Chenin Blanc strikes back!

SA offers an astonishing array of chenin blanc.

Like so many wine lovers, one of the first places I go to for great Chenin Blanc is South Africa, writes Mark Angelillo.

While South Africa is considered part of the New World, at this point, the country’s vines are quite venerable. The first vintage of South African wine was recorded in 1659. Meanwhile, the first-ever mentions of Chenin Blanc were recorded just under two hundred years earlier in France, 1496 (back when the grape was known as Plant d’Anjou).

South Africa is a crucial part of Chenin Blanc’s heritage. Once known as Steen in South Africa, Chenin Blanc remains the country’s most widely planted variety. In fact, there is more Chenin Blanc grown in South Africa than in France. These wines run the gamut from value to premium, so they are well suited to all nights of the week and a wide range of cuisines. In fact, South African Chenin Blanc boasts some of the most terrific values on the market today.

South Africa’s stash of old Chenin Blanc vines is a true treasure, and there’s a strong movement to ensure they are preserved. You’ll want to enjoy these wines for decades to come. The South African interpretation of Chenin Blanc is rife with orchard fruits, a characteristic honeysuckle note, and just a dash of pith that only can be South Africa. Oaked or unoaked, I’m relieved to know that South African winemakers are continuing to write this grape’s story.

Here are a few of my favorites from a recent blind tasting:

Ken Forrester Petit Chenin Blanc Stellenbosch 2016

Ken Forrester is a renowned name and I’ve never been disappointed by any wine in their portfolio. Warm melon and lemon aromas. Citrus notes of grapefruit and lemon in the mouth, this is simple and fruit forward but melts into an earthy, oaky and almost tannic finish.  

Eikeboom Chenin Blanc Western Cape 2016
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Twenty-five year old vines, zero oak. Lightly buttered aromas of melon and pear on the nose. A hint of fruit sugar greets the palate with peach and apricot notes, even a touch of pineapple adding some additional fresh fruit flavor before this finishes clean and light with confectioners sugar and green melon. 

Xavier Flouret Fynbos Chenin Blanc Stellenbosch 2016

These come from 44 year-old bush vines grown 285 meters above sea level. Clean and clear aromas of light peach, melon and steely lime. This has a pleasant creaminess to it with a honeyed note of pear, apple and peach with cool, lime zest and butter notes towards the long finish of aged cheese rind and oak. 

AA Badenhorst Secateurs Chenin Blanc Swartland 2016

This is Chenin Blanc with a dash of Palomino (another grape with a long history in the region) plus an unnamed grape to add some mystery. These vines were planted in the late 1960s to mid-1970s. Pleasant golden apple and honey aromas with floral, spiced oak notes and an orange marmalade glaze. Fresh acidity, minerality and lemon zest flavors, muted fruit but present with peach and melon flavors welling up after the mineral notes and finishing clean, fresh and juicy.

DeMorgenzon Chenin Blanc Reserve Stellenbosch 2015

These grapes come from 43 year-old bush vines planted 820 to 985 feet above sea level just adjacent to False Bay in Stellenbosch. Fresh apricot, apple and soft melon aromas. Buttery and creamy textured on entry, this has a pleasant lemon palate and medium-full body, finishing a bit herbal. $34.99

Ken Forrester Petit Chenin Blanc Stellenbosch 2016

Again, warm melon and lemon aromas. Citrus notes of grapefruit and lemon in the mouth, this is simple and fruit forward but melts into an earthy, oaky and almost tannic finish.

(Source: SNOOTH)