Chenin blanc has had a somewhat chequered past in South Africa, a little like the wine industry itself in many ways.
Widely planted since the mid 17th century in the Western Cape, partly due to its ability to retain acidity even in hot conditions as well as its potential high yields, it became much used as a base for South Africa’s brandy business and was then consigned to bulk wine production.
However today the region’s producers and now consumers are reassessing this noble grape.
Old vineyards are being nurtured once more, winemakers are showing it the respect it deserves and chenin blanc has established itself very much as the signature grape in the current renaissance of South Africa’s wine industry.
Chenin blanc has shown itself to be able to produce a wide range of styles; from unwooded, fresh and crisp through to altogether more serious wines with the ability to age.
It can also be blended with other varieties to produce some incredibly complex wines. So here are some examples worth looking out for.
Waitrose Foundation Cederberg Chenin Blanc 2015, Cederberg (Waitrose £8.99) is fresh with citrus notes as well as some apple and pear characters, with bright acidity. A good wine to have available in the fridge. From one of the Cape’s most dramatic wine regions, proceeds from this also go to support local community projects.
Zalze Reserve Chenin Blanc 2015, Coastal Region (Sainsbury’s £10) is a little bit richer having had some oak maturation. There is some tropical fruit, particularly pineapple, as well as peach, pear and some spice, it has a lovely creamy texture on the palate with good length. Try this with a simple fish dish or even roast chicken.
Cornelia White 2013, Swartland (M&S £10) is made by Adi Badenhorst, one of the Cape’s most dynamic winemakers, and is chenin blanc blended with a little grenache blanc, viognier and verdelho. It’s a great example of a Cape white blend.
He also makes a red under the same label, which while not quite as good, is worth seeking out. If nothing else, tasting a blend of four different white grapes is really unusual, there is lots of juicy peach fruit along with pear and a touch of honey. It’s rich and textured but still fresh and fine. Try this with some slow-roasted pork with fennel seeds for Sunday lunch.
A young winemaking couple, Chris and Suzaan Alheit, who don’t even own a vineyard, make the wine that has perhaps best mirrored the renewed interest in Cape chenin blanc.
Their chenin-based wine Cartology has achieved almost cult-like status in a very short space of time. Cartology 2014, Western Cape (Waitrose Cellar online £29.99) is a blend of chenin blanc and a little semillon, sourced from old vineyards throughout the Western Cape,
This is complex wine with great balance. There is a wonderful tension between the fruit and the acidity. It seems to last forever. If you are interested in top quality white wine this should be on your wish list.