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Chenin blanc is one of the world’s great wine grapes. But it doesn’t garner the attention it deserves.
The slow-to-ripen white grape with intense acidity can produce memorable sweet, semi-sweet, dry and sparkling wines that can age for many years. While chenin blanc is grown around the world, including in British Columbia, the white grape has a history going back a millennium in France’s Loire Valley. South Africa, another hot spot for chenin, has been growing it for more than 350 years.
The key to making great chenin blanc is ripeness. It takes patience to wait for the fruit to ripen. Adding more complications, the grapes also ripen at different times in the same bunch, meaning the vineyards are often harvested multiple times in one season.
Here are four chenin blancs to try. As a bonus, they would be terrific pairings for Thanksgiving turkey.
Bernard Series Old Vine Chenin Blanc
Coastal Region, South Africa
The first vines were planted at what is now the Bellingham estate in 1693. While the vines eventually withered, in 1943, Bernard and Fredagh Podlashuk purchased the property and injected new life into the operation.
Three vineyards aged 40 years or older provide the fruit for this lovely wine, from a cool vintage that saw harvest end three weeks later than normal. The long, cool ripening has led to a fresh, lively wine with great density. The grapes were picked in two passes and fermented in either large oak vats called foudre, concrete tanks, amphorae or 300-litre oak barrels, with 30 per cent of them new.
Flavours include green apple, pineapple, orange, quince and a touch of petrol. It is dry, with plenty of acid and a long finish. It delivers a lot for the price.
Price: About $26. Look for it at 5 Vines Wine, Craft Beer and Spirits, Alberta Beer Exchange, Aspen Wine and Spirits, BSW Liquor, Co-op Wine Spirits Beer, Crowfoot Wine & Spirits, Highlander Wine and Spirits, Vine Styles, Willow Park Wines & Spirits and Wine & Beyond.
Drink: In the next three years. Enjoy it with poultry, white-fleshed fish or baked ham. Screw cap; 13.5 per cent alc./vol.
21 Gables Chenin Blanc
Cape Town, South Africa
Spier is another South African winery with a history dating back to the 1690s.
The property in stunning Stellenbosch has had a number of owners and a few different names in its long history. Billionaire South African businessman Dick Enthoven, the owner of the Hollard Group of insurance companies and a key financier of the Nando’s chain of chicken restaurants, purchased it in 1993. His daughter Mariota took over management of the wine property, which includes a hotel and an impressive art collection, after Enthoven died in 2022.
Named after the 21 gables that add architectural identity to the buildings on the wine estate, this dry, vegan-certified chenin blanc delivers flavours of lemon cream, candied lime, ginger, quince and a hint of petrol on a high-acid spine. The grapes were picked in four passes and fermented in French oak barrels of varying sizes, from 300 litres to 2,500 litres.
Price: About $33. It has been sold at BSW Liquor, Co-op Wine Spirits Beer, Craft Cellars, Crowfoot Wine and Spirits, HotShot Liquor Calgary, Liquor Baron, Vine Styles, Willow Park Wines & Spirits and Wine and Beyond.
Drink: In the next six years. The winery suggests smoked mussels, caramelized pork belly or korma curry for food pairings. Screw cap; 14.5 per cent alc./vol.
Vouvray, Loire Valley, France
Husband and wife Didier and Catherine Champalou met as teenagers while attending agricultural college. Both came from wine families, with Catherine’s viticultural heritage going back 12 generations in Vouvray, an appellation in the east-central part of the Loire Valley that only makes chenin blanc wines.
The couple began producing their wine on 0.8 hectares of rented vineyard land in 1984. Now they sustainably farm 25 hectares. Their daughter Celine, now the winemaker, worked in wine regions around the world, including the Okanagan Valley.
With a kiss of residual sugar, this is a fresh and fruity chenin blanc with floral and bruised apple aromas and flavours of green apple, lime, lemon, almond, honey, graham cracker and spice.
Price: About $35. Check for it at Aspen Wine and Spirits, Bin 905, BSW Liquor, Crowfoot Wine & Spirits Signature Store, CSN Wine and Spirits, Highlander Wine and Spirits, Kensington Wine Market, Rocky Mountain Wine and Spirits, Silver Springs Liquor, Vine Arts, Willow Park Wine & Spirits and Zyn the Wine Market.
Drink: In the next eight years. Enjoy it with pork, chicken, sushi or fruit salad. Cork; 12.5 per cent alc./vol.
Le Mont Sec
Vouvray, Loire Valley, France
Domaine Huet is a legendary French winery that has been making spectacular Vouvrays since former Paris bistro owner Victor Huet moved to the Loire Valley and started making wine in 1928.
The winery, now owned by American siblings Sarah & Hugo Hwang, produces dry (sec), semi-dry (demi-sec), sweet (moelleux) and sparkling wines from three prime vineyards in Vouvray — Le Mont, Le Haut-Lieu and Clos du Bourg. Each vineyard is located on a different soil type, leading to distinctive wines, and some that can age for decades. The winery was also certified biodynamic in 1993.
The Le Mont vineyard’s high limestone content produces lean, high-acid wines with great tension. The nose boasts notes of bruised apple, pear, spice, anise, herb, tarragon and the Southeast Asian fruit longan. On the palate, the acidity is electric, the finish is long and the flavours run from green apple to ginger, baked lemon, orange and quince.
Price: About $60. Look for it at Richmond Hill Wines.
Drink: In the next 10-12 years. Enjoy it with sushi, crab, lobster or poultry. Cork; 13 per cent alc./vol.
Contact Darren Oleksyn at [email protected] or follow him on Instagram or X, the app previously known as Twitter. Looking for a specific wine? Because wine inventories are always in flux, it’s a good idea to call a store to confirm they have it. A search on Liquorconnect.com can give you an idea of stores that have carried the wines.