Backsberg Chenin Blanc 2019, South Africa
Cost: $15-17
I n these COVID-19 quarantine times, my wife and I look for any reason we can to celebrate. Leafing through the grocery store ads in Wednesday’s newspaper I noticed Publix had lobster tails on sale, so that became the reason for the celebration and part of the celebration itself.
Lobster is one of our favorite foods, but if we ate it whenever we wanted to we would be broke. So we wait for the sales.
The question always is what wine should we drink with lobster. An easy choice is a rich, creamy chardonnay, but we also like to try new combinations.
We have had the Backsberg Chenin Blanc before and liked it, but we weren’t sure this South African stalwart would bring out the best in the lobster. We shouldn’t have worried.
It was spectacular with the lobster. It is a beautiful straw yellow in the glass, with complex aromas of pear, green apple and melon with a touch of citrus. The luscious fruit is balanced with a crisp acidity and has a medium body. This is a light, fruity, slightly off-dry wine that is at its best with food.
The wine is 100 percent Chenin Blanc from trellised and bush vines from both Wellington and Paarl regions. The grapes are crushed, chilled and settled overnight. They are fermented in stainless steel at 61 degrees before aging in stainless steel. This adds a slight mineral taste on the finish.
This is a bright, fresh wine that you won’t want to cellar. The winery suggests drinking it within four years.
Chenin Blanc is one of the featured varietals of South Africa, and when you taste this version of it, you will know why it is so popular.
Chenin Blanc is most associated with France’s Loire Valley, where it has been cultivated for nearly 1,300 years. Because it has high acidity levels, it can be vinified in a number of styles. For years it was made in a sweeter style in the United States, but now the drier style is more popular.
Winery: South African wines are worth exploring. I especially love their Chenin Blanc and Pinotage. Quality has been rising for years, and South Africa now produces some of the world’s best wines.
Though considered New World, South Africa has been producing wines for three centuries. The Dutch East India Company first established posts there to service India-bound ships.
Jan van Riebeeck, the first governor of what was called the Cape, planted vines in 1655.
The Backsberg family came to South Africa in 1916, when Charles L. Back escaped persecution in Lithuania. He worked on the docks and as a bicycle delivery boy until he could save enough money to start a butcher shop.
The story is told that one day someone walked into Back’s butcher shop in Paarl and asked if he wanted to buy a farm.
He started with fruit, grain and livestock before planting vines in the 1920s. The first wines were sold to a national coop or in bulk to European countries. In those days the farm was called “Klein Babylonstoren” (or little tower of Babylon) and the first wines were made and sold under that name.
Charles’ son Sydney joined his father in 1936 and began to focus on quality wine. The family upgraded equipment and techniques. Sydney sold the name Back’s Wine, as well as equipment. This allowed him to pay off debt and replant the farm with quality grapevines.
By the 1970s the farm was registered as Backsberg Estate Winery, and the emphasis was firmly on quality red and white wines. Sydney was voted champion winemaker of the year in 1978 and 1982.
In 1976 Michael Back returned home after graduating from Stellenbosch University to work under his father in the winery. He set about expanding the business and ensuring that Backsberg would become one of the most important family-farming businesses in South Africa.
Michael expanded production and bought more land before he decided bigger wasn’t necessarily better. He sold off some of the related businesses and ripped out some lower quality vineyards. The winery dropped some of the wines it produced to concentrate on raising the quality of particular wines.
Michael’s son Simon joined the winery in 2008 after getting his Business Science Economics degree.
The 300-acre estate is set in the foothills of the Simonsberg Mountains just outside Paarl, the heart of the Cape Winelands. The winery produces a wide array of wines at several price ranges. The top wines are the Family Reserve red and white blends. The Black Label Range features wines made from top vineyards: Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Rosé, Dry Red, Pinotage, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Special Late Harvest.
The Kosher Range includes a sparkling wine, Chardonnay, Pinotage, Merlot and Kiddush. There is a new label called Tread Lightly, bottled in lightweight plastic bottles. Backsberg also produces fortified wines and brandy.
Backsberg has become the first wine producer in South Africa and one of only three in the world to achieve carbon neutral status by holding down carbon emissions. The company also uses lightweight bottles and recycled glass to reduce carbon emissions and to reduce oil use.
Goes with: Pairing this tasty wine with lobster tails was a no-brainer. Chenin Blanc is a perfect wine for seafood, and it has enough body to hold its own with heavier seafood such as lobster.
Cooking the lobster is simple. I just use kitchen scissors to cut through the shell, pull out the meat so it sits on top of the shell and broil it. Before going in the broiler, the lobster meat gets a lemon juice bath and a good sprinkling of paprika.
I only cook it about 4-5 minutes, pulling it out of the oven shortly after the shell turns bright pink. Teri and I both love dunking each bite in melted butter, so the flavors get even richer.
It takes a wine with good backbone to not get buried under all that rich, buttery flavor, and this Backsberg did the trick. With each bite one of us would utter “Oooh,” or “Ummm.” The dining room sounded almost X-rated, we were enjoying the meal so much.
We also had tossed salads. Teri added green beans to her plate, and I added a Hasselback potato, which I have grown to love. You cut the potato into thin slices, leaving them attached at the bottom, and mop them with butter at the start and halfway through the 60-minute cooking time. I bake the potato at 425 degrees. This time I left the skin on and briefly broiled the potato to get it crispy.
We have had this wine before with stir fry chicken, various fish dishes and grilled chicken. It has never disappointed.
Chenin Blanc is exceptionally versatile. It pairs well with salads, vegetables, fish and chicken. Hints of sweetness and a slightly fuller body ensure it complements both spicy and creamier dishes.

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