The 2009 Surepure Chenin Challenge was the best Chenin Challenge this wine hack has tasted. For starters, the result was believable and a consistent one, too: three winners, all grown within spitting distance of the Bottelary Hills. Best unwooded Chenin (and overall winner) the Mooiplaas 2008; best value a wooded 2007 from Koelenhof (a well aimed expectoration away); best wooded, the Maverick 2006 made from grapes grown on Mooiplaas, neighbouring farm Sterhuis as well as some fruit from Agter-Paarl and Klapmuts.
Although Maverick winemaker Niel Groenewald did not win the overall prize (his wine tied with Mooiplaas leaving it to judge Christine Rudman to cast a deciding vote), his was a moral victory as it was his viticultural suggestions and success with Mooiplaas Chenin grapes in Maverick that persuaded Louis and Tielman Roos to take the plunge and produce a premium Mooiplaas bush vine Chenin of their own.
The result is a remarkable tour de force confirming Bottelary as the home of SA Chenin with a pronounced mineral character. Perhaps equally important is the proof that the controversial “seeded player” judging system is not necessary to produce a believable result. Simple blind tasting with even vintage and wooding regime (if any) withheld from the judges, works. An important consideration given that four of the five judges are tasters for a leading sighted wine guide that will belly button gaze the merits of sighted versus blind tastings next month. Not disclosing the wooding regime (if any) could explain why Mooiplaas was only the second unwooded Chenin to scoop the laurels since the competition kicked off in 1996 – an anomaly as unwooded Chenin outsells Pinocchio styles, ten to one.
Lunch at Catharina’s bright and breezy new restaurant on the Steenberg estate, prepared by celebrity chef Garth Almazan, was the best yet. For starters, a diabolical prawn risotto, prawn bisque, bird’s eye chilli, lime, fried rocket and parsley oil; next up a chicken ballantine with Malay spice stuffing, coriander yoghurt, sweet pepper, tomato and cucumber salsa and scallop sprint roll; rounded off with macerated summer berries, cherry parfait and Chenin Blanc jelly. Which all worked with the Chenin trinity. The high acids of the Mooiplaas and Maverick blasted the flavours out of the risotto while the wood of the Koelenhof and Maverick tamed the Malay curry spices.
Ken Forrester, chairman of the Chenin Blanc Producers Association, gave the most realistic and humble speech heard from a winemaker in decades. What it lacked in pomposity, it made up for in honesty. “We’re preaching in a church filled with the converted” he opined. “The SA public has yet to turn onto Chenin Blanc.” A situation sure to be set straight toute suite if the Surepure trinity appear in reasonable volumes.
The jokes were also the best, with Roger Kebble, father of Surepure supremo Guy, keeping our table in stitches. “Celia, is this a wine exhibition or a water exhibition as my glass is empty.” “Celia, is Surepure sponsoring the wine or are the farms supplying? If it’s us, we’re in deep trouble as my glass is empty.” If nothing else, this Surepure Chenin Challenge added Roger to the list of Chenin fanatics.