A while back I asked MCC-producer Pieter Ferreira for one sound-byte, which is a tad like requesting a single swear word from Gordon Ramsay, as Pieter fits enough ideas and phrases into one sentence to fill a hard-drive. But upon asking Pieter to sum up one single point of differentiation he would use to sell South African wines, he simply answered: “Sunshine.”
To this I could relate. I have always found the sweet core at the soul of our wines to be enticing and delicious. Lip-smacking. The fact that a wine can carry a miniscule amount of residual sugar – say 3 grams per litre – and still express ripe juiciness, gets my own juices going. Love the lush, plushness.
Having been weaned on Chenin Blanc until I became a real man and discovered Chardonnay, I can convey that this sweet rim was not always present. Those Steens of my teenage years were as dry as a nun’s garter during Lent and a major cause for wine drinkers moving to brandy and Coke.
But as Michelangelo said, “the world is changing to the simultaneous beat of our diverse chisels”, and winemakers are bringing seductive aromatic sweetish flavours into their wines, while still ensuring the products register low on the sugar scale.
Two wonderful Chenin Blancs recently enjoyed proved this point to the max.
First up was an oaked Chenin Blanc from Opstal Estate in the gorgeous Slanghoek Valley. The Carl Everson Chenin Blanc 2012 forms part of the farm’s Heritage Range and is named after a forebear who pioneered viticulture and winemaking, ensuring that the Louws of Opstal are able to pursue their passion in the vineyard and cellar.
The vines used for the Everson Chenin are over 30 years old, and the naturally fermented wine is aged in old barrels of French Oak. The result is something rather special, possibly the most fragrant, delicate and perfumed Chenin Blanc I have had since sipping Orange River Chenin from the slipper of the Iranian princess during a World of Wine Conference in Kakamas.
The Everson Chenin is characterised by an aroma of crushed apple skin, honeycomb and raw silk, while the mouth-feel is soft and caressing. There are not a lot of firm acids around, surprising for such a young wine, but it is all gentle and silk-like, allowing the fruit notes of pear, persimmon and ripe fig to float osmosis-like through your senses. Best of all is that winemaker Attie Louw did not employ that horrible gimmick of pumping botrytised juice back into wine, a technique leading to messy, clumsy and predictable Chenin Blancs but happily encouraged.
On the unique WineGoggle 1000pt scale, the Carl Everson Chenin Blanc 2012 achieves a score of 901 points.
My planned Chenin experience saw me waltzing from Slanghoek to Riebeek-Kasteel for lunch with Zakkie Bester, Riebeek Cellars cellarmaster at the Kasteelberg Bistro. I had a screeching hang-over and was not going to be tempted into trying some oxidised Swartland white blend or Shiraz-Cinsaut cross made from 700 year old vines. My dry, raw mouth needed freshness, and being no stranger to the hang-over himself, Zakkie ordered the Riebeek Cellars Chenin Blanc 2013.
What a wine.
Unwooded. Cold. Crisp. But crystal clear in its making, faultless. Cool ocean spray with a hit of ruby grapefruit, dancing on chilled white pear and litchi. A line of umami-ish acidity ensured that the flavours and refreshment carried beautifully, slaking thirst and getting the heart pumping. And about R90 cheaper that the Carl Everson which is worthy R130.
Riebeek Cellars Chenin Blanc 2013 gets a full 898 points, plus 10 more for bringing my head back from the grave.