South Africa’s MAN chenin blanc offers quality and value in an $11 white wine
I’ve spent the past couple of months writing about South African wine, not only here but for the trade media. The goal? Trying to figure out if South Africa can fill the void caused by the 25 percent tariff on French, Spanish, and German wine.
Sadly, despite top quality wines like the MAN chenin blanc ($11, purchased, 12.5%), the answer seems to be no. The reasons are many, including the three-tier system (since each wine needs a distributor, which most don’t have) and problematic pricing on higher-end South African wines.
Which is too bad, since the MAN chenin blanc does everything a terrific $10 wine should do. It’s a far cry from the country’s pre-Apartheid chenin blanc, when it was called steen and was likely to be soft and flabby.
Instead, the MAN is fresh, crisp, and enjoyable, without any cloying fruit or sweetness. Look for some lime and tropical fruit and more layers of flavor than most chenins at this price have. In this, is a professional wine and very well done, and shows how far South African winemaking has come.
The Chateau d’Epire Savennieres shows chenin blanc can make classic white wine
Chenin blanc has a crummy reputation in this country, since it’s moistly used to make sweet bulk wine or soft, drab white blends with a cute label. Both approaches overlook the grape’s ability to astound, as it does in wines from various parts of France’s Loire. The Chateau d’Epire Savennieres is just one such example.
Know that chenin blanc can be similar to chardonnay, especially in pear and apple flavors. But it is also quite different. For one thing, oak is rarely used to temper the wines, so the fruit flavors are a little more crisp. And classic Savennieres is quite minerally, almost steely.
The Chateau d’Epire Savennieres fits the classic mold: A pear sort of fruit, but also steely and minerally. It’s ready to drink now, and should age for at least several years. Highly recommended, and it’s easily one of the best wines I’ve tasted in the past couple of years.
Pricing note: All prices are suggested retail or purchase price before the October 2019 tariffs unless noted
The Badenhorst The Curator is a white South African blend that offers a glimpse into the country’s wine renaissance
South African wine has never been much popular in the U.S., save for a brief period at the beginning of the century when it knocked off high-powered Aussie shiraz. When that fad ended, the country’s wines pretty much disappeared from store shelves.
So what is the Badenhorst The Curator ($10, purchased, 12.5%) doing as the wine of the week during the blog’s 2020 Hall of Fame celebration? Because the South African white blend is that well made and that enjoyable.
I bought the Badenhorst The Curator because I had to, given the European wine tariff; the country’s track record for quality and value has been that off-putting for the past 15 years. But The Curator is not what South African wine has been. Rather, it speaks to the country’s renaissance, and especially with white wines. The blend (mostly chenin blanc) is still crisp and fresh, with soft citrus and an almost juicy stone fruit finish that lingers longer than it should. Best yet, the price reminds us that not all wine has to cost $15 just because.
Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2021 $10 Hall of Fame.
• Vinum Cellars Chenin Blanc CNW 2017 ($15, sample, 12.5%): This California white is exceptional, but I have no idea how much it costs — prices range from $10 to $17. It’s just not well-made and varietally correct chenin (crisp, with lime and tropical fruit, but it’s a wonderful food wine. If you can find it for $15 or less, buy several.
• Juvé y Camps Brut Rose NV ($18, sample, 12.5%): This pink Spanish sparkler is a perennial favorite — always professional and enjoyable. This version is more cava-like (even though it’s made from pinot noir), so more tart red fruit. Highly recommended. Imported by Winebow
• Bonny Doon Clos de Gilroy 2018 ($16, purchased, 14%): This California red from Randall Grahm isn’t as grenache-y as past vintages — so less jammy fruit and more spice. It’s different and interesting, and a fine food wine. Plus, probably still a touch young.
The Patrick Baudouin Savennieres shows why chenin blanc should be one of the world’s great wine grapes
Chenin blanc may be the least respected grape in the wine world. In California, it’s used to make sweet, white jug wine or a treacly varietal. Even in France, where it’s best known for Vouvray, the wines can be dull and too soft.
This has always baffled me. Chenin blanc can make amazing wine – fresh, crisp and almost steely. I’ve annoyed any number of winemakers over the years, asking: “Why don’t you do chenin blanc?” after tasting their very ordinary and overpriced chardonnay from a part of the world that doesn’t need to be making chardonnay.
The Patrick Baudouin Savennieres shows none of this need be true. It’s classic Savennieres – rich and full in the mouth, but not oily or oaky. In fact, this wine could be used to teach how to do oak. There isn’t much fruit at all (maybe barely ripe pear?), but there is that wonderful Savennieres nuttiness and minerality as well as white pepper and an almost clove something or other. Plus, like all great wines from the region, it will age – maybe 10 more years.
Highly recommended, and especially for any Mother’s Day celebration where Mom wants something a little different. Drink this chilled, but open it 30 or 40 minutes before you drink it.
This week’s wine news: Dry Creek releases its 45th consecutive vintage of chenin blanc, plus the history of Two-buck Chuck and a loss for three-tier
• Keep it coming: Dry Creek Vineyard has released its 45th consecutive vintage of dry chenin blanc, which the winery says is a record for California. Given how little respect chenin blanc gets, and especially in California, that’s probably true. In fact, the Dry Creek chenin is a marvelous wine, a regular part of the $10 Hall of Fame, and an example to the rest of the wine world that you don’t have to make chardonnay, chardonnay, and more chardonnay. But what else would you expect from a winery that ends the news release about the chenin with this quote? “Instead of getting sucked into the increasing corporatization of the industry, we are bucking the trends and are an increasingly rare breed.” No wonder I like the wine so much.
• Three-tier takes a hit: The state’s supreme court has struck down a South Carolina law that said no one could own more than three liquor stores. The court ruled that the three-license law “limits are arbitrary and do not promote the health, safety or morals of the state, but merely provide economic protection for existing retail liquor store owners.” This matters not just for South Carolina, but in every state that limits the number of stores one person can own, which includes Texas. It’s not legally binding outside of South Carolina, but it does offer a precedent for judges to to use elsewhere. Also worth noting is that the suit was brought by the Total Wine chain, which has sued other states to overturn three-tier laws. Finally, if I may pat myself on the back, this appears to be part of a trend I wrote about last month, noting that a new generation of judges and regulators sees liquor law differently than their parents and grandparents did.
Wow, the Wine Curmudgeon is right. These wines are worth the extra money.
These four premiumized wines are worth the $17 to $22 that they cost
Premiumization and premiumized wine gets a nasty rap on the blog, and why not? Who wants to pay $15 for wine that’s worth half of that? But the Wine Curmudgeon is nothing if not open minded, which is one of the keys to quality criticism.
Hence, reviews of four wines worth buying that cost between $15 and $20 or so, the so-called sweet spot for premiumization:
• Chateau d’Epire Savennieres 2014 ($22, purchased, 13%): I love Savennieres, chenin blanc from France’s Loire Valley, but quality Savennieres isn’t $10 anymore and even the pricey stuff is difficult to find or overpriced. But the d’Epire was everything I hoped it would be – fresh lemon fruit instead of the Sweet Tart style you find in so many less well made wines, plus the traditional steely minerality. Highly recommended, even for $22. It should age a little, too, showing less fruit and more minerality as it gets older.
• Donati Family Vineyards Claret 2013 ($20, sample, 13.8%): This California red blend was an astounding value, full of quality red fruit (cherry and strawberry?) and an almost Italian-style freshness. Yes, grilled sausages and red sauce, but also a long dinner with good conversation. I was a little surprised by how much I enjoyed it, and not just for the value; it’s that so many other California wines at this price taste like fruit punch spiked with alcohol.
• Domaine de la Chanteleuserie Cuvée Alouettes ($17, purchased, 12%): This red from France’s Loire (made with cabernet franc) is not for everyone, and especially if you prefer a New World, fruit forward style. But if you want to try an impeccably made wine, with berry fruit, a little graphite and spice, and wonderful length, give it a try. Highly recommended, and just the thing for steak frites.
• St. Urbans-Hof Alte Reben Riesling 2015 ($18, sample, 10.5%): Quality German riesling, like Savennieres, has been mostly priced out of what most of us are willing to pay for wine. That’s what made the Alte Reben so enjoyable – it’s more or less worth what it costs. Look for a slightly honeyish sweetness with riesling’s telltale petrol aroma and bright lemon acidity. Very tasty, and just the thing as spring arrives.