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Monday, December 2, 2013


Chenin blanc wines have a long and varied history in South Africa. Originating in the Loire valley of France, they are thought to have been the vines that Jan van Riebeeck planted at the Cape more than 350 years ago.

Today they occupy about one-fifth of all South African vineyards. For a long time they were a kind of poor relation in our viticultural scene, often going under the name of steen, producing off-dry, inexpensive and undistinguished single-cultivar wines from high-yielding vineyards, and used as a part of the blend in a wide variety of other white wines.

About 20 years ago, the story began to change quite dramatically. Winemakers recognised the potential of Cape chenin blanc and used sophisticated methods to produce a new range of high quality wines that are now regarded as among the world’s best chenins.

Typical characteristics of this wine are a floral aroma and flavours of apple, melon, guava, pineapple, honey, nuts, and these were all evident in an outstanding tasting presented by Peter and Annette Hoyer when our private wine group met recently at their house.

We tasted six wines, most of them unfamiliar territory, I would guess, even to seasoned wine-drinkers.  The tasting was, as usual, blind. We were given descriptions of the wines, but not the order in which they were poured.

Most of the wines came from the Swartland area and they were all the dry type of chenin. Our scoring was consistently high, indicating our appreciation of their quality.

Top mark wine to the most expensive wine, the Skurfberg 2011 chenin from Sadie Family Wines, a Malmesbury cellar. The grapes used for this wine came from unirrigated, unfertilised bush vines planted in the 1950’s near the Skurfberg (rough mountain) in the Olifants River area, just north of Malmesbury.

The wine is a subtle combination of flavours and aromas:  apple, peach, melon, almond, with a savoury background. It is given five stars in the Platter wine guide, and its retail price is about R180 a bottle.

Second place in our scoring went to another wine from the Swartland, from the not widely known Dewaldt Heyns Family Wines cellar. Their Weathered Hands Chenin Blanc 2010 is made from vines that are 40 years old, and the result is a creamy, full-bodied, elegant wine that earns four stars in Platter. Price:  about R130.

The scoring was close, and the other chenin blancs tasted were:

Mullineux Kloof Street 2012 from Mullineux Family Wines, another Swartland cellar, this time at Riebeek Kasteel. Another four-star wine, with a bouquet of pears, a golden colour and a taste of tropical fruit.  About R80.

Cederberg Chenin Blanc 2012, from the Cederberg Private Cellar at Citrusdal, also four stars, crisp, fresh, with hints of melon, grapefruit, apples and pears.  R80.

Ken Forrester Old Vines Reserve 2012, four stars, from a Stellenbosch cellar that has become famous for its chenin. Full-bodied, with spicy baked apple aroma, honey and caramel flavours.  R90.

Mulderbosch Steen op Hout (chenin on wood) 2011, partly barrel-fermented, as the name suggests, four stars, aroma of guava, pear and orange blossom, granadilla  and grapefruit on the palate. R75.

These are all exceptional wines. There are many good chenin blancs available at substantially lower prices.  Try them.  I don’t think you will be disappointed. – Michael Green