If there is one varietal South Africa is known for, it is Chenin Blanc. With almost 20% of plantings, it is South  Africa’s most widely planted variety.


Revered and respected

Known colloquially as Steen, Chenin is to be found all over the Western Cape, adapting itself to almost any site. Naturally high in acidity and with an incredible array of potential flavours, it’s a variety that can be adapted to make almost any type of white wine, from sparkling, to the very sweet. Like Riesling, it has an enduring ability to express site and the philosophy and preferences of its maker. It’s remarkable that outside of France, only South Africa has treated the variety with reverence and respect.


The workhorse

Chenin doesn’t love the heat, or at least persistent heat, so is best sited where there are breezes, altitude or regions with great diurnal variation. The best vineyards are grown on poor soils, sandstone. shales, granite and clay. Naturally vigorous and high yielding, the best sites inevitably go some way to controlling yields and hence, quality. Chenin is a workhorse grape, and will make decent enough wine with incredibly high yields, another similarity with Riesling. But for quality wines, yields must be strictly controlled. Lighter soils will produce lighter wines, usually less complex and they tend to ripen sooner than clay based soils whose longer hang time ensures greater development.


Philosophy and style

South Africa differs from the Loire in that its Chenin expressions are not regionally defined. This is partly due to a lack of official classification; when drinking Vouvray, Anjou, Bonnezeaux and Savennieres for example, you have an expectation of what’s in the bottle. In South Africa a Chenin Blanc from Stellenbosch can be made in every way imaginable. The region’s diversity of soils and topography make it impossible to draw regional conclusions.


South Africa’s greatest absence with chenin is in the realm of high quality off dry styles. Wines tend to be dry, and the sweeter expressions are invariably dessert wines. In South Africa, like the rest of the New World, wine styles are defined not through classification, but according to strict outcomes desired by the producer. When it comes to choosing your South African Chenin Blanc, as with anywhere really, choose the maker and ensure their philosophy or style tally’s with yours.


Understated quality and power

The best Chenin Blancs emanating from South Africa are invariably either as part of a blend, and/or made with as little winemaking artifice as possible. One of the  key differences with the Loire Valley is the less obvious acidity and textural structure. The finest wines are supple, tender, poised and mellow, without the current European fashion for thrust, elevated acidities and excessive intensity. This I know is a very sweeping statement, but Europe is not used to the heat or the dry and many of its finest producers are overcompensating with earlier picking and shorter ageing. The wines taste great, but tire the palate. At its best, South African Chenin possesses an understated quality, and power that should be measured in breadth, balance and length of flavour, as opposed to concentration and high acidity levels. It is nice to see they are not chasing power for its own sake.


Shop All South African Wines

Shop Alheit Vineyards

Shop Gabrielskloof

Shop Klein Zalze 

Shop Olifantsberg






Pin It on Pinterest