I wanted to smell Africa, but the nose was not co-operating. A quick jaunt to London and back – via the Middle East -had subjected my aroma-detector to enough invasive Covid-testing to make the poor shnozz as dead and numb as the nose of a Nigerian cocaine-dealer on Canary Wharf just after the UK restaurants opened last week.
By the time I hit Customs at Cape Town International the scent of rubber, airport-floorspace and cheap cigarettes were, however, beginning to make their presence known. And then, as I left the airport building to be met by a blast of warm autumn air, I got it. Africa. That smell of sun-baked earth, dry rock and open veld, with a hint of smoke that last Sunday’s petrifying fire on the slopes of Table Mountain had left behind.
The apartment, a temporary abode until heading back to the country house, faced a sea as smooth as glass and as calm as a newlywed on her second night of honeymoon. Not a breath of air sighed as I stood on the veranda looking at water as blue as the sky above.
A shower and a snooze, and I opened the fridge to see as to what my gracious host had left for me to drink. Knowing that I would be partaking of my first just-returned glass of wine in the heat of day, the stock she had left was of white wine, mostly. In London the Burgundies had been fine, as well as the white Bordeaux my old colleagues treated me to at the Club, for which I now had to sign to gain entry. Back in the Cape, that bottle of Chenin Blanc perching in the fridge had my name on it, pickings of this variety being lean in London and my knowing a spot of Chenin would be welcoming. It tastes of home.
This Chenin Blanc was from Oldenburg, the very special wine farm in the Banghoek Valley with a terroir I would call enormously unique. Weathered granite, clay and alluvial soils are found there, and that hill, round and full as an opera-singer’s breast in aria mode, is a most interesting point of geography in the Stellenbosch region. Rondekop, they call it, and it is planted to vines.
Oldenburg Chenin Blanc 2019 had me smiling from the first pour, as it is a wine demonstrating the chameleon-like character of Chenin. On first nosing it, the wine has a definite amalgamation of citrus fruit and wood making it truly Chardonnay-scented. And indeed, it did spend 10 months in French oak, some 20% of which was new, although the wood’s presence is modest in providing a buttery-brioche note rather than a knock of burnt UCT library.
In the mouth, the cool wine provided me with immense satisfaction and the welcoming glow of being back on South African soil. Ah, Chenin Blanc, so fresh, so naturally wine-tasting, so very tastily rewarding. And, as made by Oldenburg, so very classily and elegant and poised that it reminded me of how the gorgeous Princess Anne held herself at her father’s funeral.
The themes of citrus and white flowers showing on the nose carry to the tasting cavity. Here the Chenin Blanc enters the mouth with searching, curious excitement pushing from entrance to swallow in a heart-beat, blasting an array of flavours that leave a jet-lagged taster quite breathless. Quince and lemon-meringue are evident, the sweetness neatly pulled-back by a firm, tarty presence of green loquat. A line of honey-comb runs true, as does an ever-so-slight nick of dried Provence herbs.
It is wet, vibrant and joyous, a white wine showing mountains, sun and veld on the terroir side, as well as admirably judicious wine-making.
Next to the opening to the veranda was a table, and I sat down with my note-book to compose a letter of appreciation to my host and to bless her for the wise choice of wine. Then I drank the bottle’s last glass and got dressed. From the refrigerator I took another bottle of Oldenburg Chenin, placed it in my satchel and took the lift down to the ground-floor to find someone to share it with. The air was colder, and a mist had drifted in from the sea.
- Lafras Huguenet
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