I tasted through a selection of Chenin Blanc for #CheninBlancDay last June, writes Mark Angelillo. I was hoping to … bring it to our audience … in the winter months for one very good reason: South African Chenin Blanc retains startlingly robust fruits (more than enough to stand up to warming winter dishes), while maintaining a strong undercurrent of acidity. Alcohol levels are kept in check which isn’t often true when drinking fulsome white wines. These are ideal winter white wines – especially when serving to a crowd. There’s value here for all to enjoy. This is a difficult combination to find.
Chenin Blanc is truly recognized as a signature variety in South Africa. There are troves of old vines located across several of the country’s regions, all with their own unique bent. Read on for my notes on the wines in this special set of winter whites … and we at Planet Wine have added a few of our own.
Steely lemon and mineral driven aromas. Well balanced, fresh fruit notes of lemon, green apple, peach and dried apricot, a touch herbal and a bit juicy. This brings good acidity, steely minerality and a bit of a citrus pith note towards the finish that adds another dimension to the wine before it settles into an earthy, toasted and wooded note.
Mineral-driven sea breeze, lime leaf and melon notes on the nose. Pleasant, warm notes of citrus, white blossom and peach, green apple and herbal spice. a bit of dried fruit, good medium-plus acidity and a solid, bold and assertive palate that is herbal and steely towards the finish.
In 2015 Breedekloof launched the Chenin Blanc Initiative, which saw nine wineries in the district launching examples of Chenin Blanc from the 2014 vintage positioned very much as fine wines.
Opstal is one of those involved and this producer must have provided at least some of the catalyst for the project, the outstanding Carl Everson first made in 2012. Others who are part of this collaboration include Bergsig, Botha Cellar, Breëland, Deetleefs, Goudini, Lateganskop, Merwida and uniWines Vineyards Daschbosch.
Breëland Royal 2014
From a vineyard planted in 1981. A portion of the grapes frozen and only the free-run juice of this used to achieve extra palate weight. Matured in third-fill 300-litre barrels. Peach and spanspek (cantaloupe), subtle vanilla and spice on the nose. Rich and ripe with soft but sufficient acidity and a gently savoury finish.
Opstal Carl Everson Chein Blanc 2016
The nose is dead sexy with top notes of potpourri and dried herbs before peach and citrus. The palate appears less intensely flavoured compared to previous vintages but still pretty smart with pure fruit, fresh acidity and a nicely dry finish.
Bergsig Reserve Chenin Blanc 2015
On the nose, a floral top note before citrus and white peach plus vanilla and some nuttiness. The palate possesses lovely fruit concentration and fresh acidity before a savoury finish. It’s rich but possesses plenty of detail.
There are many more outstanding examples of this varietal, all of which can be put in the same company as above, so don’t limit yourself to these wines. And remember, chenin blanc is made in different styles to suit every taste. Go out there and find yours! For more information on chenin blanc in South Africa, visit the website of the Chenin Blanc Association of South Africa at www.chenin.co.za. – Ed.