Taking a stroll through the majestic wine cellars at Ashford Castle, a plethora of new and old, diverse and iconic wines surround me. Chardonnay and Cabernet, Merlot and Sauvignon all take center stage in the theatre of wine dreams that lie beneath in our former coal tunnels from the 18th century. Chenin Blanc, the once forgotten white wine grape of the 21st century, has risen from the depths to become a star of the show today, exhibiting class, consistency, and complexity.
With its home in central-north France, notably in the Loire Valley region, some of the best French Chenin Blancs come from the towns of Vouvray, Savennieres, and Quarts de Chaumen.
This wine is never boring. It comes in a variety of styles, ranging from dry to sweet, still and sparkling. Known for its high acidity, honey and fruit profile, and its ability to age in the bottle for a considerable time, Chenin can surprise and impress the most discerning connoisseurs. Crémant de Loire, a sparkling wine alternative to our beloved Champagne and Prosecco, is made with the Chenin grape. It can offer incredible value and serious quality as the bubbly of choice for any fiesta.
Outside of France, Chenin’s more recently adopted home is South Africa. Chenin Blanc, also known as ‘Steen’, accounts today for almost 20 percent of the total wines produced in the country. It first rose to prominence in South Africa in the 1960s, where it began as a blending grape to lend high natural acidity to wines.
Chenin Blanc is also the perfect food-pairing white wine. Asian dishes with a sweet and sour accompaniment will be the perfect match thanks to Chenin’s sweet notes and high acidity. One of my favourite food-and-wine fusions is Chenin Blanc with a chicken and ginger dish. Delicious.
While Chenin offers so much, it doesn’t ask for much in return. There’s exceptional value to be found in supermarkets, fine wine shops and wine lists around Ireland. From Vouvray in the Loire, the Chenin Blanc made by famed producer Jacky Blot is a winner, priced at a generous €27. One of my white wines of the year.
Another diamond – Delheim Wild Ferment Chenin Blanc – is found in Stellenbosch, the main wine region of South Africa. It’s an adventure for the palate available for just €18.95 from O’Brien’s stores nationwide.
> philip dunne is Head Sommelier at Ashford Castle, Cong. Trained by the Court of Master Sommeliers, he is part of the team voted the Best Wine Experience in Ireland 2016 at the Restaurant Association Awards in Ireland.