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Tasting Note

Posted May 04, 2018 An alluring, rich style, with meringue, shortbread, lemon curd and creamed white peach flavors, laced with a hint of warm brioche throughout. A lovely example of the style.

And the answer is...


Varietal

We know that our wine is a rich white, with creamy citrus and stone fruit notes, as well as a backing of bread aromas like shortbread and brioche. With this information, we can immediately eliminate Sauvignon Blanc as an option. Our note does not show Sauvignon Blanc's vegetal aromas or pungent gooseberry fruit, and there is no sign of the grape's racy acidity.

While creamy citrus aromas are not uncommon for a Verdicchio, this Italian grape does not tend to make wines with the richness of our note. Riesling could certainly show several of the aromas found in our mystery wine, but again, our note is missing any mention of the distinctly high acidity that most Rieslings would show.

We are left with Chenin Blanc and Grüner Veltliner to choose from. Grüner Veltliner could certainly show the ripe citrus and stone fruit characteristics of our note, especially when made in the rounder style of Austria's Wachau region. But we are missing the distinct mineral and white pepper accents of a Grüner, and the bread aromas would be unusual for this grape.

Chenin Blanc, made in a certain style, can often be marked by brioche and pastry aromas, with a fruit profile of citrus and peach, and a creamy texture when made in a weightier style.

This wine is a Chenin Blanc.

Country

Knowing that our wine is a Chenin Blanc, we can remove Italy as a possible country of origin for our wine, as Chenin is not widely grown there. While other Loire Valley varieties can be found in Austria, such as Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc has remained an uncommon grape there as well. There is some Chenin grown in New Zealand, but still in minute plantings, especially compared to its more popular counterpart, Sauvignon Blanc.

We are left with France and South Africa to choose from, both countries with significant Chenin Blanc plantings. Let's observe the stylistic differences between Chenin made in each country. This grape made in France has searing acidity, with bright citrus and apple notes, and a mineral-driven character that is backed up by flavors sometimes described as "wooly" or "waxy." While this does not match our note, the warm-climate Chenin made in South Africa, which typically has plush, creamy textures and pastry notes, is much closer to the mark.

This Chenin Blanc is from South Africa.

Age

Now that we know which country our Chenin Blanc comes from, it's easier to determine the age of this wine. There is no hint that our wine has gone through significant aging, as it is still showing fresh fruit aromas. But we must look through the last several vintages to narrow down the exact age of our wine.

The 2013 vintage in South Africa saw an early ripening for whites, but with a rainy winter; it made for a largely successful vintage of greener Chenin wines, with plenty of bright citrus and distinct floral aromas. The year after, 2014, was a particularly challenging vintage for South Africa, with early rains and significant disease pressure. But Chenin was one of the more successful grapes that year, with two main styles emerging: one lighter and green-fruit focused, and the other richer with melon notes.

Praise came with 2015, a vintage of great weather, but with some dry periods leading to earlier harvests. Consequently, 2015 Chenin Blancs are notable for their freshness, with lively, juicy character, often with notes of apple and pear.

Hot, dry nights marked 2016, and the vintage's wines accordingly showed lower acidity, with significant fruit concentration. The 2016 Chenins tend to show a creamy texture, with plush notes of peach, lemon and pastry. We can identify our note as belonging to the riper, less racy vintage of 2016, with its concentrated stone fruit and bread notes.

This wine is from the 2016 vintage, making it two years old.

Appellation

Knowing that our Chenin Blanc is from South Africa, we can eliminate France's Alsace, Austria's Kamptal, Italy's Marche and New Zealand's Marlborough. This leaves only the South African appellations of Franschhoek and Stellenbosch.

While Franschhoek is a region known for its full-bodied whites, its warm climate and surrounding mountains have made Chardonnay a much more significant grape in the area, with far fewer Chenin vines grown there. It is in Stellenbosch that Chenin has gained a place of prominence among white wines, with cooling winds and maritime influence making the region far more suitable for the grape.

This Chenin Blanc is from Stellenbosch.

Wine

This wine is the De Morgenzon Chenin Blanc Stellenbosch Reserve 2016, which scored 92 points in Wine Spectator's Nov. 30, 2017, issue. It retails for $40, and 2,000 cases were made. For more information on the wines of South Africa, read senior editor James Molesworth's most recent Tasting Highlights on the country's wines.

—Collin Dreizen, assistant tasting coordinator

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