- 2017 Mbali Chenin Blanc/Viognier (South Africa) $4.99 (@Trader Joe’s; California)
- 2016 Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc + Viognier (California) $10.99 (@Trader Joe’s; California)
Rodney Dangerfield made a career out of the line “I don’t get no respect.”
The double negative notwithstanding, he could have been talking about the white grape Chenin Blanc. In her encyclopedic The Oxford Companion to Wine the esteemed author Jancis Robinson had this “praise” to offer:
“Chenin is widely planted throughout the Americas for no perceptible reason other than it will obligingly produce a decent yield of relatively crisp wine.” (She does “throw the grape a bone” by pointing out that in the Loire Valley of France, the grape produces very fine wines, including those from Vouvray.)
It’s certainly true in the U.S. where those of us in the wine trade dismiss Chenin Blanc as a “blender.” And that is exactly what these two wineries did here, they blended the Chenin with Viognier (vee-on-yae) and the result is something wonderful. The addition of 20% (21% for the Mbali, to be precise) of highly aromatic Viognier to the blend transforms the workhorse Chenin into something worth seeking out.
This is especially true of the rendition from Pine Ridge. It has a pale yellow color in the glass and come hither aromas of jasmine and ripe pears. A sip reveals flavors of honey, pineapple and white peach. The oak is subdued and there is a nice balance of fruit and acidity.
The Mbali version is starkly different. It too has a pale straw color and the nose features aromas of passion fruit, citrus, wet stone and honey. Honey flavors are common with Chenin Blanc and this wine has plenty, too much in my opinion, but that’s just be me. It also has flavors of melon, tangerine and on the finish, floral notes, which is apropos given that Mbali is the Zulu word for flower. It has fresh, light acidity which gives it a vaguely effervescent quality.
Both wines are pleasant, and good value for the money. As I implied earlier, the Pine Ridge is clearly the better of the two, but it is also twice the price. They both would pair well with spicy cuisine, seafood and Chinese dumplings.
I would be remiss to not “point” out that these wines were brought to my attention by two of my wife’s friends while enjoying the aforementioned dumplings in our neighborhood. Thank you Lori and Maryanne for being Vinopointer “Sniffers” and turning us on to a pair of really nice wine finds from Trader Joe’s.
Anyone can be a Sniffer. Have you found something special at your local Trader Joe’s, Costco or Whole Foods that we should know about? Let us know and we’ll seek it out!