Summer safari to South Africa

I’ve been doing a lot of vicarious traveling lately, through my local wine stores, sallying forth to explore white-varietal progeny of some lesser-explored wine-producing regions. I’m happy to recommend two recent finds from my first stop, South Africa.

To the South Africa aisle I went, in pursuit of Chenin Blanc—the wine that long dominated that country’s production, until the industry in recent decades became more cosmopolitan and began responding to global tastes for varietals like Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

From the Stellenbosch, I’m loving the Simonsig 2012 Chenin Blanc (and loving the price, $12 at Jersey City’s Buy Rite).

40 - S Af Chenin blanc 

The Simonsig estate, long owned by the Malan family and currently operated by several Malan brothers, produces a wide array of varietals, red and white.

Its Chenin Blanc was the first wine brought to market by founder Frans Malan in 1968. The winery describes it as full bodied and I agree. With a nose that’s soft and earthy, the wine tastes almost smoky. On a musical scale, I’d place it in the low notes. An absolute bargain at this price.

Moving northwest from the Stellenbosch, due east of Cape Town, to Swartland in the Cape’s coastal region, I found Secateurs Chenin Blanc, made by A.A. Badenhorst Family Wines. As they say on their website, Badenhorst is “owned by the dynamic and good looking cousins Hein and Adi Badenhorst” and specializes in natural wines made in the traditional manner.

Secateurs is Badenhorst’s second-tier brand (besides Chenin Blanc, they make a Secateurs red blend of Cabernet Sauvignon-Carignan-Cinsault-Grenache and, occasionally, a rosé). Secateurs is a pruning tool, and it’s pictured on the label.

Also shown is a small jackal, on the label’s right side. What the heck? Adi explained in a conversation with Florida’s Wine Atelier that it marks the bottle’s halfway point, so “you know when you’ve drank half the bottle and it’s time to pass it on to your mate.”

 40 - Secateurs jackal (2)

The Secateurs 2013 Chenin Blanc is a wine with verve. Just this side of effervescent, it shimmers on the palate like the best, crisp Sauvignon Blancs. On the nose, it gives off a bright whiff of sea salt. Another fabulous deal, at $13 from Buy Rite—especially considering it’s won high marks from critics (e.g., 92 points from the Wine Advocate for the 2012 vintage).

I loved both wines when consumed alone, on different days, but made a point also to drink them side by side for comparison. Against Simonsig’s low notes, the Secateurs plays in the high notes. Rich versus vivid; round versus sparkly.

Try them yourself and let me know what you think!

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