The riddle of chenin blanc in SA

Len Maseko Drinks on the House

It might perhaps not be widely known that the most planted white wine grape in South Africa is chenin blanc, and that the country is regarded to have the most plantings of the grape in the world.

Hence, South Africa produces some of the best chenin blanc wines in the world. Yet the lingering riddle is why chenin blanc wines are not very popular among local wine drinkers, who mostly favour Chardonnay, the most popular white wine not only in the country but across the world.

That being the case, many believe South Africa should promote itself to the world as the producer of the world's finest chenin blanc wines, despite the grape's origins linking back to France.

This task has been laid at the door of the Chenin Blanc Association of SA (CBA), a group of winemakers who specialise in making stellar wines crafted from the grape.

Some of the best chenin blanc wines come from areas like Stellenbosch, Swartlands, Breedekloof and especially the southern Cape coastal region.

Other than these appellations, some pockets of wineries in the Cape winelands also produce stunning chenin blanc wines - among them Kleine Zalze, Waterkloof and Avondale.

According to the association, chenin blanc producers focus mainly on two styles - "fresh, vibrant white fruits, with a zesty and crisp finish on the one hand, and full, ripe, rich wines with oak barrel fermentation and aging making for complex, powerful wines, on the other hand".

Some wineries combine both styles while others exclusively follow either of the two strands.

One farm that dabbles with both styles and adds a bit of a twist to its chenin blanc is boutique estate Avondale, whose wines are produced in an organic and biodynamic environment on the slopes of Klein Drakenstein Mountains in Paarl.

Launching the Anima Chenin Blanc 2015 at Gemelli Restaurant in Bryanston, Johannesburg, Avondale owner Jonathan Grieve revealed how the estate crafted the wine using an experiment that added greater complexity and edge to it.

Instead of making the wine by wholly fermenting it in oak barrels, a portion of the grapes were fermented in clay vessels called amphorae.

Once the two portions of wine had fully fermented and aged on the grape skins, the two components were mixed together for greater complexity and depth.

For my part, I found the wine sumptuously full-
bodied, elegant and perfectly quaffable on its own - all the better with the Gemelli pasta dishes. Tasted alongside four older Anima Chenin Blanc vintages - the 2009, 2011, 2013 and 2014 - factors like the grape's longevity in the bottle and mellowing with age become evident.