Seminar One – Chenin Blanc (10:30am) … We were here to taste some 39 wines starting with the (once and future) king of South African whites, Chenin Blanc, described as the Cinderella grape. Years ago the South Africans called it “Steen”, which means brick, because the bunches come off the vine in a seemingly heavy brick form … but recently the proper name for the grape is being used to market the wines outside of South Africa. Originally this noble variety was planted as a Brandy grape, but many winemakers have taken it under their wing and decided to make more serious wines from it. South Africa has the largest production area of Chenin, double its nearest competition for the grape’s affection, the Loire Valley in France. The reason for its popularity is simple: 9 out of 10 years the majority of regions of South Africa can ripen all their grapes. It represents 50% of all white production, 20% of all wine production, and 55% of all Chenin vines in South Africa are 15+ years old. We tasted 11 Chenins, with vintage dates ranging from 2006-2010 here is my top three:
FMC 2009 Chenin Blanc – this wine just had it all, the nose was full of buttery-toffee with n undercurrent of tropical fruit and vanilla. The palate had a sweet sensation with vanilla caramel and tropical fruits; lively and fresh with vanilla-butter on the finish. Lots of yum-factor here. The wine was barrel fermented in 100% new oak, left on lees for the whole time and the Chenin vines used are well over 40 years old. (**** ½)
Mulderbosch 2010 Chenin Blanc / Steen-op-Hout – honeydew rind goes from start to finish here with lively freshness; there’s a slight bitterness but it adds to the charm of this wine with a finish that has lime and grapefruit pith that lingers a long time. (*** ½+)
Bellingham 2010 Citrus Grove – lives up to its name with citrus and pear notes on the nose and a rather fruity palate delivering citrus and melon rind. (*** ½)
Seminar Two – Always Something New (11:30am) … The topic refers to sustainability and fair trade wines coming out of South Africa and focused on three wineries: Paul Cluver, Reyneke and Thandi, for a total of nine wines tasted. The Reyneke wines offered little to right home about, and Thandi’s 2010 Shiraz (70%) – Cabernet Sauvignon (30%), which was full of red berry and licorice flavours was the only reason to sing their praises (*** ½+); but each Cluver seemed better than the next, and somewhat surprisingly, all were white. 2010 Sauvignon Blanc was a lovely example of Savvy B with citrus and mineral on the nose, lime and guava on the palate and leaves behind a grapefruit pith finish (*** ½+). The 2009 Chardonnay was classically Chardonnay in style: vanilla toastiness with good mouth-feel and a touch of beeswax/lanolin across the tongue (****). Then came the low alcohol (9.75%) 2010 Close Encounter Riesling with its apple, pear and steely mineral notes along with a hint of sweetness; creamy in the mouth without being yogurty (****).
Seminar Three – Good Better Blends (2:00pm) … seminars three and four had a similar bent, mainly red wines and blends, but we’ll get to seminar four in a minute. Out of the seven wines poured during this hour only two were whites and one of those whites made my hit parade.
Waterford Estate 2007 The Jem – this seven grape blend that includes Barbera, Mourvedre, Sangiovese, Syrah and three other main Bordeaux varietal which spent 26 months in oak and was deliciously dark fruited and juicy, yet had enough firm tannins to remind you it could stand some ageing. Also found some raspberry and chocolate notes within … the wine had a whole whack of flavour (**** ½).
Nederburg 2008 Ingenuity Red – strange bowling pin shaped bottle hints not at what’s inside. This is an Italian grape blend of Sangiovese (45%), Barbera (45%) and Nebiollo (10%) with juicy red fruit flavours, starting with cherry leading to chocolate and red licorice; sweet fruited and drinkably tasty (****+).
Lomond 2009 Snowbush – this wine beat out my fourth place wine (Plaisir de Merle 2007 Grand Plaisir) by half a mark. A Sauvignon Blanc heavy blend (54%) with three other grapes mixed in (Nouvelle, Semillon/Viognier), good citrus tones with melon rind and tropical flavours … the finish is a pleasant mix of vanilla and honeydew (****).
Seminar Four – Flagship Reds (3:30pm) … a full dozen wines were poured for this round and I singled out a top three selection, and a bubbling under 2, for a top 5.
Warwick 2008 Three Cape Ladies – sweet red berries and spice with vanilla-raspberry tannins that massage more than rip across the tongue, than there are pleasing chocolate notes that roll along the mid-palate to the finish (****+)
MR de Compostella 2007 – this one has some of those typical tarry South African notes, but there’s also dark fruit, spice, cocoa and some red fruit action here, that helps carry things thru to its pleasing conclusion (****+)
De Toren 2004 Fusion V – this Cabernet Sauvignon dominant wine is smooth and juicy with dark fruit, spiced-vanilla, mocha and some charred wood and fruit sensations on the finish; this needs some time and was poured alongside the 2009 vintage of the same wine. If the ’09 is going where the ’04 is my suggestion is to stock up (****)
Bubbling under bottles …
Vilafonte 2007 Series C – chocolate coated dark berries with spiced-mocha on the finish (****)
De Toren 2009 Z – this is the other side of V, dominated by Merlot, here you’ll find a more simple wine than the more than its complex laden counterpart (Fusion Z), here we have the subtlety of blueberry and chocolate with decent tannins holding it together (*** ½)
In a Class All its Own …
During the Chenin tasting of seminar 1 we were poured a Kanu Kia Ora 2006 Noble Late Harvest, another version of Chenin Blanc, this time on the sweet side. Honeyed-apricot and pears, dried peach and mango with a vanilla-buttery finish … delightful and playful dessert wine that seemed out of place amongst all those dry versions, but it deserved to be singled out as something decidedly different and wonderful all at the same time (*** ½+)