What we do well, we do great – Samarie Smith DIPWSET
This article was originally published on:
If wine counted under South Africa's big five, Chenin Blanc would be its roaring king of the bushveld. So come winter rain or the Cape's whimsical winter sunshine, the nation will celebrate international #DrinkChenin Day today on 18 June 2022
Bring on a braai or a cuppa soup; Chenin will elevate it to an even more delicious experience. The diversity of the South African winescape is no secret; winemakers are pouring themselves into this creative space, making exciting Chenin Blancs. Chenin Blanc can also be quite the jester, making you believe you are traversing the world in a line-up of wines hailing only from South Africa's diverse viticultural spaces. Winemakers dedicated to Chenin Blanc have reeled in the bright and seductive qualities associated with wines from the Loire, only to give it a truly unique South African quintessence.
A tasting led by Barry Scholfield from Somm & Co. in November 2022 at the Collective tasting room for Karibib Wine Craft revealed precisely that, starting with gems found in the scenic Polkadraai Hills ward of Stellenbosch. Poised in the heart of this ward, Karibib farm set the scene for an exciting line-up of Chenin Blanc expressing their address and the fine nuances that each winemaker allowed it to own. Chenin Blanc has claimed Polkadraai Hills as one of its thrones in South Africa, benefiting from noticeable elevations, gentle slopes bathing in cool air rolling in from the ocean, and diverse soil types encouraging excellent drainage. And speaking of thrones, one of the Chenin Kings was there to vouch for the land producing such gorgeous wines.
According to Bruwer Raats from Raats Family Wines, 1994 until 2015 was when Wellington, Swartland and Stellenbosch established themselves as premium Chenin Blanc Producers.
"We are now in the second phase where people notice smaller wards and geographic areas."
In 2006, Raats, De Toorn, Saxenburg and Reyneke applied to have Polkadraai established as an independent ward. In 2007 it was declared Wine of Origin Polkadraai Hills, the smallest of nine Stellenbosch wards.
"Granitic soils are found across the world, but the granite in the rolling hills of Polkadraai has a dolomite component, a product of magma moulded under the earth's core and the softer soils above it weathered away with time. I believe this soil contributes to a specific wet stone minerality found in the Chenin produced here. The soil also contributes to natural acidities and subsequent linear styles of wine with delicate citrus nuances."
The first five wines came from producers within a 2km radius of the venue, accentuating the sense of place wine lovers so dearly refer to when benchmarking certain wine styles from different areas.
Here are my impressions of the wines tasted.
RAATS ORIGINAL CHENIN BLANC 2020
Unoaked, this wine is a pure expression of the ward - made with minimal intervention to showcase its purity. They only inoculate the must when the ferment struggles and always manage to maintain the wine's consistent character.
Lemon-toned, the wine has pronounced aromas of green citrus, river pebbles (or that wet stone minerality), crunchy fruit salad and ripe kiwi. Fleshy, dewdrop nectarine fruit underpinned with a crystalline, steely acidity adding texture in the absence of oak. Sweet mouth-filling fruit engulfs your palate, balanced with a savoury note of thyme and a long, saline finish.
ANGUS PAUL ON A LIGHT OF FURIOUS FANCIES OLD VINE CHENIN BLANC 2020
Hailing from the same ward, the similarities are clear: plaster-like coolness and a textural, mouth-watering acidity. There is an enjoyable duality of aromas: a more herbal side of fynbos, thyme, and the sappy note of pruned roses, balanced with more decadent aromas of guava roll, orange curd, orange blossoms and grapefruit that carry through to the palate as a pithy, caramelized bitterness. The wine has good persistence with a whiff of crushed nuts trailing behind.
MCFARLANE WINES MONDAY'S CHILD 2020
Moving on to a tighter and leaner style, the wine is a bit restraint on sharing its personality at first, like the smell of a freshly opened box of crayons. But once it gets to colouring, it colours outside the lines. Nutty, kumquat, grapefruit, lime and melon with an intensity await on the palate. The wine has a brilliance, demanding attention like a youthful Loire example with austerity that will still dissipate. As the wine warms in the glass, a richer note of citrus panna cotta adds weight and a gentle touch of creaminess for a lingering aftertaste.
REYNEKE ORGANIC CHENIN BLANC 2020
The wine was slightly reductive at first, so give it some time when you get your hands on it.. There is lovely energy about the wine; initial aromas of fynbos, crunchy dune spinach and the sweetness of lime drops candy joined with yellow apple and Sharon fruit fleshing it out. The fresh acidity is balanced with a pleasant pithy texture and blackcurrant leaf, adding a musky perfume.
RAATS FAMILY VINEYARDS OLD VINE CHENIN BLANC 2019
This wine is made from a 40-year-old vineyard deeply anchored despite the apparent sandy soil. A combination of vessels to mature the wine in 300L and 500L neutral barrels, concrete eggs, and stainless steel built an ethereal quality into the wine. The depth of this wine is hugely exciting; whether you crave red meat, fish or rich sauces, trust me, the wine will take the lead. Pure aromas of loquat, peach, apricot and preserved limes add a delicious richness to its linear character. Bright and luminous.
KAAPZICHT KLIPRUG CHENIN BLANC 2020
From Bottelary, here is a wine unmistakable for its enticing aromas of ripe orange, pink lady apples, potpourri and sweet pea flowers. The wine is mouth-filling, perfectly and pleasantly oaked, leaving a subtle impression of lemon cream pie to balance the crisp acidity.
DELHEIM CHENIN BLANC WILD FERMENT 2020
From the Simonsberg comes a Chenin Blanc that delivers on its expected tangy and delicious reputation. With enough tension, built on acidity, there is a charming perfume of an orange orchard and a richer character of ripe stone fruit.
L'AVENIR SINGLE BLOCK CHENIN BLANC 2020
On the other side of the road, close to Delheim, lies L'Avenir. Dipping your nose into the glass is like stepping into a garden of fresh lemon thyme and parsley. A bright and pristine character about this wine gives you goosebumps, followed by generous aromas of greengage and kiwi. A great balance between a zesty acidity and judicious use of oak tempers the richness.
JOOSTENBERG ESTATE DIE AGTEROS CHENIN BLANC 2020
Chenin lovers will love this wine's dainty introduction, not what the name suggests!
Enjoy its white florals, white peach, sorrel and once tasted, almond skin that lingers with the finish. Fruity and savoury on the palate, there is a whimsical character about this wine teasing your palate with a creamy texture to back it up.
DASCHBOSCH MOSSIESDRIFT STEEN 2020
Over to the Breedekloof, we have a wine that is not shy to deliver on oodles of fruit and a delicious mouthfeel making sure you won't forget it. With a similar wet stone minerality like wines from Polkadraai Hills, this wine also has a lemony finish that perks up the overall experience of the wine. Still somewhat shy but due to deliver more in the next couple of years.
CARL EVERSON CHENIN BLANC 2020
Staying in the Breedekloof and specifically Slangriver, you will find Opstal, where seven generations have led them to excel in Chenin Blanc. There is a beautiful nostalgia about this wine, a somewhat oily texture with hints of bitter almonds wanting to take you to Europe. Still, the generosity of quince, pineapple and nectarine brings you home, balanced with lively acidity, hints of spice a solid finish.
ILLIMIS CHENIN BLANC 2020
A first time tasting this wine and childishly excited to see more Chenin Blanc coming from Elgin. Albeit lacking the typicity of Chenin Blanc, hats off to getting a Chenin culture going in this cool region. Predominantly oyster shell, nettle and lemongrass with crunchy green apple and young melon stepping up. However, the wine needs time to settle into its own.
BEAUMONT HOPE MARGUERITE CHENIN BLANC 2020
A trusted favourite, seductive while at the same time elegantly poised on its shapely acidity. A rich palate is held in check with finesse - a delicate balance of oak, fruit, spice and freshness propping it onto a pedestal for Chenin lovers to admire. This wine is a product of precision from vineyard to cellar and bottle, its consistency maintained despite vintage variations.
NAUDE WINES OLD VINES CHENIN BLANC 2020
This wine is adored for its old-world quality - the delicate fruit dusted with crushed hazelnut, earthy aromas and delicate fruit that comes alive when the texture of the wine reaches your palate. An oyster shell minerality underpinned its delicate aromatics of passionfruit, apple and lemon candy. Pure and utterly delicious.
CAPE OF GOOD HOPE VAN LILL EN VISSER CHENIN BLANC 2020
The wine announces itself with racy acidity. Slightly reductive at first, but it blows off to show delicate nuances of fresh herbs with a steely undertone and limy gloss, adding a bright citrus flair. Enigmatic in style and on par with quality, filling out the mid-palate with great length. Finely woven for impeccable balance between fruit and oak.
DAVID AND NADIA CHENIN BLANC 2020
Here is an elegant wine, softspoken if you could give it human traits, delicate nuances of white peach and green apricots, corseted with a vivid and bright acidity. A somewhat stark salinity is tempered with baking spice and dried florals, adding to the delicate balance.
Samarie is a seasoned journalist and professional photographer who made wine the centre-piece of her decade-long career as a lifestyle writer for Die Burger and Media24.