South African Chenin hogs the limelight

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See also Richard on South African Shiraz and Syrah, and our South African assemblage republished free today. 

In February, Erica Platter wrote to tell us about the extraordinary stories of Zimbabweans who were, against all odds, rising through the ranks of serving staff in South Africa to become top sommeliers at some of the most celebrated restaurants in the country. One story in particular caught my attention. Tongai Joseph Dhafana grew up in a tiny bush town called Gweru, where I was born. His first job was working as a mill operator in a cement factory in a place I knew well. It is a bleak spot, about 20 km from town, where the thick dust of the cement covers every living thing within miles and shrouds the surrounding bush in a pall of deathly grey. Gweru is a dusty, dry place anyway, often plagued by drought, a thirsty little place where at best you might find a warm, cheap beer packaged in a brown plastic carton called a scud. Wine, along with elegance and beauty, is about as far removed from Gweru and her cement factory as snow is from the Sahara. 

My interest in Joseph was further piqued when part of his story involved someone from my childhood. With these unexpected little emotional connections in place, when I heard that Joseph Dhafana had made some wine, I was determined to taste it. Thanks to Erica, I got in touch with him, and through an elaborate chain of people involving a Cape Town aunt, a cousin on a business trip, parents emigrating from Johannesburg to the UK, and a flurry of emails and phonecalls, we somehow managed to get six bottles of Joseph & Herman, Fraternity Chenin Blanc out to rural Buckinghamshire. It was worth the drama. It also prompted me to sharpen my focus on Chenin Blanc at the most recent tasting organised in London by WOSA

Chenin Blanc might just be South Africa's finest white grape. Ignoring the mass-produced, commercial-yeasted, pineapple-fruited big brands that have graced our cheap pub wine lists for years (£16 a bottle, about US$20 or €18), and avoiding the ludicrously overoaked, Oz-Chardonnay-wannabe styles that seemed to dominate 10 years ago, Chenin Blanc grown on South African soils becomes a thing of great complexity and great beauty. But it's not by trying to emulate the Loire, or anywhere else, that South African Chenin has found its own voice. Thanks to the likes of pioneering visionaries such as Rosa Kruger, South African wine producers have been seeking out old vineyards, off-beat regions, and trying to understand how their terroir and this grape variety bring out the best in each other. This isn't Vouvray with a South African accent. This is Steen.

The name Steen, the old-fashioned and for years much-sneered-at synonym for Chenin Blanc in South Africa (due to its association with cheap, sweet, workhorse whites), seems to be experiencing a very small but determined revival. A handful of producers, including Adi Badenhorst and David Sadie, have started to use the word on their labels, sometimes with Chenin Blanc on the label as well, sometimes without. As is so often the case, it's the game-changers leading the charge, not just exploring new ground, but also determined to embrace the past and bring the best of it into the present – old vines, old grape varieties and old names.

There were a couple of things that I found during this Chenin splurge. One is that these wines must not be served too cold. I tasted several wines at the 'Chenin focus' table, where they were almost fridge-cold, and then again at the producers' tables, where they were closer to 10 °C (50 ºF). In every single instance, the wine blossomed both on the nose and on the palate at the higher temperature. The second is that most good South African Chenins could do with decanting. Again, on several occasions, having just poured my sample, I ended up chatting to someone, and the change in the glass between the first immediate sniff/taste and the second, five or so minutes later, was remarkable. One glass was abandoned for 10 minutes and it made me realise that these Chenins really aren't quaffing wines, however delicious. They deserve time and attention.

Scores for most of the 62 wines below are almost embarrassingly high. In my defence, I really did cherry-pick. With limited time, I wanted to taste the best Chenins I could seek out, so skipped over the Chenins that were clearly the more commercial offerings. The wines below are among the crème de la crème. I didn't just focus on varietal Chenin and was persuaded to taste a few non-Chenins, so I have split my tasting notes into three groups: pure Chenin, Chenin blends, and varieties other than Chenin. Within these groups they are listed in alphabetical order by producer (sur)name.


VARIETAL CHENIN BLANC 

L'Avenir, Single Block Chenin Blanc 2015 Stellenbosch

100% Chenin Blanc. RS 1.8 g/l, pH 3.44, TA 6.3 g/l.
Bit of sulphur. Custard/vanilla/raw oak aromatics. Not charming. Green oak dominates throughout. Mouth-watering acidity, but there's a hole in the middle. Slightly drying/bitter end. (TC)

14%
Drink
2016
2017
15

A A Badenhorst, Dassiekop Chenin Blanc 2015 Swartland

Single vineyard. Vines planted in 1956. RS 2.3 g/l, pH 3.38, TA 5.64 g/l.
Nuttiness and warm cobnuts and roasted cumin on the nose overlaying the sweetness of fruit on the palate. Sage and peaches, mid-summer apricots just picked. Wonderful grip and texture, taut. Plays like a Paganini violin solo. Hauntingly beautiful. (TC)

13.9%
Drink
2017
2026
17.5

A A Badenhorst, Caperitif NV South Africa

An old turn-of-the-century Cape vermouth, revived by Adi Badenhorst and Danish mixologist Lars Lyndgaard. Chenin Blanc fortified with spirit, sweetened with grape juice and flavoured with 35 botanicals including Quinchona bark, fynbos, kalmoes (calamus) and naartjies (clementine).
A fantastic vermouth, with a distinctively South African accent – bitter-sweet, grassy, with clementine-peel notes coming through strong and clear, top notes of clove, rooibos and ginger. Tasted with Adi's own Swaan tonic. I'd fall on this in a cocktail bar. Properly refreshing! (TC)

17.5%
Drink
2016
2017
16.5

Beaumont, CWG Auction Moerse Moer Chenin Blanc 2015 Bot River

100% Chenin Blanc. Left on pre-fermentation lees.
Amazing nose! Green tea and avocado and seriously smoky! This is all fireworks and cordite smoke hanging in the air, then with electric tension, comes the sweet juicy green sap of Reine Claude and those tiny green-gold Biancheta figs. Textured, smoked pistachios. Long tendrils of flavour linger and glimmer on the tongue. (TC)

Drink
2017
2025
17.5

Beaumont Chenin Blanc 2016 Bot River

100% Chenin Blanc. RS 1.8 g/l, pH 3.3, TA 6.1 g/l. Bottled June 2016.
Young, pure-fruited, bright and primary. Easy drinking. (TC)

13.5%
Drink
2017
2018
15.5

Beaumont, Hope Marguerite 2015 Bot River

100% Chenin Blanc. RS 7 g/l, pH 3.17, TA 6.13 g/l.
Sandalwood and green tobacco spice open up to oranges and clove. Slightly smoky vanilla top note. Bold creaminess clad in expensive oak – sophisticated and competent and ambitious with racy apricot tang. Haute couture South African Chenin. (TC)

13.3%
Drink
2016
2023
£19.95 Vin Cognito
17

Beaumont, The Francophile Chenin Blanc 2015 Stellenbosch

100% Chenin Blanc. Wine (rather than juice) from Bottelary (Kaapzicht) and Simonsberg. Finished and blended at DeMorgenzon.
Spice and green and quite lean – very fresh, very peppery. Long wild grass and crisp apple finish with a shadow of honey curling back in towards the tongue. Good racy stuff. (TC)

13.5%
Drink
2016
2021
£9.25 H2Vin
16.5

Bellingham, The Bernard Series Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2015 Coastal Region

100% Chenin Blanc. RS 4.2 g/l, pH 3.54.
Vanilla-streaked nose, slightly occluded by smoke/sulphur (spontaneous fermentation?). Savoury with good acidity. Baked apple and pear in a corset of classy but emphatic oak. Lovely freshness, sultana sweetness, and lovely citrus. (TC)

14%
Drink
2015
2019
16

Boschendal, Sommelier Selection Chenin Blanc 2015 Coastal Region

100% Chenin Blanc, RS 5.5 g/l, pH 3.25, TA 6.3 g/l. 
Refreshing, shower-scrub aromas – smells clean, grapefruity. Jalapeño! Green and salty and tangy – seaweed and tarragon-lime sorbet with a little touch of sweetness. Full of vim and vit. Roasted sesame seeds. (TC)

13.5%
Drink
2016
2020
16

Botanica, Mary Delany Collection Chenin Blanc 2014 Citrusdal Mountain

100% Chenin Blanc. RS 3.5 g/l, pH 3.32, TA 5.8 g/l.
Full, luscious aromas of crème brûlée and apricots. Voluptuous flavours that billow up in the mouth, lavish and yet with stiletto-spiked acidity and talons of bitterness that bring a bit of snarl into all this pillowy richness. Bit of sage, dusty Mediterranean herbaceousness with complexity and depth and a sandy/silica spine running through from start to finish. Full-bodied, full-oaked, full-flavoured. An amplitude of Chenin Blanc. (TC)

14%
Drink
2016
2023
17

Darling Cellars, Arum Fields Reserve Chenin Blanc 2016 Darling

100% Chenin Blanc, vines 22 to 49 years old. 5% wood, fermented at low temperatures very slowly. Leaves on fine lees for several months. 2016 was a difficult vintage.
Cobnuts and floral perfume. Very fresh stone fruit and white flowers and spring nettles. Very very bright acidity. GV (TC)

13%
Drink
2017
2018
£7.45 York Wines
15.5

Delaire Graff, Reserve Chenin Blanc 2014 Swartland

100% Chenin Blanc. RS 2.5 g/l, pH 3.3, TA 6.1 g/l.
Smells very reduced, almost overwhelmingly so. Lemony pears and some waxiness, bit of aloe-vera, soapy character. Resin. Creamy texture and firm acidity – very serious and with eyes set firmly on the long distance. No time for frivolity. (TC)

13.5%
Drink
2017
2023
16.5 +

DeMorgenzon, Reserve Chenin Blanc 2015 Stellenbosch

100% Chenin Blanc. RS 2.2 g/l, pH 3.39, TA 6.4 g/l. Some new oak.
Gunflint and cordite with the strong impression of top-class oak on nose and palate. Fresh and nutty layers of cut apple, chervil and toasted sesame seeds. Fantastic acidity and structure, precision made, with crystalline fruit held tightly back for now. The oak is very well hidden in this sinewy, vibrant wine, but it needs a bit more time (save to the end of 2017), and I'd decant and serve it a tad warmer than this sample. (TC)

13.8%
Drink
2017
2023
17

Hogan Chenin Blanc 2015 Swartland

100% Chenin Blanc. RS 2.4 g/l, pH 3.4, TA 5 g/l.
Lovely, layered, lemon-sherbet nose dusted with crushed wild flower, and then a fatter, sweet undercurrent of fudge. Long and waxy and interesting, a tapestry of fresh-cut hay, golden currants and chamomile. Sweet pears dancing through tension in the weave. Very, very good. (TC)

14%
Drink
2016
2023
17

Jordan, Inspector Péringuey Chenin Blanc 2015 Stellenbosch

100% Chenin Blanc. RS 2.7 g/l, pH 3.36, TA 5.5 g/l.
Bit sweaty smelling, and showing Siberian reserve both on the nose and on the palate. At the moment, somewhat uncomfortable and ill-tempered, like chewing on leaves and raw wood. There's a glimmer of pear and some very racy citrus character. This is a wine that will need a bit of time to limber up. NB A very, very cold sample that I suspect, thanks to an innate leanness as well as being embryonically tight, suffered from the arctic serving temperature.(TC)

13.5%
Drink
2017
2020
16 ++

Joseph & Herman, Fraternity Handcrafted Bushvine Chenin Blanc 2014 Swartland

A jointly made wine, by one of Erica Platter's Zim Somms, Joseph Dhafana, and Herman Redelinghuys of Antebellum. Dry-farmed bushvines. Spontaneous fermentation, eight months in second- and third-fill French oak followed by three months in tank.
Very fragrant – lemon thyme and nose-filling tangerine-peel aromas. Minty on the first mouthful, then delicately sweet-fruited, creamy palate. White peaches edged with citrus zest. Elegant purity, finishing on a high note of fennel. So much flavour for just 12.5%. (TC)

12.5%
Drink
2016
2018
17

Kaapzicht, Kliprug Chenin Blanc 2015 Bottelary

100% Chenin Blanc. RS 4.5 g/l, pH 3.31, TA 5.9 g/l.
Nutty. Also fresh quince, a vertical intensity that draws you in. Orange blossom, crème brûlée, a wonderful unfurling spread of flavours, that keeps opening and unrolling across the tongue. Saltiness. Seville oranges. Incredible energy and verve and pep – it kind of wakes you up. Almost peppery spice. Fabulous. (TC)

13.8%
Drink
2016
2024
17

Kleine Zalze, Vineyard Selection Chenin Blanc 2015 Stellenbosch

100% Chenin Blanc. RS 4.9 g/l, pH 3.45. From seven parcels of Chenin aged 25 to 46 years on quite complex soils. Barrel fermentation.
Cool pineapple and pine dust on the nose. Dried resin. A resounding sweep of pure fruit in a broad sweep across the palate, followed by a wash of acidity. Mandarin and cumin. Amazing structure. Fine-boned yet not delicate – there's a thoroughbred confidence and toss of the mane. (TC)

13.5%
Drink
2017
2025
17 +

Kleine Zalze, Family Reserve Chenin Blanc 2015 Stellenbosch

100% Chenin Blanc from three vineyards, 35- to 46-year-old vines, on three different types of soil (decomposed granite, rich clay, and duplex). 24 hours of skin contact and free-run juice only. RS 6.9 g/l, pH 3.33.
Spicy fynbos perfume with a sweeter, deeper undertow of brûléed pineapple. Wonderful peppery, rock-dust aromatics! Baritone richness, soaked in orange, almost liqueur-like. Steeped in herbs. Allspice. A long, steely, salty core of mineral intensity. So dense and concentrated and powerful. (TC)

14%
Drink
2018
2025
17.5

Leopard's Leap, Culinaria Chenin Blanc 2015 Western Cape

100% Chenin Blanc. RS 2.5 g/l, pH 3.43, TA 6.3 g/l. 
Hint of nuts and citrus peel on the nose, honeyed. Lovely balance on the palate with a freshness that gets richer towards the middle, honey-cream and sage with just a touch of tropical fruit. Very inviting. (TC)

14%
Drink
2016
2020
16.5

Momento Chenin Blanc/Verdelho 2015 Western Cape

91% Chenin Blanc, 9% Verdelho. RS 1.9 g/l, pH 3.33, TA 6.1 g/l.
Quiet lanolin, floral aromas. Fabulous, soaring acidity – tightrope balance. Jalapeño and coriander give green and bite, apple brings sweetness and crunch, and on the finish a trail of cedary spice. (TC)

13%
Drink
2016
2018
16

Miles Mossop, Kika Noble Late Harvest 2014 Stellenbosch

RS 147 g/l, pH 3.47, TA 9.3 g/l. 100% Chenin Blanc. 100% botrytis; they always get it in this vineyard but especially in 2014 as it was such a wet year.
Gorgeous nose!!!! Honeycomb and tangerine segments in syrup and apricots and you just want to sink into the loveliness of the smell. Sweet but with such a great wash of orange that you keep coming back for more. Just delicious. Cape-gooseberry jam. Beautiful balance. (TC)

12%
Drink
2016
2020
17

Mulderbosch, Single Vineyard Block S2 Chenin Blanc 2015 Western Cape

Whole-bunch pressed (in a champagne press), 10 months in old oak (fourth/fifth-use barriques), natural yeast. Vines grown from sélection massale and on a richer shale soil than Blocks A and W.
Roasted peaches, syrup on toast. Gorgeous satiny texture and shimmering flavours that fall chiffon soft. Luscious fruit, dried tea leaves and warm spice. Layered and very long. (TC)

Drink
2017
2025
17.5

Mulderbosch, Single Vineyard Block W Chenin Blanc 2014 Stellenbosch

100% Chenin Blanc. RS 2.9 g/l, pH 3.19, TA 6.2 g/l.
Full-on intensity that keeps you coming back to draw in deep breaths of apricot conserve and cobbler's glue and honeyed citrus. An audaciously dramatic wine that grips the attention. Marmalade edge without sweetness. Lots of oaky, toffeed spice on quince and orange citrus. Opulent style of Chenin, but well-judged. (TC)

13%
Drink
2016
2021
16.5

Mulderbosch, Single Vineyard Block W Chenin Blanc 2015 Western Cape

Whole-bunch pressed (in a champagne press), 10 months in old oak (fourth/fifth-use barriques), natural yeast. Of the three single-vineyard wines, this block is the earliest to harvest. It's on decomposed granite, just 4 km from the ocean.
The most interesting nose of the three 2015 Single Vineyard bottlings, and certainly the richest. Unlike the other two, however, this has a seam of dusty rocky minerality and an intriguing curry spice that lingers on the tongue. Mimosa blossom and a leesy Greek-yogurt creaminess fill the mid palate tightening into a glittering citrus finish. (TC)

Drink
2017
2025
17

Mulderbosch, Single Vineyard Block A Chenin Blanc 2015 Western Cape

This block is the Montpellier clone. Whole-bunch pressed (in a champagne press), 10 months in old oak (fourth/fifth-use barriques), natural yeast.
Wild flowers, meadow-grass fragrance. The smell of late summer. Kumquat intensity with a whiff of woodsmoke. Ripe apricot succulence on the mid palate and a persistent and elegantly dry finish. Fresh and mouth-watering. Good now with lots of potential. (TC)

Drink
2017
2023
16.5 +

Oldenburg Chenin Blanc 2015 Banghoek

100% Chenin Blanc. RS 2.3 g/l, pH 3.37, TA 6.1 g/l. 75% stainless steel, 25% French oak (of which 50% is new). Inoculated yeast. 
Full-fruited, clean, clear flavours with a bit of wild flower, bay leaf and nectar sweetness. Elegant Chenin with a good firm finish. (TC)

13.5%
Drink
2017
2020
16

Opstal, Carl Everson Chenin Blanc 2015 Slanghoek

100% Chenin Blanc. RS 2.3 g/l, pH 3.55, TA 5.2 g/l. 
Very pretty nose, cascading flavours of oranges steeped in redbush tea, warm spice, citrus zest, ripe Williams pears and sultanas. Rather long, reverberating and gorgeous on the palate. So much there: burnt orange and blood orange and baked pears and apricots and pastry and cardamom. Bold. Sophisticated. Intensely refreshing, yet rich and brocaded and shimmering. (TC)

14%
Drink
2016
2023
17

Perdeberg Cellars, The Dry Land Collection Barrel Fermented Chenin Blanc 2015 Paarl

100% Chenin Blanc. RS 2.7 g/l, pH 3.42, TA 6.3 g/l. 
Stony silence on the nose, and one smoking match. With a little bit of time, reluctant aromas of fynbos lift a little. Very structured. Angular and powerful and a wine that seems to be chiselled out of lime-soused stones. Dusty, herbal and demanding. Glimmers of creamy fruit folded up for the future. (TC)

14%
Drink
2017
2023
17

Rijk's, Touch of Oak Chenin Blanc 2013 Tulbagh

100% Chenin Blanc. RS 2.8 g/l, pH 3.2, TA 6.5 g/l. 
Rounded, lanolin-suffused aromatics. A lovely nose, but stunningly explosive on the palate. A Catherine Wheel of orange peel and spice and tangerines. Spins and glistens, flavour gaining amplitude on the long finish. Vertical and horizontal. So good. And so long. (TC)

14%
Drink
2016
2022
17.5

Rijk's, Private Cellar Chenin Blanc 2013 Tulbagh

100% Chenin Blanc. RS 4.1 g/l, pH 3.25, TA 6.3 g/l. 
Smoky honey and lime and apricots – almost Riesling-like. Exquisite fruit, apricot and honey spun through cumin and rye bread and dusty spice. A beautiful mineral shaft running from start to finish, and coruscating acidity, like diamonds cutting light. Huge structure and bountiful fruit. Unspittable. (TC)

14.5%
Drink
2017
2025
17.5 +

David & Nadia, Hoë-Steen Chenin Blanc 2015 Swartland

100% Chenin Blanc, from bushvines planted in 1966. They made just one barrel in this vintage, but from next year they will use the whole vineyard for this wine. 
Glorious aromas, oranges, cloves, smoke and juniper. Wonderfully complete and sinuous, salty and intense, quince and blood orange and grapefruit. Layers and layers with fireworks of flavour crackling and exploding in the mouth. Insists. An incredibly beautiful wine. (TC)

13%
Drink
2017
2027
£42 Vin Cognito
18

David & Nadia, Hoë-Steen Chenin Blanc 2014 Swartland

100% Chenin Blanc, old bushvines. The first vintage of this wine.
Closed and smoky and tightly stiffly woven – like the finest of starched linen. Racy and elegant, high-wired with razor-sharp citrus, but all the fruit and flesh very much waiting in the wings. Very Loire-like. (TC)

Drink
2018
2028
£42 Vin Cognito
17.5 +

David & Nadia, David Chenin Blanc 2015 Swartland

100% Chenin Blanc. RS 2 g/l, pH 3.58, TA 4.6 g/l.
Nose warms up and opens like a flower. Baked pear and softly sifted spice. Waxy apples, curved with a sharp outline of acidity. Pulls across the palate with real strength yet not hot or heavy. Wash of acidity, the crunchy chew of celery. Fresh and full. (TC) 

13.5%
Drink
2016
2018
£24.95 Vin Cognito
16.5

Spier, 21 Gables Chenin Blanc 2015 Tygerberg

100% Chenin Blanc. RS 4.53 g/l, pH 3.33, TA 6.17 g/l. 
Rich, pure aromas of apricot and peach. Lightly spiced on a generous creamy spread of fruit across the palate. Sharpness of only-just-unripe greengage adding spike. Long and firm and has great persistent presence and texture. Delicious and very drinkable. Food wine. (TC)

14%
Drink
2016
2021
16.5

Stellenrust Chenin Blanc 2016 Stellenbosch

100% Chenin Blanc. RS 3.4 g/l, pH 3.3, TA 6.8 g/l. 32- to 41-year-old bushvines. Wild yeast in tanks and barrel, which they blend together after four months. 16% old French oak barrels. 
Brilliantly bright acidity. Crystal-clear fruit and transparency. Vivacious and zesty. (TC)

13.7%
Drink
2017
2019
16

Stellenrust, 51 Barrel Fermented Chenin Blanc 2015 Stellenbosch

100% Chenin Blanc. RS 3.9 g/l, pH 3.08, TA 7.8 g/l. Vines from one of the oldest Chenin vineyards in SA, planted in 1964. On decomposed granite, dry-farmed. They allow skin contact for oxidation. There was a tiny bit of botrytis in the vineyard (the last three rows by the river) in 2015 which they made into sweet wine and blended back in. Wild yeast fermentation which takes six to seven months to complete. Left in barrel for nine months, 12% new wood with a very tight grain.
Super-vibrant. Vibrating right out of the glass! Crackling and tap-dancing with energy and Seville orange marmalade flavours. Exquisite definition, layers of spice, a waxiness on the finish pulling all that zest into a long smooth finish. Beautiful purity and distinction and nervosité. Exciting stuff. (TC)

 

13.4%
Drink
2017
2024
17.5

Villiera Chenin Blanc 2015 Stellenbosch

100% Chenin Blanc. RS 3.5 g/l, pH 3.6, TA 5.8 g/l. Bit of botrytis – a better year for Chenin than 2014.
Aloe sap, lightly smoky/reduced. Faint note of green apple. Dry, lean, refined, savoury Chenin with a base note of toasted sunflower and sesame seeds. Bones of minerality, flesh of fennel, sinews of tarragon. (TC)

14%
Drink
2016
2021
16

Villiera Chenin Blanc 2016 Stellenbosch

A cooler vintage than 2015. Bottled July, released in October.
Very young, cool-fermentation aromas. Lime bonbon. It has the same herbal, fennel, lean profile as the 2015 but with cut-glass edges, higher acidity – a little more high-wired. I wouldn't drink it until late 2017. (TC)

Drink
2017
2022
16 +

CHENIN BLANC BLENDS 

Allée Bleue Chenin Blanc 2015 Walker Bay

93% Chenin Blanc, 7% Viognier. RS 4.3 g/l, pH 3.48, TA 6.4 g/l.
Not very expressive on the nose. Bit of lime. But very sherbet-bright on the palate – lime and rocks and minty fresh. Invigorating! Lively. (TC)

14.5%
Drink
2016
2019
16.5

A A Badenhorst, The Curator 2015 Swartland

70% Chenin Blanc, 20% Chardonnay, 10% Viognier. RS 3.3 g/l, pH 3.51, TA 5.8 g/l. 
Very pretty nose of pâtisserie and pear skin. Cardamom spice scattered over a middle of peaches and cream. It's a very nice Chenin Blanc indeed, just without the Badenhorst edge and soul, as if made for a market. (TC)

13.5%
Drink
2016
2017
15.5

Beaumont, New Baby 2015 Bot River

40% Chenin Blanc, 30% Sauvignon Blanc, 10% Sémillon, 10% Chardonnay, 10% Colombard. New Baby is, for the moment, a working title. The cuvée hasn't been named, although he suspects that New Baby might just stick. Natural fermentation in barrel, then he blends and puts it back in barrel.
White apples, stone fruit, cardamom. Classy oak, beautifully integrated. Just curves into the wine. Intense, concentrated, density of flavour with thrilling acidity. The blend comes together with almost symphonic flair. (TC)

13.2%
Drink
2017
2023
17 ++

BLANKbottle, Limbic 2015 Western Cape

40% Chenin Blanc (two blocks), 17% Clairette Blanche, 13% Viognier, 13% Pinot Gris, 9% Verdelho. RS 4.2 g/l, pH 3.5, TA 5.33 g/l. The high-wired Pieter Walser, owner and winemaker of BLANKbottle, tells me the story behind this blend and its name: A friend of his is a neurologist, and they decided to do an experiment. Over a period of weeks, for several sessions, Pieter was wired up to an EE machine while he tasted 21 components of a potential blend. The neurologist measured his response to each component and eventually the components that elicited his most favourable unconscious responses were compiled to make the Limbic blend (the limbic system in the brain houses our emotional responses to life).
Almost fino-like on the nose – smells like sea air and salt-crusted fynbos and dried apple skins. Intense and wild and off-beat – a wine that reminds me of the lonely, haunting sound of a single saxophone played on a street corner at night. Electric tension, and the sweet wild-fruit taste of ripe amarulas with the late-summer spice of bush grass. A distinctive, edgy wine that will divide the room. Bravo! (TC)

14%
Drink
2017
2023
17.5

BLANKbottle, Orbitofrontal Cortex 2015 Western Cape

34% Grenache Blanc, 17% Ferñao Pires, 17% Chenin Blanc, 13% Verdelho, 11% Clairette Blanche, 8% Sémillon. RS 3.91 g/l, pH 3.5, TA 5.04 g/l. This is the 'conscious blend', hence its name – chosen, in direct contrast to Limbic, by sitting down and making an intellectual choice about which components should go into the blend.
Perhaps it's the power of suggestion (seeing as brains and the subconscious are particularly topical right here) but this wine seems to me to be 'tamer' than the Limbic. Fruit on the nose, rather than the sea salt and garrigue of the Limbic. Gooseberry and guava, with a touch of caramel and sage. Rich and complex, just as interesting, but much less divisive. More orchestra in the Royal Albert than saxophonist on a street corner. Glorious without the grit. (TC)

14%
Drink
2017
2024
17.5

Rall, Tea Leaf Chenin Blanc 2015 Piekenierskloof

95% Chenin Blanc, 5% Grenache Blanc. RS 2.9 g/l, pH 3.54, TA 5.4 g/l. Made by Donovan Rall (for Boutinot) from 70-year-old bush vines on a single rocky slope that is also home to the Grenache block and grows cheek-by-jowl with the region's indigenous rooibos tea plants. Naturally fermented in very old wooden barrels and steel, portions of which take up to 10 months to complete. Finally, the wine is gently racked and bottled – only 4,000 bottles in total.
Baked-butternut sweetness and spice that folds into pâtisserie and then, on the palate, into a broad, generously rounded cashew cream. Vibrantly zesty spine, a pineapple zing providing crisp definition under a soft veil of spice. None of these descriptions does this wine any justice – it's beautifully crafted, seductively moreish and a textbook example of glorious South African Chenin. (TC)

14%
Drink
2016
2024
17.5

Fairview, Nurok 2015 Paarl

43% Chenin Blanc, 31% Viognier, 17% Grenache Blanc, 9% Roussanne. 
Green jelly-bean nose. Lime and fruity and bright. But pretty simple. At £8 a bottle, I'd be happy; at £18.99, I'd feel somewhat cheated. (TC)

13.5%
Drink
2016
2017
£19 RRP
15

Keermont, Terrasse 2015 Stellenbosch

56% Chenin Blanc, 17% Viognier, 14% Sauvignon Blanc, 13% Chardonnay. RS 1.98 g/l, pH 3.36, TA 5.89 g/l.
Refined and correct. Impeccably turned out, a kind of liquid Saville Row suit, lovely peach and greengage fruit stitched together with the finest of cedary spice. Nothing out of place. (TC)

13.5%
Drink
2016
2019
16.5

Keermont, Terrasse 2014 Stellenbosch

65% Chenin Blanc, 17% Sauvignon Blanc, 13% Chardonnay, 5% Viognier. RS 2.6 g/l, pH 3.48, TA 4.8 g/l.
An edge on the nose, passion fruit and peaches with a herbal drift. Lovely vigour and depth of flavour. Refined and classy and well-mannered. (TC)

13.5%
Drink
2016
2018
16.5

Miles Mossop, Saskia 2013 Coastal Region

65% Chenin Blanc, 17% Viognier, 9% Clairette Blanche, 9% Verdelho. RS 1.8 g/l, pH 3.27, TA 5.8 g/l.
The smell of freshly made churros laced with orange zest. Oak still guarding the gateway but this has astonishing intensity and power and grip. All still to play here. White grapefruit and freshly baked, yeasty, warm bread interlaced with sultanas and dried pear and chamomile tea. Densely woven, with shimmering tension across the weft. A rich, substantial finish. Not for the faint-hearted. Chenin for roast suckling pig. A good Christmas-table wine. (TC)

13.8%
Drink
2016
2023
17

David & Nadia, Aristargos 2015 Swartland

35% Chenin Blanc, 23% Roussanne, 19% Viognier, 15% Clairette Blanche, 8% Sémillon. RS 2.2 g/l, pH 3.59, TA 4.5 g/l. 
Cool and pure on the nose, meadow scented. Spicy. Complete and soaring with energy. Apple skin and candied citrus peel and a compact density of flavour that reverberates in the mouth. Great depth. (TC)

13.5%
Drink
2016
2022
£24.95 Vin Cognito
17

Sijnn 2014 Malgas

82% Chenin Blanc, 11% Viognier, 7% Roussanne. RS 1.72 g/l, pH 3.62, TA 4.54 g/l.
That bonfire-night smell of fireworks and cordite and wintery leaves. Smoky fennel cream on the palate, softly curving into cardamom and sweet pears. Graceful acidity that strides on long legs, effortlessly. Couture with a bit of wild. Delicious. (TC)

14%
Drink
2015
2024
17

Sijnn 2015 Malgas

74% Chenin Blanc, 23% Viognier, 3% Roussanne. RS 3.1 g/l, pH 3.43, TA 5.3 g/l. Blended, barrel-fermented, natural yeast. Very poor soils. They are the only winery within 100 km, about three hours' drive from Cape Town.
Very fetching lemon-bread nose. Hint of natural soap and green tea and tangy sage. Lovely life and distinctive – pithy, full yet with sharply drawn lines of acidity. Wonderful tang and bite, an almost jalapeño liveliness. Fantastic stuff. Eucalpytus? Mint dust, mineral dust, sand and rock dust. Fabulous complexity. Very very good. (TC)

14.1%
Drink
2016
2025
17.5

Thorne & Daughters, Rocking Horse 2015 Western Cape

33% Roussanne, 23% Sémillon, 20% Chardonnay, 18% Chenin Blanc, 6% Clairette Blanche. RS 2.1 g/l, pH 3.4, TA 5.5 g/l..
Nutty and acacia blossom. Crumpled-tissue-paper-fine texture. Pears and white peach but not much fruit sweetness. A delicate skein of wild-grass spiciness and fennel tea leaf with an underbelly of vanilla cream. Neat finish. (TC) 

13.5%
Drink
2016
2021
£22.50 Vin Cognito
16.5

Vuurberg, White 2014 Western Cape

39% Chenin Blanc, 26% Viognier, 10% Verdelho, 9% Grenache Blanc, 7% Roussanne [the percentage breakdown of varieties in the blend given by WOSA didn't quite add up to 100%, and the website doesn't have information on the 2014 vintage, but it looks like the remaining 9% could be either Clairette Blanche or Sémillon, or both, or something else entirely!]. RS 2.8 g/l, pH 3.4. Made by Donovan Rall.
Cool river-pebbles smell. Spine and steely core and yet with this extraordinarily delicate white-peach freshness and softness. Long and lovely, the finish wrapped in a cobweb of gunsmoke. Donovan Rall is a magician when it comes to white wine. (TC)

14.5%
Drink
2016
2022
17.5

Waterkloof, Circle of Life 2013 Stellenbosch

65% Sauvignon Blanc, 30% Chenin Blanc, 5% Sémillon. RS 4.6 g/l, pH 3.35, TA 6.1 g/l. 80% co-fermented. Made in demi-muids and on lees for 13 months.
Pineapple and peppery, and salsa dancing from nose to palate. Electric-bright expression of tropical fruit in a framework of salty agave and green pepper. Generous and friendly. (TC)

13.5%
Drink
2015
2017
16

Yardstick, Marvellous Yellow 2015 Stellenbosch

45% Chenin Blanc, 15% Chardonnay, 14% Muscat de Frontignan, 14% Sémillon, 12% Clairette Blanche. RS 2.9 g/l, pH 3.3, TA 6.3 g/l.
Delicate aroma of cobnuts leading into nutty almond-paste flavours on the palate with a bit of chervil. Tiny bit of Muscat grapiness and ginger. (TC)

13%
Drink
2016
2017
15.5

OTHER VARIETIES 

A A Badenhorst, John Strikes Again Under a Veil of Good Fortune NV Swartland

Although on the label this is a non-varietal, non-vintage wine, it is 100% Sauvignon Blanc, aged under flor in vin jaune style. The vineyard is close to the sea, 150 km from the Badenhorst home vineyards in Malmesbury. The grapes were picked five weeks later than their home vineyards, and the flor happened 'through sheer luck – I don't know how these things happen!'
Off-the-wall wine, in true Adi Badenhorst style. Smells just like Floradix vitamin tonic! Iodine and seaweed and salty sea air – headily aromatic. And then intensely savoury on the palate with a side salad of crunchy green apple and cobnuts. Nothing like Sauvignon Blanc, and even as a vin jaune, it's in a class of its own. Quite extraordinary. Delicious. A Victorian health-and-vitality tonic. Sold in half bottles. Get your hands on one! (TC)

14.3%
Drink
2016
2020
17

Botanica, Mary Delany Collection Semillon 2015 Elgin

100% Sémillon. RS 3.6 g/l, pH 3.17, TA 6.6 g/l. Her first vintage of Sémillon.
Extraordinary nose! A Catherine Wheel of aromas: gorse bush and lemon cake, Cape gooseberry and lemon dust, thyme crushed underfoot in the early morning cool of the garden. Crisp and salty in the mouth, medicinal sweetness of liquorice root, and the freshness of mint. So vital. Sandalwood and cedar spice on the finish, but without being oaky. Quite an intellectual wine, and a real sommelier wine. (TC)

13.5%
Drink
2017
2025
17 ++

The Liberator, Episode 8 An Arrogance of Sommeliers 2015 Stellenbosch

90% Sémillon, 10% Sauvignon Blanc. The story, according to their website, is this: 'Rick simply knocked on the door of his old mate Andre van Rensberg, in order to recreate the original blend elsewhere. As it happened, the World’s Greatest Winemaker was just about to blend away a tank of Semillon; off-cuts from his renowned ‘Reserve’ and ‘GVB’ wines so, with a splash of his top Schaarpenberg Sauvignon Blanc 2016 to help it along its way, the assemblage was done and the deal signed off with a handshake. Easy.'
For just 10%, the Sauvignon Blanc is remarkably pronounced. Very green and pungent and structured, but there is diamond-cut depth to the flavour, intensity and grip. (TC)

14.5%
Drink
2017
2024
16.5 +

Thorne & Daughters, Paper Kite Old Vine Semillon 2015 Western Cape

100% Sémillon. RS 1.9 g/l, pH 3.36, TA 5.6 g/l. 112-year-old bushvines that are 'doing their own things'. 5-ha vineyard, low yield, dry-farmed.
Bay-leaf cream. Dill. Roasted pears and thyme. Wonderfully interesting, intriguing aromas and very very fine on the palate. Herbal and sour-dough bread, a savoury, tight, complex weave of chervil and ground coriander and hemp seed. Pencil lines of flavour, quiet poise, beautifully elegant tension. (TC)

13.4%
Drink
2016
2025
£24.50 Vin Cognito
17 +

Waterkloof Sauvignon Blanc 2015 Stellenbosch

Biodynamic. The two single vineyard blocks are 4 km apart at about 300 m altitude, sandstone soils, 18-year-old vines. Yields 3 tons/ha. 2015 was picked two weeks early due to a very early spring. Natural wild-yeast fermentation in old 600-litre barrels. Very slow fermentation process of six months plus three months on the primary lees. Not cold- or protein-stabilised and only a coarse filtration was allowed before bottling.
Dusty wet stone, cool box-leaf aromas. A plane of flavour, like polished granite, cut to greengage and lime. Very slightly minty, and then broad and powerful across the shoulders. Refined with a brushed-steel gleam. Pulls long and linear to the finish. Very atypical South African Sauvignon Blanc. (TC)

14%
Drink
2016
2018
17