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White Wine of the Month: What is so Special About Chenin Blanc?

White Wine of the Month: What is so Special About Chenin Blanc?

Hello my dear wine loving friends! Today, I will be discussing this months selection of white wine. The lucky winner for this month is the very iconic and much loved Chenin Blanc!  It is such a classic South African white wine. South Africa at the moment is producing some of the worlds finest Chenin Blanc.  In actual fact, South Africa currently has 53% of worlds plantings of Chenin Blanc vines. France, USA, and Argentina are also a few excellent contenders of Chenin Blanc.

Chenin Blanc is such an excellent all rounder wine. It has a sweetness that can be adapted to any wine connoisseurs palate. We have the dry whites and sparkling wines, ranging from a Brut (dry) to Demi-Sec (aromatic and sweet). It can be oak-aged which has the similar characteristics of a  Chardonnay. You will find a Chenin Blanc for any occassion. 

I trust by the end of this article you will be drinking and pairing Chenin Blanc like a real pro! 

Chenin Vines Worcester
Chenin Blanc Vines in the beautiful and scenic Breedekloof Valley

A Short History of Chenin Blanc:

Chenin Blanc is one of the oldest vines and first vines to be planted by Jan van Riebeeck in 1655. It was called Steen up until the mid 1960’s. During the first half of the 20th Century it was used also used as base for making brandy.

As discussed in an earlier article, you will recall a wine called Lieberstein? During the 1960’s it was the first of its kind. This semi sweet wine was a blend of Chenin Blanc and Clairette Blanche and it changed the way South African’s drank wine. Within 5 years it topped sales of 31 million liters. Back in those years it was the largest selling branded wine in the World. This just shows how South Africa is a true contender in the International wine-making industry! 

Chenin Blanc Today:

Vines of Chenin Blanc
Chenin Blanc Bush Vines (Andrew Teubes via Wikimedia Commons)

South Africa has the biggest plantings of Chenin Blanc in the world. Wine of Origin Stellenbosch, Swartland and Coastal Regions are producing some of the best wines. South Africa also has some of the largest percentage of old vines. Many winemakers are focusing on much older bushvines. It is no question as to why, you get a more intensely flavoured Chenin Blanc. What producers do is they cut the vines right back to have a smaller yield size, harvest the grapes when they are riper and then often put in oak for fermentation and maturation. 

The Physiology of the Chenin Blanc Grape:

The vine grows to about medium to medium high depending on the soil. It is moderately resistant to wind. The vines starts to bud in September and starts to flower in November. The grapes starts ripen mid February. The sugar/acid ratio at full maturity is between 7.5 to 9 g/l and sugars of 20ºC to 22ºC Balling. 

Chenin Blanc is very sensitive to powdery mildew. It is very susceptible to Botrytis, which is actually not a bad thing. (We will discuss this a little later on in this article.)

Chenin Blanc on the Vine
Chenin Blanc Grapes on the Vine. (By Original photo by Chrisada via Wikimedia Commons)

The leaves are dark green, medium round, no lobes to 3 lobes. The cluster of the grapes are medium sized, funnel-shaped and very compacted. The grapes are oval, small, greenish yellow in colour. The skin is very thin and the grape is extremely luscious. 

Leaves of the Chenin Blanc Vine
The Chenin Blanc Vine Leaf (By Marianne Casamance, via Wikimedia Commons)

Unwooded vs. Wooded:

Like myself, many people who enjoy Chenin Blanc is looking at enjoying it now. Why not, life is short so enjoy the good things now!! That is my take on life! 

Chenin Blanc has a delicate floral aroma and kind of has a fruit salad flavour, the astringency that is between medium to high. This makes this particular cultivar a good all rounder. 

When tasting a Chenin Blanc you may pick up undertones of pineapples, apples, melon, quince, apricot, guava, and honeycomb if it has been aged. 

The colour of the wine will range from a pale straw to a pale amber, depending on the age, if it has been wooded and the sugar content. 

The less ripe the grape is you will have a passion fruit flavour. If the grape is slightly more riper it will lean more towards apples or pears. If the grape was harvest at its ripest you will pick up on flavours of peaches and apricots. 

#3 – Du Toitskloof – Chenin Blanc:

This fruity style Chenin Blanc erupts with flavours of apple, pear and pineapple and tropical fruit on the nose. The wine is medium-bodied with good balance between fruit, acidity and residual sugar ending with a crisp, pleasing taste on the palate.

#2 – Arendskloof – Chenin Blanc: 

This wine shows fresh floral and tropical fruit flavours that linger well on the palate. Enjoy on its own or with your favourite dish. Serve between 8° – 12°.

#1 – Balance – Chenin Blanc:

To create this wine the winemaker selected only the most exceptional fruit, grown in prime vineyard blocks. This medium bodied wine shows a beautiful melange of guava, passion fruit with a hint of citrus.

Adding Oak to Chenin Blanc adds another level  of complex flavours and a richness. You will pick up flavours of buttered popcorn, butterscotch, lemon curd, or even a Brioche. Hmmmmm, now I am suddenly peckish. 

These are my top 3 favourite wooded Chenin Blanc:

#3 – De Wet Cellar – Wooded Chenin Blanc

Surlie method was used in aging of this wine in French oak barrels for eight months. This created a balance between a well-rounded mouth feel and a marriage between the stone fruit, vanilla and buttery aromas.

#2 – Merwida – Family Vintners Chenin Blanc 2016

This silky, fruit driven wine has prominent citrus flavours with a zesty aftertaste that is supported by oak notes from fermentation in 1st, 2nd and 3rd fill French Oak Barrels.

# 1 – Spier – 21 Gables Chenin Blanc

Spier’s wooded Chenin Blanc is rich and complex. Created from vines that are over 40 years old. These vines produce grapes with thicker skins giving you a wine with intense flavour that also ages well. Soft aromas of dried apricots and ripe tropical fruit, with an oak and vanilla undertow on the nose. On the palate, there’s an inescapable rounded richness of flavor and good acidity, white flesh peaches, almond paste and creamy notes.

Chenin Blanc Flavour Profile:

As you you harvest at different times you will get different flavour profiles:

Dry Chenin Blanc:  Grapes are fermented dry and kept fresh. You will pick up the following flavours: tart pears, quince, and chamomile.

Off Dry Chenin Blanc: will have some of the natural sugars are left. You will taste more ripe pears, jasmine, guava, passion fruit, or honeycomb.

Sweet: You will pick up more persimmon, toasted almonds, mangoes and mandarins.

Sparkling: Dry (Brut) to sweet (Demi-Sec) you will find flavours of quince, golden delicious apples, and ginger.

Tropical Fruits in a Chenin Blanc
Some of the flavours you will be able to pick up on drinking a Chenin Blanc wine.

Food Pairings:


Veal, Trout, Turkey, Pork, Guinea Foul, Smoked Salmon, Terrine and Pâtés.

Spices and Herbs:

Cinnamon, Dill, Tarragon, Tumeric, Ginger, Fenugreek, Fennel, Clove, Majoram, All Spice, Red Pepper Flakes, Coriander, Cumin, Macadamia, Peanut, Cashew and Sesame Seeds.

Fruit and Vegetables:

Squash, Guava, Shallots, Chives, Cabbage, Carrots, Cauliflower, Oyster Mushrooms, Apples, Quinces, Pears and Red Bell Peppers. 

Just to let you on something. So yesterday I had brie and fresh fig pizza at Willow Creek Olive Estate. We where just chilling and ordered a bottle of wine before we decided on what we were going to eat. I know… I know not always the best decision!! Boy oh Boy!! Did the Brie and the Chenin Blanc pair so well!! It was like the flavours of the pizza and the wine became super concentrated and deeply intense. So yes, in my very humble opinion it pairs super well with Brie!! I’m in love!! 

Noble Late Harvest:

The greatest wine ever made from Chenin Blanc in the Cape Noble Late Harvest. I always think of my Dad, he absolutely loves a Noble Late Harvest.  This type of wine is made from grapes that has been affected by Botrytis Cinerea (or also commonly known as Noble Rot). This fungus removes water from the grapes leaving a higher percentage of solids like sugar, fruit acids and minerals. When it is dry it turns grey in colour which is the way winemakers just love!

This is happens normally towards the very end of the harvest season when the grapes are picked beyond ripe and has this noble rot.  This give the wine such depth and intense flavour. You will find rich flavours of orange marmalade, ginger, and even hints of saffron. Personally, in my humble opinion I also get a strong raisin taste as well. 

However, there is a downside should the grapes or the fungi gets wet or damp it will then turn back. This is bad news for the wine-making team. This is called Vulgar Rot and completely destroys the grape. Making them absolutely useless for making any form of wine. 


Chenin Blanc Noble Late Harvest
Chenin blanc with Botrytis (By Simon Bonaventure via Wikimedia Commons)

My top 3 noble late harvest is the following:

#3 – Joostenberg Noble Late Harvest

The wine has a beautiful golden straw colour. The nose & palate are characterized by wax, apricot, pineapple, marmalade and honey comb flavours. There is plenty of sweetness and the finish is marked by lingering (not piercing) acidity

#2 – Slaghoek Creme De Chenin

An elegant natural sweet wine made from predominantly Chenin Blanc grapes. Refreshingly sweet and crisp on palate with a fruity bouquet and lingering aftertaste displaying a hint of botrytis. 

 #1 – Badsberg Noble Late Harvest 2009 (Sold Out – But I still have a bottle 😛 )

Typical botrytis character, ripe fruit and lingering honey aftertaste. Excellent balance between alcohol, sugar and acidity. Dried apricots, stewed fruit, orange peel flavours with a hint of honey and typical botrytis characteristics. If you can get your hands on a bottle, it may prove to be difficult as it is sold out, but so worth it! It will not be disappointing that my friends I guarantee you. 

Thank you my friends for taking the time in reading my blog. Please subscribe if you want more boozy articles. (Please note that I am running a giveaway for the month of march (South Africa Only). Sign up and you can wine 1 of 2 hampers of wine. Each hamper contains 3 bottles of wine. 1 x wooded Chenin Blanc, 1 x unwooded Chenin Blanc and 1 x Cabernet Sauvignon. 

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