Is Chenin Blanc an overlooked white? Perhaps, but it is embraced in South Africa. We dive into a bottle from Swartland to learn more.
Famous French Roots
We are fans of Chenin Blanc and lovers of South African wine. I recently purchased a bottle of the 2016 Force Celeste Chenin in the discount room at Great Grapes in Cary. When the International Drink Chenin Day rolled around, it was a perfect time to open this South African bottle.
Chenin Blanc is a French grape that reaches perhaps its best expression in the Loire Valley of France. It is the grape used in Vouvray, producing refreshing wines ranging from off-dry to sweet. It is also used in sparkling wines in the Loire region of Saumur.
South Africa has been producing Chenin Blanc for centuries, although there it is often called Steen. Unfortunately, only a small trickle of South Africa’s best wines make it to the US. There is a flood, though, of lower priced and lower quality South African Chenin Blanc. These wines are often produced by cooperatives and are non-descript compared to the elegant Chenin Blanc wines made by the top producers.
The Force Celeste pushed three buttons for me: Chenin Blanc, South Africa and Swartland. In the last decade, Swartland has emerged as a fine wine region. As a result, I grabbed it immediately when I spotted it on the store shelf.
Force Celeste is made from a selection of old dry-farmed bush vines grown on decomposed granite. No enzymes, yeast or acid were added. The bottle is also unfiltered and unfined. The label art is also appealing, showing a trio of lightning bolts racing from an ominous cloud in a bold woodcut style design.
Chenin is a very accessible grape – it’s easy to enjoy. The Force Celeste is primarily aged in steel tanks to retain the fresh flavors with 20% aged in neutral French oak barrels. The wine spent nine months on the lees (the dead yeast cells and sediment) to impart deeper flavors.
We opened this on a day when it was smothering hot. The Celeste Force has nice pineapple notes with a vein of minerality. There is a lilting twist of acidity.
The wine retails for about $21 and I was able to pick it up for $15. That’s a tasty deal. If you haven’t tried Chenin Blanc before, I suggest you give it a swirl. Force Celeste is a nice bottle to begin your exploration.