Chenin Blanc: South African Wine Magic

chenin blanc

“Chenin is lovely. And it does well in South Africa. This should be the most important take-home message. Buy it! It’s usually really great value for money.” – Wine author Jamie Goode

Chenin Blanc was among the first varieties planted by Jan Van Riebeeck in 1655 – yes, 1655! – at the very beginning of winegrowing in South Africa. That long history, rare for a “New World” wine region, has etched the grape deep into the country’s wine culture, but South Africa’s winning Chenin Blanc story is a combination of both old and new.

The dawn of a new democracy twenty years ago opened the world to South African wines – and South African wine to the world. As a result, Chenin Blanc has evolved from a nondescript, workhorse variety in South Africa to a white wine that can challenge Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc for a spot on your table. As Lauren Buzzeo wrote in the Wine Enthusiast, “South African Chenin Blanc is having a moment of reinvention and reintroduction to the world, proving itself a noble variety capable of producing world-class wines. “


Chenin Blanc acreage in South Africa has shrunk from nearly a third of the nation’s vineyards in the mid-1980s to around half that now, but this is truly a case in which less is more: growers and winemakers have honed their attention to the vineyards that yield the freshest, most flavorful Chenin Blanc.

These vineyards are often made up of “bush wines,” as they’re known in South Africa (in California, they call them “head-trained” vines). With no wires to neatly array the shoots, leaves and fruit, these vines do their own thing, flopping about and looking a bit unruly. Bush vines can be a bit more challenging to harvest (as seen in the picture below), but they are worth the extra effort: Because the vines limit their own output, each berry is packed with maximum flavor. This is particularly true with older vineyards, and protea is fortunate to have just such vineyards for the protea Chenin Blanc – vineyards that date back more than a quarter century.

“Chenin Blanc came into my life via my experience in South Africa. When I heard about Chenin Blanc I thought I’d never had that and when I had it, I knew I’d found something fresh and exciting – so much so that I’ve now become a fan of Chenin Blanc. – Film legend Robert Redford

chenin blanc harvest

South African Chenin Blanc can be made in a wine range of styles, and no obvious trend has emerged. Some vintners emphasize bracing acidity; others use heavy oak-barrel influence to create a more luxurious wine.

At protea, the older bush vines and other vineyard sources provide concentrated fruit that delivers depth and lovely aromatics – “pear, citrus and honeysuckle characters” in the 2014 vintage, says winemaker Mark van Buren – to go along with crisp refreshment. In that sense, it captures the full potential of South Africa’s Chenin Blanc wine magic.

Chenin Blanc cluster photo from Wikimedia Commons; all other photos courtesy Anthonij Rupert Wynes.


Protea a ‘Great Red Under $20′

newsdayVeteran Newsday wine writer Peter M. Gianotti focuses his palate this week on great reds “at prices within the realm of reality” – under $20. Lo and behold, one of his finds is the protea Red blend. Here’s his review:

From South Africa comes the 2012 protea Red ($18), a juicy, husky blend of cabernet sauvignon and merlot that makes no demands and delivers plenty of flavor. You’ll enjoy the decorative design on the bottle, too. Try the protea with burgers, flank steak or milder chili.

You can see the entire article online here, and learn more about how we put together the protea Red blend here.

Chef Shares Amazing (and Easy) Spicy Steak Rub

For some beef cuts – like flank or hanger steaks – marinades can be the perfect way to tenderize the tough meat while also adding some great flavor accents. But what to do with a tender, juicy filet or thick ribeye? That’s where dry rubs come in, and we’ve got a killer recipe to share with you.

This Spicy Steak Rub recipe comes from Chef Colin Crowley, who has cooked for an endless list of wine luminaries in his position as Executive Chef at Terlato Wines International. The beauty of the rub is that you get big flavor with a minimum of effort. (Bonus benefit: It pairs beautifully with the protea Red.)


Beyond the meat – any tender cut will do, and you could also use this rub with pork or chicken – here are all the ingredients you’ll need:

1 1/2 tablespoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon each:
• fennel seed
• cumin seed
• coriander seed
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon chipotle pepper
1/4 teaspoon each:
• garlic powder
• onion powder
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

The easiest way to make your rub is to throw all these ingredients into a spice grinder – in other words, a blade coffee grinder. A mortar and pestle can also do the job, with the help of a little elbow grease.

Grind or work the ingredients to a powder, rub it on both sides of your steaks, and then stash the steaks in the fridge. You want to give the rub a minimum of an hour on the meat – but no more than two hours – before cooking. Plenty of time to get your sides in order.

Cook the steaks over hot coals or on a gas grill, or throw them on a very hot cast iron skillet. You know how you like your steak; our preferences is for medium rare, so we get if off the grill or pan before the interior temperature hits 130 degrees. No thermometer? Try the finger method.

What makes the protea Red a good match for this steak? It’s a best-of-both-worlds thing: The Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend gives you intensity and depth that a grilled piece of beef demands; but with a healthy does of bright and supple Merlot, the wine more than accommodates the spice and heat from the rub.

Bon appétit!

How to Cut a Wine Bottle in Mere Minutes

cutting glass cropped

OK. You read our earlier post and have successfully removed the back label from your protea bottle. And now the prospect of cutting the bottle to make a stylish glass or candle or herb planter has you quivering in fear.

Relax. We come bearing guidance.

It’s not a perfect process (for that, you’ll need one of these), and it takes some practice, but after scouring the Internet and testing methods, we’ve arrived at An Inexpensive Technique that Consistently Delivers Well-Cut Bottles.

To get started, beyond a protea bottle with its back label removed, you’ll need one Ephrem’s Original Bottle Cutter Kit, available on Amazon for 30 bucks or less. From there, the process unfolds like this:

1. Set a pot of water – enough to cover the length of the bottle, ideally – to boil, and fill a bowl or pitcher with ice water. You’ll need these things in later steps.

2. Place the bottle horizontally on the cutter with the bottom of the bottle up against the cutter’s “backstop” and the top of the bottle closest to the small gold cutter.

glass cutting 3_smaller3. With one hand, apply moderate downward pressure on the bottle. With the other hand, turn the bottle toward you.

3. Complete one or two revolutions around the entire bottle’s circumference. Note that the cutter will only score the bottle – the indent will not be very deep. It just marks where the break will happen.

glass cutting 4_smaller

4. Submerge the bottle in the boiling water, making sure the scored part of the bottle is covered. Spin the bottle in the water a few times.

glass cutting 5_smaller

5. Remove the bottle from the boiling water, place it in a sink, and pour the ice water over it. Sometimes the bottle will separate during this step, but we found the bottle was more likely to separate by going hot-cold-hot.

6. So if you’re bottle remains intact, do another dunk in the boiling water. This should do the trick.

7. Allow the bottle to cool, then use progressively finer sandpaper to smooth the cut edges.

glass cutting 6_smaller

If you poke around the Web, you’ll find other ways to skin this cat, such as using a candle to heat the bottle along the score, and rubbing ice on the bottle to cool it. But the process described above is what worked best for us. It took about a half hour on our first try, but after that, we were cutting bottles in five minutes.

From the Vineyard: Sneak Peak at the 2014 protea Chenin Blanc

This past harvest, protea was thrilled to welcome Mark van Buuren to the winemaking team led by Dawie Botha. Mark is a veteran South Africa winemaker who also has experience in Australia. In this video, Mark takes you to the breathtakingly beautiful Western Cape vineyards where our Chenin Blanc grows alongside stunning protea flowers, and shares his approach to making a wine that emphasizes “a lovely elegance of fruit,” with “pear, citrus and honeysuckle characters.” The wine will be available in the new year.