioned will include Creation, Newton Johnson, Glenelly, Raats, Jordan, Hartenberg, Ataraxia, Rustenberg, Uva Mira, Rupert & Rothschild and Bouchard Finlayson. This same diversity is echoed in achievements of Chardonnays in leading competitions.

Award-winning Chardonnay

At Veritas 2023, Chardonnay featured three times since the Vertex best wine overall title was first awarded seven years ago. The wines were Pongrácz Blanc de Blancs Cap Classique (2018); the Domaine des Dieux Chardonnay 2015 (2019) and the Benguela Cove Joie de Vivre Brut Cap Classique 2019 (2023).

Furthermore, Chardonnay was the fourth most keenly contested category at the event, with 105 entries. Among the top scorers in the Double Gold medal stakes for wine, Chardonnay and Cap Classique both had five winners. The former included Cavalli, De Wetshof, Merwida, Tokara and Louisvale.

At the 2023 Michelangelo International Wine & Spirit Awards, Kranskop Single Vineyard Chardonnay 2022 won the overall trophy for Chardonnay, and the JC Le Roux Scintilla (a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay) won best Cap Classique.

Top 10 Scorers

The Top 10 highest scorers in the 2023 Chardonnay Report by Winemag, were Vriesenhof 2021, Blaauwklippen 2022, Delaire Graff Terraced Block 2022, Lothian of Elgin 2021, Oak Valley Groenlandberg 2022, Paul Cluver Village 2022, Bellingham Homestead 2021, Delaire Graff Banghoek Reserve 2022, Journey’s End V1 2022 and Cavalli Reserve 2022.

At the Trophy Wine Show, of the Top 10 white wines selected by the judges, Chardonnays made up the single biggest category with four wines excelling. They were: Survivor Cellar Master Series Chardonnay 2022, Benguela Cove Estate Chardonnay 2022, Delaire Graff Banghoek Reserve Chardonnay 2022 and Hartenberg Woolworths Reserve Collection Chardonnay 2022.

The Platter’s South African wine guide is one of the oldest and most widely known monitors of the local wine scene. In its 2023/4 edition, the highest rated Chardonnay was the Delaire Graff Terraced Block Reserve 2022. At the same time, it awarded five stars to wines made by Bartinney, Cap Maritime, Capensis Wines, Creation, David Finlayson, Delaire Graff, Draaiboek Wines, GlenWood, Haskell, Hogan Wines, Kershaw, La Bri, Lanzerac, Leeu Passant, Matthew van Heerden Signature Wines, Oak Valley, Oldenburg, Clüver Family Wines, Plaisir, Restless River and Storm Wines.

Is there such a thing as the Top 10 South African Chardonnay Wines?

From the mere scale and diversity of excellence that pervades this category of wines, it may not be possible to pick out a generic, all-rounder list of Top 10 Best South African Chardonnay Wines. It’s certainly complex. The wine collector may be better off spreading that investment across wineries and regions with a consistent record of excellence from vintage to vintage. For which those listed above certainly qualify.

Shop some of South Africa’s best Chardonnay at Cape Ardor and have them delivered to your door. Need assistance or recommendations? Our team of wine experts are here to help! Feel free to reach out to us, and let’s find the perfect South African Chardonnay for you.

BY Clifford Roberts | March 28, 2024

Clifford Roberts (BTech Journ) is a veteran writer whose coverage of wine for leading publications over two decades has taken him from oak forests of Hungary to vineyards among the peaks of Reunion Island. He is a member of the invitation-only SA African Brandy Guild and is based on the outskirts of Stellenbosch, heartland of South African wine.

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