The Many Expressions of South African Chenin Blanc: The Blends

Today, most South African Chenin Blanc is made as a single varietal still wine, but it’s also made as a sparkling wine, a sweet wine, and a blend with other grape varieties. We explore the Chenin Blanc based white blend in this article and review some excellent bottles.

Producers vary considerably in terms of the varieties they blend with Chenin Blanc, but the wines are made much the same as premium, single varietal Chenin Blanc.  The grapes are hand harvested, sourced from mostly older bush vines , and fermented with native yeasts.  Winemakers are perhaps more experimental with the blends, often vinifying in a variety of fermentation vessels and using different blends depending on the vintage.  At the bottom of this article, we provide a table showing the grape varieties used with Chenin Blanc for several of the most popular blends.

Among the top Chenin blends we’ve tasted are Chris Alheit’s Cartology, Eben Sadie’s Palladius, Donovan Rall’s White, and David & Nadia’s Aristargos. These are all elegant, very fine wines, although made from different blends.  The Cartology is part Semillon, while the Rall’s includes Verdejo and Viognier, the Aristargos has 8 different grapes, and the Palladius has 10 different varieties.  They are also made and aged in a variety of fermenting vessels (stainless steel, concrete eggs, clay amphora, and oak barrels).

Like most South African wines, these blends are not expensive, although some are highly sought after and, thus, difficult to find.  Both the Piekenierskloof and Wildeberg Tea Leaf blends cost less than R200 (US$10) in South Africa. They are extremely good values!

The Wines

Alheit 2022 Cartology Western Cape 95  This is an outstanding Chenin Blanc led blend with aromas and flavors of citrus and herbs with an exciting mineral edge. The palate adds tangy acidity and an almost creamy texture, finishing long and rich.A blend of 92% Chenin Blanc and 8% Semillon from ten old vineyards 40-60 years old, hand sorted and fermented with ambient yeasts in a variety of vessels and aged on the lees for 12 months followed by racking to tank for a further 6 months of settling on the fine lees. pH 3.37, 13.3% alc.

David & Nadia 2021 Aristargos Swartland 93 The Aristargos reveals subtlety and refinement in its bouquet and palette. Orchard fruit and citrus both put in an appearance along with notes of beeswax and spice. A blend of 49% Chenin Blanc, 9% Claudette Blanche, 8% Semillon, 7% Grenache Blanc, 7% Roussane, 6% Verdelho, 6% Viognier, 4% Marsanne, and 4% Colombar from several different parcels that taken together include the diverse soils of the Cape: granitic, shale, and iron-clay. Matured 11 months in French oak. 13% alc.

Piekenierskloof 2023 Heirlooom White Piekenierskloof  90 Light yellow straw. Bright, clean bouquet of citrus pith and peach skin. Full in the mouth with good grip, clean quince and citrus flavors with a tarragon note. An easy drinking, bistro style wine that’s priced to sell. A blend of bush vines grown at 750m elevation in sandy soils in the Citrusdal Mountains:  45% Chenin Blanc (from a vineyard planted in 1962), 40% Grenache Blanc (planted in 1994), and 15% Viognier. pH 3.31, 12.5% alc.

Rall 2021 White Coastal Region  94 The Rall White reveals a combination of bright citrus with riper stone fruit accented by honeycomb and spice notes. Astounding balance. A blend of Chenin Blanc, Verdejo and Viognier matured in used oak and concrete. 13% alc.

Sadie Family 2022 Palladius Swartland  95  Medium yellow straw. Palladius is Eben Sadie’s regional white blend from the Swartland. Superbly balanced and integrated, Palladius reveals a melange of citrus and stone fruit. Full in the mouth and beautiful now, but this is a wine that deserves to be cellared for at least a couple of years. A multi-varietal blend from 17 different parcels that includes 34% Chenin Blanc and 10 other varieties. The pressed juice is transferred to 725L concrete eggs and clay amphoras of diverse sizes. Each vineyard is separately fermented, up to 6-7 months. Matured in eggs and amphoras for 12 months and then racked off to foudres for another 12 months. pH 3.43, 13.75% alc.

Wildeberg 2022 The Tea Leaf White OVP Western Cape 92 This Chenin Blanc led white blend opens with fragrances of stone fruit and honeyed oak. Firmly structured with good tannic grip and rich flavors, it’s an amazing value! A hand harvested blend of 80% Chenin Blanc, 13% Grenache Gris, and 7% Marsanne sourced from old vine vineyards planted in 1977. Native yeast fermented (separately) and matured 9 months in 600L French oak barrels. 13% alc. Can you believe a wine this good costs just 155 Rand in South Africa? That’s just US$8 or £6.5. While it would be double that if imported, it’s still a great value.

Source : https://i-winereview.com/blog/index.php/2024/04/24/the-many-expressions-of-south-african-chenin-blanc-the-blends/