Why should I drink a Chenin? It’s a question that lingered in my mind as I stood hesitantly, obstructing the aisle for other booze shoppers while eying the white wines at my local Tops. I’m not usually this indecisive about wine, but spring has sprung and my penchants are changing. I’m a seasonal drinker, you see (a seasoned drinker, too). I like deep, complex, dusty reds in winter, and light, grassy whites in summer. Unfortunately, I never even consider Chenins (known in SA as Steen), favouring the freshness of a white blend or a vibrant Sauvignon Blanc.
It’s not without basis that this oneophile avoids the ‘plonk’. In the past I’ve had some pretty bad ones – the ones that gave the varietal its ignominy. You know what I’m talking about. It’s the over-flavoured wine that tastes faker than a crab meat salad; too sugared swill with an overpoweringly sweet profile; or, on the other end of the scale, it’s a bland and boring tipple that garners zero interest from the drinker apart from its alcohol content.
But, look, I like appreciating new wines. I like writing about wine. Hell, I like drinking wine. So I decided to take the leap and try a Chenin. Not too pricy (I didn’t want my wallet to suffer for my plucky decision), but not too cheap, either (there’s no point in repeating the bad experience). I opted for Kleine Zalze’s Vineyard Selection Chenin Blanc. The 2014 vintage recently hit shelves and, if I was going to try anything, I figured it may as well be something new.
Here are two things you need to know about this wine: it’s really good and it’s really reasonable (usually around R81, R73 at the cellar door). As you lift the glass to your mouth, you’re hit with a whiff of peaches and, quite noticeably, litchi and melon. A small sip yields lively flavours of the fruits with a hint of oak and a creamy mouthfeel. It’s a sip I savoured, and swiftly went in for the next. Among a group of three, the bottle was dry in under an hour.
The best thing about this Chenin is that it’s faith restoring. I’ll venture to try other Chenins now. I may even be a little more decisive in the wine aisle. Because South African winemakers are producing such top-quality swill, and Chenin thrives in our climate, this is one varietal you should be drinking this spring. So why not put a couple bottles on ice this evening, invite some friends around, strategically place a few plates of spicy prawn cakes on the coffee table for snacking, and make a night of it?
Text Jessica Ross