Did you know that South African Chenin Blanc is the greatest wine to be in your glass this summer? Lauren Buzzeo, managing editor at Wine Enthusiast, talks to Sam Timberg, co-founder and managing director of Meridian Prime, a U.S. importer that specializes in South African wine. They’ll discuss the history, versatility, top regions and producers, and tell you which ones you need to check out this summer.
Read the full transcript of “The Many Faces of Summer’s Best White, Chenin Blanc”:
Lauren Buzzeo: Hello and welcome to the Wine Enthusiast podcast. Your serving of wine trends and passionate people behind the bottle. I’m Lauren Buzzeo, the managing editor here at Wine Enthusiast and in this episode I’m going to be speaking with Sam Timberg, the co-founder and managing director of Meridian Prime. Meridian Prime as a U.S. importer that specializes in wines from South Africa.
Did you know that South African Chenin Blanc is the greatest wine to be in your glass this summer? It’s true. We’re declaring it.
And we’ll get into why, including the history of the grape, its versatility, the top regions, and producers to look for. And of course, we’ll dive into some recently rated and excellent examples of Chenin Blanc worth checking out. So, move over Sauvi B—your mouth is going to be watering after hearing all about the beauty that awaits you in your next glass of Chenin. Let’s get to it.
So first off, hi Sam, thanks so much for joining me today.
Sam Timberg: Hey Lauren, thank you so much for having me. It’s an honor to be here. You’ve been flying the flag for South Africa high for many years and it’s always great to talk to you.
LB: Well, I think that this is probably going to be one of the easiest conversations that we’ve had because we are both such crazy fans of South African wine. And of course, Chenin Blanc.
ST: Yeah, neither of us are going to have any trouble getting through this one. It’s one of my favorite varietals. South Africa is a region that has been very close to my heart for over a decade now and there’s a reason we specialize on it.
LB: Absolutely. So, let’s get into just a little bit of history about the grape. I think for a lot of people, the Loire Valley would be considered the viticultural birthplace of Chenin Blanc.
But South Africa has definitely created an unmistakable association between the grape and the country. It’s also known as Steen in South Africa.
Sam: We’re trying to get rid of that though. Wine is confusing enough already. Let’s call it Chenin Blanc and let’s get more people drinking it.
LB: I like it. But the variety is actually one—it might’ve been one—of the first cultivars in the country, I think that there are records dating back to as early as the mid-1600s. It’s crazy and I think a lot of people don’t really necessarily associate South Africa with having that long or that rich of winemaking history.
ST: When you’re south of the equator, you get looped into the New World. But in South Africa, the winemakers have the ability to work with some of the oldest soils in the world. They’re working with cultivars that might’ve come from the Old World wine regions.
So even though they might get looped into the New World, I think of them as straddling that line between New World with maybe a little bit more expressive wines, but Old World soil and they really have the ability to go in either direction there.
LB: Totally. I like to say that Old World soul and that New World attitude. So, Chenin Blanc represents approximately 18% of the country’s total acreage under vine. So, it is definitely the most widely planted grape in the country, which actually South Africa is probably known for producing a lot of different grapes. But I’d like to think that Chenin Blanc is its calling card.
What do you say?
ST: Absolutely. I think it should be, I think it deserves to be, I think there’s enough diversity in the style of Chenin Blanc that if you’d like the lighter, fresher style, if you like a fuller, richer style. It’s really everyone’s favorite grape in South Africa. I call it the universal pairing grape—whenever I don’t know what to pair with something, I always say Chenin Blanc and I’ve yet to be wrong.
LB: I think that you hit the nail on the head there. There’s a style of Chenin that’s appropriate for pretty much anything and everything you could eat.
ST: Absolutely! Anything you’re going to eat, if you’re just going to be hanging out with friends and you want a light fresh, you know, white wine before the sunsets, Chenin Blanc’s your wine.
If you want something to go with your seafood salad, if you want something to go with salmon, if you want something to go with chicken, there’s always a Chenin Blanc for you.
LB: So we just came from lunch and I wasn’t hungry in the slightest, but now all of a sudden, I’m famished and I think that we need to absolutely have a glass too while we’re talking. So, while I pop this bottle here, let’s continue and also get into how Chenin Blanc is probably one of the most versatile grapes. It expresses its terroir really masterfully. So, for example, if you’re talking about Chenin grown in granitic soils, it can contribute a linear flinty characteristic mineral characteristic, if you will.
Whereas if you’re talking about regions that are maybe more rich and clay in their soils, you’re going to get maybe a little bit more rounder texture and riper fruit characteristics. I think that’s one of the most fascinating things for me about Chenin, is the different expressions that you can get from region to region.
ST: I think Chenin is, you’re totally spot on with that. Chenin is a grape that tells you about where it came from. It tells you about the, the wine makers and the workers that have worked on the wines. And it really has a story to tell where a lot of wines, like Sauvignon Blanc to me, are formulaic sometimes and they’re not the ones that are going to be why I got into wine and why I’m passionate to tell the stories of, of where these wines come from and where they were grown and how they got into your glass.
LB: Right. And then beyond terroir, we already sort of touched on it a little bit, but we’re going to touch upon it even more: Chenin is probably one of the most versatile grape varieties for production as it can be made into such a wide assortment of styles. Virtually all style types except maybe red wine, of course. But we’re talking about from still, dry, sweet, sparkling, oaked, unoaked, I mean it runs the veritable gamut of everything that you could want in a grape.
ST: In fact, it’s, I think of Chenin Blanc is sort of the South African wine industry in a microcosm. One of the issues that South Africa has always faced is that they’re super diverse.
They make a lot of different styles of wine. They make everything from light fresh whites to full bodied reds and everything in between, sparkling, dessert wines. And Chenin Blanc really sort of falls into that category as well, there isn’t just one style. So if you like white wine, chances are you’re really gonna like Chenin Blanc. It’s just about finding that style that really speaks to you.
LB: Finding that Goldilocks style. We talked about that a little bit. It’s a little bit difficult. The fact that the variety does make such a wide assortment of styles that you really need to just have a little bit of understanding in terms of the producer, their offerings to their portfolio to really find the one that suits you best and to have confidence shopping for that style.
ST: Absolutely. It’s about finding a wine purveyor or sommelier that really wants to help you through it. It’s definitely not as easy to understand as Sauvignon Blanc, but a little bit of research goes a really long way and will reward you over years to come.
LB: Yeah, definitely. All right, well let’s do a little bit of research for them. So first off, I’d like to ask Sam, do you remember what your first South African Chenin Blanc was?
ST: So I’ve been drinking almost exclusively South African wines since about 2005. I was studying abroad in Kenya when I was in college and my brother was the Washington Post correspondent in southern Africa and he said, you’re never going to be closer to me than you are right now, so why don’t you come visit? He gave me an essentially an open invitation. I went and stayed with him for about three and a half weeks.
He was based in Johannesburg, but we went down to the Western Cape in South Africa and Cape Town and spent a lot of time in wine country, which is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been in my entire life. And it immediately spoke to me and we went wine tasting. And my history with wine at that point had been very much a college kid’s history with wine, which was as cheap and as much as you could get.
But I didn’t really ever drink wine because it was something to do as an endeavor. It was just sort of, you know, let’s drink cheap wine. In South Africa, the wine was accessible on a college kid’s budget and you could go to these beautiful wineries and taste their range of wines. And immediately for me, Sauvignon Blanc was what spoke to me.
It was really interesting. I could immediately put my nose in the glass and smell the grassy, the gooseberry that people talked about. And it was a really accessible wine. It was really easy to learn about quickly. But my, my interest in Sauvignon Blanc waned pretty quickly. And it was a pretty quickly after my sort of favorite Sauvignon Blancs from South Africa, the Buitenverwachting Sauvignon Blanc and Mulderbosch Sauvignon Blanc, the really sort of classic examples.
Then I started saying, well, all right, what else is out there? And in South Africa, wine makers were all talking about Chenin Blanc and one of the legends of South African winemaking and. a great friend of mine is Bruwer Raats and he makes Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc. That’s really all he does. He’s a super specialist and he makes a Chenin Blanc called The Original Chenin Blanc, which sees no oak aging whatsoever. It’s very light, it’s super crisp, but it has this texture and this richness to it without any vanilla or butterscotch that you might get from an oaky wine.
That was incredibly appealing to me. It was really food friendly. Bruwer would describe it as having a linear flavor profile where Sauvignon Blanc has that kick up front and then it just sort of falls off on the back of your palate. And Chardonnay is the exact opposite, where Chardonnay sort of enters your palate slowly and then builds on the palate. Chenin Blanc is going to be linear all the way through.
And Bruwer explained that to me and when you try his wines, it’s really brilliant how Chenin Blanc does that. It makes it incredibly food friendly, appealing on its own. And so that was the first one that really sort of like took me to a different place.
And then on the other end of the spectrum, another legend in the Stellenbosch region in South Africa is Ken Forrester and he makes a wine called the FMC. No one really knows where that name came from.
LB: Where does that name come from, Sam?
ST: It came from a tasting in London, purportedly. And someone was looking for the Chenin that Ken had under the table and gave it a very fancy name.
LB: I’ll go for it. Was it the fucking mind-blowing Chenin?
ST: Absolutely. And it still is. And the first time I had it, my mind was fucking blown. It was unbelievable. It’s this incredibly rich and unctuous but incredibly focused at the same time. It’s hard to put into words that wine. It’s an experience on its own. It’s not the kind of wine you have to have with food. It’s a show stopper. And so it was really cool to, to try wines like Bruwer’s Original Chenin Blanc that was so light and fresh and wanted you to just sort of hang out and have a great time and be with friends.
And then the FMC that’s all about just what can you do with this grape? And working with it in incredibly small, very few barrels and, and really just trying to put as much as you can into one bottle. And the FMC was the wine on the other end of that spectrum. And now Chenin has become this calling card for South Africans, so many wine makers are working with single plots and working with single vineyards and really just trying to let these incredible old vineyards, old vines tell the story of South African wine and Chenin Blanc.
LB: Okay. Let’s hold on to that old vine thing for one second. Cause we’re definitely getting back to that. You know I love talking to old vines. But I love that you pick these two sort of pillars and icons of South African Chenin Blanc: Bruwer, who’s basically the king of Chenin, and Ken Forrester, who’s the other king of Chenin. It’s two kingdoms and they rule them.
ST: I feel like it’s very appropriate. We use like a very Game of Thrones aspect right now. We’ll have to have a, a battle royale between Ken and Bruwer.
LB: That would be a really epic battle. But they both make such beautiful expressions. And Bruwer and Ken both also do the opposite of the wines that you were talking about. So talking about the FMC, Ken also has his Petite range, which is the more unoaked accessible, easygoing, mouthwatering, refreshing Chenin. And Bruwer also has his Old Vine. So it’s great that all of these winemakers who really love the grape just want to showcase the range of expressions that it is possible to produce.
So let’s go back for one second to Raats, to talk about his 2017 Old Vine Chenin, because you hit on old vines, you hit on Bruwer. So we’re talking about a great winemaker, a great producer. We’re also talking about an epic vintage in ’17. I know my opinion, I was a huge fan of ’15, I still am a huge fan of ’15. I think the ’17s, especially for the whites that I’ve seen so far, are absolutely blowing me out of the water and I can’t wait to see how it continues to evolve and especially as the reds start to come out how the ’17 is going to unfold in our glass. But talking about this wine, the Old Vine Chenin—South Africa has a tremendous history as we already talked about with Chenin, and there’s a lot of registered vineyards for old vines. So technically we’re talking 35 years and older, but there are some that are more than 100years old. And these ancient vines are just some of the most magnificent treasures that you can look at. They’re completely in tune to their surroundings.
They produce wines—not always, it’s not a given or a guarantee—but typically. when they’re treated right and when the right winemaker gets their hands on them, they know how to exhibit just this beautiful balance between concentration and finesse. That’s just really hard to accomplish in my opinion with some of the younger vines that aren’t as in tuned to the terroir that they’re grown from. And they also, talking about these old vines, some of the more reserve bottlings, they’re capable of aging like ridiculous amounts of time. You’re talking decades, these wines will be beautiful. I think Americans are obsessed largely with drinking the freshest wine. I always think about The Jerk when Steve Martin’s like, “None of this old stuff, give me the freshest wine!” We’re totally obsessed with the freshest wine. But these wines actually need a couple of years to really coalesce and come together and exhibit more of their true character. So, I just threw a lot at you, but what do you think about it? What do you think about some of that?
ST: I think a lot of it has to do with craft beer. People are waiting in line to get the freshest beer. They want this, they want that. And wine is sort of in a, in a similar way…Sauvignon Blanc’s the exact same thing. You want to try the 2019. You want to get it as fresh as you possibly can. You want to, like, take the bottle off the bottling line and chug it out of the bottle to see like what that vintage is like. Sauvignon Blanc has almost become the white wine equivalent of Beaujolais Nouveau in a lot of ways. They’re going to fall off in a couple of years. All that vibrancy is, isn’t going to be there, but Chenin Blanc doesn’t do that.
Chenin Blanc is great when it’s fresh, it’s really lovely. But the characteristics that takes on as it ages, it’s gonna shed a little bit of that primary fruit, a little bit of that tropical fruit take on a little bit more of a nuttiness of richness, have a little bit more elegance to it. It’s going to be become more food friendly and it’s just a varietal that that definitely benefits you if you’re willing to put in the time. So if you’re willing to learn about it, if you’re willing to learn about producers and if you’re willing to let the bottles you’ve purchased age for a little bit, it’s definitely the kind of…if you find a Chenin Blanc, you really like, you should buy two or three bottles because then you can see how it ages.
Drink one that night, drink one the next year, drink one in a couple of years. And really you’ll start to see that lit takes on these really lovely characteristics that I think a Sauvignon Blanc doesn’t. And Sauvignon Blanc isn’t really intended in that way, but Chenin Blanc inherently has this lovely balanced acidity. It’s usually a little bit lower in alcohol, so they really do benefit from just a little bit of time and bottle. But like a lot of South African wines, they’re great when they’re young, but they definitely get better with age.
LB: We were talking to the different styles. I wouldn’t necessarily say hold on to your Original for five, 10 years, although I’m sure it would actually hold up pretty well. I don’t think that’s really what we’re envisioning when we’re talking about aging these wines. We might be talking about that next tier with that is showing a little bit of oak so it has a little bit more texture to it, a little bit more structure and more components that will further harmonize and develop. I think that’s the interesting thing also for, for me, for Chenin, is that it showcases such a beautiful evolution at so many various points in its life. So yes, you can drink it young. Absolutely. Even these oaked bottlings, they might be a little richer or forward and character, but you give it a few more years, it’s going to mellow out. It’s going to start to develop some of those more secondary characteristics, some of those hints of nuttiness or honeyness. And then you get into that, those tertiary tones and you get into the real earth and that real concentrated honey and it’s just, it has a beautiful lifespan of, of different characteristics that could be appreciated all throughout.
ST: Absolutely. And I think that’s one of the things that we’re starting to see more and more is that South Africa, the wine industry in general, is everyone needs to figure out how to turn a profit. So, they have to sell their wines quickly. And as an importer we have to, we can’t just sit on wines. And so, we’re finally getting to the point where there’s more one more great South African wine in the United States that as a consumer you can find and you can put it into your cellar. And these wines deserve to be in the cellar because like you said, they do have this incredible life span and they’re going to show different aspects in a year of bottle versus five versus 10 years. And we’re starting to see some of these bottlings that are only have, might have been not in existence five years ago.
We’re just starting to see what they’re going to evolve into. And I think that’s a really exciting thing as well is knowing that you’re at the razor’s edge of what this is going to be in a decade. South African wine is primed to be the most interesting region 10 years from now, we’re just there now we’re just getting there.
But 10 years from now, the bottles from 2017, like you said, are going to be these epic wines that people are going to be pulling out of their seller and people are going to be building dinners and wine dinners and having these, you know, friends fly in from all over the country to try this bottle they bought from 2019 of South African Chenin. And we’re getting there, but we’re not there yet. We don’t know exactly what it’s going to be, but we’re just starting to see the potential and it’s really exciting.
LB: And absolutely everybody should be buying up ‘17s, especially these slightly oaked or more serious, if you want to call them that, versions of Chenin because they are going to age beautifully. And think of it as your next White Burgundy, right? Forget Chardonnay. Forget Sauvignon. Get into the Chenin. Age it. The 17s, I tried recently the lineup from Chris Alheit. Now, Chris Alheit and Suzaan Alheit, his wife, they make fantastic expressions of Chenin from across a range of different sites and terroir. Two of their wines from Citrusdal Mountain–the Huilkrans, if I’m saying that right, and the Magnetic North, again, all of the bottlings were beautiful, but those two wines were just screaming right now as infants that are begging at least 10 years of age to really come into their own. But they are like laser beams right now. And that’s the thing about the ’17 vintage of these Chenin’s, they’re showing such fantastic purity and focus and finesse that you just, you can tell that they are going to be absolutely stunning with again some age and some time.
LB: We talked about Raats, we talked about Alheit single vineyards. Some of the other producers maybe we could talk about would include like the Mullineuxs, who make fantastic terroir driven wines out of the Swartland region, which has become sort of like the golden child of South African regions, but probably people already know about those. Maybe we should look to some other regions.
ST: I always told people, if you’re looking to take a wine journey, if you want to learn about wine, if you want to go somewhere on a honeymoon or a great, you know, life changing vacation South Africa is an incredible place to go. And because you’re in a very small area, you’re going to see many different wine growing regions from warm climate to cool climate. You’re going to see mountainous regions. You’re going to see 25 different kinds of terroir. You’re going to see almost desert like in the Swartland to lush and green like Elgin. And it really is, it’s the entire world of wine in a 90-minute drive in any direction. It’s really incredible. And I think the reason that I’ve gravitated towards South African wine is because of that diversity and because you can become a wine lover just drinking South African wine, which sounds a little myopic, but when you really dig in and you realize the diversity down there, it’s endless and it’s just getting better.
LB: Yeah. There’s so much to behold. So, let’s talk a little bit about the wine that we’re drinking right now which is actually Beaumont’s 2017 Hope Marguerite Chenin Blanc. It comes from the Bot River, which is a ward in the Walker Bay district of the Cape South Coast Region in the Western Cape. It’s part of Walker Bay, which is typically known for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, which is why I find this wine so interesting because if you’re talking about Bot River, it’s actually better suited to Chenin over those other varieties which are more prominent in the Hemel-en-Aarde regions. But you’re talking about something that gets a lot of maritime influence from Walker Bay and from the Bot River Lagoon. And it is really, really rich in fynbos because it’s right next to the biosphere. So, it has a ton of scrub land and wild vegetation and herbs that really influence the wine as well. So, you’re talking again about really mineral, pristine expression. So, I think this is a beautiful showcase of another. Again, a very expressive, a pristine focused Chenin.
ST: Yeah, this is actually unfortunately my first time trying this and this wine’s absolutely beautiful. I see exactly what you were saying about the maritime influence, the bit of salinity, the brininess on there, the fynbos that shows through, which is the South African sort of scrub brush that really adds a unique characteristic to a lot of South African Chenin’s and white wines in general. And yeah, this one is brilliant. It’s actually, I think the first Bot River Chenin I’ve had, if that’s possible, but I think that goes to what you were saying about how it seems so uniquely suited for Chenin, but the, the wines I’ve had out of that area are the, the Chardonnays and Pinots. But this is a definitely an example that that proves exactly what you’re saying. It’s delicious. Hoping I can take that bottle home.
LB: We’ll see. Well, speaking of sort of maybe off the beaten path or unexpected regions, tell me a little bit about actually Montague and the and the Patatsfontein. It’s definitely an interesting story and I’d love to hear a little bit more about it if you can enlighten us.
ST: Yeah, absolutely. This one of the, the coolest, most exciting wines I’ve ever had a chance to work with. So, as I mentioned before, Bruwer Raats is one of my favorite winemakers. He was a mentor for me in South Africa. I learned so much from him and he brought in his cousin Gavin to make the wines as well alongside him. And Gavin and I have become great friends over the years. And in 2015 at Cape Wine, the wines of South Africa puts on this massive trade expo every three years and pretty much everyone in the South African wine industry is there and they invite representatives from importers and distributors from all over the world. It’s an incredible show, a wild party. And during the actual showcase where people are actually trying to get some work done, Gavin pulled me aside and he said, hey, you have to meet my friend Reenen.
And I said, okay, cool. You know, tell me, tell me about him. He said, well, he’s over there at the, the Boschkloof table. That’s his family’s farm. Go try the Boschkloof wines. They’re outstanding. They’re Stellenbosch and some of my favorites, but ask him about the wine he has under the table.
LB: It’s always about the wine under the table.
ST: Always about the wine under the table. If I don’t even know there’s a wine under the table, I ask for the line under the table and if it’s there, it’s always a good thing. And so we go over and I walk up and say, ‘Hey, Gavin said I should try your wines. I’m Sam.’ And he opened up his wines. We tried to the Boschkloof wines and I was loving those and almost forgot to ask about the wine under the table. And as I’m about to leave I was like, ‘Oh, hey, hang on. Gavin said you have a wine under the table.’ And he had this like twinkle in his eye and he goes, ‘Oh, the Patatsfontein’ which has taken me about three years to figure out how to pronounce correctly. And it’s this really brilliant, unlike any other, Chenin I’ve had from South Africa. So it’s slate and shale, the kind of vineyard that you walk through in the soil, like cracks under your feet, has that crunchiness to it. And f you smell the stones, like if you’re kind of like weird like me and you pick up the rocks and you like sniff them, you can smell the wine and the rocks. And it’s about 31, 32, 33 year old vines. So just getting into that old vine territory. Super low yielding vines and a region that no one really would have thought would produce this world class Chenin Blanc. But I think it’s what’s so cool about South Africa right now is that there are these pearls hidden between all of these vineyards and you just don’t know until you get these, wonderful winemakers that are traveling around and saying, hey, you know, maybe this one’s cool and really sort of dialing in and working on that specific site to showcase what it can do. Are you starting to realize that, you know, there’s probably hundreds of vineyards out there like that and, but Patatsfontein is, like I said, nothing like I’ve ever tried from anywhere else in South Africa. It is a totally unique expression. I think it’s about 1,200 bottle production. And I get as much as I possibly can and unfortunately, I have to sell it to some people instead of drinking it myself.
LB: I tasted the ‘16 and it was beautiful, a very super textural wine. So definitely unique.
ST: That texture you’re talking about is really interesting. I think of Reenen, so I’ve always talked about him as a 3-D winemaker. So winemakers will always talk about, well, this is what you’ll taste on the line. You know, you’ll taste pears and pomegranate and this and that, and you’ll smell this, but for Reenen, there’s always that third dimension. He wants to talk about what you’re going to feel in the wine and he wants to add that third dimension rather than using new oak barrel aging where you’re going to add some wood tannin to the wine and you’re going to add some vanilla flavors. Reenen is all about adding texture through lees contact and really just trying to give the wine that third dimension without too much manipulation. So trying to be a real minimalist winemaker, but really trying to add his idea of the texture without the oak barrel age.
LB: And it’s interesting because it definitely comes across as a very complex and complete package, but without a sort of melange of fruit, right? It’s not all about those characteristics or the oak characteristics. It’s really, as you say, a very complete textural package that’s really hard to describe now that I’m talking about it and wanting to tell everybody what it’s like. But I mean, you’re talking about maybe like some bitter melon pith, a little bit of ginger root, some savory herbs. But again, it’s with this really beautiful lasting impression on your palate and the textural weight with a simultaneous lift from that acidity and that minerality. It’s just a beautiful wine. And we just had the ‘17 at lunch, which is what you’re bringing into market, and going back to the ‘17 vintage that is shining like a superstar. So while I haven’t read that yet, I have to say it was absolutely drinking beautifully and got to go find that.
ST: Yeah. ‘17 is again, if you see a wine from 2017 from South Africa, get it. It’s going to treat you really, really well.
LB: Let’s close up talking about some of the styles that we haven’t talked about. Just to come full circle talking about that versatility of the grape. So we talked about the fresh and fruity, the unoaked, oaked, we talked about old vines and single vineyards, but we didn’t hit on sparkling.
ST: No, no, I love sparkling Chenin.
LB: And going back again to Ken Forrester, He has Sparklehorse.
ST: One of my colleagues is going to serve that at his wedding next month. It’s such a really fun bottling. It speaks to Ken’s ethos as a Chenin freak and one of my favorite. One of those ones I’m always in a great mood when I drink.
LB: It’s really hard to be in a down mood when you’re having something so vibrant called Sparklehorse that has like a rainbow or a carousel horse on it. Okay. So if you’re in a bad mood, go by Sparklehorse.
ST: Or if you want to be in a better mood, go buy Sparklehorse.
LB: I know DeMorgenzon actually makes a really nice Chenin MCC also.
ST: Yeah DeMorgenzon is one of my favorite producers in the Stellenbosch region. The Chenin they make is, is brilliant. Their reserve Chenin called The Divas is out of control and the MCC is, is really brilliant. They have a unique parcel of land, sort of higher elevation for, for Stellenbosch. So they get these nice cool nights. They’re really able to develop the fruit beautifully. They are really specialists and definitely a little bit more on the fuller richer, maybe a little bit more showy side. But gosh, they are brilliant wines.
LB: And again, also wines that show really great evolution and are certainly cellar worthy.
ST: Absolutely. I had one of their first bottled Chenin’s out of a magnum when it was probably five or six years old and it was still like a baby. It needed so much more time and there’s so much potential for these wines to age. And I’m lucky I drink a lot of great South African Chenin, but it’s still like we’re still waiting to see how far they can go. It’s like you want to keep pushing the limit and I haven’t found any of these wines falling off yet. It’s just really rewards the proper cellaring. And I think that’s what’s really amazing is that we haven’t figured out how far we can push it yet. And I think that’s really true. Again, like using Chenin as a microcosm for the South African industry, we don’t know how far it can go. The potential is there and every year it seems to be getting better and the wines seem to be getting more consistent and the diversity in in style seems to be getting broader, but it’s not getting tired yet. I mean it’s just like there’s still so much discovery going on and I think the future is very bright.
LB: The future is very bright, but the present is where we’re at and the present is, what we need to do now is pick up all the ‘17s that we could find right coming out of this great vintage. So Sam, thank you so much. I think we’ve hit upon everything that we can possibly cram into this one episode, but clearly we need to have you back and talk a little bit more. Maybe next time Pinottage?
ST: I would love a chance to talk about Pinotage with you, Lauren.
LB: You’re on, buddy. But for now, summer of Chenin.
LB: Thanks for listening to this episode of the Wine Enthusiast Podcast. We definitely talked about a lot of regions, producers and wines today, all waiting to be enjoyed by you. To recap, three recently reviewed gems across a range of Chenin stylistic expressions that are worth picking up now. Try:
- Beaumont, 2017 Hope Marguerite Chenin Blanc from the Bot River region, 93 points and $40.
- Raats Family 2017 Old Vine Chenin Blanc from the Stellenbosch wine region, 92 points and $25.
- Boschkloof 2016 Patatsfontein from Montague, 90 points and $60 (2017 review coming soon).
Beyond those three, be sure to check out additional Chenin blog ratings and reviews, including other producers we mentioned, like Alheit, DeMorgenzon, Ken Forrester and Mullineux, all available for free at winemag.com. Subscribe to the Wine Enthusiast Podcast on iTunes, Google play, or wherever you find podcasts. If you like today’s episode, we’d love to read your review and comment. And why not tell your wine loving friends to check us out too! For more reviews, recipes, guides, and stories, visit Wine Enthusiast online at winemag.com. The Wine Enthusiast Podcast is produced by Marina Vataj and Jenny Groza. Until next episode, cheers!
Last Updated: June 5, 2023