Oh my, Chenin Blanc!

In preparation of #DrinkChenin day on Saturday, 17 June, I am taking a look at the grape, estates and the production of the liquid gold which is Chenin Blanc.



Chenin Blanc (known also as Pineau de la Loire among other names) is a white wine grape variety from the Loire Valley of France. Its high acidity means it can be used to make everything from sparkling wines to well-balanced dessert wines, although it can produce very bland, neutral wines if the vine’s natural vigor is not controlled. Outside the Loire it is found in most of the New World wine regions; it is the most widely planted variety in South Africa, where it is also known as Steen.

Chenin Blanc is the most widely planted variety, accounting for nearly one-fifth (18.6%) of all vineyard plantings in the early 21st century. In 2008, there were 18,852 hectares of the grape planted, nearly twice the amount of Chenin blanc planted in France. The majority of the plantings are found in the Western Cape wine region of Paarl, in the Cape Winelands District Municipality, the Swartland region of Malmesbury and Olifants River in cultivation in 2008.

The variety was most likely introduced to the country in the collection of vine cuttings sent to Jan van Riebeeck by the Dutch East India Company. For the next couple hundred years of South African wine history. It was not until 1965 that ampelographers were able to concretely identify the numerous plantings of Steen around the country as being Chenin Blanc. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Chenin Blanc was the principal grape in the South African wine industry’s “white wine renaissance” that was ushered in by the introduction of new technologies such as temperature controlled fermentation vessels. During this time, the focus was on producing off-dry, clean, and crisp wine that was mostly neutral in flavor and could capitalize on the wine market’s demand for white wine.

Near the end of the 20th century, several Chenin Blanc specialist producers emerged and worked with vineyard managers to isolate older Chenin vines on suitable terroir. Their goal was to produce wines that exhibited Chenin’s unique aromas and traits. While plantings of Chenin Blanc have decreased, the work of these producers resulted in improved quality profiles of South African Chenin Blanc.

pexels-photo-66436.jpegIn 2014 the first #DrinkChenin Day was celebrated on June 12th in New York and 10 other cities across the USA. TheDrinkChenin Day campaign was the brainchild of USA retailers and sommeliers.

The CBA actively joined the campaign in 2016 and Jim Clark, Marketing Manager, WOSA USA, also conducted a virtual tasting of a number of SA Chenins. Although the 17 June (date for 2017) was picked for the northern hemisphere summer, celebrating the freshness of Chenin Banc, it actually put the spotlight on the diversity of Chenin Blanc.

Chenin can be just as enjoyable during the South Africa winter with fuller styles ranging from *sur lie to wooded styles, ideal partner for warming winter meals. This campaign has expanded to an international celebration of Chenin Blanc.

*sur lie: [soor LEE] The French expression for “on the lees“. Lees is the coarse sediment, which consists mainly of dead yeast cells and small grape particles that accumulate during fermentation. Wine-makers believe that certain wines benefit from being aged sur lie.

This initiative is actively driven by the South Eastern Wine Collective (drinkchenin.com) in the US and by the Chenin Blanc Association (drinkchenin.co.za) in South Africa. Wines of South Africa (WOSA – Europe) is also actively supporting the campaign by e.g. facilitating special Chenin tastings and acivities.

Take a look at “Mr Chenin” Ken Forrester and other partners discussing the Standard Bank Chenin Blanc Top 10 challenge, featured on Top Billing (2016):

For the 2016 winners of the Standard Bank Chenin Blanc Top 10, click here.

For incredible recipes and pairings, take a look at the Chenin Blanc Association of South Africa’s #DrinkChenin page as well as exciting news and events on their Facebook page.

Resource: Chenin Blanc Association of South Africa

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