Tuesday, July 9, 2024

Fun Whites from Chenin Blanc!

Chenin Blanc is very often overlooked as a grape, mostly because wine producers prefer to plant and make wines from other white varieties that are more appealing to consumers such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc or Muscat.

Originally from the Loire Valley, where it thrives in appellations such as: Anjou-Saumur, Vouvray, Savennières Coteaux du Layon, Quarts de Chaume and Bonnezeaux. it is also the most planted white grape in South Africa, covering more than 18,000 hectares, where it is known as Steen. Chenin Blanc is also favored in California, Chile, Argentina, Australia and Israel.

Despite its underdog status, producers value Chenin Blanc for its versatility in producing all styles of wines, from dry to sweet, from mineral to fruit forward, from still to fine sparkling. It looks like for Chenin Blanc the sky is truly the limit.

From a viticultural perspective, Chenin Blanc is early budding but late ripening and naturally very vigorous, so plenty of cropping/ green harvest is necessary to keep it tamed. It thrives at lower yields, with 50 hl/hr considered ideal. Similarly to Riesling, it reflects the terroir in which it grows; sandy soils produce lighter and more delicate styles of wine, while clay yields richer full-bodied versions. Limestone soils result in elegant wines with crisp acidity, while schist, quartz and tufa soils impart plenty of minerality. Its ability to retain its natural high acidity makes it well-suited for warm climates, explaining its success in South Africa's Stellenbosch, Paarl and Swartland appellations.

Yet as imagined, geography will significantly influence the style of Chenin Blanc in your glass. Cool climate Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley is made in an old world style, showcasing delicate aromas of green and yellow apple, citrus, honeysuckle, with medium alcohol content, and prominent mineral and chalky notes. In contrast, New World Chenin Blanc from California or South Africa, tends to be riper, due to warmer weather conditions, and the winemaker’s intent to emphasize fruit-forward, tropical flavors, such as guava, pineapple, apricot and mango. Warm climates also soften Chenin’s piercing acidity, making these wines approachable earlier than some of their Loire Valley’s counterparts.

From a winemaking perspective, South Africa Chenin Blanc is typically vinified in inert containers such as concrete vats, old oak casks that don’t impart any flavors or stainless steel vats, to preserve fruit purity, without excessive winemaking intervention. Some producers may choose lees aging or battonage to add body and creaminess. Malolactic fermentation is usually avoided in warm areas, but probably widely used in the Loire Valley, that per se could be considered a marginal climate for growing this grape.

Chenin Blanc's superb sweet styles are crafted from noble rot affected grapes, exhibiting completely different aromas of quince, apricot, peach, honey, marzipan and brioche. They usually have higher acidity than Sauternes, and higher alcohol content than German dessert wines. Chenin Blanc is also a key component of Crémant de Limoux, a sparkling wine from the Languedoc Roussillon region in the South of France and also plays an important role in South African Cap Classique, the term used to label sparkling wines made using the Traditional method.  

My recommendations: recently I had the pleasure of attending a mini wine tasting organized by Wines from South Africa that featured a selection of Chenin Blancs.
Their delicious fruit, refreshing acidity and in some cases very affordable prices, make these wines an enticing alternative for Summer enjoyment. If you appreciate lively and vibrant dry whites as much as I do, consider giving your Rieslings and Sauvignon Blancs a break and trying one of these fantastic Chenin Blancs listed below, you will be pleasantly surprised.  Until the next one, Cheers! Silvina. 

Sparklehorse MCC 100% Chenin NV, $26.99
Lievland Old Vines Chenin Blanc 2022 $18.99
Beaumont Chenin Blanc 2023 $20.99
Reyneke Vinehugger Organic Chenin Blanc 2023 $17.99
Testalonga Cortez 2021, $49.99
Bellingham Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2021 $29.99
Raats Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2022 $31.99
illimis Chenin Blanc $49.99

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