Chenin Blanc is South Africa’s most widely planted grape variety. According to Tim James in his book Wines of the New South Africa “It was- and still is to a large extent- the versatile workhorse of the industry, producing vaguely pleasant wine from heavy–cropping vineyards as well as supplying the grape-juice, brandy and fortified wine industries. But with more vines than any other country, and with great quality improvements at all levels of ambition, Chenin is gaining a reputation as a South African Signature variety- and a good one, at that.”
So where should you go to taste some of these new wave wines? Here are 7 wineries that we think can definitely show off with Chenin.
1. Ken Forrester Vineyards
The charismatic Ken Forrester is known as Mr. Chenin and for two decades has been on a mission to produce Chenin Blanc that could rival any white wine in the world. If you only have time for one stop to taste Chenin, then this has to be your place. Tables are scattered in front of the old cellar on a brick patio shaded by oaks and big umbrellas, with a view of the Helderberg mountains. Smiling cellar assistant Shawn who also helps out in the tasting room will share the pedigree of the wines, from the easy drinking Petit Chenin to the famous FMC, made mostly from very old vines.
2. Kleine Zalze
This Stellenbosch estate has won plenty of awards for its wines and makes a range of good Chenins at a variety of price points. Savour the premium Family Reserve Chenin, which has been partially aged in old oak barrels, as you look out over the golfing greens.
3. De Morgenzon
De Morgenzon means the morning sun, and this estate describes itself as a 91 hectare garden interspersed with 55 hectares of carefully tended vineyards. The gardens are fabulous, and the wines seem to benefit from the classical music that is played to them in the vineyards and the cellar.
De Morgenzon’s delicious barrel fermented Chenin Blanc comes from low-yielding vines planted in 1972, which were originally planted as bush vines but are now grown on trellises.
4. De Trafford Estate
This boutique estate is situated high up on the Stellenbosch mountains. Here the focus is on small quantities, crafted by hand. Apart from a delicious rich Chenin, Davis Trafford also produces a Straw Wine from air dried, naturally fermented and oak-aged Chenin. They are only open to the public on Friday and Saturday mornings between 10h00 and 13h00, but you’ll enjoy the intimate atmosphere.
5. Bosman Family Vineyards
This beautiful old winery in Wellington is today farmed by the eighth generation of Bosmans. Their Optenhorst Chenin (optenhorst means perched on top of a hill) is crafted from a single vineyard of bush vines, planted in 1952, and the fourth oldest chenin vineyard in the country. You need to make an appointment to taste, but they welcome visitors with traditional Cape hospitality.
6. Opstal Estate
Nearly as old as Bosmans, seven generations have farmed at Opstal, situated in the picturesque Slanghoek valley. The Carl Everson Chenin Blanc was awarded Platter 5 stars on debut in 2012. It is made from 35 year old vines and it is a splendid wine to accompany the delicious farm-style fare in their restaurant.
If you get the chance to visit this quaint family owned farm and winery in Bot River be sure to taste their flagship Hope Marguerite, which has received 4 Platter Five Star ratings. It is a barrel fermented, complex, but very elegant example of a serious Chenin. Their lighter unwooded Chenin is one of my favourite summertime wines.
Chenin is a super food-friendly wine so it is a good choice for most dishes, and the dryer styles are perfect for curries. Other great chenins to look out for are those from Botanica, Cederburg, Jean Daneel , Keermont, Raats, Rudera, Stellenrust, Sadie Family, and Spioenkop.