Say Elgin, think … well, I think chardonnay, but many would say sauvignon blanc and from the point of view of the dominant variety, they’re right. The last SAWIS statistics calculate there are 329.93 hectares of sauvignon blanc in the Elgin Ward, while chardonnay accounts for 101.31 ha. Both are far ahead of chenin blanc, which comes in with a measly 6.41 ha, yet I’ve heard several people comment on how well it should do in this cool climate.
If the two chenins I tasted recently from Spioenkop are representative of the quality Elgin can produce, then that measly 6.41 ha deserves a serious increase, For those who climb in now, there’s plenty of space to make your mark.
My first experience with the home-grown Spioenkop chenin 2013 was for Platter last year, where I noted it a ‘austere yet compelling’. Seven months on, not much has changed: the purity is there, the coiled tension, the full chenin experience waiting to unfold over time. As with all Koen Roose’s wines, it’s fermentation is spontaneous. Roose has also fermented a portion in wood, the effect is well concealed but will surely benefit the wine with ageing.
Similar in its structure to the best Elgin chardonnays, the Spioenkop Chenin Blanc says everything about the variety, yet giving so little now. Like the Alheit Magnetic North Mountain Makstok chenin and Capensis Chardonnay, it wouldn’t win on a beauty contest now – as Wine Cellar’s recent tasting of luxury whites proved, that’s more the realm of the more voluptuous style – but wait until these wines are a few years older and emerge from their cocoons. They are made to age, which Mr Laube might decry, but will offer the sort of pleasure the more voluptuous youngsters do now.
The other chenin, 1900 – an alternative rather than second label, where Spioenkop appears under the name of the battle only (NB the actual date underneath the canon) – is a year older and includes bought in fruit from Stellenbosch. Again, some has been barrel fermented for structure. This wine I hadn’t tasted before (I had the younger but equally promising 2013 for Platter); it makes for interesting contrast with the Spioenkop. The fruit is more evident, providing delightful mellow, melon features balanced by still rivetting vibrancy. If it is the more accessible, it lacks for nothing in ageability.
Roose and his wife, Hannelore are uncompromising in their drive for quality and to express their dramatic Elgin vineyards. Eschewing all herbicides and pesticides, working the vineyards by hand and using only a gentle basket press in the cellar; all they believe helps them towards their goal.
Perhaps the best indicator that these are a formidable pair of chenins is that they survived a Cape summer’s day being carried around in David Clarke’s cool bag, being taken out and poured at various intervals and were still in fine form by late afternoon.
‘Who wants to drink monotonous wines without soul or character?’ queries Roose, ‘Great wine isn’t perfect.’ If the greatness is an ongoing process, the Spioenkop wines already have soul and character in loads.
They also convincingly suggest Elgin can do chenin as well as those other white varieties.