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Chenin Blanc is the Perfect White Wine For Any Wine Lover, and It's Reasonably Priced

by The Wine Guys, Tom Marquardt and Patrick Darr

Ask many wine drinkers about the white wine grape chenin blanc, and you're apt to get a blank stare. Chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, and pinot grigio (gris) get all the glory, at least in the U.S., while elsewhere, other white varieties star. Riesling is the champion in Germany, gruner veltliner in Austria, and pinot grigio reigns over the white wine kingdom in Italy.

Chenin blanc, on the other hand, stars in two wine growing regions of the world. First, it is believed to have originated in the Loire Valley of France where it still is renowned for producing exquisite, sweet, dry and sparkling wines commonly labeled Vouvray, and to a lesser extent Anjou.

Second, chenin blanc is the most widely planted grape in South Africa. Colloquially known as “steen,” it was only identified in 1965 as chenin blanc.

The dominant style for South African chenin blanc is fresh, fruity and loaded with lively acidity. Although most of it is stainless-steel fermented and aged, some winemakers are experimenting with oak aging.

For those who avoid oaky chardonnays or who find some sauvignon blanc too aggressive with their grassy or assertive grapefruit notes, chenin blanc offers a terrific alternative.

We recently tasted a group of South African chenin blancs to survey the current market offerings and were pleased with the results.

A good amount of chenin blanc available in the U.S. is often priced under $20.

We tasted five wines in this category and while they all passed the palatability test, three of them stood out in quality.

The Indaba Chenin Blanc Western Cape 2019 ($12) offered a crisp mineral, citrus experience with nice pear notes. Close behind was the Painted Wolf “The Den” Chenin Blanc Coastal Region 2020 ($13). Peach and pear elements dominated in a soft smooth delivery.

We also thoroughly enjoyed the Bosman Generation 8 Chenin Blanc Wellington 2020 ($16) which presented a very expressive creamy, peach nose and ripe peach and pear flavors.

The Raats Old Vine Chenin Blanc Stellenbosch 2018 ($28) was a premium expression of South African chenin blanc. Crafted from 40-year-old bush vines, this chenin blanc offered tropical fruit notes of pineapple in addition to the typical peach and pear flavors. A streak of cinnamon spice note creates interest in this very drinkable, complex wine.

Rodney Strong Vineyards

While a lot of California wine producers are focused on making expensive wine, Rodney Strong Vineyards has remained intent on delivering value. It is the philosophy of making everyday wine in Sonoma County that inspired the late dancer whose name graces every label.

Justin Seidenfeld has been winemaker since 2018 and has been a keystone to a rejuvenation of the brand. He has embarked on a project to replant most of the vineyard to “set the foundation for the next 60 years.” He said sustainable farming will prepare the vineyards for droughts.

“We didn’t spare any expense or rest on any laurels to plant the best vineyards,” he said in a recent media program. <