South Africa’s Chenin Blanc revival has now gained such momentum that it is strange to think of the variety – known locally as Steen – as the high-volume workhorse of the country’s wine industry. Yet that’s how it was treated for many years, even remaining in the background in the post-apartheid transition, when producers rushed to embrace international varieties.
Today, thanks to the efforts of the likes of Ken Forrester in Stellenbosch and the less orthodox, free spirits of Swartland, it stands as arguably the country’s leading white grape variety for premium wines – and also the most widely planted. And because of its history, the country is blessed with substantial older Chenin vineyards – relatively speaking (around a third of its 17,200ha are over 20 years of age).
The result is a range of characterful, complex and increasingly textural Chenins that reflect the variety’s viticultural heritage in the Cape. As the only place outside the Loire Valley to truly champion this multi-dimensional variety, South African Chenin is now getting the attention it deserves – on a world stage.
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