While the weather was not very co-operative in offering Cape Town a sunny summer’s day yesterday, it was a fun and friendly tasting of 21 wines for the Chenin Blanc Association Summer Showcase of fresh and fruity Chenin Blancs at the Cape Grace hotel.
Twice a year the roughly 50 Chenin Blanc producers meet to showcase their two styles of wine, rich and ripe in winter, and fresh and fruity in summer. The functions are kept small, with an almost equal number of winemakers and writers invited, allowing a quality interaction between the media and wine representatives. The producers have a passion for Chenin Blanc, which is the largest wine varietal produced in our country at about 18%, yet is not yet well known locally and even less so internationally. Through the work of the Association, the standing of Chenin Blanc is improving, and its benefits of offering value and being an excellent food wine are increasingly becoming known.
In the absence of Chenin Blanc Association Chairman Ken Forrester, described as ‘resident winemaker in the USA’, and Vice Chairman Jeff Grier, who had just arrived for his harvest in France, the most charming Bosman Family Vineyards winemaker Corlea Fourie led the tasting of the wines. She represented Chenin Blanc to me – blonde, soft, sweet, understated, and gentle, yet tough when she needs to be! She fed back that 30 Chenins had been made available for tasting at ‘The Beautiful South‘ wine tasting of South African, Chilean, and Argentinian wines in London last month. Each producer had submitted their Chenin Blanc(s) to be evaluated by a panel, led by Jeff, and the 21 best Chenin Blancs meeting the Summer style were selected, and were grouped into flights. As most winemakers were present, they could talk about their wines, and their personalities came through, Adam Mason of Marvelous Wines and David Nieuwoudt of Cederberg being really funny characters in their presentations.
On arrival, we were served Ken Forrester Wines’ Sparklehorse MCC 2011, made from 100% Chenin Blanc, which spent 14 months on the lees. It is the first sparkling wine made by Forrester. The choice of name and colourful label intrigue, with no explanation provided. We tasted the following Chenin Blancs:
* Balance Winemaker’s Selection 2013 by Overhex Wines International, and shows that Chenin Blanc can be produced in large quantities, of up to 100000 litres, winemaker JC Martin said. (R47)
* MAN Family Wines Free-run Steen 2013, grapes from Agter-Paarl, unirrigated bush vines, half of them more than 25 years old. (R60)
* Gecko Ridge 2013, part of the Pernod Ricard wine portfolio. Grapes from Breedekloof – Bonnievale regions. Vines 6 – 15 years old. (R40)
* Simonsig 2013 comes from a heritage of Chenin Blanc, first made in 1968 by Frans Malan. (R40)
* Perdeberg Winery 2013 made from 30 year old dry-land bush vine from Agter-Paarl, unwooded. (R35)
* Laroche by L’Avenir 2013, very dry at 1,4 residual sugar, 90% grapes from young vines and 10% older, big volume production. (R45)
* Beaumont Wines 2013 from own Bot River grapes from three sites, vines ranging in age from 8 to 39 years. (R69)
* Raats Family Wines Original 2012 made from 35 – 68 year bush and trellised vines, unwooded. (R85)
* MAN Tormentoso Old Vine 2012, grapes from dry-farmed bush vines in Agter-Paarl, 10% fermented in new oak barrels and the balance in stainless steel tanks. (R79)
* Villiera Wines 2013 is an entry level wine, partial oaking, grapes sourced from three vineyard blocks. (R45)
* Graham Beck The Game Reserve 2013 made from dry-land 40 – 46 year old bush vines in Agter-Paarl (R60)
* Riebeeck Cellars 2013 made from old bush and trellised vines, free run juice. (R30)
* De Morgenzon DMZ 2013, the second vintage produced, old bush vines, half from their own vineyards, 80% fermented in stainless steel tanks and 20% in concrete. (R74)
* Mulderbosch Steen op Hout 2012, made mainly from dry-farmed bush vines. Fermented in French oak barrels (20%) and stainless steel tanks (80%). (R60)
* Stellenrust 2013 is made from 30 – 40 year old bush vines from Bottelary Hills. 20% fermented in 3rd and 4th fill French oak barrels and 80% in stainless steel. (R42)
* Delaire Graff Old Bush Vine 2013, grapes from 28 year old bush vines from Agter-Paarl and Swartland, fermented in stainless steel, made unwooded for the first time. (R65)
* Kleine Zalze Cellar Selection 2013 made from bush vines from False Bay-Stellenbosch, Agter-Paarl, and Piketberg. (R40)
* Rijks Touch of Oak 2011 made using night-harvested grapes, 20% barrel-fermented. (R85)
* Marvelous Wines Ka Pow Chenin Blanc (60%) Chardonnay (30%), and Viognier (10%) blend 2012, made by Adam Mason and Chef Peter Tempelhoff. (R66)
* Joostenberg Family Blend ‘White’ with 75% Chenin Blanc and 25% Viognier, certified organic. Fermentation in stainless steel tanks. (R60)
* Cederberg 2012 is made from 8 year old trellised vines, East/West planting, and no ‘neutral’ oak.
It was a new mix and match at lunch, in connecting with a different set of writers and winemakers, and we were entertained by Eric Saayman of Riebeeck Cellars and Morné Vrey of Delaire Graff. The Signal restaurant team was attentive, under the leadership of its manager Martin Drotsky, who so ably managed the food and wine operations at Chefs who Share gala charity dinner last month. Chef Malika van Reenen was happy to hear that her restaurant had been named as one of only two South African 101 Best Hotel Restaurants around the World the day before, and we could see why, none of the dishes which we were served being predictable hotel restaurant fare. Our amuse bouche was an Orange-glazed seared scallop, which was served with a Black Forest crisp and parsley purée. At the table the scallop taste was compared to abalone, and recipes were swopped (by the men) as to how to best prepare it!
Our starter was an attractive Braised octopus which was served with a spicy tomato salad, fresh coriander, avocado, sprinkled with sesame, and drizzled with a sweet lime dressing. The main course was an unusual Salmon ‘Wellington’, which was served with al dente broccoli and asparagus, cauliflower purée, and citrus beurre blanc. The dessert was a colourful Iced lime soufflé placed upon macerated pineapple slices and topped with meringue shards. The dry cappuccino I ordered was perfectly made. The 21 Chenin Blancs were available to be served with each course, depending on one’s choice.
One sensed a great degree of camaraderie amongst the winemakers, who are passionate about their Chenin Blancs, and who enjoyed interacting with each other too. The tasting ably led by Corlea and the excellent food and Chenin Blancs made for a superb Friday afternoon at the Cape Grace.
Disclosure: We received a bottle each of Joostenberg, Villiera, and MAN Chenin Blancs.
Chenin Blanc Association: www. chenin.co.za Twitter: @CheninBlancAsso
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage