Terre Brûlée Chenin Blanc 2015
Although today my Weekend Wine slot predominantly features the Loire Valley, with a smattering of Bordeaux both young and old, there was I time when I would feature other regions too. Indeed, I once used to carry a regional theme across a year. When I began Winedoctor seventeen years ago I started with a weekly look at Burgundy, taking in everything from Chablis in the north right down to Beaujolais, although with a focus on the Côte d’Or. It was really my way of trying to teach myself about that most complicated of regions. It is something of a blessing that in those early days I wasn’t particularly fastidious when it came to archiving pages, so all of my weekly musings have long been lost. Which means my rather naive opinions on the various merits of Fixin, the hill of Corton, Meursault and the like now can’t come back to haunt me. Phew.
I think the world of wine is too broad to be covered usefully by an individual writer or critic these days. I believe it has probably been that way for a long time. I recall twenty-plus years ago referring to a well-known annual pocket guide for some information on a domaine in Provence. I was in awe of the author, who seemed to know so much about all the world’s wine regions, drilling down even to the individual domaine I was interested in. It was years later when the scales fell from my eyes; the author in fact contracted out the writing of the various regional chapters to experts in each field, for just a few hundred quid each. Imagine if Robert Parker did that – if he ran a team of tasters, but then pretended he had tasted and written everything himself. There would be outrage!
Flying all over the world on press trips must be fun, but such a writer can ultimately only ever scrape the surface of the many regions he or she visits. Realising this many years ago I decided to focus on just two regions, and I am sure I don’t need to point out yet again which two they are. So, you might ask, why have I veered off course to South Africa this week? Am I determined to embarrass myself with some half-baked comment on the merits (or otherwise) of Swartland? Or perhaps I am determined to demonstrate how out of date my knowledge is with some thoughts on Steen? Obviously not; my reason for checking out this wine is the Loire Valley connection. This wine is made by Vincent Carême of Vouvray, who has been working in South Africa alongside his Ligérian commitments for a few years now.
It is a few years since I tasted any South African Chenin Blanc, and at the time I wasn’t as enamoured as some people thought I should have been. They were nice wines, but I found the style too heavily influenced by oak and even malolactic fermentation for my tastes, and some were a bit too oxidative in style for me. The 2015 Terre Brûlée Chenin Blanc is a very different kettle of fish though, so perhaps things have changed. Or perhaps it is just Vincent’s style. He sources fruit from the Jakkalsfontein parcels, from dry-farmed bush vines, the grapes picked by hand and pressed, and the juice vinified in a mix of oak and steel. Despite its warm-climate origins in the glass it possesses a pale and bright lemon-gold hue. The aromatics are a pretty paradox that concurrently suggest both richness and freshness, the former in the shape of creamed lemon curd and ripe white peach (definitely much riper fruit than is common in Vouvray), the latter coming from the scents of white pepper, ginger and an incisive citrus-fruit lift. The palate keeps this intertwining of warm-climate ripeness and wonderful acidity alive, the fruit here polished and bright, lightly pithy too, substantial in the finish, but at all times it is supported by a delicious acid frame and tension. This has a supremely succulent style, cut with a lemon and blood orange vigour, rolling on into a long finish, sweet yet tense, pithy and chalk-bright. I know nothing about the South African scene these days, and so I can’t put this wine into a context, but I find it a deliciously well-poised wine, showing a remarkable degree of acid freshness for its warmer origins. 17/20 (30/1/17)
Disclosure: Unlike the majority of Weekend Wine bottles which I buy myself, drink myself and write about myself (rather than contracting out the work and pretending I did it), this bottle was a received sample from Vincent Carême. I still did the drinking and writing though.