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.
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.
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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