This year’s Standard Bank/Chenin Blanc Top 10 Challenge attracted 136 entries, up almost 10% on 2016, with all the major wine-producing areas represented. The five-member judging panel, tasting all submissions blind, short-listed 33 wines for consideration before deciding on the ten eventual winners.
“The very narrow margin in the scores between those who did and didn’t make the final cut reflects an exciting level of excellence in South African Chenins,” said Ken Forrester, chairman of the Chenin Blanc Association (CBA). “It’s thrilling to see how many local winemakers are so clearly and creatively expressing the world-class potential of this varietal.”
The CBA has been running the annual Standard Bank/Chenin Blanc Top 10 Challenge since 2014 and is working across various fronts to raise the reputation of Chenin Blanc, South Africa’s most widely planted varietal. These efforts have played a key role in establishing the country’s quality credentials amongst international wine critics, writers and other influencers in recent years, with Chenin Blanc now widely recognised as South Africa’s calling card.
“That producers from so many wine-growing areas entered their wines and that a good balance of boutique, privately-owned, co-operative and larger-scale commercial players took part, is testimony to the growing importance being accorded Chenin Blanc by the local industry,” said Willie du Plessis, Standard Bank SA’s executive head of business banking for the Western Cape. Standard Bank SA is the headline sponsor of the challenge.
The winning wines, produced by nine cellars, came from seven wine-growing areas – the Cederberg, Stellenbosch, Paarl, Swartland, Tygerberg, Durbanville and Darling.
Featuring five newcomers to the Top 10 list, the 2017 winners are, in alphabetical order:
Cederberg Private Cellar Five Generations Chenin Blanc 2015 (debut): R220
DeMorgenzon Reserve Chenin Blanc 2016: R350
Fleur du Cap Unfiltered Chenin Blanc 2016 (debut): R130
Nederburg Heritage Heroes The Anchorman Chenin Blanc 2016 (debut): R150
Perdeberg Winery The Dry Land Collection Courageous Barrel Fermented Chenin Blanc 2016: R86
Spice Route Chenin Blanc 2016 (debut): R110
Spier Wines 21 Gables Chenin Blanc 2016: R185
Stellenrust 52 Barrel Fermented Chenin Blanc 2016: R200
Stellenrust 51 Barrel Fermented Chenin Blanc 2015: R500
Windmeul Kelder Chenin Blanc Reserve 2016 (debut): R80
Each of these wines earns a prize of R25 000 for the producer that must, in terms of the competition regulations, be used “to reinforce economic and social benefits in the workplace”.
“We want the accolade to have meaning for the workers as well as the brand owners as we are honouring their collective contributions,” said Standard Bank’s Du Plessis.
Five of the winning wines were produced from vines 40 years and older. This was not surprising, said panel chair Cathy van Zyl, given that 52% of all South African vines aged 35 and older were Chenin Blanc. “Seven of the 2017 winners come from vineyards older than 30 years and eight from vines at least 20 years’ old.”
She noted that this year marked the fourth time that Perdeberg has made it onto the Top 10 list with consecutive vintages of its Dry Land Barrel Fermented Courageous Chenin Blanc. Spier had also appeared on the list every one of the four years but with different expressions of the varietal.
Van Zyl also pointed out that interestingly, since the inception of the competition, just one unwooded wine had made it onto the Top 10 list.