Lately I’ve been pondering why it’s taken me so long to dive into the wonderfulness that is Chenin Blanc? It was only last year when I began my WSET training that I reluctantly started experimenting with it. Since then and over the past few months I have discovered there is an exciting underground world of wine makers using Chenin Blanc in South Africa. I’ve also delved into tasting the amazing French varieties and styles available to me.
Safe to say, the grape and myself are currently having a tumultuous and passionate love affair.
Thanks to Chenin’s high acidity the grape can be used for many different types of wine such as sparkling, still, and dessert wines. The wines can range from dry to sweet. If made in the correct style, Chenin Blanc can reward those who are patient enough to wait for it to reach it’s peak. Some Chenin’s can age for up to 50 years!
Chenin is still a delicate vine that needs lots of tender loving care. If grown without the right amount of control and technique, it can produce wines with little complexity and life.
The grape originates from the cool-climate Loire Valley in France and has since found it’s way around the New World. Appellations in the Loire Valley that grow and produce Chenin Blanc include Vouvray, Anjou Blanc Sec, Montlouis and Savennières (I know there are more, but that’s the extent of my knowledge at the moment!) Loire Valley Chenin Blanc boasts high amounts of acidity and is best drunk with a decent amount of age behind it. Since making it’s way around the world to places such as California, Australia and South Africa, the grape is producing a more modern “New World” style of wine. The wines are coming out fruitier, and generally do not age past 5 years. This is not a bad thing. In a wine drinking world that demands fruity, youthful white wine as it comes out, this style can benefit the greater market favorably.
Chenin Blanc is the most widely planted varietal in South Africa and recently there has been a resurrection of young, energetic winemakers creating some exciting stuff with the grape. My mind was blown recently when I attended the Ace/Animo wine tasting in Jo’burg. Almost every winemaker was featuring a Chenin that was so unique and true to their wine making style I was in seventh heaven!
Some notable South African Chenin’s I’ve tried lately have been: Mother Rock – Force Majeure, The Smiley NV – Chenin Blanc, Ken Forrester – The FMC, AA Badenhorst – Chenin Blanc and Hogan – Chenin Blanc. The majority of my favorites have been coming from the Swartland, an area about 50km North of Cape Town. Viticulture in the Swartland uses minimal irrigation and is practiced under dryland conditions. There is something happening that some refer to as the “Swartland revolution“. Many of the vines are old vines that were abandoned during the post-apartheid area when many farmers moved to more developed areas and replanted varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc. The vines in the Swartland were left to fend for themselves and survive in natural, often inhospitable weather conditions. As winemakers moved back to the area, they found themselves working with vines up to 100 years old (aka “old vines“). Recently we have seen wineries, such as a few of the ones listed above establish themselves as “purist” winemakers utilizing minimal intervention. I also just like to think of them as bad ass!
For those that are apprehensive about taking the plunge into the wonderful world that is Chenin Blanc, think again. However you fancy your wine, you can find the right Chenin Blanc to suit your taste.
So what are you waiting for?