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MICHAEL GREEN’S WINE NOTES #195 (article first published : 2008-05-11)

“Chenin blanc?”, said a lunch guest the other day. “Isn’t it that cheap, semi-sweet white wine?”

Well, yes and no. The chenin blanc grape, also sometimes called steen in South Africa, is still the most widely planted white cultivar in this country and is still used in large quantities to make inexpensive everyday wines (the most famous, long years ago, was Lieberstein).

And it is used for sweet dessert wines and it is a useful blender for just about everything. But it is also increasingly used to produce high quality dry and off-dry wines. And these wines are usually good value because among the many virtues of chenin blanc (which has its origins in the Loire Valley of France) is the fact that the vine is generally a prolific bearer, and lots of grapes mean lower costs.

A new entry at the top end of the chenin market comes under what is probably the Cape’s best-known label, Nederburg. This is the newly launched 2007 Nederburg Chenin Blanc. The cellarmaster, Razvan Macici, says he has always had great faith in the depth and complexity of chenin blanc but wanted to wait until he had the right fruit to introduce this variety to the Nederburg range.

The grapes came from 15 to 20 year old bush vines at Darling, Stellenbosch and Bottelary Hills. Contrary to the common experience with chenin, they had a low yield, six to ten tons per hectare and as a result they had a concentrated, intense flavour.

The result, says Razvan Macici, is “a very aromatic, full-bodied, almost voluptuous wine. On the nose you will pick up ripe stone fruit and raisins, underpinned by a flintiness. These same qualities show on the palate and they linger on the aftertaste. It’s a big but beautifully balanced wine that stands up extremely well to spicy food, Thai and Indian dishes, as well as cream-based sauces and even fruit desserts”.

At 14 percent alcohol this wine is quite potent. If you are in a voluptuous mood it will cost you about R42 a bottle. – Michael Green




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