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A Look at the Wines of Stellenbosch, South Africa : Part 2 – the Wines of Ken Forrester

Ken Forrester PanoramaThe more we investigate the Stellenbosch region of South Africa, the more amazed we are at the number of wine producers in the valley.  We covered some of the basic history of the region and the wines of Simonsig in an earlier article, which you can read here.  There is much to discover, and the wines of Simonsig were impressive indeed.  So now it is time to move on to another winery, that being Ken Forrester.

We first became aware of the range of Ken Forrester wines at the 2013 Newport Mansions Wine and FoodKen Forrester Logo Festival.  Ken himself was pouring there, and we had a chance to talk to him for a bit.  Everything he had that day blew us away, from the Chenin Blancs to the Renegade red blend made from classic Rhone varietals.  We included two of the whites in our Top 5 White list from the event (read about that here) and the Renegade in our Top Ten Red list (that one is here).  Clearly he was one of our favorite across the board producers from that weekend.

 Let’s investigate a little further.

The Beginnings

The historic farm Scholtzenhof is one of the oldest wine farms in the Western Cape and was originally granted as Zandberg in 1689. It is now home to Ken Forrester Wines which is situated on the slopes of the Helderberg Mountain, in the heart of Stellenbosch.

Ken Forrester VinesIn 1994 the first wines were produced under the Ken Forrester label, and soon the award-winning wines were at the forefront of the Chenin Blanc revival. The grapes are sourced from vineyards (some of them more than 30 years old) in the cool Helderberg region of Stellenbosch.

Over the years the Ken Forrester range of wines has received significant national and international acclaim with literally hundreds of awards and accolades over the last 21 years.  It is truly an international brand, available in restaurants and exported to various countries around the globe.

Ken’s philosophy has always been to create a range of handcrafted, individually made wines that suitably compliment a wide variety of food styles. Thus the reason behind producing three Ken Forrester ranges.  The wines include:

The Petit Range

Sourced mainly from contracted vineyards that are managed by the Ken Forrester team,  from pruning to harvest, specifically aimed to suit a fruit forward profile and offer soft, market ready, easy everyday drinking.

The Ken Forrester Range

For this range, Ken Forrester is solely responsible for the cultivation of the vines and selection of the fruit, mostly from their family property in Stellenbosch, just 4 miles from the cool Atlantic and in the sheltered lee of the Helderberg Mountain.

The Icon Range

Stand alone parcels from single vineyards are nurtured to coax the vines and at harvest they may pass through up to 6 times hand picking and selecting the bunches individually.  After barrel aging, they only select the very best individual barrels to go into bottle, ensuring a unique wine, considered the pinnacle of their efforts.

And Now – A Bit About Ken Forrester

Ken in the vineyards

Ken in the vineyards

Ken Forrester started a career in the Hotel industry way back in 1977, after a 3-year course in Hotel Management at the Johannesburg Hotel School.  He then went on to specialize in the restaurant trade, buying a share in one of the busiest eateries of the day, Gatriles in the centre of Johannesburg, and from there a string of other restaurants and related activities culminating in being elected Chairman of the Federated Hospitality Association of SA (FEDHASA).

Then in 1993 with a young family, he and his wife Teresa set their hearts on an historic vineyard in Stellenbosch.  Originally granted in 1689 as Zandberg, this beautiful farm, complete with historic Cape Dutch homestead built in 1694, had stood vacant and derelict when they bought it on a public auction in 1993.  A massive renovation was undertaken, both in the vineyards (Ken) and the house (Teresa).

With most of the vineyard planted to Chenin Blanc it was decided to enlist the help of good friend and Top Winemaker, Martin Meinert, with the quest to produce Chenin Blanc that could rival any white wine in the world. That was 11 years ago, and since then the wines have been poured at numerous grand events including the opening of The Scottish Parliament (Ken has been known to wear a tartan skirt – the Forresters have their origins in the Western Isles of Scotland) as well as the 85th birthday of the South African icon, Nelson Mandela.

An Ambassador for Stellenbosch and South African Wine

As we mentioned, we met Ken about two years ago and have talked with him on the phone since then.  He is very gracious,  always willing and eager to talk about his wines and even more so the wines of Stellenbosch.  Look up a Stellenbosch related website and you’ll see him.  He is continuously active in building the industry and promoting the quality of the region’s wine.  In our previous article on Stellenbosch, which looked at the wines of Simonsig (you can see that here), we noted that the founder of Simonsig, Frans Malan, was also one of the founders of the Stellenbosch Wine Routes,  which now has over 150 members from regional wineries and provides a wealth of information.  You can visit their website at http://www.wineroute.co.za/.   Ken Forrester is the current chairman of the Wine Routes, and he obviously takes the job very seriously.  There’s a lot to see and do in Stellenbosch, and I know of several people who have made the trip there.  Hopefully we’ll get there ourselves at some point.  Here’s the map, so you can see roughly where Ken Forrester is located.

Stellenbosch Map with Ken Forrester Version 2

The Wines

We have four of the Ken Forrester line to evaluate, we’d like more but they are not easy to get in RI, even though they are technically distributed here.  That’s enough to get a good idea of what’s currently going on however, and here are the notes.

2013 Ken Forrester Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blancthis is 100% Chenin Blanc, rested on the lees for IMG_1012quite some time, including nine months in French Oak (20% new).  At 14% alcohol it is a serious Chenin.  The vineyards which supply the grapes are not irrigated, with the crop yields actively controlled.  Here’s what we think:

This wine is a light golden color, and you can see the big legs coming down the glass after a swirl.  It doesn’t look like a light wine, and it’s not considering the 14% alcohol content.  The wine sees some significant barrel time, and the oak is very apparent on the nose, along with melon, vanilla and honey notes.  It’s all quite nice, and then it gets reinforced when you take a sip.  On the palate the wine really delivers, with the oak lending a nice wrapper to the complex profile.  It’s dry, full bodied and presents a long and clean finish.  We got this for about $13, which is really insane.  This wine just oozes quality.  If you like white burgundy you should try this.  I know it’s not Chardonnay, but just try it.  Outstanding value and on The Value List it goes.

2013 Ken Forrester Sauvignon Blancthis wine saw eight weeks on the lees, and was handled reductively throughout the process.  They also settled and fermented the free run juice separately from the pressings.  IMG_1011Notes follow:

Light straw in color this has a prototypical, classic Sauvignon Blanc nose of peach, citrus and melon.  On the palate there is a little bit of a grassy note, but not the in your face style of the New Zealand versions.  The wine is crisp, with a nice balancing acidity that keeps it very fresh.  I opened this while cooking up a stir fry and it was a perfect companion to both the meal preparation and the dinner itself.  Also perfect for seafood or anything a bit spicy.  Nice clean, long finish to this as well.  It’s another very high quality wine, and at about $13 this also goes on the Value List.  You can’t go wrong with this wine.

2012 Petit Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot this is from their Petit range, wines made to be consumed young, with a fruit forward character.  The wine is 61% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot and 7% “other”.  IMG_1006Screw cap closure here, as with many of their other wines.  Here’s the result:

Coming from the Petit Range, this is meant to be an easy drinking and fruit forward wine.  You get the fruit on the nose in a big way, as they leap out of the red/purple juice.  It’s as advertised, with medium body and soft tannins.  You can throw in medium length.  For us the fruit is a little overripe or over-extracted.  Think more macerated and stewed a little.  A bit more acid might have helped here.  Overall it’s not a bad wine, and you’ll have to form your own opinion.  For us not something we’re likely to buy again.  This will run about $12.

2009 Ken Forrester Renegade One of Ken’s higher end bottlings, the Renegade is a dead ringer for a Chateauneuf du Pape, consisting of 46% Grenache, 42% Shiraz and 12% Mourvedre.  Renegade was oneIMG_1003 of the first Rhone style blends produced in South Africa.  Eighteen months in oak, mostly French with a touch of new American as well, aims to add complexity and structure.  Let’s see:

This is dark purple/red and almost opaque.  A big nose of dark fruit features blackberry and black cherry, with notes of oak, spice and tobacco.  On the palate the blackberry and cherry shine through.  With the fruit front and center the other aspects lend subtle complexity.  It’s very long, and delivers medium+ body.  Think southern Rhone.  We really like this, as we did the 2008 version.  It’s a delicious, high quality red at a very good price.  Another Value List addition here, and just over $20, maybe just under on sale.

Two Stellenbosch producers reviewed now and the results are excellent.  We’ve been adding wines to the value list left and right, encountering  only a couple of wines we are not enamored with.  As we mentioned, you can get the wines of Ken Forrester in Rhode Island and the surrounding area, but you might have to ask, as we didn’t find them on many shelves.  They’re worth asking for.

You can read the next installment on the wines of Stellenbosch,  the wines of Thelema Mountain Vineyards, by clicking on this link.

A votre santé!

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