About Chenin Blanc
Up there, with the world's finest
It's a little known fact, but a fact all the same, that South African Chenin Blanc wines are among the world's finest.
It's also a fact that there is a group of visionary South African wine producers who are, not only fast spreading the word, but also continually providing hard evidence by producing Chenin Blanc wines of increasingly remarkable quality.
They're giving this noble variety royal treatment in the vineyard and cellar, and it's responding as nobility should - with grand personality, regal flavours and stately versatility.
This page provides you with an introduction to Chenin Blanc and to the organisation dedicated to ensuring that South African Chenin Blanc takes its rightful place with the other great white wines of the world, the Chenin Blanc Association.
Tracing Chenin Blanc back to its noble roots
Chenin Blanc has a long history. It's thought to have been established in the Anjou region of France as long ago as the ninth century and was probably known then as Chenere. The variety was renamed Chenin Blanc, after Mont Chenin, in the 15th century soon after being exported to the Touraine region in the Loire Valley.
Jan Van Riebeeck introduced the first vines to the Cape in 1655. Early documents refer to three varieties: Groendruif (Semillon), Fransdruif and Steen. It seems that the origin of the names Fransdruif and Steen are intertwined. There is a theory that the name 'Steen' developed when the Dutch who settled in the Cape decoded 'Listan' to 'La Stan', then 'De Steen' and finally, 'Steen'. In the 1920s, it was established that Fransdruif, rather than Steen, was the variety Listan in France, and Palomino, in Spain.
Early opinion had it that Steen was of Germanic origin, supported by the evidence of a handwritten note, by Governor Simon van der Stel, on wine quality, that mentioned that wine made from Steen was comparable to quality German Stein wines. This saw the introduction of the Germanic spelling 'Stein'. After an extensive, but unsuccessful, Germanic and eastward search for the origin of Steen, the variety Franche (from which Fransdruif might originally have taken its name) provided the answer. This variety was also apparently known by the French, as Chenin Blanc - and approximately thirty other names. In 1963, the then Head of Viticulture at the University of Stellenbosch, Professor C.J Orffer, matched Steen and Chenin Blanc leaves and finally pronounced Steen, Chenin Blanc.
Steen first came to prominence in the first half of the twentieth century as a base for South African brandy. In the 1960s, Lieberstein, a semi-sweet blend of Steen and Clairette Blanche, enjoyed phenomenal success.
It was, for a while, the world's bestselling single brand of wine. At a different level, but just as spectacular, Nederburg Edelkeur, a Chenin Blanc Noble Late Harvest, provided ample evidence of the quality that Chenin Blanc can deliver.
Making Chenin Blanc
Versatile fruit from the Cape's blessed and wide terroir
Chenin Blanc in South Africa has extensive depth in terms of vineyards, terroir diversity and winemaking expertise. The grape's exceptional versatility and the excellent selection of fruit available, due to the Cape Winelands' wide terroir, provide for great varietyof style. Winemaking techniques depend on the style of wine desired. Yet, one fact is unassailable: the most intensely flavoured Chenin Blanc wines come from older vines that have been carefully managed for balanced yields.
While most South African Chenin Blanc wines are still made in a fresh and fruity style, that is changing. More and more producers are focussing on mature bushvines. They prune these dramatically to cut down on yields, pick the grapes riper and often introduce oak fermentation and maturation. Chenin Blanc is a very responsive variety - it will give back in the bottle what the winemaker has put into the vineyard and in the cellar.
Drinking Chenin Blanc
Its versatility extends to a wide range of food dishes
Many wine drinkers tend to buy wine for immediate enjoyment. Fresh young Chenin Blanc wines answer this call admirably. These wines have seductive fresh fruit and delicate floral aromas and a host of fruit salad flavours, sometimes apple or melon, apricot, guava and pineapple, all backed by firm, crisp, natural acidity that make Chenin Blanc wines so perfectly balanced.
Oak introduces a great complexity of flavours and a richer mouth feel. Chenin Blanc rewards lengthy bottle maturation. The colour deepens to a gorgeous straw-gold, and honey and nuts are added to the palette of flavours.
Chenin Blanc's versatility extends to the range of food dishes with which it can be paired.
- Dry styles will perk up full flavoured fish and chicken, Malay curries and other Pacific Rim cuisine, and will add zest to vegetarian dishes like stuffed marrows and aubergine bakes.
- Sweeter styles match well with warm fruit desserts or tarts.
- Quality bottle-matured Chenin Blanc is a perfect partner for ripe Brie and Camembert Of course, on its own, its as good a companion as any!
Chenin Blanc Styles
The Chenin Blanc Association's six recognised styles
Fresh & fruity - (less than 9 g/l residual sugar)
Rich & ripe unwooded - (less than 9 g/l residual sugar)
Rich & ripe wooded - (less than 9 g/l residual sugar)
Rich & ripe slightly sweet - (between 9 and 30 g/l residual sugar)
Sweet - (more than 30 g/l residual sugar)
Sparkling - Tank fermented or Cap Classique
For more information about Chenin Blanc, visit www.chenin.co.za
Botrytis infection is known as "noble rot" or pourriture noble in French and Edelfaule in German. The fungus removes water from grapes, leaving behind a higher percentage of solids such as sugars, fruit acids and minerals. This results in a more intense, concentrated final product. The fungus also gives a distinct character to the wine, besides enriching the end product. When dry, it is grey in colour and beneficial to the grape for winemaking. If it gets damp or wet, it turns black and is then called "vulgar rot" - totally destroying the grapes, rending them absolutely useless for winemaking. The name comes from the Greek word, where botrytis means a bunch of grapes, because under a microscope the fungi looks like tiny bunches of grapes. Cinerea means cinders, which reflects the grey colour of the fungi.