In a perfect wine world, the Ken Forrester Petit Chenin Blanc would be on store shelves everywhere, and I wouldn’t have to write this kind of post. Until then, know that this is the kind of wine that I wish more producers made and that my colleagues in the Winestream Media allowed more people to enjoy.
Because the Ken Forrester Petit Chenin Blanc ($11, purchased, 13.5%), from South Africa, is the sort of fresh, crisp, and cheap white wine made with a grape that gets very little respect and that the world needs more of. It’s bright and juicy (peaches?), with a touch of citrus and an almost zesty finish that’s devoid of the bitter, pitty flavors some chenin blanc has. And it’s not sweet, either, with only about as much residual sugar as a typical chardonnay.
Chill this and drink on its own; it’s the kind of wine to keep around the house when you feel like a glass. Or pair it with almost any holiday meal that isn’t red meat, and especially a Christmas turkey or something to make all those leftovers that much more enjoyable.
My tasting notes say “thoroughly delightful,” which goes nicely with the note from the producer (and which are rarely worth quoting): “Should last half an hour with the cap off and reach for the next bottle!”
? Bring on the cartons: Box wine, since it’s too awkward for most store shelves and because consumers are confused about its quality, has been little more than a niche product in the U.S. But all that may be about to change with the news that E&J Gallo will sell a $20, 3-liter box called Vin Vault, which works out to $5 a bottle for something that will be the quality equivalent of $10 grocery store merlot. If Gallo — perhaps the best judge of consumer sentiment among Big Wine producers — figures the time is right for box wine, it probably is (witness the success of Barefoot and Apothic). Look for big-time promotions and price cutting for Vin Vault when it debuts next month, which should also spur price-cutting for Black Box and Bota Box, the brands that dominate the better-quality box wine market.
? Whatever happened to Sebeka? The $10 brand all but disappeared in the U.S. after Gallo gave up on it a couple of years ago, realizing how difficult it was to sell South African wine in the U.S. The wine itself was OK, but as the Wine Curmudgeon has noted many times, South African wines have many problems in this country that don’t include quality. But Sebeka’s new owner figures the time is right to try again, though I have my doubts given this assessment from a Sebeka official: “We don ?t know what will be the next big thing but hopefully it ?s chenin blanc or pinotage. It just needs that one breakthrough that everyone writes about.” I don’t know what the next thing will be either, though I do know it won’t be pinotage or that anyone in the Winestream Media will figure it out. They’re still unsure about sweet red wine.
? Ingredient labels: The recent arsenic scare is about more than contaminated wine; my take is that it’s just one part of the long battle over ingredient labels for wine. So the news last week — and before we found out we’d all been poisoned by cheap wine — that Big Wine producer Diageo would add calorie and nutritional information to its wine is worth mentioning. The company, whose brands include Chalone, Rosenblum, and Sterling, said it wants consumers to know what they’re drinking. In this, reports the Harpers trade magazine, Diageo is the first drinks company to offer the labels. Would that more producers, large and small, had that attitude.
But the Wine Curmudgeon will not let that deter him from his life’s work. What’s a constitutionally-protected regulatory system when terrific cheap wine is at stake?
Because the Ken Forrester ($10, purchased, 13%) is terrific — a surprisingly rich mouth feel given this is $10 chenin blanc, plus green apple fruit, a tiny hint of honey in the middle, and even some minerality on the finish. In this, it’s the kind of chenin — not sweet, not syrupy, not a sauvignon blanc knockoff, but with character and interest — that makes me wonder why the grape isn’t more popular. I rarely quote producer websites, but this is spot on: “Perfect everyday drinking wine.”
Especially if you live in the ninth largest city in the country where 100-degree summer days cry out for this kind of wine. Or, as several of my colleagues said when we bought the wine in San Diego, “What do you mean, you can’t buy this in Dallas?” Which, come to think of it, has always been a problem.
Highly recommended, but since it’s not for sale in Dallas, it can’t be in the $10 Hall of Fame. Unless I change the rules, but I don’t run that kind of Hall of Fame.
? Race and wine: A terrific piece in the New York Times about one of South Africa’s first — and only — black winemakers, that also offers insight into the country’s wine business. Says the winemaker, Ntsiki Biyela: “Somehow I fell in love with the ever-changing content of wine. Wine is never the same today as it is tomorrow. It even depends on where you drink it and who you are with and what mood you are in. It ?s a very, very nice thing.”
? New Virginia winery: Dave McIntrye reports on one of the first public sightings of Virginia’s new Trump Winery (with a picture), although there wasn’t very much Trump wine to taste. “Visitors to the Trump tent were given tastes of Kluge SP sparking wine (which was consistently quite good in my experience) and the Albemarle viognier, ros and red blends.” Maybe we can get Trump Winery to participate in Regional Wine Week? The man himself at DLW 2012: Colorado?
Sure enough, the Wine Curmudgeon was right (another example of how misguided the wine business can be). But I did find the previous vintage, the 2009 (purchased), for $11 at Whole Foods. And it wasn’t too shabby, either. The 2009 isn’t quite as impressive as the 2010, but for a previous vintage of a simple wine that shouldn’t necessarily last this long, it was nicely done.
Ken Forrester, a South African producer, is known for its expertise with chenin blanc, and would that more wineries took this grape so seriously. The 2009 wasn’t as light as I remember the 2010 being, but it still had lots of steely minerality and tart green apple fruit. And, for those of you who are concerned about these things, it wasn’t sweet at all.
It’s a summer heat wave wine, and there’s nothing wrong with dropping an ice cube in it or keeping it in the refrigerator for a couple of hours. It will pair with grilled chicken breasts and summer salads, and will also be quite welcome after work on its own as you sit out the heat of the day. And, hopefully, the 2010 will show up somewhere soon.
? Wine blogger awards: The finalists for the 2011 awards, which honor the best U.S. wine blogging, have been announced. The great Randall Grahm has been nominated in two categories — best writing and winery blog, while a couple of pals of regional wine have also been nominated — Lenn Thompson at New York Cork Report and Virginia's Swirl, Sip, Snark. Given the Napa-centric, industry-dominated focus of most of the finalists, the last two are huge surprises. Either is a deserving winner. And Grahm? They should just give him the best writing honor and then retire the award.
? Hogue goes screwcap: Yet another major winery has given up on corks. Hogue Cellars in Washington state, owned by multi-national Constellation Brands, will move all of its wines, including high-end reds, to screwcaps. Said Hogue's director of winemaking: "[T]his study shows that wines aged under the right screwcap closure over five years were better preserved, aged well and were deemed the highest quality." This is huge news, given that the biggest wine producers are often the most reluctant to give up on corks. No word yet on whether the cork producers have made a snarky video that says that guys who buy Hogue wines have bad breath, pimples and no luck with girls.
? The African wine business: Mike Veseth at the Wine Economist blog reports from the annual meeting of the American Association of Wine Economists. One topic? The future of the African wine business: "South Africa ?s markets of the future are Africa and India (not Britain and the U.S.) as wine consumption rises in these regions andfavorable wine market reforms are implemented (a particular problem in India, I believe, but probably in many parts of Africa, too). Wine markets shifting to Shanghai? That ?s interesting. To Nairobi? That ?s very interesting!" I wonder how the Wine Magazines would deal with that?
South African red wine has always baffled the Wine Curmudgeon. Its shiraz is often little more than an Australian knockoff, and its signature grape, pinotage, is, to be polite, an acquired taste. There is also the infamous burnt rubber aroma, which shows up in many of the red wines.
So I did not have high hopes for the Kadette ($15, sample), a blend of pinotage, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc. Nevertheless, it was easily the best pinotage I have ever had — and this is not damning with faint praise.
There is juicy New World berry fruit, but not overdone or too sweet as is the case with many California red wines at this price. Plus, moderate alcohol and soft tannins make it that much more interesting. The pinotage adds to the wine and doesn't overwhelm it; if I had tasted the Kadette blind, I'd have said it was a California Bordeaux-style blend. And no burnt rubber anywhere at all.
Serve the wine with pot roast and mashed potatoes, a rich, wintery and saucy meat lasagna, or even eggplant parmesan. The Kadette is a tremendous value.