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New World: Chenin Blanc

Two Golds again for South Africa, with our tasters enjoying the grape’s reliability, unforced quality and realistic pricing

It took the South Africans a while to cotton on to the Sommelier Wine Awards, but after not picking up a single Gold for Chenin in the first four years of the competition, they now dominate it in the way that you would expect.

Not that they get it entirely their own way. Two years ago the only Gold went to a Kiwi (Esk Valley) and this year Dry Creek Vineyard in Sonoma managed an impressive Silver. But beyond that it was Saffers as far as the eye could see.

Saffers, moreover, appear to be doing a lot of things right. The fact that both of last year’s Gold winners, Kleine Zalze and De Trafford, got Silvers this year, suggests that there’s real consistency with this grape variety now, and our tasters liked what they saw. They also, perhaps more importantly, liked the prices at which they were seeing it.

Whether fresher and lighter at the lower end, or richer and more food-driven at the top, our tasters felt that the pricing was commendably fair. ‘If you’d told me that [the Kleine Zalze] was twice that price I wouldn’t have had a problem paying it,’ said one sommelier who didn’t want to be named in case the importer held him to his word.

Sure, up at Stellenrust/De Trafford prices it might be a hand sell, but the consistency, reliability and food-matching options here were all exemplary.

‘It was a very strong flight. I found freshness, purity, nothing overdone,’ said Trangallán’s Xabier Alvarez. ‘They weren’t cheap, but still they justify the price.’

They are, as one taster put it, ‘middle-listers – they just sit there and do a job’. Hands up who has a problem with that.

Nobody? Thought not…

‘Even if it’s a hand sell, a more expensive, well-made Chenin Blanc can be a really good food match.’
Laura Blanchett, Zuma