​Delaire Graff, Wooded Chenin Blanc 2013 Swartland


From 139.50 rand, £12.50, €15.95, $21.97 

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One of the most interesting tastings I undertook while in South Africa in January was of a selection of 27 of the country’s finest examples of the most planted grape variety, Chenin Blanc. (My tasting notes are in South African excitement – the rest, a massive collection of reviews of 200 Cape whites and the odd pink.) As witness the history of Malbec in Argentina, Shiraz in Australia and Sangiovese in Tuscany, ubiquity does little to improve the standing of a vine variety in a country, and it has similarly taken time for South Africans to realise and celebrate the potential of their finest Chenin Banc vines, typically old, unirrigated bush vines.

Many of these grow upcountry, not necessarily in the well-known, celebrated vineyards of Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Paarl but notably in the Swartland (see this old article Swartland – land of promise), where so many of the new-wave Cape wines are grown.

In this article Eating out on the Cape – part 1 published earlier this week, Nick pointed out just how ritzy and soigné Laurence Graff ‘s diamond fortune has made the Delaire wine estate in Stellenbosch, transforming it into a luxurious and thoroughly pampered spa hotel with a brace of ambitious restaurants and lodges overlooking the vines like the one shown here at sunset. It says something then that the grapes for this Delaire Graff, Wooded Chenin Blanc 2013 Swartland, from a particularly successful vintage, were sourced in the Swartland, from a dryland planting of 30- to 40-year-old vines just below Adi Badenhorst’s property with its stunning view over the wheatlands.

As it happens, my tasting took place just above Delaire's winery, where the 2015 harvest was coming in thick and fast. Winemaking staff here do not lack for means and top-quality equipment. These 2013 Chenin grapes were pressed as whole bunches and no sulphur was added to the juice, which was fermented in barrel for two weeks. The wine was matured for 10 months in 400-litre barrels of which 25% were new with no lees stirring and no malolactic conversion – virtually the recipe for white winemaking de nos jours.

The bone-dry wine could hardly have more character and I would expect it to continue to improve for the rest of this decade. I wrote: ‘Dense, savoury, meaty fruit with real confidence. Nothing pretty and honeyed about this – it’s a mensch! Firm spine. Hint of pine even. Really interesting‘ and gave it a score of 17 out of 20. Yet despite all this personality – nay, virility – it is just 13.5% alcohol.

Other outstanding Chenins in this tasting, those I scored 17 or above, were:

Rijks, Private Cellar Chenin Blanc 2009 Tulbagh

Beaumont, Hope Marguerite 2013 Bot River

DeMorgenzon, Special Cuvée Chenin Blanc 2013 Stellenbosch

Perdeberg, The Dry Land Collection Barrel Fermented Chenin Blanc 2013 Paarl

Tierhoek, Chenin Blanc 2013 Piekenierskloof

Those more familiar with the Chenin Blancs of the Loire may wonder how these top Cape Chenins differ. The South Africans tend to have slightly lower acidity and to mature rather faster. They also tend to have a little bit more weight and welcome. There is, alas, no shortage of ordinary Cape Chenin whose main virtue is its extremely low price. (California Chenin Blanc tends to be a bit sweeter but there are exceptional examples, notably those grown in the Sacramento delta.)

When using the link below to find this wine, please note that there is also a Delaire Graff Unwooded Bushvine Chenin Blanc from Stellenbosch. I tasted the 2014 in January and found it superior (16/20) but nothing like as exciting as the Wooded Swartland 2013.

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