Featured wine: Chenin Blanc
Nickname: Steen (in South Africa)
Chenin blanc (also Pineau de la Loire and Gout fort), is a variety of white wine grape from the Loire valley of France. Its high acidity means it can be used to make everything from sparkling wines to well-balanced dessert wines, although it can produce very bland, neutral wines if the vine's natural vigour is not controlled. Outside the Loire it is found in most of the New World wine regions; it is the most widely planted variety in South Africa, where it is also known as Steen.
Chenin blanc (or simply Chenin) is a particularly versatile grape that is used to make dry white wines, sparkling wines, dessert wines and brandy. It provides a fairly neutral palate for the expression of terroir, vintage variation and the winemaker's treatment.
In cool areas the juice is sweet but high in acid with a full-bodied fruity varietal palate. In the unreliable summers of northern France, the acidity of underripe grapes was often masked with chaptalization (the addition of sugar before fermentation to increase alcohol content) with unsatisfactory results, whereas now the less ripe grapes are made into popular sparkling wines such as Crémant de Loire. The white wines of Anjou are perhaps the best expression of Chenin as a dry wine, with flavours of quince and apples. In nearby Vouvray they aim for an off-dry style, developing honey and floral characteristics with age. In the best vintages the grapes can be left on the vines to develop noble rot, producing an intense, viscous dessert wine which will improve considerably with age.
Koopmanskloof (South Africa) $9.95
KWV Steen (South Africa) $8.99
Indaba (South Africa) $5.99
seafood (especially sauteed and/or with lemon)
Chenin Blanc is another grape that lends itself to a wide variety of interpretations. I tend to enjoy the dry and citrusy styles most common in South Africa, but I've been told that this grape also makes lovely dessert wines as well. I think it makes an excellent match with many of my favourite Caribbean foods - jerk pork, curry shrimp, stewed chicken, etc., so it will certainly be a frequent and welcome addition to my dinner table year-round.