Exciting White Wines for Spring

Break the rut with Albarino, Verdejo, and Chenin Blanc


As the days warm-up (and boy, was it ever warming up last week -- 90 here in NYC!) our thoughts will turn more and more to the refreshing whites and roses that are perfect for the summer. I’ll be just as tempted as the next guy or gal to reach for a tried-and-true white, though in my case that would probably mean Txacoli or Pinot Bianco, as opposed to Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc.

Whatever the case may be, I though we could start off this spring on the "wrong" foot! Are you feeling adventurous yet? How about trading in your usual white for a little Steen or Verdejo on one of these warm spring eves? If you need a little prodding--and who doesn’t like a good prodding now and again?--allow me to introduce you to my little friends: South African Chenin Blanc and a handful of Spanish gems.

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While many associate Chenin Blanc with France’s Loire Valley, where it produces world-class wines bearing famous names such as Vouvray, few realize just how friendly and versatile the wines can be. South Africa has proven to be an ideal region for Chenin, where it is vying with Sauvignon Blanc for top honors. The beauty of Chenin in South Africa is that the wines develop great, fresh, complex aromas while retaining zesty acidity. Most of the wines do not undergo malolactic fermentation, so that blazing acidity finds its way into the bottle, making these food wines par excellence!

2008 Raats Original 13.5%

This pumps out wonderfully sweet and typical Chenin notes of candle wax, sweet golden fruit, honey, honeycomb, crayon, smoke, and lanolin.  Very linear in the mouth with excellent balance and good energy that pushes the pure, lightly mineral-laced flavors of honeycomb, apple, lime leaf and steely pomegranate seed tones across the palate. The finish is very crisp and shows bright acids with less flesh than one finds on the palate, but it's just enough to keep the acids covered. 90pts

2008 Bradgate Chenin Blanc/Sauvignon Blanc 13.5%

The nose here is really dominated by the roasted chili and gooseberry aromas of the SB, but they are tempered by crisp, sweet cantaloupe and smoky, waxy tones.  On the palate there is a sense of lightness and freshness to the fruit that sets this apart from pure Chenin. It’s got a lovely mouth feel with transparent quality that allows the light orange-toned citrus fruit flavors to shine through. There are more herbal, green chili tones on the backend, but the fruit takes control of the medium-length finish, leaving the mouth citrussy and refreshed. 89pts

2008 Kanu 13.5%

With a touch of saltiness on the nose this offers up background notes of bitter apple seeds and fresh wildflower florality, the fruit is a bit heavy, rich with golden apple tones but that background keeps this layered and complex.  On entry this is rather soft and decidedly lithe, but gains richness and a touch of sweetness on the mid-palate, which features bright and tangy pear and honeydew melon fruit.  There’s a touch of nutty oak lurking around in the background but it never really rises to the surface, only adding a bit of complexity and a subtle roasted nut tone on the moderately long finish. 89pts

2008 Sebeka 12.5%

This has some nice dust, chalk, and steely undertones on the nose that help to frame the ripe apricot, lemon curd and pollen tones of the fruit with an enticing red floral tone.  Lovely balance on the palate, if a touch soft, but this is light and fresh and round all at the same time.  The flavors are a touch simple with honey and raw peanut tones embedded in earthy pear and pineapple that lead to a long, crisp finish.  87pts

2008 Indaba Chenin 13.5%

Very floral and polleny on the nose with a core of very ripe apricot and papaya fruit over subtle suggestions of roasted jalapeno and butcher’s wax.  Moderately light body with nice acidity and soft flavors of quince, orange, and a suggestion of almond butter.  It’s got bright acidity but is still rather laid back in the mouth with a rush of fruit on the moderately long finish that ends with nice nutty tones. 85pts

2007 Vinum Africa 14%

Pungent, smoky and oaky on the nose with a strong underlay of white flowers, very fresh gardenias. There’s a touch of fruit here, mostly citrussy and a bit indistinct.  Round on entry with cutting acids buffered by a touch of sweetness. It’s got plenty of body for a medium weight wine and much less oak than the aromas suggest.  Wow, is there a lot of acid here, with gentle flavors of quince, white peach, and under-ripe pineapple that get etched into the palate and onto the steely finish. I love acid, but this seems a bit much even for me, though the finish is cleansing and refreshing.  84pts

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