International Drink Chenin Blanc Day was started in the USA by a group of American retailers and sommeliers in 2012 across 10 cities. The South African Chenin Blanc Association joined the campaign in 2016 to bring additional insight to this iconic cultivar. The original perspective focused on the fit of Chenin with the Northern hemisphere’s summer, but as we know in SA, Chenin is the chameleon of the wine world and makes for many exceptional styles of wine, and the 17th of June was the day to celebrate it this year.
Ken Forrester was one of the founding members of the Chenin Blanc Association and the current chairperson. The association was formed with the purpose of ensuring that South African Chenin Blanc takes its rightful place with the other great white wines of the world.
Chenin is believed to have originated in the Loire region in the 9th century, where it is still celebrated as the cultural home and produces many styles of wine. However, South Africa grows more Chenin than any other country thanks, in part, to our exceptional brandy production. Brandy aside, SA has a wide array of terroirs that are ideal for bringing out the multifaceted representations of this noble cultivar.
Ken Forrester has curated a collection of Chenin wines that demonstrate the versatility of the cultivar and range of SA terroir. First, there is the iconic FMC which is hand-harvested primarily from low yielding old bush vine planted in 1974, with only 3 tons per hectare yield. This is the pinnacle expression of the cultivar and the unique terroir of the Stellenbosch estate. The wine is naturally fermented in French oak barrels (50% new) and aged for 12 months in the barrel sur lie. The final wine is rich and layered with dried apricot, vanilla, and honey and will gain additional complexity with cellaring. This is the wine that earned Ken the name Mr Chenin.
Sticking with wines from the estate, there is the Cap Classique Sparklehorse made from the estate’s cool vineyards that retain the vital acid backbone while gently ripening. Then there is the Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc which is a rich and ripe crowd-pleasing wine made from 38-year-old vines from the unique Helderberg area. Finally, there is the T Noble Late Harvest, a Botrytis wine that has a ripe sweetness, yet it is tangy, with sweet and sour zip flavours like baked apples with clove spice, wood spice and honey on the finish.
Looking to other regions, Terre Noire is made from Swartland Chenin into a full-flavoured wine with soft, gentle white peach and melon flavours and a long finish and beautifully textured. Then there is Dirty Little Secret (DLS) Three, an exciting ongoing project based on an incredible old bush vine vineyard in Piekenierskloof. It is hard to believe, but these vines were planted in 1959 and Ken developed this project where multiple vintages are used to create a layered representation. DLS Three is a luscious and complex blend of 4 vintages from 2017-2020. The wine is somehow austere but rich, elegant and driven by a totally mineral core that holds all of the fruit and lasts forever on the palate.
For this Drink Chenin Blanc Day, Ken Forrester has the perfect wine for you to pay homage to this noble and iconic cultivar.