Our new Chenin Blanc
Author: Katherine Dart MW
Tierhoek is a tiny estate nestled at the foot of the Skimmelsberg Mountain in the Piekenierskloof. It is one of the oldest surviving, original Sandveld farms, dating from 1886. It is breathtakingly beautiful and one of my favourite places. It is a place that burrows under your skin with its unique combination of history and heritage, vineyards and place; parts of the farm date back at least 5,000 years and one of the last pairs of nesting Black Eagles circles above the vineyards.
As the new wave of young winemakers in South Africa look to source fruit from different regions and wards, Tierhoek remains the first and only Piekenierkloof winery. They are, without a doubt, pioneers here, having the vision to set up many miles from the heartland of the Cape wine industry (over 100km north of Swartland, almost 200km from Cape Town), and work tirelessly against the odds to produce wines that possess an innate sense of place. Of the varieties they have planted on the farm, the Chenin and the Sauvignon Blanc seem to stand out, conveying the character of the terroir, with an extraordinary capacity to age with grace.
In December 2016, on my annual buying trip to South Africa (on this occasion accompanied by Mark Pardoe MW) I remember asking Shelley Sandell, the owner of Tierhoek, about the contents of a tank we had not tasted. She commented that it was Chenin that was originally destined for their estate wine, but just had not worked in the final blend. The decision to exclude it was not based on quality; blending is a crazy alchemy and, sometimes, the most stunning wines just do not work as part of the whole. Shelley went on to say that she was sad to be considering selling it off for bulk blending because it came from some of their oldest blocks planted in the mid-1970s.
Needless to say, we asked to taste it immediately and I am pretty sure we were both thinking the same thing as we scribbled down our notes. Classic Chenin aromas, unpinned by the earthy minerality that is so specific to Tierhoek, are the elements that dominate my tasting note at that visit. The wine needed time to evolve, having been fermented and raised entirely in stainless steel. It also possessed a crisp acidity and pithy texture that is far more akin to the Old World than the New, but, most importantly, it was undoubtedly an opportunity too good to miss. This tank of superb Chenin was bottled earlier this year under our own-label, the latest in our range of Producer Partnerships – one-off, limited-edition bottlings of extraordinary wines that we feel you’ll love.
When in South Africa last December I re-tasted this wine in bottle and was, once again, delighted by its nervosity and vibrant Chenin character that is still aligned gloriously with Tierhoek’s hallmark earthiness. For me, it manages to encapsulate in bottle the potential that South Africa offers in a vinous capacity – particularly with Chenin Blanc. The quality and subtle nuances that those who are focusing on site-specific wines are starting to express will only become clearer with each vintage.
There is a lean, linear quality to the fruit, with great acidity and great nervosity. Grapefruit sits alongside orchard fruit with earthy minerality and savoury notes that hint at toasted nuts. The is concentration throughout the palate that belies the freshness exuded. The finish is intense with nuances reminiscent of acacia honey.
Sounds just my kind of white wine – I’ve long relished Chenin from the Loire, but I’m afraid this is way above my price ceiling!
Most good Loire Chenins of comparable quality will be more expensively priced than this one. This one is a one-off, limited cuvée that you won’t find elsewhere, plus with the ongoing drought, reduced yields and production costs that South Africa is currently facing, this single estate wine is something we believe to represent excellent value for the price. If you wanted to try an alternative then we would suggest the Pecan Stream from Stellenbosch, but we think this Tierhoek Chenin will provide much more character and will prove very enjoyable.
Thank you for your note. I don’t doubt that this South African Chenin is worth the cost – it’s just that i have set a ceiling. At my age (89) ones palate is less discriminating so expensive wine is not worth while!