The Chenin Blanc Association hosts a tasting of its top members’ wines twice a year, to match the summer or winter season. Last week a tasting of 25 top Chenin Blancs was followed by a summery Italian-inspired lunch with a view onto Table Mountain at Meloncino in the V & A Waterfront.
The tasting of the 25 Chenin Blancs was divided into five groups of five wines, and was led by Jeff Grier of Villiera, a gentle good off-the-cuff speaker, being so good with his notes that he often knew more about the wines than was shared by the winemakers. Jeff stood in for Ken Forrester, Chairman of the Chenin Blanc Association, who spends a lot of his time marketing his wines in the USA. What makes these events great is that writers can meet a number of the winemakers at the table, getting to know them a little better, the Simonsig (Hannes Meyer), Ayama (Liezel Delport), and Rijk’s (Pieter Waal) representatives sitting closest to me. I asked them how they felt about the comparative tasting, and they supported it, not often having the opportunity to evaluate so many wines of their peers at one function, allowing them to benchmark their own wines with those of competitors.
Jeff did the introduction and welcome, and said that Chenin Blanc has the ‘potential to be the next big thing’, being one of our country’s ‘jewels and gems’. It is increasingly found on restaurant winelists. He expressed his gratitude on behalf of the Chenin Blanc producers that the media are showing a passion for this varietal, and that they are telling the public how great Chenin Blanc is to drink in summer, and to enjoy with lighter foods. Sixty Chenin Blancs had been entered, and were evaluated by a panel chaired by Jeff, to select the top 25 meeting the brief of lighter, fresher, and fruity Chenin Blancs. In summary he said that only a few of the wines selected were wooded, were mainly made in 2014, and were largely under the R100 price level, with two exceptions. He said that the category offers ‘the best value in South Africa‘. More and more Chenin Blanc is going into blends, but the Summer Showcase selection excluded blends. Just more than two-thirds of the wines entered for evaluation used screw caps. The procedure was that we tasted the groups of five wines, which had been grouped by style (mainly 2014 vintages, offering various degrees of ‘fresh and fruity‘, and ending off with 2013 and lightly wooded wines), and then each of the winemakers gave a short description of how they made the wines, and where the grapes were sourced from. It was interesting to see how the personality of the winemakers was reflected in their wines, Spioenkop being a good example, owner Koen Roose (photograph right) being a real character who cheekily said that he is not a ‘fruity guy‘, focusing his Chenin Blanc on ‘purity and sensuality‘ instead.
* The first flight was described as ‘Minerality-mixed vintages‘, and included Beaumont Chenin Blanc 2014 (100% Bot River grapes picked as early as possible from 8 and 14 year old blocks, made in the fresh and fruity style, 6 months on the lees); DeMorgenzon DMZ Chenin Blanc 2014 (whole brunch pressed, using grapes from old bushvines in Stellenbosch); Villiera Chenin Blanc 2014 (made from grapes from old vines in Stellenbosch, partly bush vines and partly trellised, with good fruit, Jeff described); Raats Original Chenin Blanc 2013 (the grapes come from two separate soil types in Stellenbosch, explained Bruwer Raats – photograph left – with citrus and lime flavours); and Remhoogte Chenin Blanc 2013 (the grapes come from vines 30 years and older).
* The second flight was described as ‘Gentle Fresh & Fruity – 2014‘, and consisted of De Meye Chenin Blanc 2014 (made from grapes from old vines 35 years and older, and had the lowest alcohol level at 11,7 % of the 25 wines tasted); Fleur du Cap Chenin Blanc 2014 (the wine was made in a fruitier style, winemaker Elmarie said, the grapes coming from three blocks in Darling and one in Elgin); Neethlingshof Chenin Blanc 2014 (the vines are six years old, with a more tropical flavour profile); Bosman De Bos Sur Lie Chenin Blanc 2014 (described by winemaker Corlea Fourie as one of their Fairtrade labels, with little lees contact, made from Wellington grapes); and KWV Classic Collection Chenin Blanc 2014 (upfront tropical and floral characteristics with a refreshing zesty palate, the winemaker is Izele van Blerk, and is one of the best value wines at R40).
* The third flight was labeled as Intense Fresh & Fruity – 2014‘, and included Graham Beck ‘The Game Reserve’ Chenin Blanc 2014 (winemaker Erika Obermeyer said that the grapes came from Stellenbosch and Agter-Paarl, having ripened fully, and she said she loves working with it, having made this varietal for the last six years); SAAM Mountain Vineyards Chenin Blanc 2014 (Agter-Paarl grapes, 30 year old vines, made in a richer and riper style); Leopard’s Leap Chenin Blanc 2014 (grapes come from Paarl, whole bunch pressed, excellent value at R40); Cederberg Chenin Blanc 2014 was represented by its marketing consultant Pieter du Toit (10 year old vines, vineyards have the highest altitude of all entries); and Simonsig Chenin Blanc 2014 (Winemaker Hannes Meyer said this year had been one of the best vintages, and the wine had won Double Gold at Veritas and Best South African White Wine at Mundis Vini in Germany).
* The fourth flight was described as ‘Slightly older – 2013‘, with Spioenkop by far the most expensive wine of all 25 wines tasted, at about R150 (Koen made sure that we knew he is Flemish and not Dutch, emphasised that he believes in canopy management, said that his Chenin vines love poor soil, and he blends grapes from two blocks of 7 – 8 year old vines. When asked why it is so expensive, he cheekily replied that ‘it is so good’!); Boland Cellar Reserve Chenin Blanc 2013 (grapes from a single vineyard in the Paardeberg); Winery of Good Hope Bush Vine Chenin Blanc 2013 (very low residual sugar, use bush vines, one of four Chenins made); The Fledge & Co HoekSteen Chenin Blanc 2013 (the Chenin block was planted 33 years ago, one month in the tank, and nine months on the lees); as well as Ayama Chenin Blanc 2013 (marketing representative Liezel Delport said that they are based in Paarl, and that their Chenin Blanc is made in the ‘Italian Style’, the farm – the name means someone to lean on in Xhosa – owners are Italian, and have owned the farm for twelve years, and the vineyards are 25 years old).
* The last flight was described as ‘Slightly wooded – mixed vintage’, and included Jordan Chenin Blanc 2013 (made since 1981, subtle wood, grapes from south-facing block, half tank, half barrel fermented); Uitkyk Chenin Blanc 2013 (old vines, low yield, free-run juice, natural fermentation); Tierhoek Chenin Blanc 2013 (eight year old vines, trellised vines 800 meters above sealevel); Stellenrust Block 28 Chenin Blanc 2013 (one of a number of Chenin Blancs made, six months on lees); and Rijks Touch of Oak Chenin Blanc 2012 (winemaker Pieter Waal – photograph left – explained that they night-harvest the grapes, making it cooler and easier for the pickers, it was the sweetest of all Chenins tasted at 5,3 residual sugar, and is soon to be served in SAA First Class). It was this flight that received most of the positive feedback, the oaking giving the wines more character.
For lunch we moved outside, 50 of us seated at one long table with a fantastic view onto Table Mountain and the V&A Waterfront. I sat next to Winemag.co.za editor Christian Eedes, and we talked about the tasting, and what a volume of wines it was to taste, which he takes in his stride, having to do so for his tastings. He also told me about the launch of the Franschhoek Appellation Grand Prestige certification which was launched later in the week, in which Eedes played a role.
The amuse bouche was a seared sesame-encrusted yellowfin tuna served on arugula salad and bruschetta, drizzled with 12 year old balsamic vinegar, and extra virgin olive oil. All the wines from the tasting were available for lunch. This was followed by an antipasta of Puglia Burrata mozzarella which was wrapped with Parma ham, plated on a fan of Israeli figs, and drizzled with 15 year old balsamic vinegar, and extra virgin olive oil. The highlight of the lunch was a West Coast crayfish served on a bed of arugula salad, sliced fennel, and cherry tomatoes, drizzled with truffle oil, a colourful dish saying summer! The Dolce was Panna Cotta infused with vanilla and limoncello liqueur, served with strawberry confit.
We spent a relaxed time at Meloncino for the Chenin Blanc Association Summer Showcase. We were very impressed with the ability of group restaurant GM Barry Niewoudt in reTweeting every Tweet which included the restaurant name, the event having generated a mass of Tweets for the Chenin Blanc Association, its 25 selected members, and for Meloncino restaurant!
Disclosure: We received a bottle of DeMorgenzon Chenin Blanc 2014 with our media pack.
Chenin Blanc Association www.chenin.co.za Twitter: @CheninBlancAsso
Meloncino Ristorante, Shop 259, V&A Waterfront, Cape Town. Tel (021) 419-5559. www.meloncino.co.za Twitter: @MeloncinoSA