ALISTAIR GIBSON: The evolution of chenin – from the Loire Valley to The Cape 

Irresistible Chenin Blanc 2017, Darling
Irresistible Chenin Blanc 2017, Darling
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It seems every week there is a day to celebrate everything from a national dish, to a grape variety.  This week there was another one, Friday was #DrinkCheninDay. 

Chenin blanc was classified by Jancis Robinson MW in her seminal book Vines, Grapes and Wines as one of the classic grapes, but of all the classic grapes it is probably the least understood and appreciated.

Kaapzicht Bush Vine Chenin Blanc 2017, Stellenbosch

Kaapzicht Bush Vine Chenin Blanc 2017, Stellenbosch

Its home is in France’s Loire Valley where it produces dry, sweet and sparkling wines. However it is perhaps in South Africa over the past decade where chenin blanc has really nudged its way into the public’s consciousness.

Chenin blanc is by far South Africa’s most planted grape variety, accounting for almost 20 per cent of all plantings. 

Indeed, South Africa has more chenin blanc than the rest of the world combined.

Perhaps unsurprisingly #DrinkCheninDay was established in South Africa so here are three wines to try this weekend.

Reyneke Chenin Blanc 2016, Stellenbosch

Reyneke Chenin Blanc 2016, Stellenbosch

Irresistible Chenin Blanc 2017, Darling (Co-op £6.99) is the perfect introduction, and also one of the best value white wines on supermarket shelves I’ve tasted this year.

Made from grapes grown on the Cape’s cool climate West Coast, it’s summer in a glass.

The nose is very fresh with notes of crisp apples, pear skin, some tropical fruits and a touch of honey, followed by some juicy fruits on the palate with some crunchy, zesty acidity.

Would make a lovely aperitif or serve with some simply grilled mackerel or maybe even sushi.

A step up is Kaapzicht Bush Vine Chenin Blanc 2017, Stellenbosch (Waitrose £10.49 on offer from £13.99 until July 10). Owned by the Steytler family since 1946, the farm takes its name from its position with its views towards Table Mountain, hence the name Kaapzicht which translates as Cape View.

Made from a single vineyard of old bush vines, the wine is fermented and then matured in a variety of older oak barrels.

The bouquet offers crunchy green apple, yellow peach, orange zest and just the merest hint of oak in the background, the palate is very fresh and quite textured with well-balanced acidity and a crisp, dry finish. Pair this with fish cakes or quiche and salad.

If I had to choose one Cape chenin blanc to drink this weekend it would be Reyneke Chenin Blanc 2016, Stellenbosch (Hermitage Cellars £13.95 on offer from £15.25) made on one of the very few bio-dynamic and organic wine farms in South Africa.

This shows just what can be achieved in the Cape with this variety. Fermented in older oak, it shows pear skin, mandarin, apple and some spice on the nose. The palate is again very textured but still very fresh with peach and pear fruit and just the beginning of some savoury notes, before a long, fulfilling finish.

This would age happily for another five-plus years but it’s difficult to resist now.