Celebrating sa’s heritage grape and 10 years of standard bank top 10 Chenin Blanc challenge – 2023 winners announced
Chenin Blanc has become the de facto gateway grape to the South African wine category, said Ina Smith, to coincide with the announcement of the 2023 Standard Bank Chenin Blanc Top Ten Challenge winners. She is the driving force behind the annual competition, that marks its tenth anniversary this year.
“Once dismissed as the ugly duckling of the vineyard, Cape Chenin has become a swan, distinguished for excellence, grace and the capacity to delight. What the competition does, is encourage and accelerate advances in quality and style.
“As Cape Chenin’s reputation grows, it has become more than South Africa’s signature white. In many ways it’s becoming a flagbearer for all our wines. The positive response Chenin elicits often motivates international trade buyers and consumers to try other South African wines as well.”
The annual challenge that this year drew 144 entries, is hosted by the Chenin Blanc Association (CBA). Since its inception in 2000, the organisation has focused on building stature, credibility, and support for Chenin across the stylistic spectrum. Its multi-targeted market initiatives have won over sommeliers, critics, and other influential taste makers worldwide.
For many years Smith has worked alongside CBA co-founder and chair, Ken Forrester, an internationally recognised champion of Chenin. He was voted 2023 Man of the Year by The Drinks Business for his pivotal role in advancing the grape, as well as for “promoting his country’s wines at home and abroad with infectious enthusiasm and great generosity” and for the strong mentorship he extends to newcomers to the industry. Also, this year, Forrester earned the 1659 Visionary Leadership Award for his contribution to the South African wine industry and his 30-year advocacy of Chenin Blanc. Chair of the 2023 judging panel Higgo Jacobs said efforts to raise Cape Chenin’s profile and standing had elevated the variety to “benchmark” status “on the global stage”.
Commenting on the winning wines, he said he and his co-judges were impressed by the increase this year “in concentration, fruit intensity and palate length” amongst the winners. He attributed this to greater vine maturity and ongoing improvements in viticulture, along with more ambitious pricing strategies amongst producers, as well as the competition itself, that incentivised innovation amongst producers. He also suggested that the ongoing collaboration between the local Chenin fraternity and French Chenin producers in the Loire could well be the inspiration for greater stylistic complexity and elegance evident in this year’s line-up. This was sometimes expressed in “tight, nervy wines that take time to unfold”. It’s clear that the use of steel, concrete, new oak, older, and larger barrels, as well as amphorae for maturation, are contributing greater nuance and finesse to the winning wines,” he added.
“Interestingly, for the first time, the majority (60%) of the winning wines were closed under screwcap, underscoring that closure type is no longer on its own an indicator of wine quality.”
Standard Bank awards a cash prize to each of the producers of the ten best Chenins selected every year. A condition of the competition is that the money be used towards enhancing the quality of life of farm workers and/or their communities. Simone Cooper, Head of Business and Commercial Banking for Standard Bank South Africa, confirmed that to date, a sum of R2,35m had been directed towards a variety of farm-worker community projects, from education and youth development to housing and health. “Each prize is extended as an acknowledgement of the crucial role that farm workers have in growing and making award-winning wines.”
Cooper added that, Standard Bank’s long-standing commitment to South Africa’s wine industry continued to drive and celebrate excellence and innovation at home and expansion abroad. “Our raft of energy and trade solutions, for example, have been critical in helping wine producers to respond effectively to energy constraints whilst also accessing global markets. Most recently, our partnership with the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, has been very successful in helping the South African wine industry access the world’s largest domestic consumer market.”
The Standard Bank Chenin Blanc Top 10 Challenge 2023 winners are (listed alphabetically):
- Alvi’s Drift Albertus Viljoen Chenin Blanc 2022
- Antonij Rupert Cape of Good Hope Riebeeksrivier Chenin Blanc 2021
- Durbanville Hills Collectors Reserve The Cape Garden Chenin Blanc 2022
- Flagstone Paradigm Chenin Blanc Reserve 2020
- KWV The Mentors Chenin Blanc 2021
- Lievland Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2022
- Stellenrust B28 (Fairtrade) Chenin Blanc 2022
- Stellenrust Next Level Chenin Blanc 2022
- Stellenrust Stellenbosch Manor Barrel-fermented Chenin Blanc 2021
- Stellenrust Stellenbosch Manor Barrel-fermented Chenin Blanc 2022
Stellenrust, with a record four wines on the Top Ten list this year, has been a consistent winner, featuring nine times in the ten-year the history of the challenge. Antonij Rupert has appeared for the first time, whereas Alvi’s Drift, Durbanville Hills, KWV and Lievland are all repeat winners. Jacobs said the results showed a consistency in the application of the judging criteria, under a largely new panel of judges.
Flagstone Paradigm Chenin Blanc Reserve 2020
Rich yellow stone fruit flowing from the glass includes quince, peach and pear, with some citrus blossoms. The palate has mineral interest and a touch of savoury, leesy influence and vanilla from oak. Well-rounded, soft mouthfeel, yet also reigned in, showing lovely freshness for a 2020 vintage. Fine complexity and staying power.
Lievland Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2022
Light, fresh, primary fruit-driven style with green apple, spring flowers and fresh citrus, with an alluring undertone of flint and crushed rock. Good tension, brightness and zippy, mouthwatering appeal. Subtle oaking and superb all-round balance.
Stellenrust B28 (Fairtrade) Chenin Blanc 2022
Rich and opulent Chenin with exotic peach, apricot, vanilla and brioche aromas, possibly compounded by a hint of botrytis and well-measured oak. A refreshing acidity lifts the palate, cutting through the lemon cream confectionery flavours, and enticing another sip. A full and concentrated offering.
Stellenrust Next Level Chenin Blanc 2022
Interesting and captivating expression drives oily, oxidative, buttery aromas through ginger, baking spices and dried apricot on the nose, leading to lanolin, oyster shell and wool on the palate that is linear and toned. Superb tension, harmony and length.
Stellenrust Stellenbosch Manor Barrel-fermented Chenin Blanc 2021
Lovely rich, spicy notes from both fruit and oak, including ginger, tangerine, and roasted vanilla. Good marriage of oak and mineral reductive flavours on a vibrant palate that has an intense, ripe-fruited core, but also finesse. A very good example of an ambitious, barrel- fermented style.
Stellenrust Stellenbosch Manor Barrel-fermented Chenin Blanc 2022
Ripe peaches, fig, apple crumble, honeysuckle and dried apricots. The rich, sunny fruit and confected cream are offset by bright acidity and absorbed in the bold, layered structure of the wine, full of life and complexity. Fleshy and grippy, with a smoky, umami, lingering finish.