Wine of the Week: a Modern but Balanced Chenin Blanc from South Africa

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We have a saying at our house: No wine without food and no food without wine. In other words, we never serve wine in our home as a stand-alone cocktail. It is always served within the context of a meal, whether we're entertaining guests or just cozying up on the coach for a Law & Order: SVU marathon on a Saturday night.

Over the weekend, as we slowly simmered field peas using a recipe from a vintage Joy of Cooking (circa 1964) and munched on grilled bread and fresh goat cheese wrapped in hoja santa leaves that a friend had generously brought us from Mozzarella Company in Dallas, I popped the screw-cap (see below) on a bottle of 2009 Chenin Blanc by Mulderbosch, on the Western Cape of South Africa (recommended to me by one of the staff at the Houston Wine Merchant at around $16).

The winemaker pumps up the alcohol and mouthfeel of this unapologetically modern expression of Chenin Blanc by adding some sweet late-harvest wine from the same vintage. But the classic acidity of the Chenin Blanc -- a native of the Loire Valley, France, where it is vinified in both dry and sweet styles -- holds the alcohol in check and the gentle American and Hungarian oak notes in balance. I loved the way the rich white fruit on the nose and in the mouth brought out the sweetness in the cheese, and when we served the field peas over steamed basmati rice, the unctuous mouthfeel and acidity seamlessly cut through the fattiness of the stock and butter we had used to cook the legumes.

I can already hear some of you asking: How does a self-respecting wine snob serve a screw-cap bottle in his own home? Well, I'm here to tell you: As long as they are used for wines intended for drinking in their youth (like this one), I almost always prefer a screw-cap bottle. Not only are screw-caps helping to rescue precious cork trees from over-farming, they also reduce the number of defective bottles and require the winemaker to utilize less sulfite at bottling (I'll address sulfites and why we need them in a future post).

Especially in the case of a white, intensely fruity wine like this one, the vacuum-sealed screw-cap also helps to preserve the freshness in the nose of the wine, making it a bright pairing for a Saturday night at home over dinner with Olivia and Eliot as they collar the perp...

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