Chenin Blanc (also called Steen in SA) is the Madonna of the wine industry, continually proving that it can be all things to all people, and reinventing itself at the snap of a finger.
Almost 19% of South Africa’s vineyards are planted with Chenin Blanc vines, making it the biggest varietal by tonnage. The Loire Valley in France, traditionally the home of Chenin production, does not produce as much. A lot of this juice is distilled and lands up as brandy, but the rest is turned into some truly delicious wines. From fruity, almost crisp, unwooded charmers, with low acids that won’t strip the palate off you, to wooded, smoky wines with tangy honeyed nuances, to succulent raisiny Late Harvest delights packed with sultana flavours, Chenin delivers on all fronts. All of them are better served cold, but don’t freeze the life out of them; take them out of the fridge 20 minutes before you are going to drink them.
There are some fabulous wooded Chenins, some at a price to match. (Remember that time and wood in wine making terms add significantly to price.)
In the view of Chenin Blanc Association (CBA) chairman Ken Forrester, the spread of vineyards contributing to this year’s line-up of Standard Bank Chenin Blanc Top Ten Challenge winners shows just how adaptable the grape is, “From Stellenbosch to Worcester, Breedekloof and the cooler-climate Durbanville, these wines really do demonstrate Chenin’s ability to successfully put down roots in a variety of growing conditions. With the mounting impact of climate change worldwide, it’s not surprising that so many growers in the Americas and Australasia are now looking to it as the grape of their future, too”
“You know what they say: South African Chenins are a lot like South Africans themselves – vibrant, resilient and readily responsive to changing circumstances. Both the vines and the people put down deep and tenacious roots. It’s how we overcome adversity and even flourish under stress.”
The winning wines retail from R68 a bottle to R430.
Listed alphabetically, they are:
- Alvi’s Drift Private Cellar 221 Chenin Blanc 2019 R90
- Alvi’s Drift Private Cellar Albertus Viljoen Chenin Blanc 2019 R240
- Badsberg Wine Cellar Barrel Fermented Chenin Blanc 2019 R125
- DeMorgenzon Reserve Chenin Blanc 2019 R430
- Durbanville Hills Collectors Reserve The Cape Garden Chenin Blanc 2019 R160
- Kaapzicht Kliprug Chenin Blanc 2019 R160
- Mulderbosch Vineyards Single Vineyard Chenin Blanc Block S2 2018 R275
- Spier Wines 21 Gables Chenin Blanc 2019 R230
- Stellenrust Chenin Blanc 2019 R68
- Stellenrust Stellenbosch Manor Barrel Fermented Chenin Blanc 2019 R150
This year’s judges were James Pietersen (panel chair), Wine Cellar’s South African portfolio manager and a regular judge in this and several other leading local wine competitions; winemaker Boela Gerber Cape Wine Master of Groot Constantia; sommelier Higgo Jacobs, who is also a senior judge at the International Wine Challenge (IWC) and Decanter World Wine Awards and a past chairman of the South African Sommelier Association (SASA); Tinashe Nyamudoka, formerly a sommelier with chef Luke Dale Roberts and now a wine marketer; and Penny Setti, sommelier at Chef’s Warehouse. Tendai Marisa, sommelier at Indochine, served as an associate judge.