© Cape Times Friday 19th October 2012
How much do you spend on a bottle of wine? Every time I write about this subject, I get berated by somebody whose budget is clearly very different from my own – either my choices are too expensive or (occasionally) they are too cheap. The thing to realise is that the costs associated with putting a bottle of wine on a shelf are more or less the same whether the wine costs R30 or R300 – bottle, cork or screwcap, label, packaging, transport, taxes – this accounts for a hefty chunk of the price leaving sometimes only a few rand for the actual cost of the wine itself. And those costs are exactly the same for a wine which costs twice as much, so the argument goes that if, say, R20 is for ‘fixed costs’, then that only leaves R10-worth of wine in a R30 bottle. But with the same fixed costs, a R40 bottle offers you double the value of wine at only a 25% increase in price.
I was pondering this value equation whilst at the Chenin Blanc Association’s Summer Chenin Showcase last week. Chenin should really be our national grape – we have more than half the world’s plantings here in SA and some of the oldest vines, producing concentrated, complex and delicious wines. But Chenin also makes some fabulous, easy-drinking gluggers with the cherry on top of the cake being that the variety is deeply-unfashionable when compared with Sauvignon Blanc so you get fantastic value for money. If you’re a Sauvignon drinker and you only have R30 to spend on a bottle of wine this summer, then you absolutely cannot do better than buy either Slanghoek Private Selection Chenin Blanc 2012 (R27) or Windmeul Chenin Blanc 2012 (R30) – both of them packed with grapefruit and gooseberry flavours guaranteed to confuse any dedicated Sauvvy-slave and at a cheaper price to boot.
So that’s fabulous for inexpensive, everyday drinking but where Chenin gets really exciting is when you spend that extra R10. For a ludicrously-cheap R37 a bottle, you can get Kleine Zalze’s Cellar Selection Chenin 2012 and for only R3 more, the incredible Stellenrust 2012. The secret lies in what the winemaker has done to the grape, because left to itself, Chenin tends to produce vast amounts of somewhat anonymous fruit. But if the winemaker takes the time and trouble to enhance that fruit, either by extended skin contact, lees (dead yeast cells which contain lots of interesting flavours) contact or careful use of oak, then the results are amazing, producing wines which are still incredibly fresh and lively, but which linger on the palate, giving flavour sensations long after you’ve finished the mouthful.
Hidden in the guise of ‘Classic White’ is another bargain Chenin Blanc which I’ve really enjoyed recently. The folk at Spar have long made a thing of sourcing fabulous value wines for their own range and they’ve now re-launched them with some rather eye-catching packaging. The Olive Brook Prestige Collection comes with lurid raspberry labels, but the wines themselves pack quite a wallet-friendly punch at R34 for the whites and R35 for the reds. And Chenin isn’t only a good alternative to Sauvignon either – if you’re a Chardonnay-lover, then try Villiera’s 2011 Chenin which has just waltzed off with a Double Gold at Veritas , costs a mere R43 and gives you whiffs of spicy oak and hints of apple Danish. As SA’s Chenin King, Ken Forrester, says “At every single price level, a Chenin offers you more value and taste than any other wine” and if you want to prove his point, you can’t do better than with these wines.