South African Chenin Blanc From Joostenberg- A Summer Treat

Let me start by saying Chenin blanc is my favorite international white wine grape. It is versatile yet recognizable, fruity but also filled with minerality and I think the sexiest white grape around. Of course there are many indigenous white grape varieties that I admire from Viognier to Vermentino but Chenin blanc, grown in many places is always representative of that particular terroir. Anyway, I’m just partial to it.

I’ve had a number of Chenin blanc’s from South Africa as this post illustrates but I had never had this one from Joostenberg until recently.

The winery is located in the Muldersvlei area near Stellenbosch and Paarl. It was bought by the Myburgh family in 1879. The current owners are the 5th generation to run this farm. In 1999 Tyrrel and Philip Myburgh began selling Joostenberg wines both locally and abroad instead of selling grapes to the local coops as they had done previously.

The winery is organic and full organic certification is imminent. They plant Chenin Blanc, Viognier and Roussanne as well as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah/Shiraz, Touriga Nacional and Mourvedre.

This wine, which I tasted at Kaia, a great relatively new wine bar on the East side of Manhattan with my friend and fellow Italophile, Carmel D’Arienzo of Bella Vita Living, Arbonne and Villa Concierge, was a perfect blend of fruit and acidity with a hint of sweetness and floral notes on the finish. The floral notes surely come from the 5% Viognier that is added to this blend.

The blend is interesting because the Chenin ferments only in stainless steel while the Viognier fermented in oak barrels. Both rest on their lees for four months before blending, giving a great nutty toasty flavor to the wine. This year, for the first time, 40% of the Chenin Blanc underwent “natural fermentation,” without selected yeast in order to bring a bit more texture and minerality to the blend.

I really liked this wine and thought it was the perfect Summer treat. As some of you know, I am partial to South Africa and consider a wonderful South African woman in wine, Ntsiki Biyela, a friend. She’s the winemaker at Stellekaya. She actually made me very happy two weeks ago on my birthday when she told me that a journalist from an important New York based paper read about her on a blog and then interviewed her for the paper. She was thrilled to be interviewed and I am happy to think that I may have contributed to getting her more press, even if only indirectly, this time.

Full disclosure dictates that I let people know that I did some PR work for the winery after I met and interviewed her last year. She’s a fabulously interesting woman and her wines, although she doesn’t yet make a Chenin are well worth trying.

I first learned about South African wines at the Society of Wine Educators conference I attended in 2009. Wines of South Africa gave the key note address and provided amazing materials to the group. I used them to write an article for Gourmet Retailer at the start of 2010 and the rest is history. I saw today in my email that my friend/colleague in the wine world Tracy Ellen Kamens from Grand Cru Classes will be teaching a seminar at this year’s conference. I’m sorry to miss it. Tracy has a lovely blog and also sends monthly newsletters from her wine school. I am sorry to be missing this year’s seminar.

One comment

  1. Hi Susannah, interesting post. I thought viognier basically has fruity notes, consideringi it relatively “simple” grape compared to Chenin. Chenin that is, in France – I do not have significant experience in the world – one of the most complex wine. So I’m not expecting a so low percentage of viognier can add such a note. BTW many thanks and … try Timorasso!! But I’m sure you did

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