24 May Chenin Blanc- is this the new favourite white wine?
A Wine lovers profile of Chenin Blanc
If we look back at the history of Chenin Blanc not only in South Africa, but in the world at large there is quite a profound story to be told…
Chenin Blanc as a single varietal certainly boasts a fascinating history dating back quite a considerable amount of time. According to the historic records of this proud cultivar, it is believed that Chenin Blanc was first established in the Anjou region of France – and that would be as far back as the 9th century! However, at the time it was more likely known as “Chenere” since it was only later renamed Chenin Blanc, after Mont Chenin in the 15th century. (or so they say)
The history of Chenin Blanc in South Africa also bares a long and interesting tale and is believed to be one of the first cuttings that arrived here in 1655, when Governor Jan van Riebeeck arrived in the Cape. Within the early documents that refer to these arrivals, were “Fransdruif”, “Groendruif” and “Steen”. There is a theory suggesting that the name “Steen” came about when the Dutch settlers decoded “Listan” to “La Stan” and then “De Steen” finally became Steen. (Though this too remains only a presumption)
In fact, the plot thickens in profiling this bold cultivar, since earlier opinions have even suggested that “Steen” was in fact of German origin! – which was even supported in evidence of a handwritten account by Governor Simon van der Stel. In his scribbling he refers to his opinion that the Steen varietal was fairly comparable to some of the high profile German Stein wines. (Now there’s a thought to ponder on) If we were to analyse any further, we can’t help but wonder just how the introduction to the German spelling of “Stein” then came about? Although, as history roughly relates the story there was quite an extensive, yet unsuccessful search into the actual origins of Steen, but eventually put down to the probability that “Franche” from which “Fransdruif” got its name, may in fact be the original source.
Interesting to note though, is that this variety is also known to the French as Chenin Blanc! (although a dozen other names can be added to that too) but the official vinous baptism – if one may call it that, eventually occurred in 1963 when Professor CJ Orffer, Head of Viticulture at Stellenbosch University matched the Steen and Chenin Blanc leaves and subsequently pronounced that Steen is in fact Chenin Blanc! And there you have it.
Chenin Blanc has become the most widely planted varietal in South Africa
Chenin Blanc holds a reasonably high acidity which fortunately allows it to be used in making a variety of styles of wine, including sparkling wines, dessert wines, brandy as well as neutral wines – if the natural vigour of the vines can be contained that is! Found in most of the new-world wine regions today, Chenin Blanc has become the most widely planted varietal in South Africa.
Steen originally found its place in South Africa in the early part of the twentieth century, when producers discovered its great potential as a base for brandies. Furthermore its impressive quality and advantages in blending were again evident when we refer to the phenomenal success of Lieberstein, a slightly sweet blend of Chenin Blanc and Clairette Blanche.
Are things busy changing? As we have all come to realise but perhaps not so easily convinced anymore, Sauvignon Blanc has for too long been regarded as the “safer option of choice” in terms of selecting a white wine. As such the familiar cultivar has hogged the lime-light of popular white wine for eons, but may just be moving to backstage. However that at first may have come about, it would appear that the tables certainly seem to have turned in the arena of competing white wines. Perhaps we owe it to the wonderful versatility of Chenin Blanc that has many a wine lover struggling with the very decision of whether to buy the Sauvignon Blanc or the Chenin?
If you were to look at this from an unbiased perspective, in the fact that Chenin Blanc has been raking in the awards both locally and abroad for an impressive time now –and without a doubt fast becoming more and more of a celebrity wine in South Africa – we certainly have got a good thing going! Wine producers and winemakers in South Africa deserve the glory for how they have refined their skill in approach to both terrior and climate conditions – and though this cultivar can ask a fair amount of attention and TLC – they have established the finer art of producing outstanding Chenin Blanc! Cheers to our virtuoso winemakers and viticulturists alike!
Chenin Blanc has deservedly established a stellar reputation.
There’s hardly anything subtle about Chenin Blanc when it comes to the variety in sensory splendour it offers. From fresh fruit and floral aromas, to delightful buffets of tropical fruit flavours, enhanced by crisp structures and often the most enjoyable balance. Who can not fall in love with this wine? Not all Chenins are wooded either, as this remains the decision of a dexterous winemaker. However, oak has been deemed to add impressive complexity in terms of the collection in flavours and accentuate a bolder mouth feel. When it comes to maturing a Chenin Blanc, it is advisable to store those of higher oak value, as opposed to those not oaked, simply because the flavours mature so warmly and even the colour may become more appealing – not that it wasn’t a beautiful colour to start off with!
Which foods will pair best with your Chenin Blanc?
Since we’ve mentioned how versatile this cultivar is with food dishes, we thought it appropriate to name a few dishes that you could accompany to your wine. Food dishes correctly paired with Chenin Blanc will more often than not assume a stellar rating, since the wine has such a remarkable ability to compliment a meal.
Within the dryer styles of Chenin Blanc you may wish to pair dishes like medium curries, sweet and sour dishes, Asian and even other subtle Indian cuisine. Sweeter styles perform well with seafood, salmon and trout, sushi, vegetable dishes, creamy pasta dishes and risotto. If a quality bottle of matured Chenin Blanc is your thing, then it’s definitely onto the richer dishes to bring about the best in your food pairing adventure. Foods like rich matured cheeses, roasts, steak and other hearty, spicy and flavour-rich meals will certainly compliment the complexity of a fuller-bodied Chenin Blanc – and likely bring impressive compliments to the chef too!
Did you know that Chenin Blanc has its own day?
With all this hype around Chenin Blanc, it’s no wonder that folks are looking forward to the upcoming day that will not only highlight the endless flow of Chenin Blanc in South Africa, but is likely to convert just a smidgen more avid Sauvignon Blanc drinkers to opt for the more exciting option – and that will be marked by national “Drink Chenin” Day on the 17th of June! In fact the wine calendar is already full of exciting events to mark this celebratory day, and include the likes of the Standard Bank Chenin Blanc Top 10 Challenge, Chenin Blanc tastings and festivals, dinners, pairings and showcasings all over the Winelands!
So much to choose from! Thankfully, with so many varieties, styles and producers to choose from and South Africa having become known for some of the best Chenin Blancs in the world, it’s not going to be a difficult feat finding your favourite bottle of Chenin on a wine shelf. (That is if you don’t prefer to treat yourself in buying your favourite bottle directly from the source!) But as South African wine lovers and especially those fortunate enough to live in close proximity to wine estates, it is always a wonderful experience to sample and taste various wines of a single cultivar from different producers. Since Chenin Blanc offers such a diverse collection of styles, what better way to celebrate “DrinkChenin” day than to compare a few! For those not habitually residing around the Winelands however, there is always the excitement of interesting wine shops who offer riveting options to choose from!
Alvi’s Drift Chenin Blanc
One such a splendid experience would be to taste the formidable Chenin Blanc wines from Alvi’s Drift Wine Estate , located in the charming Breede River Valley, just outside the town of Worcester. Owned by the Van der Merwe family and run together with their 2 sons, Johan and Alvi, where they have made it their mission to specialise in predominantly Chenin Blanc and Pinotage amongst the various cultivars they farm. The farm claimed its name from a drift nearby that crosses the Breede River – which also proves to be the only access to the farm – originally built by the boys’ grandfather in 1928.
Young and Fresh vs. Old and matured…
Furthermore, if we look into the category of fresh young wines vs. wooded wines, Chenin Blanc again proves to be a multi-performer. There are those that can be immediately enjoyed without any necessary long term keeping – another category in which Chenin Blanc appears to claim its fame! And then there are those Chenin Blanc wines that have been subject to some degree or form of oak maturation which are simply beyond splendid in their complexity. A most versatile cultivar in all aspects!
Does Chenin come out in summer or winter?
Again the endless talents of Chenin Blanc cease to disappoint. Because of the vast varieties in style and composition, Chenin offers many enjoyable options to all seasons. Depending on the food you are serving with your wine you may decide on a younger fruitier Chenin or perhaps a heartier more full-bodied option. (and the options in between are endless) Therefore is likely one of the most “whatever-the-weather” kinds of wine and for that reason you can enjoy it all year round!
The Alvi’s Drift Ultra Premium Range as well as the Signature Range offers a selection of Chenin Blanc wines that are guaranteed to please even the toughest of unconvinced palates. Of especially noteworthy interest, is the consistent collection of exceptional awards that these wines have received over the years.