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Great Value South African White
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Aug 9, 2011
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Mooiplass Wine Estate/Xavier Flouret, Stellenbosch (South Africa) “Fynbos” Chenin Blanc, 2010 (Cognac One, $14): 

One of the sad realities of the wine scene is that Chenin Blanc wines struggle to gain a following among wine drinkers in the U.S.  Chenin Blanc is one of the world’s noble white grape varieties.  It makes wines that are distinctive and delicious, ranging in style from dry to botrytis-affected sweet, to sparkling.  But the wines have little traction in the market — even the dry style.

This particular Chenin Blanc is a dry wine.  It comes from Chenin Blanc’s second home, South Africa.  France’s Loire Valley is the seat of Chenin Blanc production, but South Africa long ago adopted the grape, and planted it more than any other grape, red or white.  Historically, South Africa’s Chenin Blanc wines were called “Steen.”  Today, the trend is to label the wines “Chenin Blanc,” and most of the top wines carry that name.

This wine comes to us from South Africa via a French wine importer, Xavier Flouret, who is based in New York.  Flouret has partnered with family-owed wineries all over the world to market an ever-growing collection of wines under the Xavier Flouret “X” label.  In every case, the labels list the name of the wine’s actual producer, while the “X” brand lends a marketing edge

Mooiplass Farm was founded in 1806, and since 1963 has been owned and operated by the Roos family.  Louis Roos is the winemaker.  The grapes for this Chenin Blanc come from a five-acre plot of bush vines that are 37 years old and yield moderately at about three tons per acre, on soil of decomposed granite and clay.  In 2010, botrytis affected approximately ten per cent of the crop, which is a positive development that can add complexity and richness to a Chenin Blanc wine. 

The 2010 Xavier Flouret Chenin Blanc from Mooiplass Wine Estate is a dry, unoaked, very flavorful white wine.  Aromas and flavors suggest honeysuckle, apricot, a bit of green apple, honey and a striking mineral note.  The wine is fairly full-bodied and yet has crisp acidity, especially when the wine is freshly poured and some trapped CO2 creates a slight spritziness in your mouth.  Apart from the crisp impression, the wine has very rich texture, no doubt due in part to the botrytis.  This wine has a hefty 13.8 percent alcohol, which contributes to its weight and richness but in no way tastes excessive.

This wine is far from the prototypical dry, crisp, unoaked white such as your average Italian Pinot Grigio.  Not only does it actually have flavor but also it has that rich, viscous texture that counters the wine’s crisp acidity.  The combination of rich texture and countervailing acidity are trademarks of Chenin Blanc, and one reason I find wines from this grape to be so fascinating, especially when they are dry.

Fynbos Chenin Blanc is a wine whose quality seems to derive from the vineyard perhaps more than from the winery.  Its winemaking is straightforward: stainless steel fermentation initiated by ambient yeasts, at a cool temperature of 59°F, followed by six weeks of lees contact.

The winemaker believes this wine can age for another five years, and that’s logical because Chenin Blanc wines do have longevity.  Nevertheless I find it perfect right now, and very versatile on the table, with grilled chicken, entrée salads, any sort of fish, past with creamy sauces, and white pizza.

90 points