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Chenin Blanc

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Wine is Great

Wine is great because of its almost limitless ability to surprise. When I began my MW studies a couple of years ago I thought that I knew something about wine (based on the logic that I’d made some, imported a bit, loved tasting etc). Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on whether you consider the status of my ego important) I have spent the last two years proving that I actually knew bugger all and that the more I tread my vinous path the more I feel dwarfed by the scale of what is revealed. Yet this is wine’s gift to us all. Being of the land means that changes of region, country and grape variety coupled with the producer’s ideology will result in difference. Some view difference as something to be tolerated, at best accepted, but those who know, know that difference should be cherished.

This brings me to Swartland in South Africa. Over the festive period I had a couple of bottles from Sequillo, a product of the revered Eben Sadie, one of the Southern Hemisphere’s great winemakers. They only produce two wines; the white based on Chenin Blanc and the red on Syrah. The ‘surprise’ experienced by me was a result of their finesse. These wines – the product of dry-grown, low yielding vines – ‘feel’ Rhone-like. I was expecting something concentrated but more blowsy than the taut (if still generous) nature of the fruit on show; they put many of the more expensive bottles of wine I had over Christmas to shame. There is no moral to this story other than a gentle reminder to keep your tongue turned on. Make 2015 the year you challenge your default choices.

Sequillo White, W.O Swartland 2012, 14%
Grape: 40% Chenin Blanc with the balance made up from Clairette, Viognier, Verdelho, Semillion Blanc & Gris
Wine-making: Matured in old oak and has a year on the lees
Note: Concentrated and with bright acidity that helps bring the apple, pear and quince fruit to life. Full but fine; a wine to savour.
Price: Approximately 25-30 USD
Score: 17.5/20
Available from: Not currently available in Taiwan 

Sequillo Red, W.O Swartland 2011, 14%
Grape: Syrah, Cinsault, Mouvedre, Grenache, Tinta Barocca & Carignan
Wine-making: Matured in old oak for 24 months
Note: Spiced red fruit, plum and some earthy savouriness. Persistent on the palate and with supple tannins that make this appropriate with or without food.
Price: 25-30 USD
Score: 17/20
Available from: Not currently available in Taiwan

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The Continued Delights of Chenin Blanc

It was in a previous post (Something for the Weekend 5, October 3rd) that I spoke of the under-appreciated joys of Chenin Blanc. That was in relation to the Loire, Chenin’s place of birth but it also has a second home (doesn’t everyone?) in South Africa. Here it has a mixed reputation with some producers all too happy to pull it out and convert to ‘easier’ sells such as Chardonnay and Sauvignon (boring) Blanc. Yet in more recent times, some seem set on securing Chenin’s status as South Africa’s signature white variety, a very sensible move in a world already soaked with the aforementioned varieties. Producers to look out for include Alheit, Beaumont, Ken Forrester, Raat’s, the Sadie Family and Mullineux to name but a few. Fortunately I was in town this week to taste Bellingham’s best as they enter the fray here in Taipei. Their wines, particularly the Old Vine Chenin reviewed below had the requisite ‘drive’ to be admired and when coupled with the aromas of custard apple…well that’s a winning formula as far as I’m concerned.

If your idea of fun is to dress your beloved in a gimp mask and ask them to eat a banana whilst you restore their toes to their pre-painted state, then Pinotage is the grape for you. No variety is so negatively associated with the smells of rubber, banana and acetone as South Africa’s indigenous gift to the world. Yet good Pinotage does exist and although, as of yet, it is still not quite on my list of go to grapes, examples as engaging as Bellingham’s below are more than worthy of your attention and promise a much less malodorous future.

Bellingham, Ancient Earth, Chenin Blanc, Coastal Region, 2013, 13.5%
Grape:
Chenin Blanc
Wine-making: A little oak just to add some custard/ vanilla aroma
Note: Fresh and full with Chenin’s typically appley character dominating. A little creamy on the palate but it has the requisite acidity to prevent any blowsiness. Good value Chenin!
Price: 700NT
Score: 15.5/20
Available from: Finesse

Bellingham, Bernard Series, Old Vine Chenin Blanc, Coastal Region, 2013, 14%
Grape:
Chenin Blanc
Wine-making: 12 months in 50% new French oak
Note: Smells very enticing with bruised, spiced apple, custard and little stone-fruit. Creamy, mouth-filling palate but in no way heavy with a good line of acidity holding things together. Will be even better in another 18 months when the oak is more fully integrated.
Price: 1,250NT
Score: 16.5/20
Available from: Finesse

Bellingham, Bernard Series, Pinotage, Stellenbosch, 2013, 14%
Grape:
Pinotage
Wine-making: 50% new French Oak for 12 months
Note: Smoky with an industrial twang (that is not pejorative, I often find Syrah with this same industrial/machine oil/earthy/mineral thing). Plenty of black fruit both fresh and baked/scorched alongside some dried flowers. Supple tannins but with enough grip to keep you interested and with a subtle dose of vanilla and spice from the oak. Very enjoyable and one for Syrah lovers to try.
Price: 1,950NT
Score: 17/20
Available from: Finesse

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Something for the Weekend 5

No other region in the wine-producing world has the variety of the Loire valley. Yet, it is unfashionable (apart from the wines of Sancerre) languishing behind the other heavyweights of vinous France, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne and the Rhone. It is true that in the not too distant past some of the whites could be lean, green and mean and the reds rather weedy and overly herbaceous. Yet with a warming climate and greater focus on ensuring better ripeness of fruit, Loire wines are increasingly consistent.

Built on the back of a number of varieties, the Loire’s greatest gift to the taste curious lies in Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc. Chenin is a sister (or brother if you prefer) of Sauvignon Blanc (SB) but whereas SB has conquered the world with her showy, overt ‘smell that sucker!’ character, Chenin sits at home reading Proust, munching on madeleines and relying on suitors to beat a path to her door. Chenin is not easy, especially when made in its most powerful, brooding incarnation as it is in Savennières. But who said wine should be easy? One never gets to bottom of a bottle of Savennières without some help and if your brow doesn’t furrow and your eyebrows lift at one taste of a fine example, then you better call the doctor because clearly your tongue doesn’t work.

Cabernet Franc (CF) is the mum (or dad) of Cabernet Sauvignon. The more famous progeny is more spiky, more teenager-like than its parent, with its tough, tannic reticence and acid tongue. CF is more measured, similar but dialled back a notch, with the best radiant with raspberry, pencil shavings and exotic spice charm. One word of warning, the savouriness that CF can exhibit can bemuse some more used to overtly fruity offerings. Don’t worry, just ignore them and revel in the fact that you have more to drink for yourself.

Below are a couple of examples available here in Taiwan (and no doubt the wider world) that should pique your interest into what is on offer in the Loire.

Eric Morgat, Cuveé L’Enclos, Savennières, 2009, 14%
Grape:
Chenin Blanc
Wine-making: Old barrels and biodynamic production
Note: Enticing and classic aromas of bruised apple, honey and nuts. Scalpel like acidity performs liposuction on this full bodied beauty, sculpting a palate of rare finesse. Serious and perfect drinking right now.
Price: 1700NT
Score: 18/20
Available from: Celier des Poetes

Chateau de Parnay, Saumur Champigny, 2010, 13.5%
Grape:
Cabernet Franc
Wine-making: No new oak
Note: Leafy, spice-laden, aromatic deliciousness on the nose followed by a sweet and savoury palate. Quintessential and affordable.
Price: 1100NT
Score: 16/20

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