The Chenin Blanc grape originated in the Loire Valley of France, which was surpassed in production by South Africa. In South Africa, it can also go by the name Steen. The wines that are produced in South Africa tend to taste like riper stone fruits (peaches, apricots, etc), and even a touch tropical, when compared to those of the Loire Valley, where they ferment the wine at a higher temperature and level of acid in the wine is a slightly higher. The acid is necessary because it allows for a varied wine styles, ranging from dry (very little sugar), to sparkling and even dessert wines. The latter depend on the acid content to balance the sugar, which allows them to have a lower perceived sugar content when tasted. Over the past 20+ years, Chenins from South Africa have seen a marked increase in quality due to an emphasis on limiting grape yield. This allows the vines to focus on spreading nutrients to fewer grapes. South Africa also has a large percentage of older vines, which produce more complex versions of Chenin Blanc. South Africa produces four main types of Chenin, including fruity and fresh, oaked, sweet, and blended (a majority of the Chenin produced in the US is used to blending). Tonight, I will taste both an oaked and a fruity/fresh version.
The first wine I tried was the fruity and fresh Spier 2019 Chenin Blanc from Stellenbosch, South Africa. When I poured my glass, it was a pale lemon color with watery legs up the edge. It smelled of lemon peel, honeysuckle, and pineapple. Upon tasting it, I found it had a fairly high level of acid but not too overwhelming. The light bodied wine tasted of wet stone, lemon pith, green apple, green pair, and pineapple. This wine was delightfully crisp, which would pair nicely with light seafoods such as seared scallops or shrimp.
Then I tried the oaked 2019 Spier Chenin Blanc from Stellenbosch. As you can see, this wine was a medium lemon color as a result of its time spent aging in oak barrels. My glass smelled of smoke, burned wood, toasted marshmallow, gardenia and pineapple. The wine had a slightly fuller presence on the palate while tasting of lemon pie, fresh green apple, gardenia, pineapple, and toasted marshmallow. This glass would pair well with some grilled fish tacos and fruit salsa (since it’s Cinco de Mayo!) or a spicy thai dish.