It’s no secret that Chenin Blanc is one of my favourite grape varieties! It’s made in so many different styles and, most often, the consumer ends up being pleasantly surprised with what the wine offers in terms of flavour, as well as incredible value for money.
While France’s Loire Valley may be the birthplace of Chenin Blanc, the variety has found a second home in South Africa. It’s currently our most widely planted grape with its popularity originally stemming from its vigorous, high-yielding vines. It was originally used in the semi-sweet Lieberstein (once the world’s best-selling bottled wine) to add acidity to bulk blends, or as the base for brandy distillation. Today our Chenin Blanc is having a moment of reinvention and reintroduction to the world, proving itself a noble variety capable of producing world-class wines. Chenin Blanc is thus often referred to as the Cinderella of white wines, transforming itself from a “work-horse” into a beautiful princess in the glass.
The grape itself shows exceptional versatility and winemaking techniques depend on the style of wine desired. Meant to be consumed young, the fresh-and-fruity category is refreshing and approachable. Bright, fruit-forward aromas and flavours can range from tart Granny Smith apple, green plum and lime to more robust notes of ripe stone or tropical fruit and melon framed by lifting acidity. These pair with all kinds of fresh seafood including crab, prawns, tuna tartare or salmon and avocado tartare, smoked salmon or trout, salt and pepper squid, sushi, or dishes like a cheese tart or pineapple and chicken kebabs.
The rich, oaked selections display depth of flavour, power and potential to age. Oaked Chenins exhibit woody or nutty characteristics, including notes of sweet spices, toast, vanilla and cream, and a ripe fruit core. The naturally high acidity of the variety, rich fruit and lushly textured palate give the promise of age-ability. These pair with almost anything with a creamy sauce – a good fish pie, chicken with a creamy sauce, salmon en croute, roast chicken or roast pork belly.
Finally, Chenin Blanc produces some of the world’s most stunningly balanced dessert wines. Their concentrated flavours result in intense, layered wines in which decadent fruit flavors of dried apricots and honeyed peaches are matched with cleansing acidity. They express notes of nuts, toast and sweet spices, like cinnamon, clove and ginger. Wonderful with apple or pear tarts, peach or apricot cobbler, or try with cheese served with a fruit compote.