Back in the days when chenin blanc was known in this country primarily as a sickeningly sweet California jug wine, its reputation understandably diminished nearly to the point of vanishing. Now, South Africa seems determined to single-handedly restore its good name. Mulderbosch Vineyards, a premier wine estate not far from Cape Town, is among the leaders in this renaissance.
The winery's 2011 Chenin Blanc Steen Op Hout (about $13 at big-box stores), 20 percent of it aged five months in French oak, is a fine example of the new, cleaner style of this much-maligned white table wine. Ripe pear and pineapple grace the wine's nose, and those flavors burst on the palate together with refreshing herbal notes and a smidge of honeysuckle. This soft wine is off-dry and juicy but still drinks crisp and fresh. It finishes quickly and cleanly, spiked with the merest hint of black pepper at the finale.
It pairs nicely with spicy Thai dishes, broiled or grilled fish, shellfish or a winter greens salad with goat cheese.
Colette Bancroft is the Times' book editor, and John Bancroft is a freelance writer specializing in food, wine and travel.