10 winning South African Chenin Blanc wines to impress your friends this summer

The winners of the Standard Bank Chenin Blanc Top Ten Challenge have been announced, with four newcomers to the winning line-up in 2022.

Speaking on behalf of the Challenge’s five judges, panel chair James Pietersen said the winning line-up was arguably emblematic of the country’s best in Chenin winemaking.

“A very diverse group of wines, together they reflect a combination of innovation, accomplished experimentation and altogether, dextrous, and imaginative winemaking. Even better than last year’s outstanding ten winners, they make us proud of the story they tell about the energy and creativity coursing through our industry.”

Submissions were judged blind against critically acclaimed non-entrants to ensure the panel was rating them within the broadest possible context of the industry’s best examples.

“The top ten wines will help South Africa to put its best Chenin face forward when they are tasted at the time of both CapeWine 2022, the triennial exhibition for the global trade and critics in October, and then again at the multi-disciplinary Chenin Blanc International Congress in November.”

“Chenin’s demonstrable climate resilience has recently made it a renewed favourite in France’s Loire Valley from where the grape comes, as well as in other wine-producing countries that are having to contend with climbing temperatures,” Pietersen said.

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Amongst the 137 wines submitted, “we saw even greater stylistic daring and diversity than previously. We encountered fruit from newer wine-growing regions, the greater use of skin contact, of natural fermentation, as well as a greater willingness to work with a wider variety of fermentation and ageing vessels,” he said.

“Almost two-thirds of the entries were wooded, but this distinction seems less relevant now that so many entrants are opting not just for less new wood but for old and large oak, for amphorae, stainless steel, concrete tanks, and egg-shaped vessels. The various combinations of maturation vessels they employ just keep on adding new levels of nuance and complexity.”

He said old vines predominated across the winning wines, with most of the vineyards at least 30 years’ old and, in one example, 70 years’ old. “But there were younger vines too, of eight and ten years, perhaps reflective of more considered wine-growing strategies applied in recent times.

There were four newcomers to the winning line-up this year, produced by Nabygelegen Private Cellar in Wellington, Piekenenierskloof Wine Company in Citrusdal, Rascallion Wines, a negociant based in Stellenbosch but sourcing widely, and Stellenbosch Vineyards.

The Standard Bank Chenin Blanc Top 10 Challenge winners, listed alphabetically, are:

  • Alvi’s Drift Private Cellar 221 Chenin Blanc 2021 – A wonderful introduction of jasmine perfume and other florals announce this wine, followed by an array of tropical fruit. A detailed palate of prominent linear acidity, showing pretty fruit, followed by savoury sub-notes.
  • Kaapzicht Wine Estate Kliprug Chenin Blanc 2021 – Elegant and shy to start, the nose slowly unfurls to introduce notes of pineapple with attractive oak spice. A palate of tart yellow fruit with a juicy mid-palate and creamy oak-lined finish.
  • Nabygelegen Private Cellar Chenin Blanc 2021 – Fresh lemons, notes of hay, white fruit, freshly cut pear and nectarine lead to a precise and coiled palate. As the wine opens up, it reveals an attractively bitter edge to balance the deep fruit intensity.
  • Piekenierskloof Wine Company Bergendal Chenin Blanc Old Vine 2021 – Oak notes of vanilla, baking spice and cedar, support concentrated fruit with citric acid vibrancy and wonderful depth. This is a powerful wine offering a lasting, lingering fruit intensity.
  • Rascallion Devonian Chenin Blanc 2021 – A lively introduction of energetic summer lemon/lime blossom, bright stone fruit, ripe bosc pear and an inviting nougat-like complexity leads to a layered, complex and fresh palate with good concentration and a pithy balance.
  • Rijk’s Cellar Touch Chenin Blanc 2020 – Damp hay, ripe tropical fruit, and dried pineapple notes introduce an apple and pear combination on the palate with ripe orange intensity and a tangy oak-licked send-off. Medium to full-bodied in style.
  • Spier Wines Seaward Chenin Blanc 2021 – An upfront vibrant melange of red and green apple, fruit basket perfume and summery brightness lead to an elegant palate. Defined, on-point acidity, supported by restrained, judicious use of oak. Lovely balance and lingering mouthfeel.
  • Stellenbosch Vineyards Bushvine Chenin Blanc 2021 – Initially shy with an oak overlay of cedar, spice and comforting vanilla, the nose unveils typical stone fruit and honey blossom. An invigorating lemon-spiked, light, and nimble palate with a well-integrated and a chalky chiselled acidity to finish.
  • Stellenrust Wine Estate Stellenbosch Manor Fermented Chenin Blanc 2020 – Attractive reductive notes open on to lots of billowing fruit. A full-fruited palate, showing fruit density balanced by oak and super acidity.
  • Stellenrust Wine Estate Old Bush Vine Chenin Blanc 2021 – Slightly old school in style, with lots of freshly buttered marmalade toast and ripe tangy citric complexity. A creamy, textured palate with oak-lined mandarin send-off.

Stellenrust has featured on every Top Ten list since the inception of the challenge in 2014, making this its ninth consecutive win. This is the eighth time Spier has appeared, the fourth time for Rijk’s Cellar, and the second for Alvi’s Drift.

Ken Forrester, co-founder and chair of the Chenin Blanc Association said: “What is not surprising is that standards continue to rise. As a group, local winemakers are continually upping their game.

“Their Chenin fervour galvanises them to keep on striving harder. What is surprising, however, is that so many entrants were able to rise above the harrowing pressures and constraints of the pandemic and give of their best to Chenin. That tells you something about their prowess and bravery.”

The competition awards a cash prize to each of the producers of the ten best Chenins selected every year. 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.

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