The Wine Guy: South African wines circle the globe | April 25, 2008 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

Living - April 25, 2008

The Wine Guy: South African wines circle the globe

by Gregory Peebles

2007 Simonsig Chenin Blanc

Stellenbosch, South Africa

Wine Styles - San Ramon, $14.99

Given its blue-blood pedigree stretching back centuries to France's Loire Valley, Chenin Blanc's reputation in domestic wine markets is usually far less majestic. Too bad, it's widely considered one of the world's most noble and versatile grape varieties. I strongly encourage you to taste Chenin Blanc in its many Loire guises: Savennières (dry), Quarts de Chaume (sweet) and Crémant de Loire (méthode champenoise bubbly). This Rodney Dangerfield-like lack of respect must end!

Prized for its hardy yields and rugged resistance to wind and disease, approximately one-third of the Cape's vineyards are dedicated to a native strain of Chenin Blanc ("Steen"). Steen can be considered one of South Africa's "heritage" varietals. Jan van Riebeeck almost certainly introduced the first specimens into the country as part of a larger vine collection in 1655.

Simonsig, founded and still owned by the Malan family (winemakers since 1688), released its first wines in 1968. Forty years later, Simonsig has assembled 520 acres of vineyards along with an outstanding résumé of national and international awards.

Pieter, Francois and Johan Malan appear well equipped and ready to compete in the global wine trade for many years to follow. They're combining a modern winemaking philosophy, intense family pride, and sound vineyard holdings to produce impressive wines which are found in 35 countries across the globe.

Experience a varietal which dates to the absolute beginning of South Africa's winemaking history. Pull the cork. You'll be glad you did.

The colors are super-charged. Shades of iridescent gold, brassy yellow and pale green pierce the crystal.

Aromas range from sweet floral and vanilla bean to ultra-ripe pear, tart pineapple and citrus. Some Gewürztraminer-ish pepper notes show themselves over time.

Pure essence of green apple Jolly Rancher hits the palate first. No joke! Secondary flavors include pineapple, melon, kiwi and golden raisin. Both layers are surrounded and nicely accentuated by a rich veneer of honey.

Texturally, the wine is unexpectedly full bodied and very compelling. It's a fascinating marriage of opulent, creamy viscosity and brilliant, jolting acidity. Quite lengthy on the finish, too.

Simonsig's stellar Chenin Blanc craves to be served with fresh seafood. Indulge yourself and enjoy a delicious Greek octopus salad, grilled sardines with olive oil drizzled crostini, lightly sautéed prawns on a bed of angel hair primavera, salt-and-pepper calamari with jasmine rice or savory fish tacos.

Let your palate be the judge...

Have comments or questions about wine? Gregory Peebles, wine industry professional and East Bay resident, can be contacted at