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South African Chenin Blanc

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Chenin Blanc, a Great White Wine

Everyone can recall the first time they were kissed or the day they got their driver’s license. Those moments were your evidence to the world, or at least to your parents, that you were no longer a child.  For me, the day I fell in love with South African Chenin Blanc wine ranks right up there with these right-of-passage experiences. Ever since, I’ve been a convert of white wines, particularly South African Chenin Blanc.

South African Chenin Blanc after playing golf

South African Chenin Blanc after playing golf

I was sitting at lunch with my travel companions, two-foursome groups of devoted American golfers, sharing hole-by-hole stories of our earlier match on a top South African golf course. In typical golfer fashion, we had risen extremely early so we could have a quick breakfast before heading off to the course for some range practice and promptly make our tee times. The day had been an expectantly warm January summer day.

When we all met for our 19th-hole lunch, because of the heat, I didn’t feel like drinking a big, bold Cabernet or even a lighter-bodied Merlot, which were my typical go-to wines. I wasn’t sure what I’d order given the wine list was heavily swayed toward white wines, which I never drank. The server arrived and my table mates immediately ordered two bottles of white wine. I took this as an omen for me to pass on drinking wine.  So, I decided to hydrate myself with “a sparkling”, the name South Africans use for a glass of sparkling water.

What I didn’t know was that my wine-drinking world was about to be turned upside down. I was about to have quite a wonderful, eye-opening experience. The server brought glasses for all us and began pouring. Since I was caught in the conversation, I didn’t notice she had poured a glass of wine for me too. I figured I’d just give my glass to one of my teammates as the meal progressed but something strange happened. Everyone started raving about how good the wine tasted. I had played with Bill, an older gentlemen from New England who had shared with me that he was an avid wine drinker. When he joined the praise party, I took the bait and took a sip.

South African Chenin Blanc at Lunch

South African Chenin Blanc at Lunch

Wow! What a delight! I had just tried my first South African Chenin Blanc or Steen as it is referred to in Afrikaans. It was crisp, clean, had a hint of tropical fruit and a bit of lemon zest. I loved it. And this delicious Chenin Blanc paired wonderfully with the flaky fish served in a wine and caper sauce I had ordered.

During the remainder of my golfing adventure in South Africa, I sampled Chenin Blanc with every meal. It paired nicely with a starter salad. I had a glass of my new-found favorite South African Chenin Blanc with a cheese and fruit plate I snacked on in my hotel room. Never did it disappoint.

Upon my return from South Africa, I knew I had to confess to my red-wine-only drinking friends. We were sitting outside on a friend’s patio, drinking red wine of course, when I decided it was time to spill my dirty, little South African secret. Instead of trepidation, I felt confident that once they heard about my epiphany, they’d follow suit. I didn’t pussyfoot around; but instead I just came out and said, “Okay you guys. I have a confession to make. When I was in South Africa, I drank white wine. But it was really amazing and I think you all should give it a try.” After a few minutes of teasing remarks, I decided that with or without their approval, I was going to stop limiting myself to only red wines and I’ve never regretted that decision.

South African Chenin Blanc with Vichyssoise

South African Chenin Blanc with Vichyssoise

Today, some of my absolute favorite wines to sip at the end of a long day (okay, true for any kind of day) include Sauvignon Blanc, Albariño and Torrentes, which I firmly believe came about as a direct result of that glass of South African Chenin Blanc I drank on that memorable afternoon.  It was that experience that opened my eyes to the possibility that white wines can be good and should be taken seriously. I absolutely love white wines.  When we have friends over for a wine-pairing dinner, a South African Chenin Blanc is one of our top choices to serve with the first-course salad or the second-course soup.

However, you don’t have to wait for your own epiphany to start drinking truly delicious, quality white wines. Not only are white wines mouth-watering, but due to their acidity, they pair quite nicely with seafood dishes, cheeses and most meals served with a cream sauce.  As the holidays approach and you ponder what to serve with the myriad of dishes, may I suggest a South African Chenin Blanc?

If you’d like to experience South African Chenin Blanc firsthand, join Fine Living Enthusiast as we journey to southern Africa Sept.  2014 on a Wine and the Wilderness vacation. During this time, we’ll spend two amazing days in the Stellenbosch wine region tasting and learning about South African Chenin Blanc, Pinotage and other great wines of the Cape Winelands.





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