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Wines from South Africa still take up a relatively small amount of shelf space in most U.S. wine shops. It’s not that South Africa doesn’t make wine. It actually ranked seventh or eighth among world wine producers in 2020, depending on which sources you choose.
But South Africa apparently drinks most of its wine at home. It ranks only 12th in world wine exports, just behind the United Kingdom and just ahead of the Netherlands. Only a fraction of those exports reach the U.S.: Although the rate is growing, the value of South African wine imported into the U.S. last year was just under $2 million, according to the Observatory of Economic Complexity (OEC). Compare that with the $1.71 billion worth of wine that we bring in from Italy and the $1.67 billion from France, and you’ll start to grasp why you might not find much South African wine in your local bottle shop.
Remember too, that South Africa was long held offshore by the world’s trade embargo based on its infamous apartheid laws. Even after apartheid happily fell in the early ’90s, it took a while for South Africa’s economy to recover; and with all our other readily available wine options including our own, its wine came here in more of a trickle than a flood.
But South Africa is a naturally beautiful land, favored by climate, sea and soil. It is capable of producing very fine wine, and it’s worth your attention. So is Chenin Blanc, which is arguably one of the world’s finest white grapes, yet one whose wines just don’t seem to get the same attention as Chardonnay or Riesling.
Chenin Blanc is the crown jewel of France’s Loire Valley, where it has been grown for some 1,300 years and makes amazing dry and sweet wines that – particularly in the sweeter versions – is capable of aging beautifully and developing over many years in the cellar. It thrives in South Africa, too, where it’s been planted for more than 50 years and also derives character and style from the granite soils. Along with Syrah and the indigenous Pinotage, it is one of South Africa’s signature grapes.
Today’s featured wine, Babylonstoren South Africa Chenin Blanc, is made by a producer in the Simonsberg-Paarl region of South Africa’s Western Cape, on the slopes of the landmark Simonsberg mountain. Check Babylonstoren’s Facebook page for many photos and frequent updates from this winery that’s also a hotel, restaurants, shop, garden, farm, and spa.
The wine offers a delicious representation of Chenin Blanc in the South African style, with alluring scents of stone fruit and citrus, stony minerality, and tart, bracing acidity cloaking just a hint of fresh-fruit sweetness. It’s an excellent value in the middle to upper teens, and I think you’ll enjoy it. My tasting notes are below.
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Today’s Tasting Report
Babylonstoren 2021 South Africa Chenin Blanc ($14.99)
Sustainably grown in South Africa’s Paarl region on the Western Cape, Babylonstoren Chenin Blanc is a delicious wine that supports South Africa’s tradition as an excellent terroir for Chenin Blanc. It’s a clear greenish-brass color in the glass, and presents appealing fresh fruit scents of stone fruit and pineapple, with lemony citrus joining those characteristics on the palate. Tart, bracing acidity cloaks just a hint of sweetness, and intriguing stony minerality joins in with lemon and lime in a very long finish. Excellent wine, 13.5% alcohol. U.S. importer: Tamarca Imports LLC, Snellville, Ga. (April 2, 2022)
FOOD MATCH: Chenin Blanc is a versatile food companion. The winery recommends a rather specific list of pairings: seafood dishes, roast chicken with thyme, summer salads, seasonal quiches and gravlax. Wine-Searcher suggests pairing it with Cheddar or Gruyère. We enjoyed it with bucatini and a spring pesto of asparagus and cilantro.
WHEN TO DRINK: The winery calls for drinking preferably within one year of production, which limits us to this year. Honestly, considering its richness and balance and knowing Chenin Blanc’s surprising ageworthiness for a white, I’d feel comfortable holding it for several years more.
Wine-Searcher.com calculates $17 U.S. retail for all vintages, $16 for the 2021. I got it for $15 and was delighted, but I’d be willing to go up to the upper teens for this quality.
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE:
Check prices and find vendors for Babylonstoren South Africa Chenin Blanc on Wine-Searcher.com.
Follow this Wine-Searcher link to read more about Simonssberg-Paarl and follow links to vendors for many wines from the region, including a number from Babylonstoren’s portfolio.
This Wine-Searcher page gives an overview of South Africa in general and links to a selection of the country’s characteristic wines.
Learn more about Chenin Blanc and find many good examples of the variety at this Wine-Searcher link.
Wine Focus April 2022:
Malbec & Cava
We’re doubling up in this month’s Wine Focus with a couple of overlooked options in the world of wine:
• Malbec grew up in France as the black wine of Cahors and a blending grape in Bordeaux, but it has made a home for itself in Argentina.
• Cava, the Spanish sparkling wine of Catalunya, has been overlooked, maligned and often completely forgotten. But there’s now any number of higher quality examples that bring a sparkle to life for a much more comfortable price than Champagne.
Let’s pop some corks as spring makes its presence felt. Join us with your tasting reports, comments, and questions in at Wine Focus April 2022!
Wine-Searcher.com is the place to go online if you want to find where to buy a particular wine that interests you. What’s more, Wine-Searcher.com offers so much more. It’s well worth a visit just to discover its many features, including its popular list of the world’s Top 10 Best Value Wines.
Good wines we’ve tried under $10.99!
Want tips to still more good, inexpensive wines? Here are Wine-Searcher links to vendors and prices for a bunch more wines for $10.99 or less that I’ve told you about in recent years. In some cases the prices may have risen over the $10.99 mark since I reviewed them, but they should still be excellent bargains. Please tell us about your favorites!
- Laroque Cité de Carcassonne
- Famille Perrin 2019 “La Vielle Ferme” Rouge ($7.99)
- Querceto 2019 Chianti ($10.99)
- Porto Kopke Fine Ruby and Tawny Port ($9.99/375ml)
- La Fiera 2016 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo ($8.99)
- La Vieille Ferme Vin de France Rosé ($8.99)
- La Fiera Montepulciano d’Abruzzo ($8.99)
- Laroque Cité de Carcassonne Cabernet Franc ($9.99)
- Domaine de Pouy 2016 Côtes de Gascogne ($7.99)
- Alamos Mendoza Malbec ($9.99)
- Caposaldo Chianti ($8.99)
- d’Arenberg McLaren Vale “The Stump Jump” ($9.99)
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