RATINGS | A Best in Show Chenin Blanc

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Ken Forrester at his eponymously named wine farm in Stellenbosch.
Ken Forrester at his eponymously named wine farm in Stellenbosch.
Dalene Fourie
  • The Decanter World Wine Awards 2022 awarded Ken Forrester's Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc 2021 Best in Show and 97 points. 
  • This accolade highlights the quality of South African Chenin in a much broader context. 
  • And at R145 per bottle for the 2022 vintage, you don't have to pay a fortune to drink an internationally acclaimed wine. 

"When the tide comes in, all the boats rise." - Ken Forrester.

The Decanter Awards 2022 named Ken Forrester's Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc 2021 Best in Show, rating it 97 points, which, if you know the international wine scene, was one of those seismic events that sent ripples throughout the world. Proclaiming: "They've arrived."

The Decanter panel wrote this: "We've had Chenin Blanc-based wines from the Loire in our Best in Show selection, but never yet a Chenin from the country with more of this variety planted than any rival nation: South Africa.

"That changed this year with this stylish Chenin from Stellenbosch. Gone was the sometimes over-fleshy, over-crafted style associated with ambitious Cape Chenins in the past.

"This pale gold, pure, fine-fruited wine hints at honey, spring flowers, pear, and quince in its focused, almost lacy aromas, while the palate is graceful and shapely, too, deftly balanced, and with a stony residuum that suggests deep-rooted old vines. An outstanding Chenin, in sum, perfectly pitched both as a varietal and as a Stellenbosch classic."

The weather board outside the tasting room at Ken
The weather board outside the tasting room at Ken Forrester Vineyards in Stellenbosch.
Supplied Dalene Fourie

Now Ken Forrester is many things. He was a restauranteur working for Sol Kerzner's Southern Sun hotel group. Then became a winemaker in what he calls a raging midlife crisis buying the biggest farm they couldn't afford in Stellenbosch (50ha), and has taken up many causes in his time, Chenin Blanc not least among these. (In recent years, he has also picked up the torch for Grenache, South African blends, and PetNat, mentoring young winemaker Shawn Mathyse to carry it on.)

But for our purposes here, let's talk about Chenin.

Ken said when he took the call, it seemed to him as if a vacancy sign was hanging over the Champion of Chenin job. And he thought: "Hier's 'n werkie vir my. [Here's a job for me]."

One of the founding members of the Chenin Association, he, makes three Chenins.

The best-in-show old vine reserve only represents his second tier; thus, you can imagine the FMC (their top tier Chenin Blanc retailing at R645 per bottle).

While the acronym officially stands for Forrester Meinert Chenin Blanc, Ken jokes it actually stands for Fucking Marvellous Chenin (which is usually the first thing that pops into my head.)

They call him Mr Chenin, though, to be fair, Bruwer Raats' Twitter handle also proclaims @CheninKing.

The thing about Chenin is that, as Decanter's panel rightly says, South Africa has more of it than any other country. And Chenin in South Africa is a beautiful mouthpiece for the diversity of our terroir.

Thus, while Ken might have opened the floodgates, many notable Chenin producers have ridden the wave and continue to fuel the tide. Not to mention the Chenin Blanc Association, which currently represents more than 130 members and has been instrumental in categorising and championing South African Chenin locally and abroad. But that's another story.

Helderberg from Ken Forrester Vineyards in the ear
Helderberg from Ken Forrester Vineyards in the early morning.
Supplied Dalene Fourie

My point, though within such a vast ocean of Chenin decidedly murky, is that this unassuming Old Vine Reserve Chenin, of which the 2022 vintage retails at R145 per bottle, and is a screw cap to boot, demonstrates not only Ken's keen understanding of Chenin, but BUSINESS.

There is a widely held belief screw caps represent lesser quality wines. However, all of Ken's wines became screw cap in 2005, the living state of the cork proving too variable, especially at the entry-level tier. And the resulting ratings and furore imply that a screw cap shouldn't sway you either way. 

My point. South African Chenin Blanc is world-class. You shouldn't be swayed by a screw cap. And you can buy the latest vintage of this best-in-show Chenin direct from the producer here. (The 2021 vintage is predictably sold out.)

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