Chenin Blanc in
“Steendruiven” was quite possibly one of the first grapes pressed in 1659, the year that wine was first made in South Africa, having been introduced to the Cape in 1655 by Jan van Riebeeck and the VOC (Dutch East India Company).
Chenin Blanc was referred to as Steen and was believed to be indigenous to South Africa until 1963 when Professor C.J. Orffer confirmed Steen’s match to Chenin Blanc. The name Steen is thought to have been used by Governor Simon van der Stel as he believed the grape to have originated in Germany, based on the quality, i.e., Stein. It is also thought to be a translation from the Afrikaans ‘hoeksteen’, indicating that Chenin is the ‘cornerstone’ of the SA wine industry.
South Africa is the world leader, producing 53% of all Chenin Blanc made around the globe, despite a decline in production (bearing in mind that most replantings in SA started in 1997). It is the most planted grape in SA at 18.6% of total vine plantings.
The Old Vine Project celebrates vines that are 35+ years old. Chenin is the varietal featuring the oldest vines, with more than 6,000 hectares being 20 years or older.
The bulk of Chenin Blanc comes from Olifants River, followed by Breedekloof and Worcester. These tend to be used for mass, inexpensive, commercial wines, as well as brandy production. Swartland, Paarl, and Stellenbosch have some very old and interesting bush vines, which make exceptional examples.
Watch and learn
What is Chenin Blanc?
Join Roxan Waldeck (certified SASA - Sommelier) and Siyabonga Mbaba (community activist and wine lover from Khayelitsha) as they chat through more about the white grape variety - Chenin Blanc and what it is.
These videos are produced by wine.co.za - the South African Wine portal, and aimed at those who are new to wine and new to Chenin Blanc and we hope to put you onto the ladder of learning about and exploring wine.
South African Chenin Blanc displays a range of fruits such as apple, quince, melon, apricot, guava and pineapple.
It often has a floral quality reminiscent of honeysuckle. Chenin always has natural high acidity that makes for fresh and crisp wines. The addition of oak and lees can add complexity and a richer mouth feel, often adding notes of honey, nuts, toffee and toast.
The Old World wines, with their cooler climates, are high acid examples that sit on the quince, apples, and pear spectrum. As you increase in temperature and ripeness, you move into notes of honeysuckle, ginger, melon, and pineapple. Chenin often has honey and hay characters. Toffee and mango are a function of grape ripeness. Vanilla and toast are linked to oak and lees. Almond, hazelnut, and toast are derived from oak. As you get into the sweeter styles, you get much more of the marzipan, mango, ginger and lemon curd notes.
There is a truly broad variety of styles to Chenin Blanc.
Across the world
Chenin Blanc is the most versatile grape in the world, able to produce a wide range of styles. In many ways, it is similar to Riesling, in terms of its versatility (barring oak and distillation). It works equally well, oaked or unoaked, and ranges from moderate to high alcohol. From bone dry, mineral and racy; to honey-sweet, late picked and botrytised honeyed examples. Still or sparkling.
Though not as overly aromatic as Riesling, its natural thick skin means it is not only prone to botrytis, but there is more of a natural phenolic ‘bite’ to the wine (think of it as white wine tannin). The wine is more cerebral than hedonistic and requires more involvement and process on the part of the consumer, particularly with the premium examples.
Grab the big glasses, spend more time swirling, and take your time with these wines. They can easily stay fresh for 24 to 36 hours once opened. You can even decant them. And be sure not to serve them too cold.
Chenin Blanc’s calling card is its assertive acidity and the way that it is woven through the wine. That acidity is always prevalent and forms the spine of the wine. It really needs time for the acidity to be fully integrated into the wine as the aromas develop over time (the acidity never softens analytically, but its taste perceptions change as the overall aromas of the wine become more tertiary). In the case of top SA Chenin, eight to 10 years is the optimal age, although the finest examples can last much longer.
Chenin is also known as Steen (South Africa) and Pineau de la Loire (France). Tip: Look out for regional naming on French wine labels: Vouvray, Quarts de Chaume, Bonnezeaux, Savennières
In the vineyard
Chenin Blanc is super versatile with food. The sweeter styles go very well with spicier food. Top examples of botrytis wines should be treated like other sweet wines, where they can hold their own against pungent cheeses and sweet desserts. But also try a
nice hard cheese or blue cheese on its own, or with a plate of nuts, fruit, and raisins.
The more serious examples of Chenin Blanc can be drunk with anything as the acidity will match a wide variety of foods without becoming cloying. The wine has a real freshness to it that lends itself to seafood and a variety of meals.
More fun wines can be drunk with a wide variety of fruits. More serious wines pair best with more serious foods - richer fish dishes and roast chicken. Roast chicken is a wonderful go-to for any good bottle of wine. It’s the ultimate food and wine combo.
Medium-Bodied or Old Vine
Quiches, frittata and omelettes
Mild cheeses like brie that’s not too ripe
Rich Barrel Aged
Rich fish dishes
Creamy sauces on anything
Roast vegetables like parsnips and sweet potatoes and butternut
Roast pork belly with apple sauce