In the world of wine, things old sometimes become new again. This could be said of the chenin blanc grape.
Chenin blanc is high in acidity and grows well in a variety of conditions and soils. This ability has led to it being widely planted in the hot Central Valley of California where it’s been a workhorse grape. This huge growing area runs from north of Sacramento to south of Bakersfield. Because of the high temperatures here the grapes have a short growing season and don’t develop complex flavors. Much of the fruit from this area is ordinary and has historically gone into jug wines. This has led to a poor reputation for chenin blanc.
The grape, however, hasn’t vanished. It’s too good for that. It’s versatile and when grown under good conditions can make excellent sparkling, still and dessert wines. It’s originally from the Loire Valley of France. As the French label their wines with their place names, you might well have enjoyed it as Vouvray not knowing the grape is chenin blanc. They also use it throughout the Loire Valley and elsewhere in France to make excellent wines.
Chenin blanc was introduced to South Africa in 1655 by French expatriates where it’s called Steen.
It is widely planted there, and they have been using it to make sweet, off dry and dry wines for hundreds of years. Fortunately, South African wines are beginning to become more appreciated in the U.S. It is also cultivated in Chile, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Argentina and throughout the U.S. In recent years, it’s begun to play an increased role in white-blended wines.
With its high acidity, chenin blanc pairs well with shellfish and most seafood including a recipe for honey ginger shrimp that we got from our friends at Scheid Vineyards in California.
▪ La Craie Vouvray 2012, Loire Valley, France – about $18. Craie means chalk in French, which refers to the limestone soil where these grapes are grown. The wine has aromas of peach and plum with flavors of honey, apricot, spice and minerals. This well-constructed wine has ripe acidity with a demi-sec finish.
▪ Terra d’ Oro Chenin Blanc & Viognier 2013, Clarksburg, Calif. – about $17. The grapes for this wine are grown near the Sacramento delta, which gives them a cooling maritime influence, affording longer hang time and more complex flavors. Aromas of tropical fruit, lemon, and spice give way to flavors of pink grapefruit, papaya, melon and mango. This wine is well balanced with crisp acidity.
▪ Mullineux Family Wines White Blend 2013, Swartland, South Africa – about $28. This lemon straw color wine is a blend of 80 percent chenin blanc, 13 percent clairette blanche and 7 percent viognier. It has a floral nose of peach and apricot with a rich, full mouth feel of honey, white pepper and lemongrass. A zesty citrus finish shows the balance of this wine.
Jim and Marie Oskins live in the Lake Wylie area. They can be reached at email@example.com.
Honey Ginger Shrimp
1 pound shrimp, peeled, cleaned and deveined
2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 cup sweet onion, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, chopped
1 teaspoon honey
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat the olive oil and red pepper in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic, ginger and honey. Cook and stir until fragrant. Add the shrimp and cook, while stirring, until they are pink and opaque, about 5 minutes.