Chenin Blanc is not a wine that is on the mind of lots of American wine drinkers and that may be because it is not largely produced here in the States. This white wine those is wildly versatile in style and can even be confused for a Chardonnay when made in particular ways. If there is one region that is associated with Chenin Blanc historically that has been the Loire Valley in France. The AOCs Vouvray, Savennières, and in sparkling form Saumur. The wine can be finicky when it comes to attaining ripeness in the cooler Loire Valley but it has found perhaps a more natural home in the wine regions of South Africa.
It’s likely that Chenin Blanc arrived in South Africa during the days of the Dutch East India Trading Company as a part of a collection of vine cuttings that arrived in the seventeenth century during the ugly days of colonization. For a very long time (hundreds of years) the grape was known as Steen. In the 1960s Steen was in fact identified as Chenin Blanc, and since then, this white wine from the Loire has become synonymous with South Africa.
2015 Famille Bougrier Chenin Blanc, France $10
While Bougrier produces a Vouvray bottling this is a Chenin Blanc from farther afield. A Vin de France designation. Done in an off-dry style this will be a popular wine with folks who are attracted to sweet ripe fruit character that is often more closely associated with New World styles of Chenin Blanc. Aromas of orange blossom and honeysuckle, a palate of ripe sweet orange and hints of lemon creme.
A blend of vineyards from three different growing areas, comes a blend that aims to capture the signature of what has become South Africa’s signature grape. The Indaba Winery is serious about its social commitment from both their stewardship of the environment to a comprehensive Montessori education program aimed at Black South African communities in the country’s wine region. This Chenin is a wine you can feel good about.
The aromas of effusive and fruity and the wine is dry in style but offers plenty of sweet floral aromas, the palate is ample citrus and tropical fruits. Flavors of pineapple, blood orange and lemon.
A fruit forward and exuberantly easy drinking Chenin Blanc with lots of tropical aromas of passionfruit and pineapple. The palate is juicy ripe peach and apricot, a slight hint of minerality and round ripe pineapple.
While Chenin Blanc can make for simple, very quaffable white wines in a variety of bottlings, it also shows a sense of complexity and depth and in some iterations can be confused for a mineral driven Chardonnay in style and character. One of the region’s best known producers is Ken Forrester and it’s easy to see why. The approach and seriousness with which they take Chenin Blanc there is evident in the number of different bottlings. There are eight different bottlings of Chenin Blanc that I could track down in a variety of styles, from sparkling to dessert. The Ken Forrester winery has a world renowned reputation built on their commitment to this white grape.
This wine is really impressive and could easily be confused with a terroir inspired Chardonnay. The approach with this wine differs because it spends ample time on the lees, and a restrained use of oak has created a really elegant and remarkable wine, that drinks at three to four times the price.
Aromas of coriander, chalk, honey and lemon creme hint at a Chardonnay from the Mâcon rather than the often fruity Chenin Blanc from the Stellenbosch. The palate is layered, with honey, ripe peach, creme and wet stone. This is a wine that can make the case for excellence in South African winemaking and its certainly convincing that Chenin Blanc may be more at home in South Africa than the Loire.