Raats Chenin Blanc 2017, South Africa
I f you haven’t had chenin blanc yet you really need to try some. Don’t confuse it with sauvignon blanc. It is a completely different wine.
For years the best chenin blancs have come from France, especially the Vouvray and Savenniéres of the Loire Valley. But whenever I can I pick up a chenin blanc from South Africa.
Chenin blanc can be grown and made in a wide variety of styles, but I love the fresh and fruity style, full of ripe fruit and crisp acidity. I also like dessert wines made from chenin blanc, but that’s a story for another day.
The Raats chenin blanc ($24-26) represents all the good qualities of the best chenin blanc. It is a beautiful bright yellow in the glass, with lush aromas of peaches and apples. The first sip reveals rich and intense flavors of pear, fig and citrus, with some notes of ginger and spice. The natural acidity of chenin blanc matches the fruit, leaving you with a balanced, complex wine.
The grapes come from three different old vine parcels in Stellenbosch. The vines average 40 years of age. While the age lowers the yield of the vines, the grapes produced are richer and more complex. Some of the vines are trellised and some are bush grown.
The vines were grown on two different soil types, split evenly, and were handled differently. Granite soils gave the grapes crisp acidity, minerality and bright flavors of citrus. Those grapes were fermented in stainless steel.
The grapes grown on sandstone soils took on a softer, rounder texture and added lush pear and honey flavors. Those grapes were fermented in 300-liter French oak barrels (20 percent new).
After nine months the two batches were blended together and aged on the lees for another two months before bottling.
Serve this wine well chilled and let it warm a little in the glass.
One of the unusual things about chenin blanc is that it can continue to improve in the bottle for several years. I would age this wine another 5-6 years without any worry of it going bad.
Chenin blanc has grown steadily as a staple in South Africa until it is now the country’s most widely planted grape, representing about a fifth of total acreage under vine.
Winery: Raats Family Wines began as a partnership between brothers Bruwer and Jasper Raats, with their father Jasper Sr. as viticulturist. Jasper Sr. died in 2009, and Gavin Bruwer Slabbert, a family cousin, joined Bruwer as winemaker and viticulturalist the same year.
The winery has become famous for its chenin blanc and cabernet franc.
Bruwer spent time learning at other wineries before bringing his expertise to the family winery in the Polkadraai Hills area of Stellenbosch, South Africa.
A great deal of effort has gone into sourcing specific soil types and old, low-yielding vineyards located in the Stellenbosch, Paarl, Durbanville Hills and the Paardeberg area. The family believes the best soil for chenin blanc is located in and around Stellenbosch.
The grapes come from vines with an average age of 25 years old, grown 800 feet above sea level. All grapes are hand picked.
Bruwer visits restaurants and top sellers of his wine each year, “because our wines should essentially be enjoyed in the company of good food by people appreciative of the passion and dedication that go into the making thereof.”
The winery produces about 10,000 cases per year. They make two chenin blancs, two cabernet francs and two red blends that feature cabernet franc.
The wine is distributed in the United States by Cape Classics, celebrating its 25th anniversary.
Goes with: We had this wine with one of my favorite easy, light summer meals: steamed shrimp and a tossed salad. We always have shrimp on hand because we enjoy it prepared so many different ways.
When we go to Edisto Beach we bring back about 20 pounds of shrimp and freeze it in plastic containers filled with water. Each container has a pound of shrimp, which is perfect for my wife Teri and me.
After thawing I popped the shrimp in an aluminum steamer that is stained orange from Old Bay seasoning I use in the steaming water. Steam the shrimp for just a few minutes until they turn pink and we have a meal. We eat them hot or chilled on ice.
Raats chenin blanc was great with the shrimp as the citrus flavors and minerality of the wine matched the cocktail sauce and lemon juice I put on my shrimp. The wine added elegance and richness to the simple meal.
The winery recommends enjoying the wine with rich creamy mussels, smoked salmon, white fish with a beurre blanc sauce, butternut squash soup, mild Indian curries and Tandoori chicken, Wiener schnitzel and the Christmas turkey. On the label it says the wine will pair with oysters, fish and duck. I would serve it with just about any seafood and poultry on the grill.
Raats Chenin Blanc 2017, South Africa