We are way down in the bargain basement this week with a really stunning house white. I tasted 85 of the wines of which Britain's dominant retailer is most proud last week (see my full report on the range here in purple pages). I thought more than a dozen of them were seriously good value but of those, this is the cheapest, and I reckoned British wine lovers might appreciate a bargain to soften the blow of last week's wine duty increase of 14p to £1.47 a bottle (plus VAT). All prices cited here are pre Budget increase, by the way.
Chenin Blanc is South Africa's glory – by far the most planted grape variety in the Cape and the one with the most impressive average vine age. Because it makes fairly ordinary wine in so much of the world (California and Australia, for instance), Chenin Blanc tends to be rather under-estimated in the two places in the world where it thrives, the middle Loire and South Africa. See Chenin Blanc in fine wine facts for more detail of this potentially noble grape variety.
When made well it can have an intriguingly honeyed quality, nicely counterbalanced by its natural crispness. Of course at this price,
Tesco South African Chenin Blanc 2007 Western Cape is not going to offer great complexity. It's an archetypal wine for sipping, without either powerfully flavoured food or much thought, screwcapped for extra bright fruit (with no hint of the reduction I detected under some of Tesco's screwcaps). But provided you buy the wine now, from the same lot as Tesco were showing last week, I don't think you should be disappointed. I gave it a score of 16 points out of 20, which is extremely respectable for me, even for a wine at twice the price. On no account cellar it. I can't imagine it improving a jot with time – indeed Tesco's buying team go out to South Africa twice a year to approve a second, fresher blend. (Suppliers keep large quantities of wines like this in vast tanks under a blanket of inert gas and bottle to order in their efforts to keep the fruit as fresh as possible.)
This particular blend was bottled by the co-op in the fashionable, recently 'rediscovered' (thank you, Charles Back of Fairview and Eben Sadie of Palladius etc) wine region of Swartland. It's especially notable for its dry climate and old bushvines, particularly Chenin Blanc. It would be naïve to think that this entire blend is made up of ancient Swartland fruit – as witness its 'Western Cape' origin, which suggests inter-regional blending. But it is SO much better than the thoroughly watery Tesco South African White NV Western Cape from the same winery and only four pence cheaper at £2.81 that the Chenin Blanc surely contains a pretty classy ingredient or two. My tasting note on the Chenin reads: "Good! Very fresh and with lots of intensity for the money – far, far better than the Tesco South African White noted above. Amazing what four pence can do.... VGV 13.12% alcohol, £2.85 in 573 Tesco stores."
Apparently the Swartland co-op, now determinedly styling itself Swartland Winery, celebrates its 60th birthday this year. Perhaps this wine is a present to British wine lovers?
Wine lovers elsewhere might care to visit the Swartland Winery's excellent website www.swwines.co.za and in particular this list of importers for clues as to where to find a bargain like this elsewhere in the world. I am reliably informed that wines very like this one can be found under Albert Heijn's Swartland in Holland, and also as Kaapse Kroon in Belgium.