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.
Imported by Vineyard Brands
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.
The Chateau d’Epire Savennieres ($25, purchased, 13%) is gorgeous, delicious chenin blanc from the Savennieres region in the Loire. And, frankly, at this price it’s an infinitely better value than much of the $25 chardonnay made here or in France.
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
Imported by Kermit Lynch
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.
Imported by Broadbent Selections
Four recommendations for Christmas wine 2019
These will get you started:
• Sierra Cantabria Rosado 2018 ($12, purchased, 13%): This Spanish pink does all it should for the price — a little orangish red fruit and it’s stony and crisp, as well. It’s worth noting once again that Spanish rose is among the best values in the world when governments aren’t playing tariff games. Imported by Fine Estates from Spain
• 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.
More about Christmas wine:
• Christmas wine 2018
• Christmas wine 2017
• Christmas wine 2016
• Wine of the week: CVNE Rioja Cune Crianza 2015
• Expensive wine 126: Patricia Green Pinot Noir Reserve 2017
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.
Which bring us to the Patrick Baudouin Savennieres ($40, purchased, 13.5%), a chenin blanc that demonstrates the grape’s potential. The Savennieres region is in the Loire in central France, not as well known as nearby Vouvray and overshadowed by the Loire’s reputation for some of the world’s best sauvignon blanc, made in Sancerre.
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.