Monday, April 18, 2011

The Royal Old Vines Steen Chenin Blanc, Vintage 2009

This wine is my absolute FAVORITE that I have purchased since I started this whole skint sommelier project. When I was going through the certification classes, we tasted a few Chenin Blancs, and I remember hating them, so I was hesitant to grab this one, despite the "no brainer" recommendation from the Wine Source. It was only after Chris and I went to a tasting at The Curious Grape, we tasted this wine and bought a bottle (I didn't realize it was the same one until we got home). Two strong recommendations from two great wine retailers later, and I finally cracked open a bottle and was DELIGHTED with the results. 

Verdict: Awesome. The Royal, 2009 Old Vines Steen (another name for the South African Chenin Blanc grapes), sourced from 48 year-old vines in the Swartland wine growing region of South Africa is easily the most lovely, and universally drinkable South African wines that I've ever had. If I had blind taste-tested this wine, I would have guessed that it was French because the mineral quality of the wine and heavy-handed honeysuckle flavors are way more reminiscent of a French Chenin Blanc than a South African one. Similarly, the acidity and the citrus characteristics are reminiscent of the New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs that I reviewed earlier. Another thing I loved about this wine was the fact that it's unoaked - but that's a personal preference, as the characteristic smoky/oaky flavor typical of oaked whites just doesn't agree with my palate most of the time. Also the stone fruit and honey overtones of the palate are absolutely lovely, as is the creamy mouthfeel (indicative of malolactic fermentation, although I have no confirmation that the vineyard uses this process).

Pairing: This is another wine like the Starborough where it goes well with most light meals (or by itself!). As this is a creamier, sweeter Chenin Blanc, it tends to pair well with cream sauces and spicier food (this was the PERFECT wine to drink with the creamed spinach chicken with bacon that I cooked a few weeks ago - heavy cream with smoky bacon and sweet honey wine = heaven!). I also dream of the day that I can make a lovely potato soup and drink this wine, because I think it would be an absolutely divine pairing. 

Wine: The Royal Old Vines Steen Chenin Blanc, Vintage 2009
Price: $10 and $12, respectively
Purchased: The Wine Source, Baltimore MD & The Curious Grape, Arlington VA

Crios de Susana Balbo Rosé of Malbec, Vintage 2010

I am not that familiar with rosés as a category of wine, but the winemaking process is very interesting, so when I saw this Crios as a recommended wine at the Wine Source, I had to snap it up and try it. When wines are made, all of them - white and red - are made from dark-skinned grapes. White wines are white because when they are fermented, the grapes do not come in contact with the skins or stems, which contain both the pigment and the tannins. Red wines are fermented with the skins and stems, which is why tannins and dark coloration are characteristic of reds. Rosés live somewhere in the middle, where the grapes come into contact with the skins and stems, but only for a brief part of the fermentation process, which is why they have the pinkish coloration and very low tanins. 

Verdict: I have to say I did not enjoy this wine very much at all. We drank it last monday when it was ungodly warm and the AC wasn't turned on yet in Chris' building, so even though I made BBQ pork for dinner (and what have I said about BBQ? Syrah or Zinfandel! I had the chance to enjoy a ZIN!!), we went against our instincts and drank the rosé because it was chilled and we were so damn hot. The wine was spicy and hot in my mouth, with a 13.9% alcohol, and a surprising full body for a rosé. The coloring is also quite deep for a rosé, typical of the thick-skinned malbec grape (the main grape grown in Mendoza, Argentina, from where this wine hails). The nice part about this wine was the nose and the palate were heavy with strawberry and cherry notes/flavors, but between the bad pairing and the glaringly hot alcoholic mouthfeel, I couldn't enjoy much about this wine except it's cool temperature on a hot evening. 

Pairings: Obviously, not BBQ. A rosé is typically a chicken wine, but this spicy version would also go nicely with Thai food or maybe even spicier Chinese food. The a-typical body in this wine makes it more suitable for heavier foods (and less refreshing on a hot day). Don't let me discourage you from trying this wine, just make sure that you pair it appropriately. 

Wine: Crios de Susana Balbo Rosé of Malbec, Vintage 2010
Price: $12.99
Purchased: The Wine Source, Baltimore MD