A new competition was announced last week in the form of the latest in a series of ‘reports’ compiled by Wine Magazine and its editor Christian Eedes. These reports cover most of SA’s major grape varieties and blends (the Chardonnay Report, the Cabernet Report etc etc) but I think this new one might just be the most important one to date and will hopefully plant South Africa’s best asset even more firmly into the forefront of everyone’s minds.
The Wine Magazine Cape White Blend report is calling for entries and producers have about another week in which to submit their wines for the scrutiny of Christian and his fellow-judges.
Entry costs are fairly modest (R450 per wine) and the criteria are fairly loose as befits this newly-emerging category. All they require is that the proportion of Chenin Blanc is between 16 and 84% - i.e that it IS actually a blend as defined by South African wine law which permits up to 15% of a different grape variety to be added to a wine without it being declared on the label.
So why do I think this is the most important competition? Well, here are a few reasons:
1. These wines are unique
Chenin Blanc’s home is in the Loire Valley (France) where it is never really blended except for a few lower-grade wines and some fizz. Certainly you can’t blend it with Rhone varieties such as Marsanne, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc and Viognier as we can do in SA because they simply aren’t permitted in the Loire Valley.
Combinations of these grapes as well as touches of Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Semillon are impossible to make in France, and yet they go together perfectly. The versatility of the Chenin makes for amazing combinations at every level and we’re the only country who can create these imaginative and delicious wines.
2. We have the best Chenin in the world
Mmm – okay, perhaps I could temper that slightly but I think it is fair to say that we are definitely up there. We certainly have MORE Chenin than any other country but the secret to our success with Chenin lies in the fact that we have old vines.
These old vines (sometimes up to and over 100 years old) produce incredibly concentrated fruit, giving really complex and multi-layered wines. Few other regions or countries have this vine heritage and since blends are often the flagship wines of a winery, a Cape White Blend generally gets the pick of the bunch.
3. These are our best wines
Well they are. Really. Ask anyone from local pundits such as Platter to international aficionados such as Tim Atkin MW and more – the wines which are making waves and which are making SA’s reputation as a class act are Cape White Blends. The likes of Sadie’s Palladius, Badenhorst’s Family Blend, David & Nadia’s Aristargos and more are simply oozing with breadth, depth and complexity, the like of which you will struggle to find in very many other wines in the world.
The great thing about Cape White Blends is that they come in at all sorts of price points from the exalted heights of those listed above right down to utterly-delicious, every day examples such as the new Short Street from Riebeek Cellars or the Arya from Doran Vineyards, both coming in around the R50-60 mark.
I have no idea who will come out tops – perhaps it won’t be the heavyweight Swartland names as they may not have sufficient stock to enter this competition. But I tell you this, whoever DOES win, these will be wines worth looking up.
There is nothing else like this competition at the moment and it is a competition for the future of SA wine, not yet another rehashing of wines and styles easily replicated in other countries around the world. It really is about being amongst the very best of South Africa’s best asset - I can’t wait to see what the results are and I look forward to trying them all.
For more details on the Cape White Blend Report, see here.
- Cathy Marston