Cederberg Chenin

Spent Sunday and Monday tasting David Nieuwoudt’s awesome armory of Cederberg wines, in situ. My best was the 2006 Five Generations Chenin Blanc (pronounced V-Generations) we tasted on his stoep while toffee the cat sharpened her claws above our heads in the 80 year old vine. Checking through my tasting notes back in Johannesburg, I see that Alex Dale called it “the best SA white I have ever tasted” but David insists its 2007 successor is “the best yet.” Time will tell.

dn Cederberg Chenin

This wine highlights some of the challenges facing WINE magazine’s Chenin Challenge, as I noted in a story which ran in the Sunday Times in February and is reproduced here:

January’s WINE magazine Chenin Challenge continues a tradition of controversy. Won by a R230/bottle wooded blockbuster (14.5% alcohol) that tastes like Chardonnay, the competition’s lofty aim of increasing consumption of SA’s most widely planted cultivar was carted off to the bottle bin along with the 122 empties from the competition. As usual, the judging process was contentious with 19 wines declared “seeded players” and given a free pass to the second round judging, while 15 others were selected from the remaining (less fashionable) 103 the hard way – at a blind tasting.

That the six finalists selected from the 34 were all fermented and/or matured in wood (and likely all seeded players) sent eyebrows flying off the Richter Scale. Some producers commented that the tasters “could not distinguish between every day, fruity wines, great wines (balanced with a full round and long palate) and ordinary juice, Popeyed as they were by the extraordinary use of sugar, alcohol and wood.” Hence the need for seeded players.

Michael Fridjhon, chairman of judges, argued strongly against the triumph of blockbusters in the Weekender in the same week his panel was blown away by such a bomb. “The problem with an aesthetic based on the principle of ‘might is right’ is that there will always be someone who can make a wine bigger, thus logically laying claim to a higher ranking. More to the point, these massive wines, while undoubtedly impressive (and likely to stand out in a line-up of 50-100 wines) are not and generally never become, really drinkable.”

Whether the Challenge champion will follow Fridjhon’s prediction is largely rhetorical as only 1200 bottles were made and at a price more usually associated with a case of Chenin than a bottle, few punters will bother to check. What happened to the notion that a wine is good, no matter if wooded or not? What happened to the idea of balanced wine? Why can’t an easy drinking Chenin at R25 not be as balanced or imbalanced as a R250 wooded wine? To see just how wrong the panel got it, try a bottle of Cederberg 2007 (rated 2 stars out of 5) or the marginally preferred Cederberg Five Generations 2006 (2½ stars) called “the best SA white I have ever tasted” by Platter five star winemaking laureate Alex Dale.

But while WINE and their judging panels continue to play the role of Laurel and Hardy or Jacques Tati, supplying much mirth in an oft-times overwrought sideshow, the continuing Challenge controversies have a dark side.

To paraphrase some producers, if the custodians of Chenin think that what they are doing is to the benefit of Chenin, they should consider the damage they are doing to this grape variety and to the regular consumers who have enjoyed honest Chenin over the last 60 years. In fact, the many other award-drunk imbeciles out there are loitering on the brink of vinous genocide – they are killing any originality in SA wine, forcing us to make wine like America, Chile (going the same route as us, sadly) and Australia. So, let’s get Bob Geldof, Sting, Bono and Tracy Chapman to do a concert in the smart corners of Franschhoekfranschhoekcellarwines Cederberg Chenin
by franschhoekwines
in aide of the death of Chenin because it is official: Chenin is going down the same ‘universal’ drab and uninspiring drain as SA Shiraz. The award-mongers have killed this great Rhone variety. Now they have started the squeeze on Chenin.