Chenin Blanc - South Africa's GRAND CRU wine has arrived!
Updated: May 27, 2019
As they say - life is a journey of discovery that opens your eyes to the wonders of the world.
When I first explored South Africa’s spectacular Cape Winelands 10 years ago (the catalyst for Luxury Wine Trails); I was on a mission of discovery to experience exciting new varietals & taste sensations beyond those back home in Australia.
South Africa’s Pinotage, Cinsault & Cape blends were already on my list of must try reds – but being a lover of crisp dry Riesling’s & Semillon’s, I was also searching for a memorable white!
And then I discovered the WOW factor that is South African Chenin Blanc!
As I tasted with winemakers & cellarmasters at vineyards, I increasingly asked - where had this mind-blowing varietal been hiding on the world-stage?
The responses were interesting!
John Platter, the man responsible for launching South Africa’s first wine guide in 1979, and now the country’s leading go-to Platter’s Wine Guide, said in his book – My Kind of Wine:
‘What took us so long’? There it was, about one-third of the national crop, and for decades it was consigned to ho-hum wine status…… We called it Steen, and did not realise what a treasure we were downgrading, ignoring, and eventually, pulling out’.
Chenin Blanc’s origins are in the Loire Valley of France. Known for its’ high acidity & ageing qualities – this highly versatile varietal can produce dry whites, stickies, sparkling & even fortifieds!
But a GRAND CRU wine?
Unlikely - at least that’s what I originally thought!
Chenin is also grown in Western Australia. It’s typically found in blended commercial dry whites & occasionally as a single varietal, but it’s made as a simple & clean style for immediate consumption. Given the regions’ geographic similarities to the Cape Winelands, all I can say is what a lost opportunity for Australia!
For me, South African Chenin Blanc is all about its mouthfeel & richness. Its versatility, just like Riesling, means that Chenin Blanc drinks brilliantly from day 1, while rewarding extended cellaring for 5-10+ years.
This is when Chenin Blanc reveals its true power & presence!
South African Chenin Blanc is made in two styles:
Lightly oaked (my favourite) & un-oaked.
As it ages, the flavour profile becomes increasingly rich & complex in both aroma & flavour. Undertones of marmalade, honey & nuts emerge, and sometimes a touch of front palate sweetness, with the wine finishing crisp & dry.
While South African’s prefer to bottle their premium wines in cork, (albeit increasingly with DIAM), the industry is now changing, with leading vineyards such as Stellenbosch’s Spier, bottling their superb 21 Gables Chenin Blanc in Stelvin (screw-cap), to ensure it can reach its’ full potential consistently.
Like Australia’s age-worthy Hunter Valley Semillon’s, vine-age & dry-grown viticultural approaches play an important part in the quality of Chenin Blanc, with leading Stellenbosch producers, DeMorgenzon utilising vines approaching 50 years of age, and Kaapzicht blessed with vines of 70 years.
Chenin Blanc is grown throughout the 60+ wine regions of South Africa, but in my view this varietal really excels in the wine regions of Stellenbosch, Paarl, Cederberg & Bot River.
My personal favourites are from DeMorgenzon (Reserve), Kleine Zalze (Family Reserve), Perdeberg (Dry Lands Collection), Spier (21 Gables), Stellenrust (Barrel Fermented) & Beaumont (Hope Marguerite) – but the Cape Winelands are blessed with many great winemakers, with the quality consistently very high.
At the premier international wine shows, such as Decanter & IWSC, South African Chenin Blanc continues to receive the recognition it deserves with a growing list of trophy’s, with many around the world advocating it as, ‘best in the world’ – and I couldn’t agree more!
In short - a true ‘Grand Cru’ icon wine (varietal) of South Africa has arrived on the world’s stage!
At Luxury Wine Trails, our authentic all-inclusive 5 star small group private journeys to South Africa’s Cape Winelands & Cape Town, are all about exposing passionate wine & food explorers to truly unique & immersive ‘insider’ travel experiences!
Our focus on iconic South African grape varietals such as Chenin Blanc, as well as engaging wine & food Masterclasses, exclusive winemaker dinners, rare aged & vertical tastings, and top flight restaurants with premium wine pairings; are just some of the themes we focus on to deliver the experience of a lifetime for our guests.
So why not join us on a 3, 6 or 10 day or a multi-day customised Cape Winelands Journey, with on-demand departures for private groups from 4+, to discover for yourself the magic that is South Africa’s spectacular Cape Winelands.
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