Ken Forrester's historic farmstead and Delaire's new chenin
Having missed a fine showcase of chenins at the Cape Grace last week, I have already diarised August 24 which is when the winners of the 2016 Chenin Blanc Top 10 Challenge will be announced at Delaire Graff estate. If you are thinking of entering your chenin, note that entries close a week from today, on June 29, and the judging panel meets from July 5 – 7 to identify the stars.
Having looked at the Showcase categories – fresh and fruity, rich and ripe, cap classiques, blends, older vintages and sweet wines – I turned to a trio of chenins at home waiting to be sampled and decided to categorise them as well.
Ken Forrester’s 2015 Dirty Little Secret has already received a fair amount of publicity, partly because of its name, secondly its price (R950) and thirdly in various comparisons with other single vineyard, “naturally made” chenins from old vines. Grapes were sourced from low-yielding 51-year-old bush vines in Piekenierskloof, and the wine was made to age and gain complexity in the bottle. Winemaking involved only wild yeasts , spontaneous fermentation and no sulphur was added until after malolactic fermentation. It matured in 400 litre French oak for five months before being bottled, unfiltered and unfined. The process can be described as a trip back in time to make a thoroughly modern wine. Ken stated that he wanted to ‘showcase the terroir’ along with a wine that can be identified by terroir, vintage and age of the vineyard.
The “dirty” in the wine’s name refers to a technical term about wines that are cloudy and unstable, because of natural or minimal- interference winemaking. Will the name put off fastidious consumers, one wonders?
It is indeed an impressive chenin, one that certainly fits the rich and ripe category, offering a luxury packaging with a pricy charcoal and yellow box to hold the dark bottle with its decorative front label informing consumers only of the name. Only 12,5% alcohol levels, its golden, with definable structure, minerality allied to a smooth mouthfeel. There’s plenty of fruit in its rich flavours and I really like it, as it does not overwhelm with the intensity of some barrel-fermented chenins.
It will be interesting to see if local consumers are happy to fork out close to R1 000 for their pleasure, and if export sales are what Ken has in mind here.
Delaire Graff chenin blanc Swartland Reserve 2015 presents quite a sharp contrast. Bottled in a green screwcapped bottle, its simple white label is unadorned offering basic information. This is an elegant chenin, also made from very old bush vines, which were whole bunch pressed, no sulphur added. The wine was matured in French oak for 10 months, in both 400 litre and 2 500 litre barrels.
It charms with restrained layers of citrus and pineapple, with wisps of honey coming through. There is structure and minerality too, but nothing is obvious, nicely balanced, with 14% alcohol levels not being noticeable either. It sells for R160 and will find favour with a wide spectrum of local and international palates. It would fall into the fresh and fruity category: Fresh, yes, but the fruit is held in check to obtain perfect balance with mineral structure. A class act.
My final chenin was purchased from Checkers a couple of weeks ago: BC or Brandvlei Cellar is one that I have often meant to stop at while driving on the R43 from Worcester to Villiersdorp and Elgin. Somehow appointments have always interfered, although I know this grower-owned cellar is renowned for value for money whites and reds enjoyed by a wide range of consumers. I paid R27 for their 2016 chenin blanc, and was impressed by the enjoyment offered by this quaffer. Fresh and fruity, certainly, 12,5% alcohol levels adding to its appeal. The typical Breede valley characteristics of guava and subtropical fruit are there, it is not bone dry, and it is a chenin that can accompany fare from picnics to fruit tarts in undemanding style. I would certinaly give it more than 2 and half stars which the 2015 vintage gets in the current edition of Platter. Its a chenin to convert budget-minded consumers who usually buy boring white boxed blends.