Ken Forrester FMC, the King of Chenins

On assignment, the opportunity arose last week to pass some hours with The Godfather of Chenin Blanc, namely Ken Forrester. The day of intense tasting, drinking and talk is being distilled into an extensive report to be published later, but while I am sifting through the memory bank on that day’s proceedings, the amazingness of the wine that is Ken’s FMC Chenin Blanc is repeatedly bleeping in the inner-cranial space.

It’s been 15 years since I first tasted the FMC at the Stellenbosch Wine Festival. I cannot remember the vintage of that wine. But, just as my first hearing of a Steely Dan tune rejigged my perception of contemporary music and that maiden viewing of a Gauguin painting forever changed the way I’d see pictures of any kind, FMC made me relook Chenin Blanc in a new way. I mean, I’d grown up drinking the stuff, as Steen, had worked with the grape at 15 000-ton co-operative cellars and smelled the rancid scent of Chenin distillation wine hitting the heated copper-still.

So, to find a white wine of such bold complexity, utter deliciousness and immense charm made from Chenin Blanc was a revelation of almost biblical proportions. If I had remained sober during that Saturday night of festivities, I might have gone to church the following day to do some serious knee-bending and humming of notes of eternal gratitude.

Said FMC has gone on to become one of South Africa’s iconic white wines commanding record auction prices, pants-wetting missives from wine critics and being arguably the leader of the pack that made the country’s Chenin Blancs such a revered category.

FMC Vineyard, planted 1970.

Back to last week, and a few vintages of FMC were set up. My main observation was that initial reports all those years ago of this wine being “huge”, “monstrous” and “big” – in a good way – do not stand true in today’s offering of top Cape Chenin Blanc, where there is a lot of formidable structure to be found.

The FMC remains indiscreet and assertive in its confident expression of flavour, but loud blockbuster it ain’t. It is elegant. Politely imposing. With plenty of charm.

Always being made from a vineyard planted in 1970 on the Forrester farm in Stellenbosch, the FMC is aged in new wood for a year. The grapes are picked in stages, giving Forrester varying degrees of ripeness and acidity to work with, and blending to final wine is a work of scrutiny, experience, skill and – I would imagine – fun.

Going back to FMC vintage 2009, those who have chosen to cellar this white wine can be sure that all is good. Eleven years on, the FMC does not have a hint of yellowing, showing the same pale-straw clarity as younger wines. On the nose, dried fruit and dry fynbos stalks with Karoo salt-lick. The palate is long and moreish, with lots of stewed apple, fresh pear, honey-comb and prickle of brisk acidity. Just a great, loveable white wine.

Sunset on the vineyard.

My pick, however, was FMC 2015. The nose is floral, fragrant and heady – I remember having the same impression the day my FMC virginity was lost 15 years ago. To the sip, and it is cool and prying at first, then opening into a spectacular array of visceral tastes – if you could taste colours, it would be here. Yellow loquats and emerald pears mingle juicily in the mouth, while a hit of the exotic shines on it all in papaya peel and small Madeiran banana. The wine has a succulent freshness reminding of green plums, with the just-so-ever slight savoury of cured oak. A long finish, immensely satisfying, ensures the presence of this great wine remains as long on the senses as it does on the mind.






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2 thoughts on “Ken Forrester FMC, the King of Chenins

  1. A great article.
    The FMC is undoubtedly a benchmark, yet I am “concerned” and ask questions when I do not see the FMC featuring in the Top 10 Chenin Blanc’s of the country (as per the latest two biggest SA competitions, the Standard Bank CB Top 10 and the Prescient WineMag Top 10).

    There are mainly two reasons why certain excellent wines, which over time have started aquiring some sort of iconic status in their categories, do not enter these competitions:
    1. There is too much for them to lose. The FMC certainly would be in illustrious company had it entered (and presumed to make the Top 10, that is).
    This is a sad and selfish reason, but understandable. The FMC needs to keep its loyal following.
    As does in another category, for example, the Hamilton Russell Chardonnay. Sadly we hardly see a professional panel compare these benchmarks. The danger of course, should this continue, would be that they are losing their “status” as that so-called benchmark if it never appears in the Top 10. A replacement wine, like the SStellenrust BF CB or the DDeMorgenzon Reserve are then starting to replace the FMC and its iconic and benchmark status.

    2. The other reason why they possibly do not enter is simply that they are truly, straightforwardly, not good enough.

    This article rightly points out the high calibre of other top Chenin Blanc’s which are being raved about in SA, with similar write-ups including exclamations of “powerful”,
    “big” “bold” exquisite” as some writers remark ! I am particularly refering to some Swartland CBS from previous “new-kids-on-the-block”.
    Of course it is the winemakers prerogative and free choice to enter these competitions … or not.
    But, these high-rollers should know … it’s always tough at the top !

    1. Hi Uwe
      Thank you for your comment. Ah, the old competition conundrum…. this I leave at the behest of the winemaker. I think you reach a stage when demand places pressure on supply, making competitions non-sensical. For others a gong is part of their lifeblood. Fortunately, it would appear you know what to drink!

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