Congratulations to the Standard Bank Chenin Blanc Top Ten Challenge winners! Alvi’s Drift, Anthonij Rupert, Durbanville Hills, Flagstone, KWV, Lievland and Stellenrust. Chenin Blanc, often referred to as Cape Chenin, has emerged as the cornerstone of South African winemaking. Ina Smith, the driving force behind the Standard Bank Chenin Blanc Top 10 Challenge, made this assertion as the 2023 winners were unveiled, marking the competition’s tenth anniversary. Over the years, Cape Chenin Blanc has transitioned from the ugly duckling of vineyards to a graceful swan, known for its excellence and ability to captivate wine enthusiasts worldwide.
Elevating South African Wines Through Excellence
The annual Standard Bank Chenin Blanc Top 10 Challenge, which attracted 144 entries this year, is hosted by the Chenin Blanc Association (CBA). Founded in 2000, the CBA has been dedicated to enhancing the reputation, credibility, and support for Chenin Blanc across a diverse range of styles. Their efforts have garnered praise from sommeliers, critics, and influential tastemakers worldwide.
The Pioneers: Ina Smith and Ken Forrester
For many years, Ina Smith has worked alongside CBA co-founder and chair, Ken Forrester, a globally recognized advocate for Chenin Blanc. In 2023, Forrester was honoured as the Man of the Year by The Drinks Business for his instrumental role in promoting Chenin Blanc and South African wines both domestically and abroad. He has also provided invaluable mentorship to newcomers in the industry. Furthermore, Forrester was presented with the prestigious 1659 Visionary Leadership Award for his three-decade-long dedication to Chenin Blanc and the South African wine industry.
Setting New Benchmarks on the Global Stage
Higgo Jacobs, the chair of the 2023 judging panel, acknowledged the remarkable progress in elevating Cape Chenin’s global standing. He stated that Cape Chenin has achieved “benchmark” status on the world stage, a testament to the dedication and innovation of South African winemakers.
The 2023 Chenin Blanc Top Ten Winning Wines
Here are South Africa’s best Chenin Blanc Wines as awarded by this challenge 2023 (listed alphabetically):
• Alvi’s Drift Albertus Viljoen 2022
• Antonij Rupert Cape of Good Hope Riebeeksrivier 2021
• Durbanville Hills Collectors Reserve The Cape Garden 2022
• Flagstone Paradigm Reserve 2020
• KWV The Mentors 2021
• Lievland Old Vine 2022
• Stellenrust B28 (Fairtrade) 2022
• Stellenrust Next Level 2022
• Stellenrust Stellenbosch Manor Barrel-fermented 2021
• Stellenrust Stellenbosch Manor Barrel-fermented 2022
Stellenrust, with a record four wines on the Top Ten list this year, has been a consistent winner, featuring nine times in the ten-year history of the challenge. Antonij Rupert has appeared for the first time, whereas Alvi’s Drift, Durbanville Hills, KWV and Lievland are all repeat winners.
The judging panel was highly impressed by the 2023 winning wines, noting an increase in concentration, fruit intensity, and palate length. They attributed this improvement to factors such as vine maturity, advances in viticulture, more ambitious pricing strategies, and the competition itself, which incentivizes innovation among producers.
Moreover, the collaboration between local Chenin producers and their French counterparts in the Loire Valley was highlighted as a source of inspiration for greater stylistic complexity and elegance in this year’s lineup. These characteristics were often expressed in “tight, nervy wines that take time to unfold.”
The use of various winemaking techniques, such as steel, concrete, new oak, older and larger barrels, and amphorae for maturation, contributed to the nuanced and refined qualities of the winning wines. Notably, 60% of the winning wines were sealed with screwcaps, challenging the notion that closure type is an indicator of wine quality.
Supporting Farm Workers and Communities
In addition to recognition and acclaim, Standard Bank awards a cash prize to each of the top ten Chenin Blanc producers. A unique condition of the competition is that the prize money must be used to enhance the quality of life for farm workers and their communities. To date, a total of R2.35 million has been directed towards various farm-worker community projects, ranging from education and youth development to housing and healthcare. Simone Cooper, Head of Business and Commercial Banking for Standard Bank South Africa, emphasized the crucial role that farm workers play in the success of the wine industry and the importance of supporting their well-being.
Driving Excellence and Innovation
Standard Bank’s commitment to South Africa’s wine industry extends beyond the competition. The bank actively fosters excellence and innovation in both domestic and international markets. Their energy and trade solutions have been instrumental in helping wine producers overcome energy constraints while accessing global markets. Furthermore, their partnership with the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China has facilitated South African wine industry access to the world’s largest domestic consumer market.
Meet the 2023 Judging Panel
The esteemed panel of judges are:
- Higgo Jacobs: Chair of the panel, certified with the Court of Master Sommeliers, actively involved in sommelier education, and a senior judge at international wine competitions.
- Ginette de Fleuriot: A Cape Wine Master and lecturer for the Cape Wine Academy, with a wealth of experience in wine judging and marketing.
- Malu Lambert: An internationally awarded wine writer and judge, contributing to prestigious publications such as Decanter and jancisrobinson.com.
- Shawn Mathyse: A winemaker at Ken Forrester Wines, bringing practical winemaking expertise to the panel.
- Jo Wessels: Ranked among the top ten sommeliers worldwide, with extensive experience and education in the wine business.
- Shane Mumba: A board member of the South Africa Sommeliers’ Association and a brand ambassador for the South African Brandy Foundation.
Tasting Notes: The 2023 Standard Bank Chenin Blanc Top Ten Challenge
Here’s a glimpse into the tasting notes for each winning wine:
- Alvi’s Drift Albertus Viljoen Chenin Blanc 2022: Leesy, savoury introduction to quince, baked yellow apple and salted lime aromas. A hint of melba and baking spices too. This is a well-made execution of the richer, older-era style of Chenin, with batonnage and oak influence, and lovely fresh acidity laced through the wine. Savoury, saline finish.
- Antonij Rupert Cape of Good Hope Riebeeksrivier Chenin Blanc 2021: Pure, crisp and flinty in style, showing greengage, melon, apple and lime on the nose. The palate is pure, linear, delicate and appetizing, with tight acidity and dry length. Subtle vanilla and butter notes add complexity. Understated and nuanced.
- Durbanville Hills Collectors Reserve The Cape Garden Chenin Blanc 2022: Mineral, stony high notes over fresh lime and apple. An energized core of juicy fruit supports the reductive-styled palate that includes riverbed, wet wool and flint. Lovely elegance and interplay of savoury, salty with sweet fruit and dry texture. Youthful – will evolve well.
- Flagstone Paradigm Chenin Blanc Reserve 2020: Rich yellow stone fruit flowing from the glass includes quince, peach and pear, with some citrus blossoms. The palate has mineral interest and a touch of savoury, leesy influence and vanilla from oak. Well-rounded, soft mouthfeel, yet also reigned in, showing lovely freshness for a 2020 vintage. Fine complexity and staying power.
- KWV The Mentors Chenin Blanc 2021: Wet wool, bath salts and lemon and lime. Good richness and purity of fruit include tangy apricot, grapefruit and peach stone at the core. Classic varietal character. Fresh, youthful, and vibrant with well-integrated oak. Lanolin and dry minerals on the savoury tail.
- Lievland Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2022: Light, fresh, primary fruit-driven style with green apple, spring flowers and fresh citrus, with an alluring undertone of flint and crushed rock. Good tension, brightness and zippy, mouthwatering appeal. Subtle oak and superb all-round balance.
- Stellenrust B28 (Fairtrade) Chenin Blanc 2022: Rich and opulent Chenin with exotic peach, apricot, vanilla and brioche aromas, possibly compounded by a hint of botrytis and well-measured oak. A refreshing acidity lifts the palate, cutting through the lemon cream confectionery flavours, and enticing another sip. A full and concentrated offering.
- Stellenrust Next Level Chenin Blanc 2022: Interesting and captivating expression drives oily, oxidative, buttery aromas through ginger, baking spices and dried apricot on the nose, leading to lanolin, oyster shell and wool on the palate that is linear and toned. Superb tension, harmony and length.
- Stellenrust Stellenbosch Manor Barrel-fermented Chenin Blanc 2021: Lovely rich, spicy notes from both fruit and oak, including ginger, tangerine, and roasted vanilla. Good marriage of oak and mineral reductive flavours on a vibrant palate that has an intense, ripe-fruited core, but also finesse. A very good example of an ambitious, barrel-fermented style.
- Stellenrust Stellenbosch Manor Barrel-fermented Chenin Blanc 2022: Ripe peaches, fig, apple crumble, honeysuckle and dried apricots. The rich, sunny fruit and confected cream are offset by bright acidity and absorbed in the bold, layered structure of the wine, full of life and complexity. Fleshy and grippy, with a smoky, umami, lingering finish.
In conclusion, the 2023 Standard Bank Chenin Blanc Top Ten Challenge celebrates a decade of excellence in South African winemaking. This year’s winners exemplify the ongoing commitment to quality, innovation, and the promotion of this wine variety as a symbol of South African wine excellence on the global stage. Congratulations to all the winners and their contributions to the rich tapestry of South African wine.
For more information on this wine in South Africa please visit: https://www.chenin.co.za/chenin-challenge