Chenin Blanc was one of the first varietals planted in South Africa. Because of its hardiness, it was cultivated en-masse, resulting in the grape being used for almost anything – and usually it was associated with bulk or fortified wines, rather than top quality wine. Today, South Africa produces fine wine Chenin, alongside the famed Loire Valley in France.
In the early days of our local wine industry, the grape was known as Steen. It was only in 1963 that a university professor finally proved that Steen was, in fact, Chenin Blanc, and in 1995, the visiting British Masters of Wine saluted the quality of SA’s Chenins. Since then, a number of local wineries have turned their focus to the varietal, believing that it’s an important part of our heritage that needs to be celebrated and showcased to the world.
Experts believe that South Africa’s interesting terroir – the conditions in which the grapes are grown – and old Chenin Blanc vines have a lot to do with the success of this varietal. The fact that these old vines exist at all is a miracle, as many were pulled out over the years in favour of more fashionable varietals. Chenin blanc is also more robust than many of the other cultivars, and thus can grow in a wider range of terroir. Because the terroir can be so varied, you can produce wines that are completely different in style but of equally good quality. It is more difficult for other varietals to achieve this versatility.
Spier produces two Chenin Blanc's representing this diversity of styles. The Spier Signature Chenin Blanc is a fresh and fruity wine for easy drinking, while the 21 Gables Chenin Blanc is a more complex, rich, wooded wine made from vines more than 40 years old.
Fresh and fruity Chenin Blanc wines can be enjoyed immediately; fruit salad flavours (think apple, melon, pineapple) is supported by the wine’s crisp acidity. Rich and ripe Chenin Blanc wines, particularly wooded ones, are well suited to patient drinkers. Oak increases the wine’s complexity and gives a richer mouth feel. Leave these wines for long enough, and you’ll be rewarded with a colour that deepens towards straw-gold and an emergence of nut and honey flavours.
Enjoy dry styles with curries and other kinds of Asian cuisine; they also work well with bold-flavoured fish, chicken, and vegetarian meals such as aubergine bakes and stuffed marrows. Sweeter, richer styles go well with tarts and warm fruit desserts. A good bottle-matured Chenin Blanc matches up beautifully with ripe Brie or Camembert cheese. Or you can simply enjoy it on its own.
Signature Chenin Blanc:
• Fresh and fruity
• Green apple
• White-fleshed nectarine
• Sliced pear
• Undertow of honey
• Lime-squirt ending
21 Gables Chenin Blanc:
• Rich and ripe
• Soft, dried apricots
• Oak and vanilla undertow
• White-fleshed peaches
• Almond paste
• Windfall oranges
Explore this versatile varietal and become one of the growing number of wine lovers discovering Chenin Blanc. For more information about Chenin Blanc, visit the Chenin Blanc Association at www.chenin.co.za - who was also used as source for this blogpost.