A native of the Loire Valley in France and chief component in a wide variety of wines from sparkling to dessert and those of Vouvray, more Chenin Blanc has been planted in South Africa than any other grape variety.
The main reason behind this is a historical one – during the Apartheid years when South African goods could not be sold on the international markets, most farmers planted the variety due to its versatility and to sell in bulk for wine, grape juice, grape spirit, fruit and just about anything else white grapes can be used for. The results were predictable – massive yields lead to a huge lake of over-production and a huge dent in the quality of wine produced. No episode has harmed the South African wine industry more than this in my opinion and it has only just started to recover in the last decade or so. Chenin Blanc (or Steen as it is known locally) vines are being pulled up all the time in favour of the more noble varieties of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
However, and despite being regarded as a jack of all trades, one of the advantages that Chenin Blanc still holds is that there are some relatively old vines still left from the days when it was planted indiscriminately. Those that are in the right location and are handled with the necessary care and attention produce some of the most fragrant, soft and delicious wines in the country. Chenin has a character so different to the more famous white varieties that it offers something different, something unique, something that keeps wine lovers in touch with why they fell in love with wine in the first place.
De Morgenzon literally means “The Morning Sun”. Part of a bigger farm called Uiterwyk (Outer Ward), it was given to its then owner by the Cape Governor, Willem Adriaan van der Stel, in 1699, the farm is the first part of the valley in which it is situated to see the morning sun as it rises in the East. In 2003 the estate was bought by new owners who set about improving the infrastructure, vineyards and wine-making facilities, including a new cellar scheduled for completion in time for the World Cup 2010. A mixture of gardens containing local endemic plant species and carefully tended vineyards, the estate is biodiverse and ecologically sensitive and this in turn helps to produce better grapes.
The first thing to say about this wine is that the bottle is definitely an indication of the quality of the contents therein. It is made from thicker glass than usual (more like a champagne bottle) and the label is old-fashioned and classy – there are no bright colours and cartoon-like features that you see on some wine labels nowadays (invariably down the bottom end of the scale). This wine is a pale straw colour with a green tinge. On the nose there is lemon-blossom, pineapple and vanilla – from the oak barrels that it is fermented and aged in. On the palate the wine is tight, complex and powerful but fresh, bright and very smooth with just a lingering finish of grape fruit and ginger. It is easily drunk now but as there is sufficient structure to the wine it will cellar for 2-3 years and evolve nicely with age.
Food pairings include summer salads, delicately flavoured white fish and shellfish – nothing with too strong a flavour so as to overwhelm the wine. It also goes well with mildly flavoured, creamy cheeses and grapes.
Robert Parker gave this wine a 91 point rating which for a South African Chenin is very high but it is right on the money – as my second favourite all-time Chenin I give it 92.5 out of 100.
I bought this wine from Majestic a few weeks ago but am aware it was a “special parcel” – however it is still advertised on their website for a special offer of £13.99 a bottle.