New World Discovery Theatre: Chenin Blanc
South Africa’s signature white grape variety, Chenin Blanc, has seen plantings fall as vines are uprooted to make way for red grapes. But it remains by far the most widely planted white grape – with 20% of plantings. ‘We still have more Chenin than France, and a third of the global production,’ says winery owner Ken Forrester.
Forrester, owner of his eponymous winery, is the country’s most famous Chenin Blanc producer and nobody could be better qualified to present a line-up of six South African examples to the audience of Decanter readers at this session of the Discovery Theatre.
He’s obviously nuts about the grape, and keen to spread the word. ‘It’s not as obvious as Sauvignon Blanc; it’s a mysterious grape, complex and with an incredible ability to age. It’s loved by people who are more serious about wine than the average Chardonnay drinker.’
Lovers of white Burgundy may take issue with that statement, but wouldn’t have argued with the quality of the wines on show here. Forrester presented a variety of styles, ranging from the unwooded Cederberg Chenin, with its clean minerality, to the lusciously sweet but fresh Nederburg Edelkur NLH 2003. In between were four wines with varying degrees of barrel fermentation, from Mulderbosch, Perdeberg, Rudera and Forrester himself (The FMC 2009).
‘Many people say they don’t understand Chenin Blanc,’ said Forrester, ‘and yes, there are many varied soils, and styles. But these are wines worth getting to know, and you can make some generalisations. Chenin typically has notes of white fruit, apples and quince – move to South Africa and you get more baked apple, honey, pears and nuts, a slight caramelisation.
‘Our Chenins are also great with food, and are a bridge between the Old World (for restraint and acidity) and New World (for ripeness, fruit and structure). We’re seeing a real renaissance of Chenin, especially in restaurants. Just be careful when you’re buying – you get what you pay for.’
Forrester rounded off by encouraging people to learn more about Chenin at the International Chenin Blanc Symposium this November, in South Africa. Could there be a better excuse to visit?