Wine Talk

Snooth User: spikedc

Chenin Blanc

Posted by spikedc, Jan 31, 2011.

Wandering around a local wine store over the weekend, noticed on the tasting counter a Chenin Blanc a wine which i have never tasted before.

It was a  Bellingham 'The Bernard Series' Old Vine 2009/10 Western Cape from South Africa. £10 ($15) I liked it a lot, very dark gold colour, smelled of exotic fruits and honey. ended up buying a couple of bottles.

This caught my eye because of my fondness for South African wine, any other reasonably priced Chenin blancs out there to add to my evergrowing list.



Reply by GregT, Jan 31, 2011.

It's popular in S Africa, where it's also called Steen, so you should be OK if you try some more S African whites.  For some reason it never caught on as much as it might have anywhere else outside of its home.  Actually that's not true.  It was really popular in the 1970s in the US, relatively speaking however, since the entire wine sector was miniscule compared to what it is today.  But as wine increased in popularity, Chenin Blanc got bypassed by Chardonnay, white Zinfandel, and Sauvignon Blanc, and today it just doesn't have the cachet it might.

The other problem is that it's not generally something to go gaga over when you find it.  It's planted it many countries, but seems like the S Africans have done most to treat it with respect.  There is a winery Long Island in NY that does a pretty good one and it makes me think that more wineries in that climate should make it, but I suppose the lack of a market is the problem.

However, as you discovered, it's a pretty good wine when made right. 

And in the Loire, it's often done right.  In Saumur and Savennières it's usually dry, but often with a few grams of RS, in Anjou and Vouvray it's often off-dry.  But where it shines is in sweet botrytized wines that you finde in Coteaux du Layon and Quarts de Chaume.  In fact, it's as good or better than just about any Sauternes.  I put the good ones second only to Tokaj and Austria for top sweets.  And finally, it can make a really good sparkling wine - Crémant de Loire if you like those types of wines.  

Fortunately for you, those wines tend to be very underpriced for the relative value you get, so my advice is to start looking for those white Loires. 

Reply by ama il vino, Jan 31, 2011.

I like the Pine Ridge Chenin/Viognier it's a nice aromatic white, summer sipper. Easy to find and not pricy.

Reply by dmcker, Jan 31, 2011.

I know you like your sweet Loires, Greg, but don't knock those sauternes. Don't know any good Loire chenin that's better than a good d'Yquem. ;-)

That being said, spike, I'd start with the spiritual, stylistic, whatever home of the grape in the Loire first, exploring the areas that Greg mentions, and go to South Africa second. They definitely are doing a surprisingly good job there, considering that virtually nowhere else is, and last summer it was my default white at home. Nice petit coup de blanc to start the evening. Good with seafood barbeques during the day, too, as a counterpart to SB from either South Africa or France (very, very rarely New Zealand for me... ;-)   ).

When I started drinking wine seriously at the end of the '70s there was a lot of chenin blanc around in California wine country, some OK+, a lot OK-. Remember getting sloshed at Sunday brunches at the Souverain (now Coppola) winery's restaurant on the stuff more than once, and all concerned felt it was a pleasant way to spend part of the day. Then commercial oomph in that part of the wine world went into that garbage called white zin, and also into chardonnay which can be great, or again garbage, depending on who's making it according to what style.

Do post when you have a chance to try some from the Loire. Would be interested to hear your reactions.

Reply by spikedc, Jan 31, 2011.

Cheers Guys, next time Loire chenin blanc it is. let you know when i taste one.

Reply by dmcker, Jan 31, 2011.

Mushy writing on my part. Not sure if it was clea that when I was talking about a glass of white to start the evening, or to go with seafood BBQ last summer, I was talking about SAfrican chenin blanc, not that from the Loire.

I like the CB and sauvignon blanc from South Africa a lot, and drink plenty of it. But that from the Loire is in an entirely different league....

Reply by StevenBabb, Jan 31, 2011.

i'm fond of ken forester's effort of chenin from south africa... simonsig makes a good one too.... really can't beat the price points either...


Reply by GregT, Jan 31, 2011.

D - just looking out for the underdog.  I actually love Sauternes.  But people think those are the be-all and end-all and IMHO, that's got more to do with marketing than what's in the bottle. 

Still haven't had any that shame a top Tokaji-aszu and have had plenty of shockingly good Loire sweets.  But as a sugar whore, I don't want to knock any of them too much!

Reply by dmcker, Jan 31, 2011.

Gotta tip the cap towards those Bordelaise marketers...

Reply by Richard Foxall, Feb 1, 2011.

We drank a little chenin from California when I was a kid.  MAN from S. Africa do a nice budget (or did--haven't had it for a year or two) Steen from S. Africa with a Stelvin, and that got me back into it.  I like the Loire, no doubt, but the S. African Chenin is just a different beast, I think, and good for frequent summer drinking.  Lots of tangy grapefruit, super-dry, a bit less minerally than the little bit of Loire that I have had. (The Loire is so diverse, I will always say I have only had a little, even as I keep delving into it.)  Plus as GregT points out most of the Loire CB has a touch of RS.  So they are pretty distinguishable, IMO.  But those are the two places where chenin shines.  Dancing Coyote in Clarksburg is making chenin, and verdelho, and other kind of out of favor whites, doing a really nice job and at really good prices.  But I still lean towards the S. African and Loire versions. It's a good one to buy because of the values and because it does reflect where it's grown.  (Hate to call that terroir knowing that GT is reading this thread...)

Personally, I get more of a kick out of what wine makers do with chenin than with SB or Chardonnay. But that's me, and probably reflects that, esp with Chardonnay, expectations are just out of line with the reality in so many cases.

Reply by VitaVinifera, Feb 1, 2011.

I would recommend the Paumanok Chenin Blanc.  Very crisp and clean.  I haven't had the 2010 yet, but past vintages have been great.

Lilly Teague (F&W and NY Times) has done some really good write-ups of it as one of her favorite wines. 

Reply by GregT, Feb 1, 2011.


Not that I'd necessarily look to her for wine recs, but she has written about that wine.  That is in fact the winery I was referring to.  Far as I know, they're the only one doing CB out there and based on their example, there should be a lot more of it.  Of course, there's no way in hell poor Spike is going to find that in England.

Matter of fact, now that they're doing Pinot Noir in England, maybe some ambitious soul will try Chenin Blanc!

Reply by Stephen Harvey, Feb 1, 2011.

Not much chance of finding much persuasive chenin blanc in Australia, most goes cheaper wine

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