With the amazing array of Chenin Blancs available, where does one start? Thankfully our wine writer Greg Landman has taken it upon himself to find the very best Chenin Blancs our local winemakers have to offer.
Chenin Blanc (also called Steen in SA) is the Madonna of the wine industry, continually proving that it can be all things to all people, and reinventing itself at the snap of a finger.
Almost 19% of South Africa’s vineyards are planted with Chenin Blanc vines, making it the biggest varietal by tonnage. The Loire Valley in France, traditionally the home of Chenin production, does not produce as much. A lot of this juice is distilled and lands up as brandy, but the rest is turned into some truly delicious wines. Some are fruity, almost crisp, unwooded charmers with low acids that won’t strip the palate off you, while others are wooded, smoky wines with tangy honeyed nuances. Then there are some that are succulent raisiny Late Harvest delights packed with sultana flavours. Chenin Blanc is a varietal that delivers on all fronts. All of them are better served cold, but don’t freeze the life out of them. My top tip: take them out of the fridge 20 minutes before you are going to drink them.
Here are some of the dozens out there which you might try. As you can see, these are wines to be drunk sooner rather than later, which is something I find very appealing in a wine.
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The Charms of Chenin
All prices can be found at the cellar.
De Morgenzon Reserve Chenin Blanc 2017
This spectacular, much awarded – both here and all over the world – wine is probably one of the best things you will ever taste so prepare to be blown away. Master winemaker Carl van der Merwe has packed it with opulent flavours and aromas you will never forget. Drink on its own, savour, and dream– just a little. Pick up a bottle for R375.
DMZ Chenin Blanc 2018
This “baby brother” shows it has the style and taste to be a worthy member of a famous family. It’s delicious and easy to knock back a bottle or two, and is lightly wooded with a delicious long finish. Find it for R110 a bottle.
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Ken Forrester Petit Chenin 2018
One of the most popular in the country and a cracker of a Chenin. The farm put it aptly when they said, “Should last for half an hour with the cap off and reach for the next bottle!” Perfect advice. Grab yourself a bottle for R59.
Ken Forrester Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc 2017
This much awarded masterpiece from a talented winemaker is barrel fermented and left on the lees for nine months. This gives it a fabulous gold colour and a flavour that’s intense and rich. It’s a Chenin Blanc that makes life worth living. You can find it going for R120 a bottle.
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Reyneke Biodynamic Chenin Blanc 2017
The home of some of the best biodynamic wines in the country delivers a lightly wooded knockout in this delightfully fragranced wine with well-balanced acids and a nice long finish. Pick up a bottle for R190.
Survivor Chenin Blanc 2018
Some wood (70%) plays a part in this delicious barrel fermented example which results in plenty of stone fruit roundness and crisp lime long finish. Making a roast chicken? This bottle is the perfect accompaniment. It’s a steal at R120 a bottle.
Unwooded, clean, fresh and crisp, and well balanced like the label with its balancing elephant says. And it hardly breaks the bank at R62 a bottle.
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Grande Provence Chenin Blanc 2017
The winner of three gold medals at three of the country’s top wine competitions, this Grande Provence Chenin Blanc is a perfect example of an unwooded charmer and it’s only R95 a bottle! Roast pork has met its match.
Groot Phesantekraal Chenin Blanc 2018
This unwooded bottle is heavily fragranced thanks to 56-year-old bush vines which results in fruit intensity and complexity. It’s got an appetising bone dry finish and goes swimmingly with seafood. Grab a bottle for R55.
Leeuwenkuil Chenin Blanc 2018
It’s unwooded, but with prolonged lees contact that’s racy, clean and fresh – just the thing to knock back poolside. At R45 a bottle it’s a well priced charmer.
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Porcupine Ridge Chenin Blanc 2017
Easy drinking and delicious with some crisp clean apple notes on the nose; smooth and vibrant in the mouth with some lemon curd nuances. The perfect summer quaffer for R55 a bottle.
Fat Bastard Chenin Blanc 2018
The famous fat hippo on the label introduces this popular Robertson wine. Each bottle is packed with aroma and flavour with plenty of chutzpah to make it a top kid on the block. At R80 a bottle, it’s a nice and tangy addition to your wine bucket.
Welgegund Chenin Blanc 2017
From 1974 vineyards with low yields and high intensity fruit, this Chenin Blanc is lightly wooded and serious without being stuffy. Think creamy oak supporting tangy summer fruit with citrus nuances. Be sure to pair it with your next roast duck or quail. Find this Double Platinum NWC Top 100 SA Wines 2018 winner for R260 a bottle.
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Kleine Zalze Vineyard Selection Chenin Blanc 2017
Fermented and aged in barrels, this superb wine is perfect for those who like wines that do not shrink from proclaiming themselves as “great”. It’s rich and round in the mouth with sensational fragrances on the nose and a marvellous long finish. It likes to hog the spotlight so best to serve it on its own as an aperitif. Add it to your bucket for R101 a bottle.
Allée Bleue Premium Range Chenin Blanc 2018
Barrel fermented with a touch of Viognier to give it some spice, this Chenin Blanc is rich and vibrant, and packed with sun dried fruit tang. Pair it with pork chops at the braai for R80 a bottle.
De Krans Free-Run Chenin Blanc 2018
Free-run juice is the liquid that comes off grapes before they are crushed – some consider this to be a quality. Judge for yourself in this Calitzdorp charmer. It’s clean and crisp with plenty of tangy fruit to keep it all going. Pick up a bottle for R54.
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Delheim Chenin Blanc Wild Ferment 2018
Simply put, wild fermentation means using yeasts that are not cultured but appear spontaneously. This allows for a more natural way for the wine to ferment. So how does it taste? Very much like any other way – still delicious and full of fruit supported by judicious oaking. A well balanced bottle for R125.
Protea Chenin Blanc 2018
From Anthonij Rupert Wyne in Franschhoek, this Protea Chenin Blanc is fresh and crisp with everything one wants in an unwooded Chenin. The two months on the lees adds depth and character. Pick up a bottle for R55.
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L’Ormarins Ou Bosstok 2017
This is the second vintage of this exceptional wine made from vines first planted in 1964 in the Swartland and now transplanted to Franschhoek. The vines yield grapes of great purity and balance resulting in a wine that has rich, bright and vibrant flavours that are supported by subtle oaking in French wood and extended lees contact. Totally irresistible at R 330.
Glen Carlou “The Welder” 2016
It’s a fabulous unoaked after dinner tipple that’s packed with raisiny delights and tang. Despite being obviously sweet, it’s well balanced by some tang to stop it being cloying. Very light at 10% alcohol so you can have more of it. Pick up a 375ml bottle for R111.
If Chenin Blanc is not your thing, then take a look at Greg’s list of the top white wine blends.
As the wine writer for Country Life magazine for the last 15 years, Greg has met and interviewed more than 150 of the country’s top wine makers. His articles offer unique insights into where to eat, what to drink, and where to go all over the Western Cape. With his dining companion Beryl Ormsby Browne, he has also reviewed more than 60 country restaurants for the magazine and has been a reviewer for the prestigious Eat Out Guide for 12 years. His passion for everything the winelands has to offer has led him into the world of wine tours. To find out more, visit his website Magic Grape Tours.