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Revisiting South African white wines yields many pleasures

Ken Forrester Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc
Ken Forrester Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc

Lately I’ve been having a fling with the wine of South Africa.

It’s OK. My wife knows all about it.

I don’t think there’s any argument that South African wines have gotten better with each passing vintage.

South Africa has a long, if not always top-notch, history of wine production. The first vineyard was planted in the Cape in 1655, and the first wine was made in 1659. The next 350 years saw much progress and many setbacks in South African wine production.

But there can be no doubt the single greatest development for South African wine was the fall of apartheid, which opened global markets and brought in international experience and investment. All of this has allowed producers to home in on the optimal grape varieties planted in the best locations to produce wines of quality rather than quantity. In other words, much better wines.

South African wines have improved across the board. In this post, I’ll focus on the whites.

Sauvignon Blanc is the most consumed white wine in South Africa and a variety I really enjoy from that nation’s producers. I’ve probably had a dozen or more South African Sauvignons, and I’ve rarely had a stinker. I find Sauvignon Blancs fitting in between the lighter sweet citrus style often found in Chile and the gooseberry-grapefruit-infused fruit bombs out of Marlborough, New Zealand.

A go-to producer for me in terms of both Sauvignon Blancs and Roses is Mulderbosch. It harvests its grapes in the early morning to capture their natural acidity. They’re bigger versions than other Sauvignon Blancs from South Africa, a product of the grapes being fermented on the lees. Even with the extra weight, the Mulderbosch Sauvignon is never heavy on the palate, always finishing with lovely crisp acidity.

I also enjoy the Douglas Green Sauvignon. The wine producer in the West Cape since 1942, turns out a light-bodied wine, perfect for aperitifs or with milder seafood.

My favorite of the South African whites wines that I’ve had is the Ken Forrester Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc. I’ve enjoyed Forrester’s Sauvignon Blancs in recent years, but Chenin Blanc was a new discovery for me. And what a pleasant find it was.

Turns out Forrester has been dubbed Mr. Chenin and is the current chairman of the Chenin Blanc Association in South Africa. I can see why. This wine is a beauty — deep and rich with layers of flavors and aromas, and none of the cloying sweetness that can somethings slip into Chenin Blancs. This is one to seek out.

Well, time to pop open, or more accurately twist open, a bottle of a South African Sauvignon Blanc. Next time I’ll take a peek into the red wines coming out of South Africa.

Dave Eckert was the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS and Wealth TV for 12 seasons.

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