Some of the most influential palates in the world of wine will be tasting this year’s Standard Bank Chenin Blanc Top Ten Challenge winners when international buyers, critics, and the media visit the country this spring. The plan is for them to experience the trailblazing dynamism that is animating South African Chenin winemaking, according to the organisers of the competition, the Chenin Blanc Association.  

Speaking on behalf of the Challenge’s five judges, panel chair James Pietersen said the winning line-up was arguably emblematic of the country’s best in Chenin winemaking. “A very diverse group of wines, together they reflect a combination of innovation, accomplished experimentation and altogether, dextrous, and imaginative winemaking. Even better than last year’s outstanding ten winners, they make us proud of the story they tell about the energy and creativity coursing through our industry.”  

Submissions were judged blind against critically acclaimed non-entrants to ensure the panel was rating them within the broadest possible context of the industry’s best examples. 

“The top ten wines will help South Africa to put its best Chenin face forward when they are tasted at the time of both CapeWine 2022, the triennial exhibition for the global trade and critics in October, and then again at the multi-disciplinary Chenin Blanc International Congress in November.” 

The country has more Chenin growing than anywhere else in the world combined and is internationally regarded as its biggest champion. South Africa is also considered to have pioneered a new generation of original and versatile styles, inspiring others across the world to find their own unique expressions.  

“Chenin’s demonstrable climate resilience has recently made it a renewed favourite in France’s Loire Valley from where the grape comes, as well as in other wine-producing countries that are having to contend with climbing temperatures,” Pietersen said.  

“Amongst the 137 wines submitted, we saw even greater stylistic daring and diversity than previously. We encountered fruit from newer wine-growing regions, the greater use of skin contact, of natural fermentation, as well as a greater willingness to work with a wider variety of fermentation and ageing vessels. The results have been spectacular. 

“Almost two-thirds of the entries were wooded, but this distinction seems less relevant now that so many entrants are opting not just for less new wood but for old and large oak, for amphorae, stainless steel, concrete tanks, and egg-shaped vessels. The various combinations of maturation vessels they employ just keep on adding new levels of nuance and complexity.” 

He said old vines predominated across the winning wines, with most of the vineyards at least 30 years’ old and, in one example, 70 years’ old. “But there were younger vines too, of eight and ten years, perhaps reflective of more considered wine-growing strategies applied in recent times. 

“While Stellenbosch was the source of four of the ten winning wines, fruit this year also came from Tygerberg, Swartland, Worcester, Piekenierskloof, Tulbagh and Wellington.” 

There were four newcomers to the winning line-up this year, produced by Nabygelegen Private Cellar in Wellington, Piekenenierskloof Wine Company in Citrusdal, Rascallion Wines, a negociant based in Stellenbosch but sourcing widely, and Stellenbosch Vineyards. 

The Standard Bank Chenin Blanc Top 10 Challenge winners, listed alphabetically, are: 

•           Alvi’s Drift Private Cellar 221 Chenin Blanc 2021 

•           Kaapzicht Wine Estate Kliprug Chenin Blanc 2021 

•           Nabygelegen Private Cellar Chenin Blanc 2021 

•           Piekenierskloof Wine Company Bergendal Chenin Blanc Old Vine 2021 

•           Rascallion Devonian Chenin Blanc 2021 

•           Rijk’s Cellar Touch Chenin Blanc 2020 

•           Spier Wines Seaward Chenin Blanc 2021 

•           Stellenbosch Vineyards Bushvine Chenin Blanc 2021 

•           Stellenrust Wine Estate Stellenbosch Manor Fermented Chenin Blanc 2020 

•           Stellenrust Wine Estate Old Bush Vine Chenin Blanc 2021  

Stellenrust has featured on every Top Ten list since the inception of the challenge in 2014, making this its ninth consecutive win. This is the eighth time Spier has appeared, the fourth time for Rijk’s Cellar, and the second for Alvi’s Drift.  

Ken Forrester, co-founder and chair of the Chenin Blanc Association said: “What is not surprising is that standards continue to rise. As a group, local winemakers are continually upping their game. Their Chenin fervour galvanises them to keep on striving harder. What is surprising, however, is that so many entrants were able to rise above the harrowing pressures and constraints of the pandemic and give of their best to Chenin. That tells you something about their prowess and bravery.” 

The competition 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 must be used towards enhancing the quality of life of farm workers and/or their communities. 

Stephan van der Merwe, Head of Commercial Clients at Standard Bank in the Western Cape, said: “As sponsors, we see this feature as an essential part of the challenge. To date, R2,1m has been directed towards farm worker community projects. The prize money provides tangible acknowledgement to farm workers of their role in making award-winning wines.”