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Ken Forrester 2010 Chenin Blanc “Reserve” (Stellenbosch) – Burnished lemon, nectarine, peach, and even a bit of ripe papaya. This is the goofy fruitiness for which South African chenin is both praised and derided. But hold up. There’s wax and minerality, there’s good acidity, and I have precedent to assure the doubtful that, with some age, this turns into the waxed honeysuckle, pollen, and quinine that chenin shows at its best. No, I don’t think it will age like Vouvray, or Montlouis, or even a quarter as long as the better examples of either. But the easy appeal of the fruit hides a much more interesting wine, and in contrast to the grape’s banks-of-the-Loire profundity, this will reach its more mature realms much, much more quickly. (5/12)

Arboreal Ken

Ken Forrester 2009 Chenin Blanc (Stellenbosch) – Of all the chenins I tasted in South Africa (and I tasted a lot), this was the most exciting. Not in this exact form or vintage, but in the form of an older bottle pulled as an apology for their being out of the sought-after botrytized version from this same winery. The excitement came because in a few short years the wine had veered sharply in a Loire-ward direction, developing wax, quinine, and chalk notes that I hadn’t seen in anyone else’s chenins. Now, to be fair, I didn’t taste many more with any age whatsoever, but as the two dominant methods of chenin blanc production in the country are fresh-’n’-fruity-’n’-cheap or “seriously” oaked (a terrible idea, I might add, though Ken Forrester’s “FMC” version is the least offensive of the offensive lot), I certainly don’t expect to see it very often. That said, after I tasted and liked the aged version, I realized I hadn’t paid much attention to its younger form.

So here it is, and I’ve encountered it a lot since that visit to Stellenbosch. I wouldn’t say it’s clear that there’s a bright and complex future for the wine from its initial notions, but one can at least see how that future develops. There’s a restraint and subtlety to the wine not often found in the area’s chenin blancs (or white wines in general), a fine structure, and – I think this is where the key difference lies – a gravelly texture to the wine that I think heralds the organoleptic minerality to come. It’s very appealing in its youth, but I think youthful guzzling is what the same winery’s “Petit” bottling is for. Put this one away for a while. I think you won’t regret it, if past performance is any indicator. (8/11)

The Forrester for the treeser

Ken Forrester “Petit” 2009 Chenin Blanc (Stellenbosch) – Sunfruit, sweet white peach, smooth-textured and round. Such a pretty little wine, ideal for crowds (especially crowds on a budget). (7/11)

Forrester for the treeser

Ken Forrester “Petit” 2009 Chenin Blanc (Stellenbosch) – Sunny stone fruit with something perfumed – lavender? no, not that strong – and, as usual, delicious, though there’s a faintly syrupy hint starting to develop. This was never intended to be an ager, anyway. (8/10)

What is morgen on?

de Morgenzon 2006 Chenin Blanc (Stellenbosch) – Heavy, leaden, dead from gravity and then necromanced with wood. While it will never be my favorite thing to do to chenin blenc, this cellar treatment can work in producing a fruity-but-internationalized wine. But it didn’t work here. Everything decent and appealing in the wine has been beaten to death, then reanimated and beaten a second time. (6/10)

Wesley Krusher

Kanonkop 2008 “Kadette” (Stellenbosch) – I find Kanonkop’s wines quite impressive, especially their pinotage and Paul Sauer blend, but this is the outlier. It’s OK, but really no more than that. Big, big, big fruit, with that strappy, paint/varnish pinotage character – missing from their varietal bottling – on full display, and obliterating any appeal that might otherwise be lent by the other grapes in the blend. It’s not awful or anything, but I don’t really see the point to it, other than a way to slough off lesser product to preserve the quality of the upper-tier bottlings. (5/10)

Forrester research

[bottle]Ken Forrester 2006 Chenin Blanc (Stellenbosch) – South Africa is full of sunny, inexpensive chenin that expresses a round, fat-faced fruit that’s absolutely irresistible, and also of overly-ambitious oaked versions that manage to be more interesting than most similarly-constructed New World chardonnays, but perhaps aren’t the best use of chenin blanc. Very, very few wines straddle a middle ground, but here’s one, and it’s a beauty. Richer than it would be from the Loire, and youthfully simple, but with familiar honey, chalk, wax, and quinine at a nudged-up volume, yet balanced and pure. I’ve had this with a little age (albeit from younger vines), and the expected characteristics of aging chenin were indeed on display, to the wine’s benefit. I have high hopes for this wine. (1/10)

Giving in

Meerlust 2000 Pinot Noir (Stellenbosch) – Though it shows none of the obvious signs, there’s every likelihood that this has undergone long-term storage damage, so read what follows in that context: tired, yet still huge, with powdery tannin dominant and a syrah-like smoky leather component about all that’s left of the appealing side of the heavy fruit. Still dark mahogany, ranging towards purple, and pretty solid throughout in both color and weight. An intact bottle might be better. (8/09)

How now, brown gaauw?

[bottle]Overgaauw 2008 Sauvignon Blanc (Stellenbosch) – Vibrant green things – herbs, stems, vegetables, leaves, grasses – poised at their ideal midpoint between the underripe harshness of pyrazines and softer impressions of tropicality (though there is a hint of pineapple as well). There’s minerality…large rocks, decidedly indelicate…and a fine balance. A bit outrageous, in a manner that will remind some quite strongly of Marlborough, but it’s fuller-fleshed than that. The more I taste, the more I agree with a number of South African winemakers who believe that, at the moment, their country’s most accomplished and terroir-revelatory wines are its sauvignon blancs. (7/09)