Terre Brûlée Chenin Blanc 2017
Today’s Weekend Wine certainly stretches the definition of ‘weekend’ somewhat, as I drank this wine last Tuesday. When I last checked Tuesday wasn’t part of the weekend, except perhaps on occasion in France when a public holiday that falls on a Tuesday prompts a flurry of applications for annual leave on Monday (known as faire le pont, i.e. making the bridge), creating a fabulous four-day weekend. But let’s not split hairs or allow ourselves to be sidetracked by this, especially at a time when every day has started to feel a bit like a wet Sunday afternoon.
Having said that, the day does have some relevance, as I wasn’t the only one popping the cork on a South African wine last week. Vignerons across the world have been forced to adapt the way they work in response to Covid-19, but those in South Africa seem to have been under particular duress. Their government flipped and flopped, but at the worst moment South African winemakers were facing not only restrictive legislation on work in the vineyards and cellars, but also a blanket ban on the movement, sale and export of wine (along with all other alcohol). The wine sector was in complete shutdown.
It probably doesn’t mean very much, but a few of us opening South African wines last Tuesday (and splurging about it on social media) was intended to remind this nation’s winemakers of our support for their work and their wines. My choice of wine was, for me, an obvious one. Regular readers will know that I have been a fan of Vincent Carême and his wines for some time now; he makes what are some of the best wines in the Vouvray appellation. Less well known, I suspect, is his little project in South Africa, Terre Brûlée. Vincent spent some of his earlier years training and working in South Africa, so it is perhaps no surprise that having decided to look beyond Vouvray’s boundaries for a new venture, he should find his way back here.
The 2017 Terre Brûlée Blanc which hails from Swartland is 100% Chenin Blanc (of course), vinified in a mix of oak and steel. I don’t pretend to have any special knowledge when it comes to the Swartland region; when I first started exploring wine, too many years ago now, it would not have been high up on anyone’s list of South African regions worth discovering. These days, however, with wines from the likes of Eben Sadie and the Mullineux family, it is widely regarded as one of the nation’s most exciting destinations. The appearance in the glass, a fairly well polished straw-coloured hue, does not immediately suggest anything new here, but the hugely expressive nose does. It is rich in ripe and yet classically restrained fruits, with scents of apple and pear, laced with honeysuckle and vanilla pod, backed up by a lovely citrus freshness. This exuberant character also comes through on the palate, which carries a great depth of orchard fruits, but set against a very tense, pithy and lightly bitter structure, and most importantly a mouth-watering acidity that adds a spine-tingling sense of freshness and lift to the palate. Well done Vincent, this is a very smart wine. 93/100
And, good news for once, as it seems since I pulled this cork the level of lockdown in South Africa has been eased just a little, enough for agricultural work to recommence, and wine exports are back on the menu. I don’t claim our Tuesday-night bottles had any influence when it comes to this decision, but I am gladdened all the same. (4/5/20)