Marvellous Chenin!

Cathy attends a vertical tasting of one of the Cape's greatest wines

by: Cathy Marston | 05 May 2011

Chenin is getting a good press these days. Most folk-in-the-know are still tipping it to make the country’s best wines, and versions both sweet and dry, oxidative and reductive are picking up awards and accolades all over the world. This is great news for South African wines and bodes well for the future, but it took a vertical tasting last week for me to realise just how far we have come with this variety in such a very short time.

Ken Forrester, aka the King of Chenin, starting to make wine a mere fifteen or so years ago and quickly became known for his elegant, wooded versions before launching his fresh, fun and fruity Petit Chenin in 1999 to great acclaim. But in the back of his mind nagged the feeling that he could do more with the excellent quality fruit his farm was producing. Over discussions with winemaker Martin Meinert, they decided to try and produce one good enough to go on the Cape Winemakers’ Guild auction – something virtually unheard of at that stage. After two rejections for the 1998 and 1999 versions, they finally got the 2000 vintage accepted for the auction where it achieved a then record price for any white wine, let alone a Chenin Blanc, coming in at a massive R165 a bottle.  The Forrester Meinert Chenin, The FMC, was born.

Ten years later and the great and good of Cape wine writing gathered at Ken’s house recently to see how the wine has fared over the last decade. To the accompaniment of copious illegible winemaking notes from Ken, much tolerant and jovial sarcasm from Martin and the real Queen of Chenin, Teresa, Ken’s wife, overseeing it all from her armchair, we started at 2009 and worked our way through to two precious bottles of the original auction lot which Ken had had to buy back from a canny bidder in order to host the tasting! My thoughts and favourites are below.

In my opinion, The FMC thoroughly deserves its place as the Granddaddy of top Cape Chenin – the wines were vastly different in terms of their technical analysis, yet through all of them ran a strong thread of balance, poise and integration which is what Ken says they set out to achieve. “This is a wine which is more a reflection of personalities than terroir” he explains, before going on to credit his wife with having the final say on the wine “If she doesn’t like it, then it’s back to the drawing board!” Over the years, the amount of new wood used has gradually been reduced, but the FMC is still recognisably the same wine so beloved of UK wine writer, Matthew Jukes all those years ago. He tried the very first bottling at the London Wine Trade Show and loved it so much, he came back time and time again for ‘Some more of that F***ing Marvellous Chenin!’ Me too please Ken!

My faves included:
2009 The FMC – current cellar door price R265
Immediate toasty notes on the nose with honey and baked baklava. Rich, rounded entry, plenty of acidity and lots of bright melon and naartjie fruit. Long, sweet finish.

2005 The FMC
First wine to include some of following vintage for freshness. Savoury notes with baked yellow fruits and a salty tang. Acid and sugar beautifully balanced with rich, opulent finish.

2003 The FMC
Starting to show classic older Chenin character with hints of soft cheese, nuts and honey. Everything wonderfully in balance still with a rich mouthfeel, salty tang, baked yellow fruit and a creamy finish.

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