Carl Kanowsky: South Africa’s Star – Chenin Blanc

Christopher Lavin of Broadbent Selections at “Blanc Your Brains Out” seminar at Wines of South Africa tasting. Courtesy photo

You know, I’ve written several times about the need for you to go to a structured, professional wine tasting. Such as ones hosted by different wine regions (Paso Robles, Santa Barbara County, etc.) or wine retailers (e.g., K & L, Wally’s), or international wine tastings organized often by country or specific areas in that country (Union des Grands Crus Bordeaux or Spain, among others).

Add to these resources a new type of wine sampling business. One of the most prominent of these is wineLA, owned by Ian Blackburn. Ian’s company offers numerous tastings, mainly in west Los Angeles, focused on either regions or varietals. For instance, he’s got Stars of Cabernet on November 15th, followed shortly after that with Chardonnay Challenge on December 16th.

On October 4th, wineLA invited me to their Wines of South Africa and the seminar, “Blanc Your Brains Out.” You see, Chenin Blanc is the most widely planted grape in South Africa.

In the 60’s and 70’s, Chenin Blanc was widely planted in California, often used in making jug wines. So, for many, if they have a memory of guzzling Chenin Blanc, it’s while they were in high school after a football game drinking it surreptitiously out of a brown paper bag. Not high-end stuff.

But that’s why you go to wine tasting, to expand your palate. Chenin Blanc actually has an elegant history. Its ancestors harken from France’s Loire Valley. Wine from here can be pretty pricey. The 1989 Domaine Huet can go for over $500 for a bottle (if you can find it).

However, South Africa offers much more affordable yet equally delicious wine. Christopher Lavin of Broadbent Selections provided a proper introduction to the day. We sampled great value everyday wines like the 2016 Badenhorst Secateurs Chenin Blanc (about $20), with delicious green apple tastes and quite bracing, to the 2014 Sadie Palladius (outstanding with overtones of pear and walnut, about $110) to something truly nasty (at least to me) Badenhorst Caperitif (but apparently a great mixer for cocktails).

From there, we went to the Grand Tasting. My favorites included Chenin Blanc (no surprise there) but also sparkling wine (from South Africa?) to a magnificent Semillon.

The 2016 De Morgenzon Chenin Blanc, aged in 25% new oak, spotlights excellent tartness with an invigorating lemony aftertaste. A great food wine, paired with apples and cheese or pan seared chicken. About $30. Also recommended is 2014 Fram Chenin Blanc, Citrusdal Mountain, from $25 to $30.

Then the surprise. I’m sure you’ve seen this if you’ve been to many tastings. Some of the vintners have people stacked up to get a small pour while others are remarkably free of any tasters. This was the case with the Graham Beck table. Maybe because few folks think of methode champenoise and South Africa together. But that’s all Graham Beck was pouring, six different sparkling wines. The 2012 Blanc de Blancs – quite tasty with citrusy notes and only about $25. The 2011 Brut Rose easily rivals many of its brethren from France. A delightful salmon pink, a great value at about $25.

I finished with the 2015 Thorne & Daughters Paper Kite Semillon. Fruit of 111-year-old vines, the wine has an enticing pear fragrance and outstanding stone fruit flavors. One of the highlights.

You see what you can discover just by going to a wine tasting!

© Carl J. Kanowsky
October 22, 2017

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