Drink The Old Vines of South Africa


A chef recently challenged me to match a wine with Bakewell Tarts, one of England’s favourite cakes. These delicious sweeties have a jam-coated shortcake case filled with sponge, topped with by almond flakes and icing. I luv ‘em. What’s more, Bakewell is a village in Derbyshire not far from my home city of Manchester so, as you can guess, I was up for the challenge.

South Africa’s beautiful vineyards are also very close to my heart. Chenin Blanc’s one of my favourite grape varieties and so, for me, the combination of Bakewell Tarts, Manchester, South Africa and Chenin Blanc really hits the spot. 
With the Bakewells I opted for a dry but fruity South African Bush Vine Chenin Blanc 2016 from Klein Zalze; it chips in with ripe yet crisp pineapple and peach melon flavours which, together with the sweet almond overtones of the Bakewell beauties complete an intriguing taste experience. 
Zalze’s Chenin Blanc hails from their Stellenbosch vineyards tucked behind Cape Town’s Table Mountain. The bush vine bit refers to the vines being trained as bushes, a historical system often referred to as ‘goblet’. Chenin Blanc arrived in the Cape in the mid 17th century and soon became popular as its versatility produced dry, medium, sweet and sparkling wines. This classic variety also gave the winemaker bags of mouth-watering acidity, so important to balance the riper fruit produced in a warmer climate.  
South Africa is the world’s largest producer of Chenin Blanc so it’s not surprising that it’s the Cape’s most planted variety. Chenin therefore plays a leading role in South Africa’s new and exciting ‘Old Vine Project’ which aims to preserve South Africa’s vines with over 35 years on the clock. There are currently about 2,600 hectares of vineyards with vines of this age, “but only an estimated 7% have been identified and resuscitated and result in an identifiable wine brand. The rest are sadly all under threat of being pulled up. There’s a long way to go”, admits the Project’s marketing specialist Andre Morgenthal. Cleverly, the project also has 20-30 year old vines in its sights as these are the ‘old vines’ and great wines of the future.
I was lucky enough to be invited to South Africa House a while ago to taste over 70 wines from ‘the Old Vine Project’, a stunning collection that spanned the Cape’s vineyards from Olifants River in the north to Bot River in the south, from Swartland and Darling in the west to Calitzdorp in the Klein Karoo to the east. 
Wines of South Africa, ably supported by viticulturalist Rosa Kruger and Andre Morgenthal have championed the ‘Old Vine Project’ but importantly they also have the support of S.A’s top producers including Badenhorst, Alheit, Metzer, L’Avenir, Klawer, Piekenierskloof, Bellingham, De Krans, Morgenhof, De Morgenzon, Simonsig, Reyneke, Gabrielskloof and the Sadie Family. Klein Zalze are also supporters of the Old Vine Project but it’s their Bush Vine Chenin that clicks with the Bakewell.
A friend thought that a red may also lift the Bakewell Tarts so I stayed in the Cape vineyards and opened a bottle of Benguela Cove Shiraz 2014. The wine is 100% Shiraz from the Walker Bay vineyards that overlook the Atlantic Ocean in the Overberg region near the whale watching town of Hermanus. The crisp blackberry flavours went surprisingly well with the tarts, “told you so”, he smiled. It just shows you that when it comes to matching food and wine there are few hard and fast rules. Try the ‘Bakewells’ with the Chenin Blanc and the Shiraz or, push the boat out and pour Klein Zalze’s Old Vine Project Family Reserve Chenin 2015 or one of the others from the exciting ‘Old Vine Project’. Either way, South Africa wins again! 

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