How South Africa gave chenin blanc a good name

Friday, 15 March, 2019
The Guardian, Fiona Beckett
As with many grape varieties, you don’t get an idea of what chenin blanc is capable of if you buy the cheapest examples on the market. South Africa is the place to explore if you want to find out the grape’s true potential.

I recently spent a week there, and must have tasted more than 50 at least, ranging from the crispest, most chablis-like young whites to luxuriant wines you could compare to a meursault. (Burgundy, I think, is the better reference point than Loire chenins, which often have a touch of sweetness.)

South Africa has always produced more white wine than red, and chenin has been the Cape Winelands’ calling card since the days when it was known as steen. The secret to its renaissance has been the old vines championed by the Old Vines Project, set up by viticulturist Rosa Kruger, which aims to identify and conserve vines that are more than 35 years old, and give growers a financial incentive not to uproot them. Yields are low on old-vine chenin, but the flavours are more complex and expressive, with an impressive capacity to age.

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