On Wednesday I attended the Standard Bank Chenin Blanc Association Top 10 Challenge award presentation at Delaire Graff wine estate in Stellenbosch, at the invitation of Waterford Communications.
It was the perfect weather day, and we were welcomed with a glass of Sparklehorse (made by Ken Forrester Wines) and Perdeberg Chenin Blanc sparkling wines. Chef Michael Deg sent out three canapés: a cured yellowtail with sprouts and miso mayo; sweetcorn croquettes with an unusual chakalaka sauce to dip them into; and oysters, which looked attractive and tasted good with soy caviar, Tabasco caviar, and tomato jelly.
We were invited to be seated in the main Delaire Graff restaurant, and I shared the table with Hanneke Botha, DeMorgenzon winemaker, her colleague Richard de Almeida, and Karen Hawinkels and Darius Rasool from Standard Bank, the sponsors of the Chenin Blanc Top 10 Challenge competition.
The beautiful orchid in a glass bowl attracted my attention, and with it a platter of home-made farm butter, hummus, zataar (a blend of sesame seeds, thyme, sumac, and olive oil), salt crystals, and ground pepper corns. A bread basket was brought to the table, with an offering of ciabatta, Cape seed loaf, and bread rolls enriched with caraway seeds and cheese.
Chenin Blanc Association Chairman Ken Forrester welcomed the winning winemakers, the Standard Bank executives, and media representatives to the event. He thanked Standard Bank for making the Chenin Blanc Top 10 Challenge competition possible, and praised the bank for being the ideal sponsor.
Standard Bank Head of Business and Commercial Craig Polkinghorne said it was a good week, our country’s Olympians having returned. He said that winemaking is one of the oldest industries, and the bank is proud to be associated with it. He congratulated the winners, and said that the competition sparks something that continues. The Top 10 winners will be using their prize monies to give back to their staff, in investing in facilities of benefit to their farming community. Mr Polkinghorne said that the event was a celebration of Chenin Blanc. He raised a laugh when he shared that his wife no longer drinks Sauvignon Blanc!
Christian Eedes has been the chairman of the Chenin Blanc Top 10 Challenge panel for the third year, and he said that Chenin Blanc ‘has never looked better’. Renowned British wine journalist Tim Atkin has awarded two South African wines a score of 98 out of 100, one of the wines being a Chenin Blanc, a 360-bottle production. He deplored the low average price of R120 per bottle of the Top 10 Chenin Blancs.
The other members of the Chenin Blanc Challenge judging panel were wine writer Jamie Goode from the UK, Cathy Van Zyl, Higgo Jacobs, and Samarie Smith, with The Test Kitchen Sommelier Tinashe Nyamudoka being an associate judge. Christian said that some of the judges picked up bitterness in the Chenin Blanc wines evaluated, and he challenged the winemakers to check where it comes from, and to evaluate how much of it is a good thing.
A diversity of Chenin Blanc styles was entered, ranging from clean and fresh, to rich and oxidative. The category was said to grow from strength to strength, and it has been a good year for Chenin Blanc. Goode said in a video produced for the event that the various style categories of Chenin Blanc should be teased out. Tinashe added that Chenin Blanc producers should push the boundaries of the cultivar, to bring out even more of the fantastic ‘Darling of South African wine‘. Van Zyl said that Chenin Blanc is ideal for pairing with food, while Smith praised Chenin Blanc for being a ‘national treasure‘.
The Chenin Blanc Top 10 Challenge winners were announced alphabetically, and certificates presented to each winner:
# Allée Bleue Chenin Blanc 2015, with winemaker Van Zyl du Toit
# Bellingham The Bernard Series Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2015, with winemaker Neil Groenewald
# Boschendal Sommelier Selection Chenin Blanc 2015, with winemaker Lizelle Gerber
# DeMorgenzon Reserve Chenin Blanc 2015, with winemaker Hanneke Botha, receiving the award for the second year running
# Kleine Zalze Vineyard Selection Barrel Fermented Chenin Blanc 2015, with winemaking team RJ Botha, Alistair Rimmer, and Kobus Basson
# Kleine Zalze Family Reserve Chenin Blanc 2015 (same winemaker team as above)
# Leopard’s Leap Culinaria Collection Chenin Blanc 2015, with winemaker Eugene Van Zyl
# Perdeberg The Dry Land Collection Barrel Fermented Chenin Blanc 2015, with winemaker Albertus Law. It is the third year running that this Chenin Blanc has made Top 10.
# Rijk’s Private Cellar Barrel Fermented Chenin Blanc 2013, with winemaker Lindi de Beer
# Spier 21 Gables Chenin Blanc 2015, with winemaker Jacques Erasmus.
Then it was time for lunch, and waiters brought impressive black leather menu holders containing the five-course set menu for our lunch. Each of the five dishes was paired with two of the Chenin Blanc Top 10 Challenge wines.
The starter was a citrus-cured trout, served with herb crème fraîche, vanilla compressed melon, almond and lemon crumbs, micro herbs, and wood sorrel. The dish was paired with Boschendal Sommelier Selection Chenin Blanc 2015, and Allée Bleue Chenin Blanc 2015.
The first intermediate dish was a roasted butternut velouté, in which was a pear and duck leg ravioli, and was topped with a Cape Malay Curry foam and nasturtium leaves. The wine pairing was with Leopard’s Leap Culinaria Collection Chenin Blanc 2015 and Kleine Zalze Vineyard Selection Barrel Fermented Chenin Blanc 2015.
The second intermediate dish was an excellent pork belly, served with mebos (a dried fruit preserve), crackling, parsnip and honey purée, pea shoots, and a thyme jus. The wine pairings were Spier 21 Gables Chenin Blanc 2015, and Kleine Zalze Family Reserve Chenin Blanc 2015.
Our main course was Rolbaken (a farm near Oudtshoorn) free-range chicken, carrot puree, coal-roasted cauliflower, gem squash, and Cointreau jus. The course was paired with Perdeberg The Dry Land Collection Barrel Fermented Chenin Blanc 2015, and DeMorgenzon Reserve Chenin Blanc 2015.
The last course was a cheese one, with a plate of 18 month-aged Boerenkaas, Pepe Charlot cumin cheese, honey whipped goat’s cheese, preserved ginger, and homemade toasts. A lovely touch was a bunch of grapes, particularly apt for a wine farm restaurant, and a wine competition lunch! The pairings were Bellingham The Bernard Series Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2015, and Rijk’s Private Cellar Barrel Fermented Chenin Blanc 2013.
Ken closed the function with a special thank you to Nicolette Waterford, for the communication services which she renders for the Chenin Blanc Association; to Delaire Graff and its staff, including its Chef Michael Deg, for hosting the function and preparing the lunch; and to Ina Smith, who represents the Chenin Blanc Association on a day-to-day basis. Standard Bank Business Banking Head in the Western Cape Willie du Plessis added his thanks too on behalf of the bank, and encouraged those present to both enjoy wine and the service from his bank, ending with a punchline of Standard Bank being ‘a great bank to great people‘!
Delaire Graff was a very gracious and chic venue for the prestigious Chenin Blanc Top 10 Challenge, and its food, its location, and its service made the event a great success.
Disclosure: We received a bottle of Kleine Zalze Family Reserve Chenin Blanc 2015 with our media pack.
Chenin Blanc Association, www.chenin.co.za Twitter:@CheninBlancAsso
Delaire Graff Estate, Helshoogte Pass, Stellenbosch. Tel (021) 885-8160. www.delaire.co.za Twitter: @DelaireGraff
Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: www.whalecottage.com/blog Tel + 27 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@WhaleCottage Facebook: click here Instagram: @Chris_Ulmenstein