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Chenin Blanc - Why not take Cinderella to the ball?

Written by  Charles J. Fourie | September 4, 2014

South African winemakers were dealt a fabulous hand of Chenin Blanc, but many chose to fold without even looking at their cards.

        Widespread and prolific, Chenin Blanc is commonly regarded as a bulker or suitable for distilling brandy.  But now, thanks to a number of visionary Swartland winemakers, this charming Cinderella is finally taking her place at the ball.
        As Chenin Blanc is vigorous – “produces wine like water” according to one writer - it was planted all over South Africa’s wine growing regions many, many years ago. Despite major uprooting over the last 10-15 years, South Africa still remains the country with the largest plantings of Chenin Blanc in the world, twice that of France.
        It was certainly not intentional, but we are very fortunate that Chenin Blanc was planted so widely. It meant that at least some of it was planted in the right place. And even better, that there is a lot of it today that is not only growing in the right place, but has had ample time to mature as vines.

The magic of old vines

        The jury is still out on exactly how old-vines produce better wines, but let me give you the answer given to me by a winemaker who works with old vines. He is of the opinion that the older a vine is, the more adapted it has become to its environment. If it has survived for years with relatively little human intervention, it also has greater chances of being in harmony with its natural surroundings, and as a result would likely produce better-balanced fruit.
        Thus, coupled with the reduced yields that old vines produce, there is a far better chance of old vine Chenin producing better quality fruit than young ones. Of course age does not equate quality, but it certainly ups your chances.

        Yet so many South African wine producers have squandered this, one of South Africa’s most valuable vinous assets: Old Vine Chenin Blanc. Until recently we didn’t really know how much old-vine Chenin we had. Because of Chenin’s high vigour, it was mainly an ideal grape to plant for bulk wine and brandy production.

Less predictable, but greater creative range

        For the consumer, one of the drawbacks of Chenin is its relative unpredictability. Sauvignon Blanc is relatively straightforward. It does what it says on the box. Chenin Blanc on the other hand, can be sweet, off-dry, dry, sparkling, or somewhere in-between. For lovers of the grape – especially winemakers – this is however a boon, for it allows experimentation, and yields a more intricate palette of flavours and textures to work with. Which of course does not aid the consumer’s confusion.
        While I cannot offer a description of every single Chenin out there, I think a good place to start if you want to try out old-vine Chenin, would be the affordable Riebeek Cellar’s 2014 offering. Thanks to the winemaker Eric Saayman the wine was produced from vines as old as 45 years (in other words planted in the year Neill Armstrong landed on the moon!)
        The Riebeek Cellars 2014 Chenin Blanc deftly shows off the grape’s fresh and bright acidity with round and rich tropical fruit, guava, melon and a pear drop finish. While it perhaps lacks the complexity and weight of some pricier Chenins out there, it provides the everyday drinking pleasure that Chenin can offer at such incredible prices. If you are getting tired of the green, grassy flavours of Sauvignon Blanc and want something with a touch more roundness, a little more tropical fruit, but just as much refreshment, then I can strongly recommend Riebeek Cellar’s Chenin Blanc 2014.  
        South Africa’s best Chenins can however be as pricey as expensive red wines. Old vines produce less fruit, and farmers are not in the business just for the romance of old vines. The only way we are going to save our valuable old vines as consumers, is by being willing to buy more Chenin at higher prices. So here is my advice: save money by buying the brilliantly valued Riebeek Chenin  and enjoy Cinderella at the Ball!

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Wat verkies jy? Iets wat oud en geyk is of 'n wyn wat jonk pronk?

Gerharda Gericke: Stem saam met Tino Horne. Saam met goeie pelle. (Hulle raak ook nou min, ons ouderdom se boompies in die bos word nou afgekap)
Anne Kotzé: Enigiets, solank dit saam met goeie vriende/familie geniet word!
Veronica Coetzer: Ag solank dit net lekker smaak dan maak die ouderdom nie saak nie of hoe?
Simon Dicks: Moet/mag ek net een kies... want ek kies altwee...
Irving Schack: Iets oud en glad soos ek
Damian Diergaardt: Ag lyk my jul keni wyn nie..iets wat oud en geyk is sal loop
Heidi Ernani Drew: Hang af van die ambiance van die moment... diep-donker rooi op ‘n koue dag saam met wildspastei of osso bucco.. of enige swaar rooivleis en dan ‘n vars jong witwyntjie wat op die palet ontplof saam met visdisse of hoenderetes.
Johan Vercuiel: Kamma oud pronk ook ek vat-wyn