Chenin Blanc – The Cinderella of SA Wines

At dusk, each day that summer, the father would open a bottle of KWV Steen.  It was the time I visited the family in the Hangklip coastal town, a time before the hysterical subdivisions that just about ruined the place, and at that time, this family owned what could best be described as a ‘sea farm.’  These Steen wines were, I thought, delicious but then, on the other hand, my palate was anything but reliable at the time.  And perhaps I had been beguiled by sand and sun and the salty air and, well … the colour of the daughter’s eyes.

A cluster of Chenin blanc grapes

A cluster of Chenin blanc grapes

This cultivar Steen was widely used at that stage in brandies by the KWV and in bulk wines.  Wine farmers couldn’t give a damn about quality as they were paid by volume.

It was only in the early nineties when Auberon Waugh, the son of renowned author Evelyn Waugh, writing in the The Spectator that South Africa’s Chenin Blanc was the most underrated cultivar in the country then everyone went:  “Is that so?” I knew by then that Chenin Blanc was the more elegant name for what I had tasted years before and enjoyed that summer at the coast:  Steen.

More praise was to follow for the Cinderella grape.  But it took a while.

It was Eric Asimov, chief wine critic of The New York Times, who broke the ice about two years ago when he devoted a whole page to SA Chenin Blanc, comparing it to the best Chenin Blanc the Loire Valley has to offer.  No mean praise:  The Loire Valley is to Chenin what the Champagne district in France is to champagne.

This recognition was followed by the US Wine Spectator, who recently lauded among others, Ken Forrester, Raats, and the promising new kid on the black, DeMorgenzon.  But, actually, the praise has been pretty much coming from everywhere. Someone needs to apologise to the Chenin Blanc grape, especially all those wine snobs who turned up their noses at it years ago.

Prices of Raats and Forrester Chenins range from between roughly £8.99 to £17 (some other Chenins are in the region of £6. You can order these wines (possibly not DeMorgenzon yet) online at

About the Author

Johan Liebenberg says he feels like he’s been writing forever.  He started out writing radio plays and soapies for radio, as well as one or two stage plays.  He worked as a senior copywriter at an ad agency for ten years, writing on mainly wine accounts.  Add to that a feature film script that has been in progress forever, writing and directing some doccies and corporate videos.  His features have been published in magazines in South Africa as well as abroad.  Today, his great passions are food and food writing and (guess what?):  rugby, followed by cricket and athletics.  He loves his Canon Eos, and feels nostalgic about the dying art of conversation.