Exploring South Africa’s corner-stone varietal, Chenin Blanc
South Africa’s corner-stone varietal, Chenin Blanc in exploration is one of my favorites in learning about wines.
The thing about wine is that the more you know, the less you know. Its is a journey of intrigue and learning. Take, for example, which I learned through my Direct Cellars box about Chenin Blanc. P.S. Direct Cellars is a monthly curated wine subscription box, depending on your plan, you can receive three to six bottles of wine every month. There’s also an added advantage of making some extra lazy cash while you are at it. Take some time to check it out.
Okay, back to Chenin Blanc
Considering how big South Africa has grown this grape, it is no surprise that some of us (maybe just me) don’t know that it is actually from Loire Valley, France. Famed for producing excellent wines in Quarts de Chaume, Savennières and Vouvray but muffled by all the other great wines and grapes from France. In South Africa it has been on the most part, responsible for producing mass produced fruity wines. Commonly in blends or pocket friendly plonk for a casual summer day. Nothing too complex.
I had tried some good bottles but aside from the notable nose that oddly reminds me of sesame and it’s balanced body, I didn’t think too highly of it. You can imagine my surprise to taste fine wines from this region!
Direct Cellars provides tasting cards to assist you appreciate each wine. Thanks to them, it turns out there is more to this grape and its relationship with South Africa than meets the eye. Here it can be made into four (and counting) distinct styles. South Africa has made its signature varietal.
In this country, where they call grapes Cultivar, they also have an Afrikaans word for it: Steen. Meaning brick, a nod to it being their corner-stone. Here more than anywhere else in the world will you find most plantings of Chenin. It thrives in the gentle sun and the some of the worlds oldest soils. At home in the well designated Wine of Origin regions that are allocated by uniqueness of land and climate.
You will find it along the Coastal region, and the famous vineyards of Stellenbosch and Swartland. Making use of old vines has produced some true gems that show remarkable complexity and potential to age from about five to fifteen years or more.
In more temperate climate, near the ocean, Chenin might not get the chance to ripen fully. Nevertheless, it offers wines with invigorating ripe melon and apple characters coupled with a broad mouthfeel. Higher altitude, cool climate regions produce Chenin in a citrusy fashion with zingy acidity. It is well-known to take up on other vegetal, textural or mineral nuances in the vineyard like fynbos herbs and flint mineral from granitic soils.
Start with the fresh and fruity; Raats Family 2011 Original Unwooded Chenin Blanc, from the coastal region. This wine is very vibrant with a white and yellow fruit flavors combined with mineral hints. On the palate it stays colorful with a substantial body finishing clean and refreshing with excellent balance and acidity.
While there are other spectacular oaked and dessert fine wines made from this grape. You might have to join me on my Direct Cellars journey to discover them.
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