Chenin Blanc came from very humble and ‘uncool’ beginnings as Steen, but has gone full circle and this cultivar can now confidently stand its ground as a complex and serious wine. This was highlighted during the September Which Wine tasting, with the Opstal Carl Everson Chenin Blanc 2013 chosen as the Pick of the Bunch.

By judging wines the Which Wine way*, a wide variety of cultivars, styles and vintages are put to the test, and this 2013 Chenin Blanc was rated the best out of 15 wines. The September selection was purchased at Caroline’s Fine Wine Cellar, who will offer this Pick of the Bunch at a 10% discount during September and October.

Certified sommelier and Which Wine taster, David Clarke, explains that there is a depth of flavour that is possible in South African Chenin, which isn’t there in some other varieties. “The naturally high acidity helps keep the resulting wine fresh and vibrant,” he says. “Obviously, these factors only impact when the vineyard and cellar is managed carefully.”

The Carl Everson Chenin is full-flavoured, with aromas of oatmeal, quince and sundried peaches, along with subtle oak spice and vanilla. Sommelier and Which Wine chair, Higgo Jacobs, says, “It has a wonderful richness and fruit concentration, offering a creamy, luxurious mouthfeel. The wine is round and soft, with a balancing citrus freshness to the finish. It is delicious to drink!”

Another good performer at this month’s tasting was the Arendskloof Tannat/Syrah 2011, with which winemaker Christiaan Groenewald won the Diners Club Winemaker of the Year award in 2013. Made with grapes from the Breede River Valley, Higgo believes that this is a good example of what we can achieve with red blends in a fruit driven, drinkable style from warmer areas in South Africa.

“The wine has a forthcoming, sweet floral perfume, with underlying mint, vanilla and spice on the nose,” he says. “This medium bodied blend is elegant, crunchy, vibrant and feminine, with a sweet core of clean, lip-smacking red and black fruit. It has good fruit purity and youthfulness for 2011, and is a well-crafted, easy to drink wine.”

Higgo believes that light-bodied, Mediterranean-style red wines are an untapped opportunity for South African wine producers. “We don’t produce that many red wines that are suitable for sipping with lunch in our summers and the idea of holding out on reds until dinner (or even worse, winter) is outdated and limiting,” he says. “The market is maturing and consumers expect wines of interest and charm at every price point.”

Grenache Blanc is another interesting cultivar with potential in South Africa and while there is barely a handful of producers crafting single cultivar wines, it is increasingly being used in white blends. The Foundry Grenache Blanc 2013 has a nutty, savoury nose, with a floral charm and sound oak integration. Higgo says, “This wine is focused more on texture than flavour, with a palate that is weighty, but saline, yet dry and grippy on the finish. A good food companion, just lacking in fruit definition.”

David explains that while people are seeing Grenache Blanc’s potential, it  does not guarantee that the cultivar will be a success in South Africa – “just ask those who are now ripping out Merlot vines,” he quips.  He, however, adds that Grenache Blanc does seem to be the most likely ‘alternative’ white variety at the moment. “Perhaps its durability in the vineyard and savouriness in the glass is attractive as a contrast to its contenders, notably Sauvignon Blanc.”

Cool climate Shiraz, or Syrah, again impressed – following last month’s Pick of the Bunch with the Sijnn Syrah 2011 – and the Mount Sutherland Syrah 2012 is another good example of this style. Higgo says, “This elegant and fruit-driven Syrah is clean and aromatic, in a fine, well-balanced frame that is already soft and polished.”

On the less positive side – in addition to the one oxidised Chardonnay – this month’s Pinotage was the least impressive. Higgo explains that the wine is sweet, with hard tannins. “A spirity and cordial-like sweetness masks the varietal smoke and banana skin, with some ripe red fruit in the background. It is very commercial and slightly forced,” he says.

Considering all of these wines, it is clear that there’s no one answer for South Africa; that, as Wosa suggests, variety is in our nature. We can do a lot of things right – from Chenin and Shiraz to Tannat and Grenache – but the challenge is to get it right every time, regardless of it being a mass produced rosé, everyday drinking Pinotage or top-end blend.

*The wines are bought from a different retailer each month. These are chosen at random, as the consumer would, across a broad spectrum of styles and prices.

See the full results of the tasting here.

Wines tasted on Wednesday 16 July 2014, at De Grendel, Cape Town.
Purchased at Caroline’s Fine Wine Cellar by Edo Heyns.

Higgo Jacobs – Sommelier and chairman
Charles Hopkins – Cellarmaster, De Grendel Wines
RJ Botha – Winemaker, Kleine Zalze Wines
Maggie Mostert – Blogger, Batonage Food & Wine blog
Associate taster:
Ricardo Cloete – Cape Winemaker’s Guild Protégé

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