Raats Family Wines Original Chenin Blanc 2006
South African winemaker Bruwer Raats is a man with two far-reaching goals. The first is to
put Stellenbosch Chenin Blanc onto the 21st century wine map. The second is to do the same
with Cabernet Franc. Parisians in the know have long raided the nearby Loire region of
France for affordable wines made from these very grapes. Knowledgeable Americans may
now find they have two sources for these under-the-radar delights.
The $13 wine is 100% Chenin Blanc. It touches no oak, undergoes no malolactic fermentation. The wine ages six months on its lees before it is bottled, but otherwise it is a story of clean, fresh fruit with no bells or whistles, hence the title “Original.” The wine comes off the better for the skilled hands-off approach. I can think of a human analogy. The wise family raises a bright child, drops the youngster off at a university, then lets him thrive on his own. (We hope, of course, he is studying oenology, given all the less pragmatic and less inspiring –ologies that distract young people today.)
The Raats family evidently follows a similar philosophy with their Original Chenin Blanc, and the results are impressive. The wine in the glass is a medium straw with green tinges. The nose is quite pronounced, with floral notes, petrol minerality, ripe apple, lemon and pineapple. These aromas are well-integrated and sweet. They have personality, but not so much that they cry out to be taken down a peg.
In the mouth the wine is dry, with playful acidity. The apple and pineapple work with mango
on the palate, adding a pleasant minerality to the lengthy finish. You have complexity if you
want it, but go ahead and quaff; ultimately, a wine of this character wants to see you try to
coax those last few drops from the bottle. It is that final mouthful that will determine whether
you swirl it in contemplation or greedily swallow the liquid.
Verdict: Direct expression of the grape
South Africa has a long and varied wine history: up, down, and up once again.
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman