Spioenkop Sarah Raal Chennin Blanc Ferricrete 2017
Yes, the label is a painting of an artillery piece. And the story gets even better from there…
The guy who makes this wine, Koen Roose, is apparently super intense. Super intense as a perfectionist winemaker, viticulturalist, and with the notion of where his soils and vines are taking the resulting wine. For his “1900” Chenin Blanc, he earned a Five Platter award.
I know Five Platters sounds kinda ridiculous, but it’s actually South Africa’s most prestigious wine award. Like top honors from Jancis Robinson to Brits or Robert Parker to Americans. And once his wine won this most prestigious award, Koen stopped making it. When asked why, he explained, “It was a tough one to make but I felt that the vision and future of Spioenkop lies with the world of dining. I couldn’t just sit on my laurels while my vision lay elsewhere.”
Which leads to this wine – Sarah Raal. Sarah Raal was a Boer warrior during the British / Boer wars who was taken prisoner and held at the Springfontein concentration camp. Upon her escape she linked up with her brothers on commando and led numerous guerrilla engagements, becoming famous for her valor and bravery.
One of the many places she led an engagement was the Spioenkop Hill in Natal. Spioen literally means “spy” and kop means “head” or “top”. The Spioenkop was apparently an incredibly defensible hilltop fortification in Elgin where Boer spies would gather. On January 24, 1900 – hence the name of the previous wine – a massive battle was fought here with the British taking severe casualities. The wine is named in honor of the Boer commander, Sarah Raal.
Now that you’ve got the backstory, the wine itself is also remarkable. Here’s Koen’s idea of it:
“I wanted a Chenin that has a chalky mouth, a limey texture that is not bold and tropical. I want to taste Elgin in the wine; that crispy minerality that is built on natural acidity from the grape itself. A style that is so sensual that it is a perfect match for fine dining. There is a common understanding these days that meat is no longer a foundation stone for the next generation of restaurateurs. More and more chefs are looking for natural seasonal products that reflect their origin, going botanical with a lot of fruit, flowers, vegetables and spices. These wines will be perfect with this type of cuisine.”
Winemakers don’t always get their wines right, but I think he nails this one on the head – it’s chalky, mineral, limey and loaded with crunchy acidity. You know I love wine that makes me want to start cooking and this is positively it – salt block seared tuna steak with pureed fava beans and a ramp crust, grilled lamb chops with fresh basil salad, quinoa and artichoke salad with Castelvetrano olives, toast with pureed feta and fresh arugula. This wine can do it all.
The technical side of this wine is that Elgin is extremely cool, and this hillside site is even cooler. Further, the soil is all Ferricrete. Koen believes this matches perfectly with Chenin Blanc, resulting in this wine – intense, driven, powerful, important and elegantly styled – just like the woman it is named after.