Friday, June 22, 2018


Martin Scott Wines NYC Presents Broadbent Selections South African Chenin Blanc

by Dwight Casimere

  Martin Scott Sr. VP Scott Gerber with Dwight CasImere
 A. A. Badenhorst Chenin Blanc 2016 and (below) vineyards in South Africa

One of the distinct culinary  pleasures of my early days as a young travel writer, was the discovery of Chenin Blanc wine. My first exposure was at San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf where I dove into a steamy bowl of freshly cracked Dungeness Crab and quaffed a well-chilled glass of California Chenin Blanc. The flavor combination of the briny crab and the zesty lemon of the wine left a lasting flavor impression that has never been duplicated. My second exposure was at a seaside cafe in the South of France, sipping Vouvray while slurping my way through a literal cornucopia of local raw shellfish listed on the menu as Fruit de Mer. Again, it was an unparalleled experience. The third exposure of note was at Martin Scott Wines/The Winebow Group in New York City, a fine wine and craft spirits distributor covering the most dynamic markets in the world, with its presentation of South African Chenin Blanc from that country's single-vineyard and small-batch producers. The tasting offered a dazzling array of styles, flavors and textures that showcased the versatility of this lovely, but largely overlooked grape varietal. 

Chenin Blanc has been mostly known as a workhorse grape that was primarily used in this country in the production of cheap white wine blends or as a stand-alone grape for restaurant house wines. In this country, only a few labels produced Chenin Blancs of note and the variety largely gave way to Chardonnay, Fume Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc as the white wine of choice. As the public's collective palate became more sophisticated, it receded further into the background. Only the imported versions, from Chenin Blanc's birthplace in the Loire Valley and appellations like Vouvray, Savennieres and Quarts de Chaume garnered the type of attention granted to top shelf wines and remained in vogue.

 Now comes South Africa with an exceptional line of zippy, crisp,acidic Chenin Blanc wines that are finely crafted and versatile enough to pair with any cuisine.
The breadth and depth were put on display at a recent tasting at Martin Scott wines, where the winemakers and reps from a handful of outstanding producers of limited production, hand-crafted wines with multiple styles and from various appellations within the country, showed their wares to a select group of wine journalists and professionals.

 Alheit winemaker Chris "Butch" Alheit shows off his Radio Lazarus and Homeland Vine Garden "pet projects" for 2016

Chenin Blanc’s  birthplace is the Loire Valley. South Africa is the other country that is leading the charge to a revived interest in Chenin Blanc. South Africa's unique terroir and its ideal growing climate and varied soil conditions make for some outstanding Chenin Blancs. Unoaked wines possess so much character, acidity and structure, they literally blossom after a year or two of bottle aging after their release. Those that are aged in oak become quite expressive after 5 or 6 years of cellar aging and reveal intense flavors of citrus peel and ripe melon with a hint of sage and almond. Some wines will even withstand 15 years of cellar aging and begin to show the depth of their opulence. 

There are also some incredible examples of Old Vine wines from historic vineyards dating back 100 years. There is also a broad spectrum of wines that reflects the multi-colored palette of South African soil types and climate conditions. Here are just a few of my favorites from the tasting.

A.A. BANDENHORSTS 2015-$37.97-This is by far the must exuberant and textured of all of the wines presented. Weighing in at a whopping 14%, this wine has a hefty feel for a white wine. In fact, it can stand up to game meats like Venison or Heritage Pork, Duck or Quail with Rosemary and Garlic and just about anything you can throw on a grill. Spicy foods, like Crab, Shrimp and Crawfish Gumbo, Indian food, Spicy Chipotle anything and rich fatty seafoods, like Salmon, Tuna or Grouper. I've got a killer recipe for Pineapple upside down cake, one of those retro desserts that is making a comeback, that will go perfectly with this big, luscious wine. A complex blend of nine grapes; Grenache blanc, Chardonnay, Semillion, Viognier, Roussanne, Colombard, Verdelho, Grenache Gri and, of course, Chenin Blanc, its dripping with ripe peach, lemon and grapefruit flavors, with a hint of candied fruit to give it a zing. The blend changes every year depending on grape and climate conditions and the mood of the winemaker. This is one of the best examples of the wines coming out of the Swartland.

ALHEIT RADIO LAZARUS Chenin Blanc 2016-$32- Chris and Suzaan Alheit have created one of the most spectacular Chenin Blancs on the planet. Created from two separate blocks from the extreme ends of the cape dominated by old bush vines,and a complex soil composition of shale and granite, the wine has gorgeous aromas of orchard fruit and white peaches, with layers of lemon zest, honeysuckle, aromatic white blossoms and a hint of the salt sea air that bathes the vineyards morning and night. This is an impressive wine with textured richness. Well balanced with a lively acidity, serve it with Roast Duck or Wild Boar or a long-smoked Pork Loin covered in fresh Sage. This is a wine that can age for years, that is if you can resist the temptation to drink it all immediately.

HEMELRAND VINE GARDEN 2016-$29. This is a single vineyard wine that was originally intended for only the local consumption in South African, but Broadbent Selections has wisely chosen to include it in its U.S. portfolio. Look for it on the wine list of a fine restaurant near you. Limited production, with only 5000 bottles made, this is a maiden voyage for winemaker Chris "Butch" Albeit, the creator of the previously reviewed  All-Star wine. Inspired by the great Mediterranean white wines of the South of France, the Homeland Vine Garden is produced from grapes planted directly behind the Homeland wine cellars on hillside vineyards high above the valley. A blend of 48% Roussanne, 27% Chenin Blanc, 22% Chardonnay and 3% Verdelho, this wine is a pale pineapple yellow with grapefruit zest and hints of wet chalk, limestone and bits of salty lemon. This is an opulent wine with complex fruit and acidity that just shines through. Perfect to drink now, but aging 2 or 3 years will bring out all of its magical intensity.

This wine was intended for everyday drinking and is a perfect example of the seamless craftsmanship of Chris Alheit.

 The wine tasting at Martin Scott wines

 Martin Scott Sr. VP Scott Gerber with Sales Consultant Janine Lettieri

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