Our favorite wine writer, the Dallas-based Wine Curmudgeon, Jeff Siegel, has named a South African chenin blanc his Wine of the Week. And since we’ve never featured either a South African wine or a chenin blanc (if you don’t count this delicious 80-percent blend), and it’s available locally for less than $10 a bottle, we think it’s worth noting.
Chenin blanc is among the most versatile of wine grape varieties, producing crisp, dry table wines, like the ones from South Africa, where it’s also called “Steen.” Yet it can also be used in light sparkling wines, dessert wines and even brandy, depending on what part of the world it’s grown. Originally from France’s Loire Valley, chenin blanc is planted in Brazil, Chile, Mexico, and Argentina, where it’s called pinot blanco, as well as in Australia and New Zealand. And it is the third most widely planted white wine grape in California.
And Ken Forrester Petit Chenin Blanc is a great value and a good introduction to the grape. The 2010 vintage won a silver medal at this year's Dallas Morning News wine competition. Siegel, who was among the judges at that competition – though just one of 56 – raved about it both in February, before the medal winner was revealed (the judging was blind), and in March, after he found out what it was and recalled it as, “crisp, clean, refreshing and thoroughly well-made, with lots of green apple.”
He loved it at the $12 suggested retail price, but added, “If I can find it for $10, it's in the Hall of Fame.” It’s a long drive from Dallas, but Chain Bridge Cellars (formerly Cecile’s) has it for the magic $9.99 per bottle price, and Unwined Gourmet in Alexandria has it for a ridonkulous $8.99. A few Montgomery County Liquor stores also have it (and it can be special ordered) for $10.15 a bottle.
Stephen Tanzer in the March/April issue of International Wine Cellar also liked it at $12 a bottle, scoring it 88 points. “Medium straw-yellow. More soil and minerals than high-pitched fruit on the nose,” he wrote. “Plump, oily and soil-driven, with good texture and dryness. Rather serious for a $12 wine.”
Wine Spectator’s James Molesworth also gave it 88 points, calling it “Textbook,” and describing it as,“juicy, with green melon, green fig and quince notes backed by a bright, crunchy finish.”
But it’s the previous 2009 vintage that you’re more likely to find on store shelves. Yet that’s the vintage The Wine Curmudgeon named this week’s Wine of the Week. And though he didn’t like it quite as much as the younger wine, he thinks it’s aged quite nicely.
“I did find the previous vintage, the 2009 (purchased), for $11 at Whole Foods. And it wasn't too shabby, either,” he wrote yesterday. “The 2009 isn't quite as impressive as the 2010, but for a previous vintage of a simple wine that shouldn't necessarily last this long, it was nicely done.”
If you like the Ken Forrester “Petit,” you may want to try the somewhat higher end bottling, Ken Forester Chenin Blanc Stellenbosch, that you’ll find around town for between $13 and $16 a bottle.
Check out today’s slideshow for representative prices and varietals available at a wine shop near you, or compare prices nationwide and find Ken Forrester Chenin Blanc Selection wines online or at a wine shop near you.
For chenin blanc lovers, either one would be a good value, and for newbies they’ll make a fine first sip.
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