Reviving the serious quality of Chenin Blanc
By W. Peter Hoyne
Nice start: The 2011 Petit Chenin is the entry level offering among three tiers of Chenin Blanc produced by Forrester Vineyards. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
Chenin Blanc has a diversity of styles and there are many finely crafted renditions of this grape from around the world, most notably from the Loire Valley of France and the Stellenbosch region of South Africa.
During the infancy of California winegrowing, Chenin Blanc was widely planted in the hot climate of California’s Central Valley and used in large bulk wine production or as a sweet blending grape. While this led to misunderstanding of the true character of Chenin, when planted in ideal surroundings this grape can express a dry to off dry character with a sort of energizing freshness due to a high propensity of natural acidity that this grape retains.
South Africa remains the largest producer of Chenin Blanc, dedicating one-fifth of its production to this varietal. Early on this grape had been referred to as Steen because of the vine cuttings that were sent to South Africa by the Dutch. Interesting was that the Dutch translation for Steen was “stone” which can mimic the flavors found in this wine. In 1993 Ken Forrester settled in Stellenbosch, purchasing one of the oldest wine farms in the Cape that dated back to the 17th century. He enlisted the help of winemaker Martin Meinert in a quest to revive the serious quality and recognition of this wine.
The 2011 Petit Chenin is the entry level offering among three tiers of Chenin Blanc produced by Forrester Vineyards. The grapes are sourced from other growers in Stellenbosch with an average age of 30 years. This white has a yellow-greenish tint with scents of lemongrass and melon. The core is a dry style of Chenin Blanc offering less tropical fruit than others with highlights of pure green apple, lime zest and pear flavors that are layered in bright mineral acidity. This wine is more typical of the European model of Chenin Blanc. The harmony of this wine is best appreciated with a slow grilled halibut and citrus glaze which will accent the bright flavors of this summer white.
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W. Peter Hoyne has been a wine journalist for over 20 years, covering stories of national and international significance. While his professional relationships in the wine industry have allowed him to share a unique perspective of wine, he is also intrigued by the culinary aspect and harmony that exist between wine and food. As a wine advocate, he is committed to consumer education and is focused on upcoming trends and American wine-buying habits.