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SA’s top 10 chenin blanc wines has come of age

News of the Standard Bank Chenin Blanc Top 10 Challenge winners for 2018, featuring five newcomers and five regulars, comes in the wake of unprecedented optimism in the grape variety.

“Chenin has come of age,” said chairperson of the Chenin Blanc Association Ken Forrester.

“No longer just a niche grape loved by the wine fraternity, it is acquiring a mainstream following. More and more people are believing in it, buying it, drinking it and talking about it.” He referred to the record number of entries in this year’s challenge, the growth in sales of chenin blanc this year and the global reach of a recent social media campaign.

Forrester said this year’s 159 submissions represented an increase of 17% on the 2017 challenge entry numbers, while year-on-year, local sales and exports of chenin blanc varietal wines are on the rise. Forrester also highlighted the success of the #DrinkChenin day social media campaign to mark June 15 as International Chenin Day, which generated 4,9 million impressions.

He explained: “The versatility of chenin, its diversity of wine styles and its great food-friendliness, all point towards its rising acceptance among local consumers. This is in line with the growing international interest in the grape, increasingly seen abroad as South Africa’s calling card.”

South Africa has more chenin blanc under vine than any other country in the world.

The challenge drew 113 wooded and 46 unwooded entries, all tasted blind by the five-member panel, with 27 wines shortlisted for the final top ten line-up.

Cathy van Zyl MW, the chair of the judges, said that the winning wines were largely, but not exclusively sourced from older vineyards.

“While one of the winners comes from 12-year old vines, the others come from vines that are older than 27 years,” she said. “Indeed, the oldest vineyard in the line-up is 65-years’ old.”

Fruit for the winning wines was sourced from as far afield as the Cederberg, Stellenbosch including Bottelary and Faure, Darling, Elgin, Durbanville, the Swartland, specifically Voor-Paardeberg, Perdeberg, Malmesbury, Tygerberg, Slanghoek, Wellington and Bot River.

UK wine consultant Simon Field MW, a specialist on wines from the Loire in France, where Chenin originates and the only foreign judge on the panel, was impressed with the line-up of what he called very polished, palatable and professional wines and their multiplicity of expression.

He said: “A definitively South African chenin style was apparent to me – riper, more fruit-forward and floral, with qualities of nectarine and other yellow fruit, some beeswax and honey. The whole experience gave me a fascinating new perspective on chenin.”

Pointing to the availability of chenin excellence at accessible prices, Willie du Plessis, Standard Bank SA’s executive head of business banking for the Western Cape, noted that the average price of the top 10 wines was R200.

“These world-class wines offer outstanding value, with winners retailing at R70, R90, R120 before rising to the highest price of R375,” he said.

Du Plessis confirmed a prize of R25 000 for each of the winning wines. The money would need “to reinforce economic and social benefits in the workplace”, in accordance with the conditions of the challenge.

“We believe the honour of making it onto the Top Ten list should extend to the workers as well as the brand owners.”

The winning Stellenbosch-based wines are:

. DeMorgenzon Reserve Chenin Blanc 2017

. Leopard’s Leap Culinaria Chenin Blanc 2016

. Mulderbosch Vineyards Chenin Blanc Steen op Hout 2017 (debut)

. Spier Wines 21 Gables Chenin Blanc 2017

. Stellenrust ‘53’ Barrel Fermented Chenin Blanc 2017

Spier has featured among the Top Ten every year since the inception of the challenge in 2014 and DeMorgenzon, every year since 2015.

Stellenrust has been in the line-up since 2014, except 2016. It is the third time Leopard’s Leap has appeared.

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