Noo noot thoose kiind oof raats, buut thee Raats Family, and their wines. The Raatseses hail from Stellenbosch, South Africa, and they cultivate two (and ONLY two) of my favorite French wine grapes: Cabernet Franc, and Chenin Blanc. As you likely already know, these two grapes, when vinified and bottled unblended, are most closely associated with the Loire Valley in central France. I don’t know a great deal about the Raats’ particular microclimate, but in general Stellenbosch, which lies about 35 miles of Cape Town, has a climate that might best be described as “mediterranean”. The Loire Valley however, being hundreds of miles from the French Mediterranean coast, is what I’d describe as a “mild continental” climate, that is a bit more humid, and as well as a bit cooler year round. But despite Stellenbosch’s drier, sunnier character, it is an viticultural zone that has become known for its Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc wines – Here’s a knotty analogy: Stellenbosch is to the Loire as Mendoza is to Cahors…
And what I found in the glass confirmed the climatic divergence. Loire Chenin, though it can be anything from bone dry to very sweet, still or sparkling, nearly always carries that “twangy funk” at the top/back of the palate, and just preceeding the finish, as well as the slighly dung-y notes of cracked white peppercorns. This is not to say that the Raats Family “Orginal” Unwooded Chenin Blanc 2007 (so called to note the intention to make a wine truest to grape variety over personal style or terroir) was unrecognizable as Chenin Blanc, but that real chalky tartness that comes as standard equipment on the Loire line I’d guess is a vintage-associated option at best in most of Stellenbosch – I don’t know how I got on the car thing, but Loire and Stellenbosch both sound like the names of car comapnies, no?
Anyway, I served this wine with a little mash up of smoked whiting, mayo, lemon juice and zest, and finely diced red pepper and onion rye toasts. The main course was, apart from the use of groung turkey, a fairly traditional batch of Swedish meatballs poured over a steaming platter of egg noodles tossed with caraway-infused butter. The match with the appetizer was aces – The wine’s extra fat and fruit bounced well off of what I felt would the two biggest potential troublemakers: the bell pepper and the rye bread. And somewhat to my surprise, the wine handled the meatballs with equal aplomb. I thought that that the overall weight of the flavors of this dish might overwhelm this wine, but its acid/fruit balance framed the dish’s richness and “sweetness” ( to me Turkey has a “sweetness” about it) very well. Heere aare thee taasting nootes:
Raats Family “Original” Chenin Blanc 2007
Very bright and limpid medium gold with a lime-colored cast. Clean, warm nose of apple, green fruits, flint, muskmelon and powdered ginger. The palate has a notable, nervy but fine acidity supported by a soild, fairly luscious core of crunchy Bosc pear fruit, white spices, and a touch of fino sherry on the finish.