Full Steen Ahead: Chenin Blanc vs Human Rights 08/29/11

About a week ago, in the pre-hurricane times, a report was released by Human Rights Watch (and covered on Vinography, which was of course where I read it) about the abuse of field workers in the South African wine industry. Naturally, I reacted the way any responsible drinker would: I immediately went out and bought a bottle of South African wine, figuring that this maltreatment must lead to lower production costs, which should theoretically then be passed along to the consumer. In short, human rights violations mean higher quality wines at lower prices.


Few vineyards can afford to hire Kirk Douglas as vintner, but then, it’s seldom worth it.

As luck would have it, South Africa is another country from which I’ve only reviewed a single wine, so this gave me a perfect excuse to continue what I started last week with Austrian Blaufränkisch and get myself a nice, albeit possibly evil bottle of wine to review from a hitherto neglected region.

The wine I chose was the Ken Forrester 2009 Stellenbosch Chenin Blanc.
I opted for this particular bottle because not only was it made from a relatively popular grape that I’ve somehow neglected completely on my blog – the versatile varietal Chenin Blanc, often called “Steen” in South Africa – but it also claimed right on the bottle to have been “hugely labor intensive,” a bold statement about the winery’s merciless treatment of field workers, and subsequently great value.

But in the interest of, for once, not being overly libelous, I should probably note that Ken Forrester is actually rather philanthropic, as evidenced by their current efforts to provide water to needy Africans – which, coincidentally enough, is a gesture they’ve jointly undertaken with Tria, the Philadelphia wine bar(s) halfway across the world that I happened to write about earlier this summer…which I suppose means that, in a way, I’m the real hero.


Artist’s impression.

nullIn any case, I picked this wine up for $15 at a PA state store. In the glass, it poured a nice straw-gold color, somewhat reminiscent of Rumpelstiltskin. The nose was at first a musky papaya punch in the face, but eventually subsided to peppery notes, with a hint of pineapple and a bit of oak. On the palate, the wine presented notes of honeydew, with vanilla and more pepper on the finish.

The wine was full-bodied (certainly for a white, anyway) and well-balanced, with good but not overpowering acidity. I’ll admit to liking it quite a bit more than the last Chenin Blanc I’d tried, a Vouvray that reminded me more of lemon-flavored Warheads than anything else. This example from the Coastal Region (of which Stellenbosch is a part) also surpassed the Pinotage I reviewed a while back.

I award the Ken Forrester Stellenbosch Chenin Blanc thumbs up, and I encourage them to keep on doing whatever they’re doing, be it good or ill.


My lips are sealed.

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