"South African Chenin Blanc Best Ever"

The quality of South African Chenin has never been better, say the 2021 Standard Bank Chenin Blanc Top Ten Challenge judges.  Panel chair Ja...

The quality of South African Chenin has never been better, say the 2021 Standard Bank Chenin Blanc Top Ten Challenge judges. 

Panel chair James Pietersen believes South Africa has set the benchmark for the grape globally and because of the healthy competitive spirit of innovation amongst local winemakers, the country remains the pre-eminent source of the most exciting and delicious expressions.

“Chenin may be a thriving category here but there’s no complacency. Amongst the 138 entries this year, this was apparent in the ongoing emergence of new growing regions, the greater application of skin contact, more natural fermentation and the use of a wide variety of fermentation and maturation vessels from amphorae to older and larger barrels, concrete eggs and tanks.

Panel chair James Pietersen

While Stellenbosch was the source of six of the winning wines, other areas represented were Worcester, Piekenierskloof, Swartland and Paarl.

In alphabetical order the 2021 Standard Bank Chenin Blanc Top Ten Challenge winners are:

• Bellingham The Bernard Series Old Vine Chenin Blanc Limited Release 2020
• DeMorgenzon Reserve Chenin Blanc 2020
• Guardian Peak Donkiesbaai Steen 2020
• Ken Forrester Terre Noire Chenin Blanc 2020
• Kleine Zalze Wines Vineyard Selection Chenin Blanc 2020
• Kleine Zalze Wines Family Reserve Chenin Blanc 2020
• Le Belle Rebelle Solitude Chenin Blanc 2020
• Lievland Vineyards Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2020
• Simonsig Wines Avec Chêne Wooded Chenin Blanc 2019
• Stellenrust Old Bushvine Chenin Blanc 2020

More details at a glance:

Producer

Wine

Vintage

Alcohol

RS

TA

pH

Oak

Vine age

Price

Bellingham

The Bernard Series Old Vine Chenin Blanc Limited Release

2020

13.50%

3.81g/l

6.27g/l

3.45

32% new, 30% 2nd fill French, 30% Foudre and 8% terracotta amphora

37 – 49 years

R189

DeMorgenzon

Reserve Chenin Blanc

2020

14%

2.4g/l

5.8g/l

3.56

Fermentation in French oak, 20% new. Barrel matured for 10months.

49 years

R430

Guardian Peak

Donkiesbaai Steen

2020

14%

3.8g/l

5.7g/l

3.24

50% in new and second fill French plus concrete egg and clay amphora

20 and 38 years

R275

Ken Forrester

Terre Noire Chenin Blanc

2020

13%

2.9g/l

6g/l

3.34

400l French oak barrels, 30% new, rest 2nd and older.

35 and 37 years

R295

Kleine Zalze Wines

Vineyard Selection Chenin Blanc

2020

13.50%

6.1g/l

6.8g/l

3.22

No new oak only older French barrels plus for the first time a portion in amphora

30 years

R120

Kleine Zalze Wines

Family Reserve Chenin Blanc

2020

13.50%

4.8g/l

6.4g/l

3.36

400l 2nd, 3rd, and 4th French Oak and 1 x 500l amphora

40 years

R240

Le Belle Rebelle

Solitude Chenin Blanc

2020

13.50%

3.9g/l

6.5g/l

3.32

100% 2nd fill French Oak

14 years

R240

Lievland Vineyards

Old Vine Chenin Blanc

2020

13%

2.5g/l

6.3g/l

3.39

50% Neutral oak.

45 and 38 years

R160

Simonsig Wines

Avec Chêne Wooded Chenin Blanc

2019

13.5%

3.1g/l

6.8g/l

3.15

11 months in 2nd fill French 225l and 400l barrels.

35 years

R195

Stellenrust

Old Bushvine Chenin Blanc

2020

14%

3.6g/l

7.4g/l

3.14

7 months in old French 225 barrels, 4th to 5th fill.

42 years

R300


Pietersen said the already rigorous judging criteria were lifted a notch this year by including for the first time, critically acclaimed non-entrants as blind benchmarks. “As a panel, it is essential that we evaluate the submissions within the wider context of best in the field. I’m glad to say that even when matched against these non-entrants, we saw a healthy consistency in outcome.

“This speaks to an eagerness amongst competitors to keep on bettering their past efforts, continually lifting standards across the category. So, while the 2021 line-up included mostly repeat winners, there were newcomers in Guardian Peak, Le Belle Rebelle and Lievland. This has been the pattern of the results over the past years, irrespective of panel members or vintage.”

Stellenrust has featured eight times in the annual line-up. DeMorgenzon has appeared seven times, every year without interruption since 2015.

“Overall, we noticed a lighter touch in winemaking style this year, with less overt wooding and lower residual sugars. There were greater numbers of fresher, more youthful, salty and savoury wines, showing persistence and length. Those we finally chose are all wines of detail, refinement and complexity.”

Malu Lambert, one of the judges remarked on how local low latitudes make for strong light intensity, evident in the style of our wines. “We have a distinctive terroir of sunshine and light intensity.”

Ken Forrester, co-founder of the Chenin Blanc Association
Ken Forrester, co-founder of the Chenin Blanc Association that is the driving force behind the annual Top Ten Challenge, pointed out that that perpetual appetite for exploration amongst Chenin producers was the reason South Africa recently approached the French winemaking fraternity to establish a joint genetic research project to identify naturally occurring desirable Chenin clones. “Natural mutations have occurred over time in local vineyards, and, also in France. The genomic study now underway is the first-ever clone identification research for Chenin. It’s hoped that what we learn will provide valuable insights into protecting heritage vines, building Chenin’s climate resilience and in advancing eco-sustainability amongst growers. Part of the study will be directed towards establishing a solid, scientific basis for promoting intra-varietal diversity within vineyards.”

Speaking on behalf of the sponsors, Stephan van der Merwe, head of commercial clients at Standard Bank in the Western Cape, highlighted the extent to which older vineyards predominated. “The majority of the top ten winners were harvested from vines aged at least 30 years. The most venerable vineyards were more than half-a century old. We know from the first phase of a UCT Graduate School of Business study that vine age can contribute significantly to wine quality and therefore wine price. This is already incentivising producers to preserve this heritage. We hope the learnings from the SA/French clonal collaboration study with encourage this still further.

“The international webinar to be hosted in November by the Chenin Blanc Association will offer yet another forum for the exchange of ideas and practice amongst Chenin specialists. That really bodes well for the future of the grape.”

He said webinar details would be announced soon.

This year marks the eighth of the competition that annually awards a cash prize to each of the producers of the top ten Chenins selected. “This is an important feature of the challenge,” Van der Merwe added. “It acknowledges the role of farm workers in making award-winning wines.”

A condition of the competition is that the money must be used towards enhancing the quality of life of farm workers and/or their communities.

This year’s judges are James Pietersen (panel chair), Wine Cellar’s MD 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); Penny Setti, former sommelier at Chef’s Warehouse and now owner of Penny Noire wine bar; and newcomer to the panel, Malu Lambert, an award-winning wine writer and contributor to Platter’s South African Wine Guide and a selection of titles, including jancisrobinson.com, Decanter and The Buyer. This year’s associate judge is Amos Sobashe, who is currently hosting the tasting room and online tastings for Oldenburg Vineyards. He was previously sommelier at Quoin Rock.

Since the inception of the awards eight years ago, winners have prioritised projects focused on education, from early learning programmes right through to tertiary training. Not only have creches and after-care facilities for school children been established on some farms, but also libraries, computer rooms and other educational resources for learners, workers and communities. Some producers have donated their prize money to NGO Pebbles Project to support its suite of education, health, nutrition, community and protection programmes. These benefit hundreds of infants and youth in the Cape Winelands. Pebbles also extends social services to combat foetal alcohol spectrum disorder and alcohol abuse. Other winners have supported housing, sporting and other recreational initiatives.

TASTING NOTES: 2021 STANDARD BANK CHENIN BLANC TOP TEN CHALLENGE

Bellingham The Bernard Series Old Vine Chenin Blanc Limited Release 2020
Shy at first, with elegant oak notes, tropical fruit and citrusy spritz freshness. Concentrated and ripe on the palate, with a juicy, powerful and chalky finish.

DeMorgenzon Reserve Chenin Blanc 2020
The seventh consecutive vintage of this powerhouse wine to feature on the Top Ten list. Perfumed oak spice with, hay, peach and quince fruit, opening onto a juicy palate, with good acidity, well-integrated oak and purity of flavour. Persistent and powerful.

Guardian Peak Donkiesbaai Steen 2020 (first-time winner)
Fresh perfumed, lemon/lime aroma, with bright fruit and the added complexity of dried apple and pineapple concentration. Firm, textured palate with good acidity and integrated, linear finish.

Ken Forrester Terre Noire Chenin Blanc 2020
Fresh, fragrant nose with notes of fynbos, melon, white stone fruit. Deep-fruited on the palate, yet understated and delicate with good oaking. Balanced and finely crafted.

Kleine Zalze Vineyard Selection Chenin Blanc 2020
Shy with lovely spice, lemony pith, and notes of elderflower. Attractive reduction leads to tight, nervy and nicely saline entry with lean, powerful acidity. Loads of energy.

Kleine Zalze Family Reserve Chenin Blanc 2020
An immediate impression of composure with poised tropical notes and beeswax, leading to a layered and concentrated palate. Focused and linear with lots of detail – good oak, acidity and savoury interest with a long, refined finish.

Le Belle Rebelle Solitude Chenin Blanc 2020 (first-time winner)
Some elderflower notes, shy floral perfume, delicate herbal/fynbos and spice on the nose leading to a delicate, earthy and savoury palate, nougat complexity and zippy, pointed, lemon-like acidity. Something different.

Lievland Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2020 (first-time winner)
Ripe tropical, green pear and blood orange notes with toasty oak complexity, broad and open nose and a mouth-watering acidity and balancing bright mango to end with a ripe lemon send-off.

Simonsig Avec Chêne Wooded Chenin Blanc 2019
Nectarine, citrus, and light fynbos character, supported by subtle oak. Taut and coiled with youthful, flinty energy leading to a saline- and fynbos-laced dry palate that is wonderfully understated. Precise.

Stellenrust Old Bushvine Chenin Blanc 2020
Some attractive reduction followed by honeyed melon, a hint of apricot, ripe tropical fruit and ginger spice lead to good oak presence, balanced by a piercing acidity. Rich, waxy and full ripe in style with fine acidity for palate definition. Serious and expressive.

Issued by: AUGUST COLLECTIVE

Pictures: SUPPLIED



©2021 Herman Lintvelt - WineTourismZA 

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