2021 Van Niekerk Vintners Sonwater
Sunlight and water…two powerful forces of nature beyond human’s control. When found in perfect balance, one can make magic. This month’s wine is just that – a magical wine, rare, and is based on a very famous blend of wine that originated in the 1960s. May’s ONE Wine is the VN Vintners 2021 Sonwater. A blend of 90% Chenin Blanc, 10% Clairette Blanche, and is based on the very famous, and highest-selling South African wine (of the time) the ‘Lieberstein’. Back then, the Lieberstein was sold as a semi-sweet white wine blend, made for the cool kids, and potentially the original #hotgirlsummer drink of choice in the 60’s.
The 2021 Sonwater is made with the same grape varieties, but this, the ’21 Sonwater, is not a semi-sweet wine. It’s very much a premium, and exceptional take on the original. Looking to elevate the ripe fruit flavours, stone fruit, pear and crisp acidity this cracking vintage delivered. Sonwater, simply translated as ‘Sun’ and ‘water’, is an expression of the gratitude experienced when this balance is found by capturing water and sunlight in the form of wine. With 2021 being touted as one of the best recent white wine vintages in the Cape, it was an ideal time for the VN Vintner team to play with magic.
Not only is it the very first time husband and wife Albert and Anmer van Niekerk have released a white wine, but a very special, and nationally famous blend no less! With only 900 bottles produced, we had to pull out all the stops to be able to share this wine, as a super special treat, with you this month.
South Africa is one of the oldest wine-growing countries, with a wine history dating as far back as 1659. With records detailing when the very first bottle of wine was produced in Cape Town, way back in 1659. The 2021 Sonwater takes fruit from Swartland. which is 65km north of Cape Town, and a region well known for making fruit-driven wines like Shiraz, Chenin Blanc and Pinotage.
The climate in Swartland is warm and dry, and the soil is rich in shale and granite, providing excellent growing conditions for grapes. The region, as mentioned, is particularly known for Chenin Blanc, and Shiraz, but also produces great wines with varieties such as Grenache, and Mourvèdre. Other grapes from the region kicking goals: Viognier, Roussanne, and Grenache Blanc. Often in blends, these grapes create full-bodied white wines, aromatic, complex and rich depth.
In general, the dry and warm climate of Swartland is ideal for grape growing, producing high-quality grapes and wines year-on-year. It’s most noted grape being that of Chenin Blanc. Chenin Blanc is a versatile white grape that thrives in this climate, producing both fruity and mineral driven wines. Those producers in the region have been working with Chenin Blanc for several decades, and their knowledge and skills helped elevate the grape to its current status as one of the top white wine varieties of the region.
With a notably old, and very long wine history to the region, it’s fantastic to see a relatively young, dynamic, and innovative wine community producing high-quality wines, that speak of place, and lean into some of its rich history.
The Blanc de Blanche
Chenin Blanc, also sometimes called Steen, or Vouvray, is a white wine grape originally noted as being from the Loire Valley in France. Typically delivering a medium-high/high level of natural acidity, it’s a versatile grape, and can work very well in sparkling wines, or in wine blends where the natural acid will aid the finished wines overall balance. Known for its complex aromas that can often deliver tropical fruits, honey, and perfumed floral notes, as well as bright acidity, with a rich texture.
Clairette Blanche also known as Clairette, is also a white wine grape, also thought to have originated from France, but from the Southeast. It was ever-so popular in the Rhone Valley and Provence regions of France, where it’s often blended with other varietals such as Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, and Marsanne to produce full-bodied white wines with fruity and floral characters. It was (and still is) also often used to make Vermouth.
Clairette Blanche has also been planted in other wine growing regions such as Spain, Australia, and the USA. Here in Australia, you may have never come across a Clairette before! Its most common use here is in fortified wines, and not something typically that is required to be identified on the label (15% or less of the total wine volume, it’s not required).
"A blend of 90% Chenin Blanc and 10% Clairette, inspired by the Lieberstein phenomenon of the 1960s – grapes sourced from Swartland. Compelling aromatics of pear, peach, talcum powder, hay and dried herbs plus some yeasty complexity. The palate shows good core of fruit and driving acidity before an intensely savoury finish. Concentrated yet simultaneously lean, this is very accomplished.”
– 95 points
Versatility in a bottle
Chenin Blanc, and blends of, are wines that scream versatility. This wine would pair extremely well with a variety of foods. Its bright acidity and stone-fruity flavours lend itself well to dishes with some spice and/or bold flavours. Look for some of the below:
Thai Green curry – the spice and freshness in the curry make a great match for the wine’s acidity and citrusy notes.
Roast chicken and herbs – the wines fruitiness and minerality complement the flavours of the chicken, while the acid balances out the richness of the meat.
Spicy prawn tacos – Chenin can handle the heat, and the spice of tacos. While the zesty and tropical fruit flavours pairs well with lime and coriander typically garnishing tacos.
Butternut pumpkin soup – the creamy texture of the soup is balanced by the Chenin’s bright acidity and crispness, while the flavours of the wine complement the sweetness of the butternut pumpkin flavours.