Three Ultimate Chenin Blanc-and-Food Pairings

Wine Enthusiast turned to three South African Chenin Blanc producers for their tips on creating a perfect Chenin Blanc-and-food pairing for you to make at home.


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Chenin Blanc is a versatile grape, capable of producing a wide range of wines, from fresh and fruity to oaked and sweet, and even a blend or a sparkling wine. And with its variety of expressions, there are many pairing possibilities.

Fresh and fruity Chenin Blanc goes great with vegetable dishes or salads; oaked versions pair with rich fish or cream-based chicken entrées; and sweet Chenin Blanc naturally matches desserts or serves as a balancing counterpart to rich, pungent cheeses.

W.E. asked one winemaker and two winery restaurant chefs to tell us their ideal Chenin-and-food match, representing each of these three styles of the South African variety. Here are their suggestions, complete with recipes, perfect for recreating at home.

Chenin Blanc style: Fresh and Fruity

Wine: Spier 2011 Chenin Blanc (Stellenbosch); $10.
Pairs with: Lorianne’s Zucchini Soufflé with Baked Goat Cheese and Pancetta Cream
Why it works: “The crisp natural acidity in this wine cuts through the richness of the soufflé, and enhances the fresh herbaceous flavors in the dish,” says Lorianne Heyns, executive chef at Spier Wine Estate’s Eight restaurant in Stellenbosch, South Africa. “At the same time, the rich creaminess of the sauce complements the ripe tropical fruit flavors of the wine. The weights of the wine and the dish are also in harmony, and the flavors of both food and wine combine deliciously to linger on the palate.”

Lorianne’s Zucchini Soufflé with Baked Goat Cheese and Pancetta Cream

Recipe courtesy Lorianne Heyns, executive chef at Spier Wine Estate’s Eight restaurant, Stellenbosch, South Africa

For the Zucchini Soufflé:
7 tablespoons unsalted butter
6½ tablespoons all-purpose flour
1½ tablespoons corn flour
1 cup milk
4 cups zucchini, finely grated, plus 12 thick strips for garnish
3 free-range egg yolks
3½ ounces goat cheese, plus 6 ¼-inch thick rounds
5 free-range egg whites
1¾ ounces chives, snipped
1 teaspoon ground sea salt
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, for garnish
6 zucchini flowers, optional, for garnish

For the Pancetta Cream:
10 ounces pancetta lardons
1½ cups shallots, finely diced
1 red chili, finely diced
2½ teaspoons sugar
1½ teaspoons ground sea salt
2 teaspoons white pepper
3 cups plus 2¾ tablespoons heavy cream

Preheat an oven to 250°F. Cook the butter and flours together in a saucepan over medium heat to form a roux. Add the milk slowly while whisking continuously until the sauce thickens.

In a medium non-stick pan, cook the grated zucchini over medium-high heat until all the moisture has evaporated completely. Move the zucchini to a medium-size bowl, and mix with the egg yolks. Incorporate the zucchini mixture as well as the 3½ ounces of goat cheese into the white sauce, and allow to cool.

In a stand mixer or medium-size bowl, whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks and fold into the zucchini mixture very gently. Divide the mixture into 6 greased 3-inch- round ramekins. Bake until golden, about 1 hour.

While the soufflés are baking, make the pancetta cream sauce. Sauté the pancetta in a medium skillet until golden brown and crispy; remove and drain on a paper towel. In the same skillet, sauté the shallots and chili on low heat until soft and translucent. Add the sugar, salt, pepper and cream, and cook until reduced by half. Add the reserved pancetta, bring to a boil and cook for 2 minutes, then remove from heat.

Place a soufflé in an oven-proof bowl and top with a ladle of cream sauce and a round of goat cheese. Bake at 360°F until the cheese turns golden brown and the sauce is bubbling, about 10 minutes. Preheat a grill to high, and grill the zucchini strips to mark. Garnish each soufflé with 2 grilled zucchini strips, 3 sprigs of flat-leaf parsley and an optional zucchini flower, and serve immediately. Serves 6.

Chenin Blanc style: Oaked

Wine: Simonsig 2010 Avec Chêne Chenin Blanc (Stellenbosch); $35.
Pairs with: Foie Gras and Chicken Liver Parfait with Homemade Apple Chutney and Toasted Brioche.
Why it works: “The Chenin Avec Chêne is a full-bodied Chenin Blanc matured in French oak barrels for 11 months (30% new),” says Lucas Carstens, head chef at Simonsig Wine Estates’s Cuvée in Stellenbosch, South Africa. “The wine has a natural fruitiness, beautiful minerality and creamy butter undertone. I choose, as a starter, the Foie Gras Parfait with Homemade Apple Chutney and Toasted Brioche because of the richness of the foie gras; and the wooded Chenin Avec Chêne pairs beautifully, as the fruitiness complements the sweetness of the homemade chutney and the creamy butter undertone cuts smoothly through the richness and creaminess of the foie gras.”

Foie Gras and Chicken Liver Parfait with Homemade Apple Chutney and Toasted Brioche

Recipe courtesy Lucas Carstens, head chef at Simonsig Wine Estates’s Cuvée, Stellenbosch, South Africa

For the Apple Chutney:
4 cups Granny Smith apples, cored and chopped
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1¼ cup sultanas (golden raisins), packed
1 cup treacle sugar (can use light brown sugar if treacle sugar is unavailable), packed
¾ cup plus 1½ tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 piece ginger, ¾-inch long, peeled and finely diced

For the Parfait:
½ pound fresh chicken livers
Salt, to taste
½ pound fresh foie gras (A grade)
5 eggs
4 sticks plus 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup Ruby Port
½ cup Madeira
¼ cup brandy
1 cup diced onion
2 garlic cloves, finely diced
2 sprigs thyme
White pepper
Toasted brioche, to garnish

Prepare the apple chutney by combining all of the ingredients in a large, heavy saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, then simmer uncovered, stirring frequently, for 30–40 minutes or until thick and pulpy. Remove from the heat, leave to cool and transfer to sterilized, dry jars and seal.

To prepare the parfait, preheat an oven to 250°F. Season the chicken livers with salt, and then chop the livers and the foie gras into small pieces. Transfer the pieces to a large bowl and allow them to warm to room temperature. Crack the eggs into a small bowl and also allow them to warm to room temperature. Melt the butter in a small saucepan and keep warm.

In a large sauté pan, reduce the Port, Madeira and brandy with the onion, garlic, and thyme until almost all liquid is evaporated, then remove the thyme sprigs.

In a high-quality blender, liquidize the foie gras, chicken livers and eggs until smooth, then add the butter slowly but steadily and season with salt and pepper to taste. You might need to do this in batches; for a smoother parfait, leave the blender running for a few minutes. Pass the mixture through a fine chinoise or mesh strainer.

Line a terrine mold with plastic wrap. Pour the mixture into the terrine mold just below the lip and cover with foil. Place the terrine into a bain-marie with the water level equal to the fill of the mixture. Bake for 1½ hours, or until an instant-read thermometer reads 140°F–149°F when inserted into the terrine. Remove the terrine from the bain-marie, leave to cool to room temperature and then refrigerate for 24 hours.

Serve with homemade apple chutney and toasted brioche. If not serving promptly, cover the parfait with clarified butter; this will stop the parfait from oxidizing. Makes 1 terrine.

Chenin Blanc style: Sweet

Wine: Rudera 2008 Noble Late Harvest Chenin Blanc (Stellenbosch); $27/375 ml.
Pairs with: Arancini di Riso (Fried and Stuffed Rice Balls)
Why it works: “Bright, golden hues invite you to a nose of citrus honey, ripe guava, dried apricot and canned pineapple, delicately layered with a hint of orange blossom,” says Adele Swart, winemaker at Rudera. “The oily, creamy mouthfeel reflects ripe tropical-fruit and buttered-toast flavors, with a lovely balance between sweetness and crisp citrus acidity, following through to a rich, lingering finish. Try it with crushed ice, on a hot summers day (as a dessert on its own) or with gorgonzola-infused deep-fried risotto fritters, drizzled in fresh honey to complement the sweetness of the wine while allowing the acidity to cut through the creaminess of the cheese.”

Fried and Stuffed Rice Balls

Recipe courtesy Giada de Laurentiis, The Food Network

For the risotto:
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, divided
½ small onion, chopped
¾ cup Arborio rice
¼ cup dry white wine
¼ cup finely grated Parmesan
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For the arancini:
1½ cup Italian-style seasoned bread crumbs, divided
2 cups cooked and cooled risotto or short-grain rice (recipe above)
½ cup finely grated Parmesan
¼ cup finely chopped fresh basil leaves
2 eggs, at room temperature, beaten
4 ounces Gorgonzola, at room temperature, cut into 16 (½-inch) cubes
Vegetable oil, for frying

To prepare the risotto, bring the broth to a simmer over high heat in a medium saucepan. Reduce the heat to low and keep the broth hot.

In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently until tender, about 3 minutes. Add the rice and stir to coat with the butter. Add the wine and simmer until most of the liquid has evaporated, about 1 minute. Add ½ cup of the hot broth and stir until almost completely absorbed, about 2 minutes. Continue cooking the rice, adding the broth ½ cup at a time, stirring constantly and allowing each addition of broth to absorb before adding the next. Cook the rice until it’s tender but still firm to the bite and the mixture is creamy, about 20 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the remaining butter, Parmesan, salt and pepper.

To prepare the arancini, put 1 cup of the bread crumbs in a medium bowl and set aside. In another medium bowl, combine the risotto, remaining ½ cup of bread crumbs, Parmesan, basil and eggs. Using damp hands, form the mixture into 1¾-inch diameter balls, using about 2 tablespoons of the risotto mixture per ball. Make a hole in the center of each ball and insert a cube of Gorgonzola. Cover up the hole to completely enclose the cheese. Roll the balls in the reserved bread crumbs to coat.

In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, pour in enough oil to fill the pan about 1/3 of the way. Heat over medium heat until a deep-frying thermometer inserted in the oil reaches 350°F. (If you don’t have a thermometer, a cube of bread will brown in about 2 minutes.) In small batches, fry the rice balls, turning occasionally, until golden, about 4–5 minutes. Drain on paper towels and serve. Serves 4.

To read more about how South Africa's iconic white wine has evolved, click here.

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