Monday, 5 September 2011

To Screw, Or To Cork & Chenin Blanc Versatility

Chenin Blanc Association Lunch - 26 August 2011

Spring is a week early as I enter Thomas Maxwell Kitchen in Parkmore and the weather is perfect for sipping on a range of quality Chenin Blancs. The room is a buzz with conversations of social media and Chenin Blanc by Andy Hadfield, creator of Real Time Wine and a few true industry leaders of the Chenin Blanc Association whom are hosting the lunch.

I was invited along with Andy as a guest from Real Time Wine, to hear about new developments in South Africa’s great white varietal and to talk a bit about social media and Real Time Wine’s funky, versatile and “Top Gear” approach to 140 character wine reviews.

From the get-go, the hospitable Jeff Grier of Villiera, places a glass in my paw and fills it up with a cool refreshing Chenin Blanc, which is very much appreciated after the dreaded bumper to bumper trip on the N1 from Pretoria. Jeff, introduces me to Zakkie Bester of Riebeek Cellars, Richard Kershaw of Mulderbosch and Ken Forrester of Ken Forrester Wines. Luckily all the testosterone in the house is dissected as the cheerful Jenny Ratcliffe-Wright, Editor of Winestyle Magazine arrives, followed by Lyn Woodward, a Cape Wine Master, Kim Hoepfl from Woman and Home Magazine and Katy Chance from Business Day.

We are presented with an interesting and delicious menu, with various diverse options to pair with and try the great versatility of Chenin Blanc. I start off with a bowl of fresh mussels, simmering in a white sauce, lemon, garlic and parsley cream, followed by Free Range – pan fried duck breast served on a cauliflower pomme puree and finished off with a champagne Beurre Blanc. Compliments to the chef!   

As I devour my duck, feathers are stirred by a highly contentious topic, “Screw Cap Versus Cork” and the legendary Ken Forrester firmly stands his ground favouring screw cap as a superior form of closure for wine bottles. It seems the general consensus is confirmed around the table, although comments are made by some that there is a time and place for cork. Ken points out that it is a misconception that cork is involved in the ageing process of wine and says its sole and only purpose is for use as a closure, full stop. It’s actually the oxygen trapped within the bottle that causes the ageing effect on a wine, as a good quality cork is not meant to be porous. There is a less possibility of a wine being contaminated by a screw cap and being “corked.” Additionally, screw caps allow wines to be stored vertically as it is not necessary for the wine to be in contact with the screw cap, as is the case with a cork, in order for it to remain moist to prevent it from contracting and allowing excessive oxygen contact with the wine. Richard explains to us that constant temperature regulation, which is ideally around 13 degrees Celsius, has a stronger influence on the ageing effect of a wine.

It is agreed that cork definitely has an influence on the purchasing characteristics of consumers, as a wine is perceived to be more premium and expensive, so to say, if its closed with such.
The quick thinking Andy quickly posts on Facebook and tweets a poll to the Real Time Wine Followers:

“Would you buy a premium wine with a screw cap? Yes or No.”
The response is somewhat surprising. Screw cap wins 14 - 3!

We continue to discuss the versatility of Chenin Blanc and the various styles from Fresh and Fruity, Rich and Ripe to Sweet and even Sparkling. Chenin Blanc is South Africa’s champion wine and the most recognised white wine varietal globally and at home in SA. It is the largest cultivar in production in South Africa, accounting for almost 30% of all white wine production and 20% of overall production (SAWIS). Distracted by all the conversation, I don’t even realise I’m on my fourth Chenin Blanc as it complements the food so well. Let me trace back a few steps…

Andy, Ken and I scored one of the Chenins:

2009 Villiera Traditional Barrel Fermented Chenin Blanc.
I said: Its Austin Powers: its nutty. Its also creamy but goes down under, like Australia… Rich but easy. 8/10

Andy said: Smells like nutty sour yeast. Thick with a slightly sweet aftertaste. Subtle, not powerful. 7/10

Ken said: Expecting: Traditional. Smell: Bakery vanilla waft. Honey/ koeksister taste. Main course wine. 8/10

Other Chenins we tried:

2010 Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc Steen Op Hout – I think its well balanced with a lime characteristic and easy drinking.

2010 Kasteelberg Chenin Blanc (Riebeek Cellars) – I find it smoky, buttery and full bodied.

2009 The FMC (Forrester Meinert Chenin) – Its rich, elegant, complex and a special occasion wine.

We end off with dessert and I opt for a crème Brule to accompany the 2009 “T” Noble Late Harvest. A sweet tooth I don’t have, but what a good decision, yum!    
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