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Wednesday, September 5, 2012


Chenin blanc is the most widely planted wine grape in South Africa, accounting for about one-fifth of all the vineyards.

The grape has its origins in the Loire valley in France and came to South Africa about 300 years ago (it also migrated successfully to California, Australia, New Zealand and South America). It is a versatile grape used in a wide variety of wines, from dry whites to sweet dessert wines.

In South Africa it was for a long time associated with inexpensive and not particularly distinguished white wines and with blended wines, in which it was a frequent component. Over the past 20 years or so, it has climbed up the social ladder. Discerning drinkers now regard good chenins as highly acceptable, and most of them still offer good value.

This was clear once again when our private tasting group met at Alf Sudheim’s house recently. He presented a chenin blanc tasting. Without exception, the seven wines created a favourable impression. One was very expensive, three were upper price and three were definitely in the good value category.

The typical flavours of South African chenins are honey and tropical fruit, pineapple, guava, pear, and these were all evident in the wines we tasted.

The tasting was, as usual, blind; we were given descriptions of the wines but did not know the order in which they were poured. Identification proved difficult, and the scoring (points for colour, bouquet and taste in a total of 20) was most interesting.

Top marks went to the least expensive wine on the list, the Simonsig Chenin Blanc of 2010, which our host had bought at a discounted price of R30. Normal price is about R37. This wine from Stellenbosch has been a South African favourite for the past 40 years. It is a lovely golden colour and is just off-dry, with pear, apricot and pineapple flavours.

Fractionally behind it in our marking was the most expensive wine on the list, the Ken Forrester MFC of 2010, which sells at R325 a bottle. Ken Forrester, a former Johannesburg restaurateur, has for the past 20 years owned a cellar at Stellenbosch that specialises in chenin blanc (though it makes other wines as well). The FMC is his top product. The F stands for Forrester, the C for chenin and the M for Martin Meinert, the winemaker (who is a one-time Johannesburg newspaper journalist). This wine showed strong honey and citrus flavours and a long, lingering finish to the taste.

In third place was the Anura 2010 (R79), from a family winery at Stellenbosch. Again, honey taste and a hint of citrus.

The other wines tasted (the scoring was very close) were: Graham Beck The Game Reserve 2011, from Robertson, R57; Boschendal 2010, from Franschhoek, R36; Niel Joubert 2011, from Paarl, R36; and L’Avenir 2011, from Stellenbosch, R59.

Cape whites used to be seen as having lower alcohol than reds. No more. These seven chenins ranged from 13 percent alcohol volume to 14,5, typical values for full-bodied reds.

Our top two choices, the Simonsig and the Ken Forrester FMC, both had 14,5 per cent, confirming a regular pattern in our tasting sessions. We invariably like best the wine with the highest alcohol content. – Michael Green