10 winning South African Chenin Blanc wines to impress at your next dinner party

The quality of South African Chenin has never been better, say the 2021 Standard Bank Chenin Blanc Top Ten Challenge judges.

Panel chair James Pietersen believes South Africa has set the benchmark for the grape globally, and because of the healthy competitive spirit of innovation amongst local winemakers, the country remains the pre-eminent source of the most exciting and delicious expressions.

“Chenin may be a thriving category here but there’s no complacency. Amongst the 138 entries this year, this was apparent in the ongoing emergence of new growing regions, the greater application of skin contact, more natural fermentation and the use of a wide variety of fermentation and maturation vessels from amphorae to older and larger barrels, concrete eggs and tanks.”

While Stellenbosch was the source of six of the winning wines, other areas represented were Worcester, Piekenierskloof, Swartland and Paarl.

In alphabetical order the 2021 Standard Bank Chenin Blanc Top Ten Challenge winners are:

Pietersen said the already rigorous judging criteria have lifted a notch this year by including for the first time, critically acclaimed non-entrants as blind benchmarks. “As a panel, it is essential that we evaluate the submissions within the wider context of best in the field. I’m glad to say that even when matched against these non-entrants, we saw a healthy consistency in outcome.

“This speaks to an eagerness amongst competitors to keep on bettering their past efforts, continually lifting standards across the category. So, while the 2021 line-up included mostly repeat winners, there were newcomers in Guardian Peak, Le Belle Rebelle and Lievland. This has been the pattern of the results over the past years, irrespective of panel members or vintage.”

Stellenrust has featured eight times in the annual line-up. DeMorgenzon has appeared seven times, every year without interruption since 2015.

“Overall, we noticed a lighter touch in winemaking style this year, with less overt wooding and lower residual sugars. There were greater numbers of fresher, more youthful, salty and savoury wines, showing persistence and length. Those we finally chose are all wines of detail, refinement and complexity,” Pietersen said.

Malu Lambert, one of the judges remarked on how local low latitudes make for strong light intensity, evident in the style of our wines. “We have a distinctive terroir of sunshine and light intensity.”

Tasting notes

  • Bellingham The Bernard Series Old Vine Chenin Blanc Limited Release 2020 – Shy at first, with elegant oak notes, tropical fruit and citrusy spritz freshness. Concentrated and ripe on the palate, with a juicy, powerful and chalky finish.

  • DeMorgenzon Reserve Chenin Blanc 2020 – Perfumed oak spice with, hay, peach and quince fruit, opening onto a juicy palate, with good acidity, well-integrated oak and purity of flavour. Persistent and powerful.

  • Guardian Peak Donkiesbaai Steen 2020 (first-time winner) – Fresh perfumed, lemon/lime aroma, with bright fruit and the added complexity of dried apple and pineapple concentration. Firm, textured palate with good acidity and integrated, linear finish.

  • Ken Forrester Terre Noire Chenin Blanc 2020 – Fresh, fragrant nose with notes of fynbos, melon, white stone fruit. Deep-fruited on the palate, yet understated and delicate with good oaking. Balanced and finely crafted.

  • Kleine Zalze Vineyard Selection Chenin Blanc 2020 – Shy with lovely spice, lemony pith, and notes of elderflower. Attractive reduction leads to tight, nervy and nicely saline entry with lean, powerful acidity. Loads of energy.

  • Kleine Zalze Family Reserve Chenin Blanc 2020 – An immediate impression of composure with poised tropical notes and beeswax, leading to a layered and concentrated palate. Focused and linear with lots of detail – good oak, acidity and savoury interest with a long, refined finish.

  • Le Belle Rebelle Solitude Chenin Blanc 2020 (first-time winner) – Some elderflower notes, shy floral perfume, delicate herbal/fynbos and spice on the nose leading to a delicate, earthy and savoury palate, nougat complexity and zippy, pointed, lemon-like acidity. Something different.

  • Lievland Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2020 (first-time winner) – Ripe tropical, green pear and blood orange notes with toasty oak complexity, broad and open nose and a mouth-watering acidity and balancing bright mango to end with a ripe lemon send-off.

  • Simonsig Avec Chêne Wooded Chenin Blanc 2019 – Nectarine, citrus, and light fynbos character, supported by subtle oak. Taut and coiled with youthful, flinty energy leading to a saline- and fynbos-laced dry palate that is wonderfully understated. Precise.

  • Stellenrust Old Bushvine Chenin Blanc 2020 – Some attractive reduction followed by honeyed melon, a hint of apricot, ripe tropical fruit and ginger spice lead to good oak presence, balanced by a piercing acidity. Rich, waxy and full ripe in style with fine acidity for palate definition. Serious and expressive.

Read: A 200 year old bottle of South African wine – still in drinkable condition – just sold at auction for a record price

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10 winning South African Chenin Blanc wines to impress at your next dinner party