Unwooded winners of Chenin Blanc Challenge unlikely but possible

“THE CHALLENGE with Chenin Blanc is that there are so many styles,” comments Top Wine SA reader Peter F May. “The names [of the 2017 Top 10 Challenge winners] give no indication where they are on the dry-to-sweet scale, and, apart from the three with ‘barrel fermented’ in their names, how much if any wooding they’ve had. Did the judges prefer wooded, or is there a mix? Also noteworthy are the price differences, with R420 between the cheapest and most expensive…”

Regarding the pricing: the older Stellenrust is selling for R500pb on the basis of its rarity/virtual non-availability; the DeMorgenzon pricing (R350) is a reflection of a bold stance, perhaps somewhat cheeky but probably what the industry/category needs when it comes to the Reserve Chenin of consistently good performers; Perdeberg (R86) should probably be charging more for their flagship, as should Windmeul (R80) – but then again it’s lovely to have such great value on offer from the co-ops.

According to Chenin Challenge panel chair Cathy van Zyl MW: “The judges do not prefer wooded wines, nor do they prefer unwooded wines. The judges prefer wines that are standout examples of their style – wooded or unwooded.​” However, since the inception of the competition, just one unwooded wine has made it onto the Top 10 list: the 2014 vintage of Stellenrust Chenin Blanc in the first year of the event (2014).

South Africa’s top Chenin Challenge entries have tended to be dry on the palate, and here’s what the winning producers have to say about the wooding of their wines:

Cederberg Five Generations Chenin Blanc 2015
Matured for 14 months in barrels – 60% new, the balance second-fill.

DeMorgenzon Reserve Chenin Blanc 2016
Aged on its lees in barrel for 11 months, without any topping or batonage.

Fleur du Cap Unfiltered Chenin Blanc 2016 (Bergkelder/Distell)
Half the grapes, from Paarl, were whole-bunch-pressed, clarified and fermented in barrel. Fermentation of the Darling grapes took place in stainless steel tanks before being transferred to older barrels. Both portions then left to mature in wood for eight months.

Nederburg The Anchorman Chenin Blanc 2016
One portion of fruit fermented in second- and third-fill 300L barrels, a second component fermented in stainless-steel tanks, a third fermented in very old, large vats, the remainder undergoing carbonic maceration.

Spice Route Chenin Blanc 2016
The portion that was picked earlier was all fermented in stainless steel tanks to preserve freshness and elegance. The late-picked portion was fermented and matured in old French oak barrels for nine months.

Spier 21 Gables Chenin Blanc 2016
Fermentation took place in a combination of 300L, 400L, 500L and 2500L French oak barrels. The wine was matured for 14 months in barrels – 60% new, the balance second-fill.

Stellenrust Barrel Fermented Chenin Blanc 2016 and 2015
Juice drawn off into a selection of barrels and allowed to ferment naturally. Fermentation took just under eight months and the wine was kept on the lees for an additional month. 90% French and 10% Hungarian oak.

The Dry Land Collection Barrel Fermented Chenin Blanc 2016 (Perdeberg)
Fermentation took place in 500L barrels with selected wine yeast. Matured for 10 months in French oak.

Windmeul Kelder Chenin Blanc Reserve 2016
Twelve months in French oak barrels.



One comment

  • Either makers of unwooded Chenin (and sweet Chenin) don’t bother to enter this competition, or the judges are saying that there are NO ‘standout examples’ of those styles, which I find hard to believe.
    I do enjoy crisp dry Chenins and sweet ones, but I am not enamoured of heavily wooded ones.

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