Sometimes you hear wine pairing advice from “experts,” and you try to follow it. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t as is the case with this South African Chenin Blanc.
If you have a bottle of South African Chenin Blanc in hand, the natural question for a foodie is what do you eat with it?
Wine pairing advice lacks specificity
When it comes to describing the aroma and flavor of a wine, the industry can notate a wine down to specific subspecies of flora and fauna or exact baking spice.
When it comes to recommending wine with food, however, the consumer is given categories of food such as meat or fish and seemingly the most general advice possible.
This contrast is most often found on the wine label on the back of the many bottles and similarly with advice from wine experts.
Pair Chenin Blanc with Southeast Asian food?
I had read from a one of these wine experts that South African Chenin Blanc pairs well with southeast Asian food.
It’s a helpful starting point, for sure, but there are so many countries in Southeast Asia with wide ranging flavor profiles, not to mention overarching types of food from hot to cold, fish to meat, and sour to spicy, etc.
Southeast Asia is a vast region
According to the Encyclopedia Brittanica, Southeast Asia is a “vast region of Asia situated east of the Indian subcontinent and south of China”.
It includes but is not limited to the countries of Cambodia, Laos, Mayanmar (Burma), Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Singapore. Maritime Southeast Asia includes Indonesia, Brunei
With such a wide selection of cuisines to choose from, I decided to throw a dart to try pairing a South African Chenin Blanc with Vietnamese food, since I don’t often see that offered as a food pairing suggestion with wine.
What is Chenin Blanc?
Chenin Blanc is a grape varietal that classically hails from the Loire Valley in France where you might see it on bottles labeled by their subregion of Samur, Savennieres, and Vouvray.
It is a versatile grape that can be made into dry, sparkling, and sweet styles.
Classic characteristics of a Chenin Blanc:
- crisp and clean
- young versions have flavors of apple and lemon
- less aroma than a Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc
- can have a vegetal, floral, honeysuckle, and mineral notes
- Aged versions taste of pineapple and tropical fruit
Characteristics of South African Chenin Blanc
- made in a less acidic style than their French counterparts
- Fermentation is a lower temperatures that result in more tropical fruit flavors vs. French wines that are fermented at higher temperatures for a honey finish
Characteristics of Vietnamese Food
Vietnamese food is commonly accented with fresh herbs, mint, cilantro, rau rum, and fish-palm sugar-lime juice dressings. Preparation of food is lightly flavored with nothing too overly heavy, spicy, or rich.
French influence from French occupation is found in their light crusty baguettes used to make banh mi sandwiches, pates, and turmeric laden stuffed crepes (banh xeo).
Vietnam is probably most famous for their beef noodle soup, pho, of which many shops can be found in the America.
Pairing a Young South African Chenin Blanc
I chose three foods from a local Vietnamese restaurant and tried them with a zippy, young 2018 Radley & Finch Chenin Blanc from South Africa.
- Vegetarian fried egg rolls stuffed with tofu and mushrooms dipped in a light fish sauce dressing
- Fresh spring rolls with shrimp and peanut sauce
- Rice noodle salad with 5 spice chicken, pickled carrots, herbs and garden lettuces
Long story short, I didn’t care for the chenin blanc with any of the above. All the fresh herbs of cilantro and mint made the wine taste more grassy and herby.
The peanut sauce was definitely overpowering, too thick and pungent for even a young Chenin Blanc.
Overall, it wasn’t terribly bad but not terribly great either.
I went back to the store to try a different wine and food pairing.
Pairing a Stellenbosch Chenin Blanc
This time I chose a still 2017 deMorgenzon Chenin Blanc Reserve from the Stellenbosch region that is known to make some of the best wines in South Africa.
The difference in price and taste of this Chenin Blanc could definitely be noticed. It was smooth, slightly creamy with delicate acidity and notes of soft lemon curd.
I thought it might pair with something equally expensive and creamy with a touch of minerality, such as diver scallops and freshly shelled spring beans with mint and butter.
However, I wasn’t too keen on this pairing either. The wine went from coy and sophisticated to racy and screaming for attention (Hollywood!).
Not every wine needs food, or you can love a wine just by itself and maybe the company you keep.
- Chenin Blanc accentuates the herbs in Vietnamese food.
- Maybe Chenin Blanc goes with more acidic Thai food such as pineapple fried rice or pad thai.
- Will try pairing Vietnamese food with Gruner Velitner for its green, herbaceous flavors.
- An oaked Stellenbosch Chenin Blanc could be paired with food or just enjoyed on its own.
For more musings on pairing food with wines from South Africa, check out these posts from the #winePW crew:
- Camilla from the Culinary Adventures of Camilla will be sharing “A South African Braai (Rhymes with ‘Fry’) + A Trio of Chenin Blancs”
- Wendy of A Day in the Life on the Farm will feature Grilled Chicken Caesar paired with a South African Chenin Blanc
- Lori of Dracaena Wines will highlight “Unlocking the Marvels of Nature Through Wine”
- David of Cooking Chat shares “South African Chicken with Chakalaka and Chenin Blanc”
- Deanna of Asian Test Kitchen features “South African Chenin Blanc Paired with Vietnamese Food”
- Gwen of Wine Predator writes “3 Summer Wines from South Africa Shine for #CheninBlancDay #RoseDay #WinePW”
- Nicole of Somm’s Table will share “A South African Pinot Feast Hamilton Russell, Tesselaarsdal, and a Glazed Pork”
- Sarah of Curious Cuisinere features “South African Chutney Chicken and Chenin Blanc Pairing”
- Cynthia and Pierre of Traveling Wine Profs writes “A Celebration of Wine Industry Upgrading Paired with South African Food Truck Takeout”
- Pinny of Chinese Food and Wine Pairings is sharing “Spier Pinotage/Shiraz from South African Plus Sliced Lamb as Wrappers”
- Jeff of Food Wine Click features “Gemaak en Gebottle Oorsprong: We’re Not in Kansas Anymore”
- Linda of My Full Wine Glass highlights “Golden Wine from a Golden Land – South Africa”
- Jill of L’Occasion writes “Making a Meal with Wine from South Africa”
- Cindy of Grape Experiences features ” A Family Affair: South African Chenin Blanc with Scallops, Tomatoes and Pesto”
- Jane of Always Ravenous writes “South African Chenin Blanc Paired with Shrimp, Scallops, and Mango Salsa”
- Michelle of Rockin Red Blog is sharing “Wandering into June with Lubanzi Wine and #WinePW”
- Jen from Vino Travels will be hosting featuring Zucchini Quiche with Raats Chenin Blanc from South Africa
Do you love chenin blanc? Spread the ♥ , and please share!