I’ve just spent the best part of a month in South Africa and I’m more in love with Cape Chenin Blanc than ever. This is not the cheapest example in the high street, but it’s worth spending a little more to buy a wine of this quality. Sourced from 40-year-old vineyards, it’s a rich yet refreshing white that shows the cool elegance of the 2021 vintage. Honey, peach and citrus fruit flavours are framed by scented oak, green apple acidity and a dusting of patisserie spices.
I missed the recent Chenin Blanc conference in South Africa, but I was there in spirit. The French grape has made its home from home in the Cape, where it is responsible for many of the country’s best whites. This one comes from Stellenrust, a winery that makes several different interpretations of the variety, and represents wonderful value. Green apple and pear flavours are framed by vivid, sappy acidity, with just a hint of oak spice as a backdrop.
There’s so much good South African Chenin Blanc on the market these days that it’s easy to forget about the variety’s home turf in the Loire Valley. This comes from what is arguably the best appellation in the region for dry styles – Savennières. Grown on sand and schist, this is a superb, single-parcel wine from Philippe Socheleau, with a lovely combination of weight, freshness and minerality. Very lightly wooded, it has flavours of citrus, cream, green apple and fennel and a long, engaging, bone dry finish.
Tertius Boshoff and his team make some of my favourite Cape Chenin Blancs, offering wines of varying levels of price and complexity, right up to some of the best examples in South Africa. This lightly wooded example is a really good introduction to the joys of the variety, with notes of hay and baking spices on the nose, pear, peach and citrus on the palate and a dusting of vanilla. Stellenrust is also Faitrade accredited, tying in with the subject of Jono Le Feuvre’s article this week.
Formerly sold as plainer Blanc de Scala Dei, this rare and unusual white hails from an east-facing site at 700 metres, planted with Garnacha Blanca and Chenin Blanc in the late 1960s and 1980s, when the idea of climate change was unheard of. Co-fermented in cement tanks, before ageing in wooden foudres, this 80/20 blend is taut, refreshing and leesy, with stony intensity, citrus and wild flower notes, a drizzle of beeswax and a long intense finish. Should age well too.
South Africa’s white blends are some of its most distinctive wines, even if they remain comparatively difficult to sell, given most consumers’ preference for varietal Chardonnays, Chenins and Sauvignon Blancs. More’s the pity! This is a superb five-way blend from one of the best white wine producers in Stellenbosch, dominated by almost equal parts Roussanne, Chenin Blanc and Grenache Blanc, with lesser amounts of Viognier and Chardonnay Mixing oak and concrete egg-fermented portions, it’s creamy, herbal and citrus-driven, with subtle wood, honeysuckle and baking spice aromas and flavours of peach, pear and quince.
Unirrigated bush vines planted in 1983 supply the fruit for this intense, focused, naturally fermented Chenin Blanc from this exceptional family-owned business in the Bottelary Hills. Elegantly oaked, it’s balanced and nuanced with pear, citrus and apple fruit and refreshingly low alcohol. Just the thing to drink on #drinkcheninblanc day tomorrow.
The kind of thing that wouldn’t look out of place in a line up of New Wave South African Chenin Blancs, this superb organic Loire Valley example from Alexandre Cady has a winning combination of richness, lees-derived complexity, subtle 30% new oak and thrilling acidity. Flavours of pear, apple and quince combine beautifully on the palate with undertones of baking spices and a long, refreshing finish.
Youthful, pithy and still quite tight, this barrel-fermented Chenin needs more time in bottle to show what it’s really capable of. Apple, citrus and pear flavours are complemented by stony minerality, some vanilla spice and a tangy, focused finish.