Is it just me or has there has been a heck of a lot of hype around Chenin Blanc in South Africa recently? I was curious as to what all the hype was about and it turns out, there are quite a number of reasons…
- The international wine market is starting to recognise South Africa for producing excellent Chenin Blanc. We are even winning awards for it!
- Standard Bank has become a big sponsor in funding the South African top 10 Chenin Awards. I mean, no offence but when boring banks even start to get interested, I’m super intrigued!
- Also, recognise the logo below? This is the very cool identity of the Chenin Blanc Society… there is even a Chenin Blanc Day! (coming 15 June).
Ok so I was wondering WHY Chenin Blanc? My first introduction to Chenin Blanc was when I was about 19 – I experienced it as being so acidic and sour, I vowed never to touch it again. It’s a nasty cheap wine!
Ten years later, it is my preferred choice when it comes to white wine. THAT’S why it’s important to check the awards a wine has won before trying a variety for the first time and also develop your palate by tasting a lot of wine – lesson learned 😀 Wine making is an ART that’s for sure!
Some history in a nutshell…
Chenin Blanc was first recorded in France and was introduced to South Africa by Jan van Riebeek. back then, they called it STEEN. And get this… Constantia Wine Route is the oldest wine valley in the Southern Hemisphere and if STEEN (or Chenin as it is known now) then that’s what STEENBERG means… (Chenin Mountain). The light bulb switched on for me at that precise realisation.
I may sound completely dumb here but I always thought that Chenin Blanc was an unwooded wine, produced very similarly to most Sauvignon Blancs but more sour. That’s how I was introduced to it at wine festivals. No! Silly younger life me – you get some awesome wooded Chenin Blanc wines too.
My journey to discovering Chenin may be very similar to yours. So here goes..
Without looking at who the top ten Chenin Blanc are (I closed my eyes when I visited the Chenin Blanc society web page at the start of writing this article) I wanted to regurgitate what has been “marketed” to me on my travels. In other words…wineries who have told me that their best varietal is Chenin. They may have not necessarily entered awards.
1. Wine festivals
This is the first culprit for my intro to Chenin. Think lots of young people, lots of wine and no clue what you are doing. I can’t remember the exact winery but I just remember someone serving it to me saying we don’t have a Rose, but try this Sauvignon Blanc (it was dry but not terrible) then I tasted a Chenin Blanc at the same stand. I almost spat it out. At this stage, I was enjoying the Four Cousins Sweet Rose, so when I tasted this dry, sour wine – I never wanted to taste it again. I then avoided it at all costs and went on trying various other Rose and Sauvignon Blanc wines. Sorry Chenin!
2. Enter the Wine Girl
For the most part of 10 years, I had ventured from Rose and Sauvignon Blanc wines onto the reds. I was actually rather enjoying it. By the time I started The Wine Girl, I had tasted pretty much every type of wine there was but now I had to taste whatever was put in front of me – I could not say “no Chenin please”.
3. My favourite Chenin Blanc Discoveries
Here’s a snapshot of my favourite Chenin discoveries. They might be quite different to the awarded Chenins but it’s my frame of reference none the less. These are the wineries that actively sought out to sell their Chenin wines to me. They are not the only ones, but the ones that really stood out…
This winery was the first farm that mentioned that their Chenin is wooded. I was like WHUUUUT? Looking back, I feel really dumb now but I thank the winemaker – Sabastian Beaumont – for giving a little nobody like me, the time to explain. It was the first bottle of Chenin Blanc that I bought called HOPE. Hahaha how ironic. There’s HOPE for Chenin yet.
Progressing now from feeling dumb to laughing at myself when I look back on this discovery. This is what I said in my original post to L’Avenir:
“Now, I am not normally a fan of Chenin Blanc but I have recently taken a liking for it.
I loved this Single Block Chenin Blanc. The 2014 vintage was awarded a Standard Bank top 10! A mesmerising nose of sun-dried apricots and peach blossoms, ripe yellowpears, sweet oranges and a delicate hint of nut. A fruit-rich wine that lingers on the palate with well-balanced acidity and oak nuances. A touch of soft lime and a whisper of almond create an intriguing aftertaste that is both fresh and decadent. R220 a bottle.”
It was my second bottle of Chenin Blanc that I bought.
Feeling quite confident now, I heard the name, Ken Forrester and Chenin being thrown around quite a lot. So I had to try it. At R800 a bottle, I certainly enjoyed discovering this Dirty Little Secret! It is the most premium Chenin that I have come across to date. Plus yellow is my favourite colour. It has it’s own box and even story. What a perfect gift or something to indulge in yourself!
Most recently, I was introduced to Perdeberg Winery who have, wait for it, EIGHT different styles of Chenin Blanc! The Dryland Collection Courageous Chenin 2016 had so many awards, I stopped counting. Funnily enough, I enjoyed the 2013 better. Chenin Blanc definitely ages well.
I was also super interested to learn about their “creative” Chenin baby called the Endura Chenin 2017. It’s matured in a Ceramic Amphora capsule, Diamante Wine tanks as well as French Oak Barrels. Super smooth on the palate yet also so complex even though it is from a single block. Due to their Dryland Vine, the berries are smaller and flavour-rich ensuring the best possible outcome. At R200 a pop, it’s premium, yet affordable too.
So there you have it, being forced to discover a certain type of wine may in fact turn out to your benefit. I urge you to not write a varietal or even wine brand off until you have done a bit of research. The best way to start is to rely on awarded wines as you will have the go-ahead from the experts. Here is a list of the Standard Bank top 10 Chenin Awards:
Spot Nederberg, Spice Route and even Fleur du Cap wines!
Alternatively, do what I did and explore each wine you taste with a clean slate. Ask questions about how the wine is made and ask what they specialise in, you may be surprised!
So which wine discoveries are next? 🙂
Leave your comments below and let’s start the conversation!