During the course of conversation with a colleague recently, I suggested that for all the excellence on show at the top end of the Chenin Blanc category, the variety went largely unappreciated by the average wine drinker and therefore the much touted renaissance begun some 15 years ago could be said to have failed.
My colleague countered that without data to back this up, this was merely conjecture. So here are some facts and figures: SA exports more wine than it sells domestically: 534.9 million litres compared to 322.9 million litres in the 12-month period ending August 2013. When it comes to bottled wine, Sauvignon Blanc is the single-variety wine with the highest volumes exported at 18.8 million litres with Chenin Blanc coming in second at 15.5 million litres.
When it comes to bulk wine, however, Chenin Blanc export volumes are way ahead at 44.2 million litres compared to Sauvingon Blanc at 18.4 million litres. This suggests to me that at the very least, the premiumisation of Chenin still has a long way to go.
On Friday, the Summer Chenin Showcase put on by the Chenin Blanc Association featuring 21 wines suitable for warm-weather drinking. Entry-level Chenin can be quite neutral but here were a whole raft of wines which were characterful and appealing and would easily out-gun most Sauvignon Blanc at an equivalent price point.
Perdeberg 2013 at R35 a bottle, Kleine Zalze Cellar Selection 2013 at R40 and Stellenrust 2013 at R42 all scored a respectable 86/100. For those prepared to pay a little more, I liked the Delaire Graff Old Bush Vine 2013 at R65, Raats Family Wines Original 2012 and the Rijk’s Touch of Oak 2011 both at R85 (all scored 88/100).
Last but not least was the Cederberg 2012, R80 a bottle and a love-it-or-hate-it kind of wine. Vineyards are planted west to east in order to minimise exposure of the bunches to the sun and the wine is made reductively. Great fruit purity and a bracing but entirely natural acidity of 6.7g/l. Notes of lime and white peach before a pithy finish. Some will argue it’s a wanna-be Sauvignon but I think it’s admirably non-conformist take on Chenin from a very particular site.