WTN /WineAdvisor: Focus on Chenin Blanc (Ken Forrester 06 Petit Chenin)

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WTN /WineAdvisor: Focus on Chenin Blanc (Ken Forrester 06 Petit Chenin)

Postby Robin Garr » Mon Mar 05, 2007 1:01 pm

Focus on Chenin Blanc

Here's a conundrum to conjure with: Why is one of the world's 10 most widely planted white grapes, capable of producing indisputably great sweet wines and excellent dry whites as well, often thought of as a mere "niche" grape, producing wines difficult to find in any but the most well-stocked wine shops?

We're talking about Chenin Blanc, which may reach its zenith in the Loire Valley of France but is grown around the world. Chenin Blanc is the most widely planted grape in South Africa, where it's also known as Steen and is said to make up nearly one-third of the nation's plantings. It's popular in California, where Jancis Robinson says there's more of it grown than in France. South of the Equator, it's popular in Argentina and at least a niche player in Australia and New Zealand.

Perhaps Chenin Blanc's popularity doesn't match its acreage because - like Pinot Grigio and a few other potentially fine varieties - a good deal of it is industrially grown and ends up in mass-market wines with no real varietal character. Still, Chenin Blanc tends to show some personality even in lackluster wines, in the form in tart, palate-cleansing acidity that makes it a useful player in improving anonymous jug-wine blends.

But taste a few really good Chenin Blancs, and chances are you'll become a convert. If you love sweet wines, go directly to the Loire, do not pass "Go," do not collect $200, and fill your glass with one of the great Loire sweeties like <i>Bonnezeaux, Coteaux du Layon, Quarts de Chaume</i> or a sweeter-style <i>Vouvray</i>. These wines at their best are rich, full-bodied, textured, yet fresh and clean, beautifully blending luscious sweetness and singing acidity to make dessert wines perhaps unmatched by any other sweet wine anywhere. They're enjoyable fresh but age amazingly well: The rare, classic <i>Moulin Touchais</i> is still drinking beautifully from the 1957 vintage, if you can find it.

If dry wine is your style, you're covered, too: <i>Savennières</i>, by some measures, may be the greatest, a dry white that almost demands a decade's aging to show at its best; <i>Vouvray, Montlouis</i> and <i>Saumur</i>, too, among many other Loire regions, make excellent Chenin, dry or sweet or even that lovely in-between style called <i>moelleux</i> or "marrow-like." If you want it bubbly, that can be arranged, too, in the fine, good-value sparkling Vouvray labeled <i>Crémant de la Loire</i>.

This month's "Wine Focus" feature on our WineLovers Discussion Group forums invites us to take a closer look at Chenin Blanc from around the world. I hope you'll drop in often during March (and thereafter) to ask questions, talk about the grape, and share your notes on Chenin Blanc from all over.

Let's get things started today with a report on a very attractive Chenin Blanc from South Africa, <b>Ken Forrester 2006 Stellenbosch Petit Chenin</b>, widely available in the $10 range. Ken Forrester, the producer, is a restaurateur as well as a wine maker, and this may help explain the exceptional balance and food-friendly style of this value-priced, crisp and pleasantly aromatic Chenin Blanc.

Forrester owns the highly regarded 96 Winery Road restaurant on his Zandberg Farm near Stellenbosch, which is also the location of the winery and its 100 acres of vineyards. A historic property, Zandberg's tradition goes back to the 16th century, but it had fallen into disrepair when the Forrester family purchased and restored it in the early 1990s. Chenin Blanc is his "flagship" grape, but the property also grows Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Cab Franc, Petit Verdot, Grenache, Mourvedre, and Shiraz.

Ken Forrester's wines, the winery Website proudly states, "were the only wines served at Nelson Mandela’s 85th Birthday party."

<table border="0" align="right" width="160"><tr><td><img src="http://www.wineloverspage.com/graphics1/forr0302.jpg" border="1" align="right"></td></tr></table>Ken Forrester 2006 Stellenbosch Petit Chenin ($9.99)

This is a transparent, straw color wine with fresh, delicate scents of honeydew melon and lime juice. Similar on the palate but much more forward, a burst of green melon and snappy citrus, medium-bodied, dry and refreshingly acidic. The proprietary name "Petit" belies rather high alcohol for a white wine at 14%, but it doesn't manifest itself as harshness or heat. Fine Chenin Blanc. U.S. importer: Boutique Wine Collection, Philadelphia. (March 2, 2007)

<B>FOOD MATCH:</b> A delight with chunks of mixed fish (sea bass, grouper, tuna and cod) sauteed <i>meuniere</i> style and served over <i>conchiglie</i> in a light wasabi cream.

<B>VALUE:</B> A no-brainer at the $10 level, worth buying by the case with spring and summer coming.

<B>WHEN TO DRINK:</B> Although this low-end wine isn't really meant for aging, the natural ageworthiness of Chenin plus the wine's excellent balance, alcoholic strength and taint-free screwcap all suggest that a modest experiment in cellaring might not be wasted.

<B>PRONUNCIATION:</B>
<B>Chenin Blanc</B> = "<I>Shay-naN BlahN</I>"

<B>WEB LINK:</B>
The winery has an in-depth Website with information about the winery, the wines, and Mr. Forrester's restaurant:
http://www.kenforresterwines.com/
For a consumer view of Ken Forrester and his wines, you'll find a good article on Jamie Goode's "Wine Anorak" Website at
http://www.wineanorak.com/southafrica/part1_kenforrester.htm

<B>FIND THIS WINE ONLINE:</B>
To locate vendors and compare prices for Ken Forrester Petit Chenin on Wine-Searcher.com:
[url=http://www.wine-searcher.com/find/Forrester%2bPetit/-/-/USD/A?referring_site=WLP]http://www.wine-searcher.com/
find/Forrester%2bPetit/-/-/USD/A?referring_site=WLP[/url]

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Last edited by Robin Garr on Sat Apr 07, 2007 9:25 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Focus on Chenin Blanc (Ken Forrester 06 Petit Chenin)

Postby Peter May » Mon Mar 05, 2007 2:32 pm

I love Chenin Blanc (is there a Chenin Noir -- seems pointless to keep adding Blanc), but one problem is that it is found in so many different styles, wooded, unwooded (overwooded), bone dry, off dry, sweet, very sweet, botrytised, sparkling, fortified and here in South Africa it is greatly used in Brandy, which the SA's are very partial to.

According to Platter 2007 about 18% of SAs vineyards were planted with Chenin in 2005, down from 32% in 1995. A lot goes to Brandy, very cheap local no-name wines and in white blends.

But increasingly winemakers are taking the variety very seriously, and there is a Chenin Blanc Association see http://www.chenin.co.za and an annual Chenin Challenge.

This years Challenge was a surprise because two wines tied with top scores -- an expected contender - Forrester FMC 2004 (a small 600 cases production flagship wine by Ken Forrester and winemaker Martin Meinart) and big brand, big production wine 27.7K cases - KWV Val du Chene. In a shoot out where the judges listed the finalists in order of preference the KWV barrel fermented wine came out top. And instantly sold out.

So I was very lucky to find a bottle of the KWV in a remote store - less lucky to discover it was corked, and very lucky to get KWV winery to prise a replacement from their library.

2006 KWV 'Val du Chene' Barrel Fermented Chenin Blanc
(South Africa, Western Cape)

Subdued floral nose. First taste impression is the taste of cork (not corked), but it opens out in mouth with opulent greengage and ripe lime flavours. There's some unctuousness and the wooding adds structure without imposing.

Rec price 45R I paid 50R (6.80USD)
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Focus on Chenin Blanc (Ken Forrester 06 Petit Chenin)

Postby Bob Parsons Alberta » Mon Mar 05, 2007 10:59 pm

Looks like we are off and running, Peter. My previous experience with Kens wine was not a happy one...bad bottle!!!!!
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Focus on Chenin Blanc (Ken Forrester 06 Petit Chenin)

Postby RichardAtkinson » Wed Mar 07, 2007 12:07 pm

I'm still one of those "converts waiting in the wings", I suppose. I've never found a Chenin Blanc that I like. But, the only sweet wines I drink are Port and an occasional Ice Cider.

I've tried several Chenins , but like Vouvray, have always thought the varietals were way overated.

Richard
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Focus on Chenin Blanc (Ken Forrester 06 Petit Chenin)

Postby michael dietrich » Wed Mar 07, 2007 1:02 pm

I sell this wine out here in Oregon for $8.39. I was very impressed the first time I tasted it. The Petit Pinotage was also great for the same price.
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Focus on Chenin Blanc (Ken Forrester 06 Petit Chenin)

Postby OW Holmes » Mon Mar 12, 2007 3:19 pm

Is there only one bottling of Ken Forrester Chenin Blanc? I had a Ken Forrester Chenin Blanc by the glass last week at a restaurant, but didn't see the bottle and it wasn't called Petit Chenin on the wine list.
-OW
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Focus on Chenin Blanc (Ken Forrester 06 Petit Chenin)

Postby Peter May » Mon Mar 12, 2007 3:44 pm

OW Holmes wrote:Is there only one bottling of Ken Forrester Chenin Blanc? I had a Ken Forrester Chenin Blanc by the glass last week at a restaurant, but didn't see the bottle and it wasn't called Petit Chenin on the wine list.


No, there are several including the top FMC Chenin (the M acknowledging partner/winemaker Martin Meinart), and in the UK there is 'Hand Made' Chenin as well as Petit.

However, that's not to say the wine list didn't list the Petit as just Forrester Chenin
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Focus on Chenin Blanc (Ken Forrester 06 Petit Chenin)

Postby OW Holmes » Mon Mar 12, 2007 4:52 pm

I suspect it was the low cost version. It was as Robin described it. Dry, with predominant citrus flavors, and good acidity. Very refreshing.
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