Chenin Blanc with Baked Lemon Cheesecake
This Cheesecake is properly home-made for the third article in the occasional Wine and Cake series, not out of a packet, featuring actual baking! It pairs brilliantly with the sweet styles of Chenin Blanc, so here are two examples, one from South Africa and one from its original homeland in the Loire Valley of France, which also make an excellent comparison.
- 225 g digestive biscuits, crushed
- 100 g butter, melted
- 250 g mascarpone
- 600 g soft cheese
- Two eggs plus two yolks
- Zest of 4 lemons, juice of 2
- 4 tbsp plain flour
- 175 g caster sugar
- 1: Line the bottom of a 23 cm springform tin with greaseproof paper. For the biscuit base, melt the butter and add it to crushed digestive biscuits in a food processor/blender. Blitz them into fine crumbs. Press this mixture into the tin and chill for an hour.
- 2: Add all the other ingredients to a large bowl and then whisk them together. Then pour this into the chilled tin over the biscuit base. Now, bake it for 35-40 mins in an oven, on 180°C/Fan 160°C/gas mark 4.
- 3: Turn off the oven but leave the Cheesecake inside until completely cooled. Then remove it from the tin. It can now be served cold but will improve if left until the next day. Add berry fruits and a dollop of vanilla ice cream on the side.
Anjou in the Loire was most likely the birthplace of Chenin Blanc, with some suggestions that the earliest records are from Château de Chenonceau in the Fifteenth Century. However, it probably derives its name from the Monastery of Montchenin. Whatever the case, by 1534, Rabelais was writing about it. Chenin is one of the world’s classic grape varieties, being white, vigorous, and of high quality – high sugar levels are the norm, but with correspondingly high acidity to keep wines both fresh and able to age for decades. Though there’s plenty of Chenin in the Loire, which comes in virtually every style, it has slowly declined. Neither is it found much elsewhere in France except in a few enclaves. However, it has travelled around the world, and arguably, South Africa has become its adopted homeland, with it being their most widely planted grape variety.
In all vineyards, a combination of warmth and humidity will spark the development of deadly fungal diseases. Usually, this is a serious matter that needs urgent prevention. However, in late autumn, an outbreak of Botrytis cinerea (“Noble Rot”) is beneficial and creates a unique and highly prized wine style.
The fungal spores lay dormant until the warm autumn sun on morning dew activates them. Some grape varieties, including Chenin Blanc, are particularly susceptible. Once on the grape skins, they feed on the water, acidity and sugar in the grapes, desiccating them but concentrating and creating flavours. Unfortunately, the fungus doesn’t spread in an orderly way, so hand-picking affected bunches is required, and this may need several passes through the vines over days and weeks.
Not surprisingly, such wines are a risky proposition and more expensive to create. In some vintages, the right conditions won’t always occur, or not to a sufficient extent, and then there will be no Botrytis wines. Hence only specific locations exist where conditions are more reliable, such as in the Loire (or Sauternes, parts of Germany and Tokaj) and the Cape of South Africa. Equally, the more Botrytis, the more extended and more complex the harvest becomes, the lower the yields and the more risks from poor weather. Botrytis can also stop fermentation and takes longer to ferment and mature. Wood barrels are also expensive. All these factors affect the cost base of the wine.
Both the wines featured here are classic sweet Chenin Blanc styles, though here deliberately chosen as contrasts. Each is from a winery famed for its Chenin. The French example from Baumard is lighter and without overt Botrytis influence (though Baumard makes excellent examples of those). That’s compared below with the wine from South African Ken Forrester, where Botrytis and wood ageing are to the fore. Both come in screwcapped half bottles. Each has its style and personality, and while both offer value for money, their different price points suit different budgets.
Domaine des Baumard, Côteaux du Layon AoC, Carte d’Or, Loire, France, 2018, 11.5%
Florent Baumard owns this property, which dates back to 1634. It’s in Anjou at Rochefort sur Loire. Here scientific studies accompany traditional practices. For example, organic wine growing here dates back to the 1950s, yet Baumard was an early adopter of modern screwcaps.
Carte d’Or Côteaux du Layon is from 35-year-old Chenin Blanc vines. The grapes are hand-picked on the first pass through the vineyard. These are fermented and then matured for nine months in stainless steel vats. This wine can be seen as the “entry-level” in their range of sweet Chenin Blancs as it’s the least concentrated. An alternative view is that this wine has less residual sugar, at around 100 g/l, and little, if any, Botrytis. Hence this allows the purity of the fruit to shine, making it ideal for lighter desserts, paté and mild blue cheeses. A golden colour, aromas are of lemon zest, apples, straw and white flowers. The palate shows quince, honey and apricot, balanced by Chenin’s signature high acidity, which keeps everything fresh.
Ken Forrester Wines, T Noble Late Harvest Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch, South Africa, 2018, 11%
If you say South African Chenin Blanc, my first thought is usually Ken Forrester, whose farm in Stellenbosch dates back to 1689, making it one of the oldest in the Cape. Sustainable farming here means no herbicides, no pesticides, and all the work is done by hand. T Noble is from their top Icon Range. A single vineyard of 40-year-old bush vines with Botrytis-infected grapes. Indeed, the description “noble late harvest” doesn’t do justice to the eight vineyard passes needed to gather the grapes. Fermentation here leaves higher residual sugar at 150g/l. The wine matures for 18 months in French oak barrels.
The result is a golden wine that is sumptuously sweet yet still has enough acidity for balance and freshness. It has honeyed aromas and flavours of peach, apricot and pineapple. A long finish shows off some wood influences, such as cloves. Hence it can cope with more powerful dishes, sweeter desserts and strong blue cheeses.
Frontier Fine Wines (Colchester), £23.95
Domaine des Baumard
8, rue de l’Abbaye
Ken Forrester Wines
Cnr Winery Road & R44
Previous Wine and Cake articles:
Want to explore the Loire further? Here’s a rare red
And here’s Wine and Cake #4