Chenin Blanc’s Chameleon Character

One of the things I enjoy about Chenin Blanc is that the grape does not play easy when it comes to managing expectations. There are more styles and expressions of Chenin Blanc than head-dress accessories in Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s wardrobe. In South Africa alone, Chenin Blanc can be eye-wateringly dry and piercing, or back-breaking in its big cloying presence.

When the winemaker plays around with wood, there are wines that could just as well be Chardonnay despite bearing Chenin on the label. Pop the juice onto some Sauvignon Blanc lees, and you’ll find Chenin Blancs on a tense edge of schizophrenia, exuding crisp pyrazines under the guise of a grape called Chenin.

Fortunately, I am of the “variety is the spice of life” school, a Chenin Blanc fan who wants to drink it all.

Due to activities in the South African citrus industry, I have of late been finding my wine stocks generously filled with wines from the Citrusdal region, some 175km north-east of Cape Town and the province’s citrus basket, in case the name did not reflect this. The hot, hardy and dry Citrusdal area has some champion old vineyards sought-after by top producers such as Neil Ellis and Jan Boland Coetzee. As far as local wineries go, the Piekenierskloof Wine Company is the go-to joint. Formerly known as Goue Vallei, Piekenierskloof has access to brilliant fruit from established vineyards and straddles the wants of ambitious owners with a generous supply of well-priced wines made in semi-copious volumes.

My wine of choice from Piekenierskloof during these balmy autumn days has been the Chenin Blanc 2019, another wine from this chameleon grape that threw a showy curve-ball upon my first appraisal.

The vines for this wine are 33-years-old and grow on sandy, shale soils, part of Citrusdal’s distinctive geography along with icy winters and summers hot enough to melt the scrotum off a camel jockey from Dubai. It is hardy earth this, the vines gnarled and low and exposed to the natural elements.

With all this cowboy talk thrown into the mix, the expectation for the Piekenierskloof Chenin Blanc 2019 was a wine of the stony intensity of a Swartland Chenin Blanc in the David and Nadia Sadie style. Especially seeing that the wine is unwooded, allowing for pristine expression.

The last time I was this wrong about predicting anything was when I lost a grand betting I’d be able to smoke Habana cigars by Lockdown Level 3.

As Piekenierskloof Chenin Blanc 2019 pours into the glass, there is a warm golden hue to the wine that would have neurotic wine commentators screaming “premature oxidation” and “cork fault” before they have off-loaded their first post Lockdown freebies. Upon the nose, however, the wine is pure and wholeheartedly intact, the mix of mature floral and dried orange-peel aromas a precursor to the taste.

I’d like to see anybody spot this wine as an unwooded 2019 Chenin Blanc in a blind line-up. The palate is broad and complete, the cool expanse of the wine enhanced by a butter-milk and baby-saliva texture. Acidity is plentiful and creates a sense of enhanced vigour. But the wonder lies in the complexity of flavours, truly something worth pondering over. There are freshly cut ruby grapefruit and an edge of ripe loquat. Then the spice takes over, fresh ginger and cardamom coming to the fore together with a brush of pickled Makataan.

The finish is long and lasting, plenty of succulence and after-glow to keep one wondering about a wine that has most certainly added to my personal journey of discovering Chenin Blanc.


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