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Tasting Challenge: Chenin Blanc

Bright and juicy, warm and creamy – there’s a grape that makes wine that will transport you to the warm South African coast: Chenin Blanc.

One of the most versatile grapes out there, it makes everything from delicate sparklers, to bold and sweet dessert wines all over the world.

What is the Tasting Challenge? The challenge is a way to improve your wine palate each week with 34 wines from 12 countries — The Wine Tasting Challenge.

This week’s Chenin Blanc is from South Africa’s coastal Swartland region.

Before the 21st century, the notion of South Africa as a wine powerhouse would have been seen by your average wine drinker as silly. But South Africa was producing some of the world’s best wines before the United States was even formed. And Chenin Blanc is a huge part of that.

The hot, dry region of Swartland is known for its rich and juicy wines, so we were pretty curious about their contribution to this grape. Could it be big but still maintain some level of complexity?


AA Badenhorst 2019 Secateurs Chenin Blanc

Look: Pale gold.

Aromas: Yellow apple, pear, apricot, dried pineapple, almond, citrus zest, and a fresh, grassy aroma.

On The Palate: Bright and acidic initially, but it warmed into a creamy, lanolin finish (something Chenin Blanc is well known for). A bit of lemon and chamomile, as well.

Food Pairing: Pasta alfredo immediately came to mind, as the richness of this wine could match the richness of an alfredo sauce, while also cutting through the heavy fattiness with that natural acid.

What We Learned About Chenin Blanc

Every wine region in South Africa produces Chenin Blanc, possibly because its naturally high acidity balances well with the largely warmer climate. And for that reason, it’s used in everything: even the distillation of spirits.

However, its oldest vines are still used to make precious and elegant fine wine. So it might be ubiquitous, but it’s still respected as a force to be reckoned with.

Chenin Blanc is also well-loved in South Africa for its part in making Cap Classique. While some of the best loved sparklers come from cooler regions, this one sets itself apart with the rich fruitiness that comes from being made in a warmer climate.

Last Impressions

There’s something so appropriate about this sort of wine being made on a warm coastline: it’s bright and juicy in a way that can’t help but make you fantasize about South African sunshine (yes, it was a gloomy day when we tasted this: why do you ask?).

But knowing that Chenin Blanc is equally skilled at producing leaner, drier wines can only make us curious: we’ll have to seek those out, too.

What Chenin Blanc did you try? Let us know in the comments below. Having trouble finding good Chenin Blanc? Check out Chenin Blanc on Wine Access.

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