Friday, May 14, 2010

Chenin Blanc Champions

Chenin Blanc Champions at the South African Wine Show

Andre Shearer, Cape Classics

Ken Forrester, Ken Forrester Wines

Sean Grifiths, Kanu

“When we talk about Chenin Blanc, South Africa is the natural default”

Ken Forrester

There are absolutely astonishing Chenin Blanc wines coming out of South Africa today. Wines with an amazing fruit, wines that will please consumers and, very important to mention as well, these are wines that have an exceptional value.

Chenin Blanc has a long history in South Africa. The Dutch brought it from the Loire Valley in as early as 1655. It is been in the Cape region for over 350 years now.

With this extensive history and abundance of sunshine, it offers a bridge between the new and the old world.

It is the largest cultivar in South Africa with about 19,000 ha. In today’s numbers, it represents about 18% of all the plantings (112,000 ha total). That translates to the largest plantings of Chenin Blanc of the world.

Many different styles of Chenin Blanc wines are produced. From light un-wooded, fresh and fruity wines; then rich and ripe and wooded wines; to the most rich, opulent and delicious dessert wines.

Here are some of the reasons why:

· South Africa has a variety of different clones of Chenin Blanc.

· Incredible diversity of the Cape. You can plant on the flats or on the slopes of the numerous mountains of the region.

· South Africa has the oldest soils with vineyards of the world. Not only slightly older than the soils from the other continents, but 180 million older than any other soil of the planet!

· The vineyards with plantings of Chenin Blanc have a high percentage of older vines. These old vines yield a little less grapes and, hence, are capable of producing better wines.

· The cold ocean winds (“The Cape Doctor”) have a huge influence on the vineyards, cooling down what would be otherwise a much warmer region.

Here is the list of the wines tasted and respective retail prices, notes and comments:

1. Raats Family Wines “Original” Chenin Blanc 2009 W.O. Coastal Region

Approx. retail in the US: $13.00

Light pale yellow color. Very clean palate. Fresh and fruity with some minerality. Very good acidity to balance the ripe fruit flavors. It is good to drink now and should pair really well with shellfish or with some spicy wine dishes.

The wine is made from grapes grown in two different sites. One (where about 60% of the grapes come from), where the vines are grown in decomposed sandstone, giving the wine very ripe fruit flavors; the other (where about 40% of the grapes come from), where they are grown in decomposed dolomite granite, which is very rich in chalk and gives citrus, lime and minerality to the wines. After fermentation, the wines are blended together to give the full spectrum of the Chenin Blanc flavors to the wine.

2. Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc 2009 W.O. Western Cape

Approx. retail in the US: $14.00

Light pale yellow color. Very fruity with some light oak notes on the palate. This wine has a good potential for aging well for years to come.

10% of the wine is fermented in wood with natural yeasts (about 30 % of the wine is fermented with wild yeasts).

Closure: screw cap.

3. DeMorgenzon Chenin Blanc 2008 W.O. Stellenbosch

Approx. retail in the US: $29.00

Golden yellow color. Rich and ripe, oak influenced style. Very intense palate and a full mouthfeel. Nuts and ripe fruit blended together to deliver a rather complex wine.

The wine comes from 40 year-old bush vines. It’s aged in French oak (small barrels, 60% new) for about 8 months.

4. Rudera Chenin Blanc 2008 W.O. Stellenbosch

Approx. retail in the US: $15.00

Golden yellow color. Very ripe fruit that delivers a rich and soft palate. Lots of nuts and a woody character that is well balanced with the ripe fruit. Great capacity to age beautifully. At only US$15, it was by far the best value of the tasting!

This wine is produced from old vines that are planted on northwest facing slopes.

5. Forrester Meinert Chenin (FMC) Chenin Blanc 2007 W.O. Stellenbosch

Approx. retail in the US: $65.00

Golden yellow color. Very rich and complex with great potential to age.

Best food pairing: grilled scallops with some zesty oranges on the side.

This wine is produced from old bush vines in dry land (no irrigation). These vines yield approximately 35 to 40 hectoliters per hectare. 6 different wines are made out of this one vineyard and then these wines, after spending 12 months in French oak barrels, are blended together and bottled as one single wine. Wine spectator gave this wine the highest rate of all South African wines.

6. De Trafford Straw Wine 2004 W.O. Stellenbosch

Approx. retail in the US: $47.00

Dark golden yellow. A “Sherry-like nose. Rich and nutty on the palate and a extremely long finish. Concentrated, unctuous nectar!

“(This wine is) an entire summer in a sip” – Ken Forrester

Produced from grapes that were dried on the shade of the oak trees of the farm until they become raisin-like grapes. The very concentrated wine is aged in new French oak barrels for 22 months.


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