Step away from the Sauvignon Blanc

Feeling the need to step away from Sauvignon Blanc? Want something a bit different for the New Year? Why not give the chameleon Chenin Blanc a twirl!

Chenin Blanc is a white grape variety that comes ‘dressed’ in lots of guises; dry, off dry, medium sweet, sweet and sparkling! It doesn’t stop there. It gets produced as a varietal (single grape variety) or in a blend e.g. with Sauvignon Blanc, although it’s best appreciated standing on it’s own very capable two feet!

There are the ubiquitous ‘drink me quick’ versions, but don’t be fooled, there are lots of scrumptious and simply sublime forms too. Wines that are rich and complex and have the ability to age in bottle for decades becoming even richer, rounder and more honeyed.

botrytis grape
Grapes affected by botrytis cinerea

Chenin Blanc loves limestone soils, has very good natural acidity and when it’s grown in the right ‘neck of the woods’, it has the susceptibility to develop botrytis cinerea, a ‘healthy’ mould (a bit of a contradiction in terms as botrytised grapes look anything but healthy!). Like most grapes, harvest time for Chenin is very important. Decisions need to be made. Are you going to use the technique passerillage (see below), when is the optimum time to pick the grapes (that sounds easier than it is as Chenin can be a bit pesky, as grapes on the same bunch can ripen at different times) and so on. In the winery, are you keeping it fruit driven, or perhaps using barrel fermentation and/or maturation to increase the body and add lovely toasty oak flavours?   Decisions decisions!

So which areas around the world should you ideally be looking to buy your Chenin Blanc wines from?

  • The Loire Valley in France is pretty much it’s hinterland.
    • Touraine
      • Whilst Touraine AC produces Chenin Blanc itself, it is Vouvray AC in the Touraine region that produces some excellent Chenin Blanc. It comes in a wide variety of styles although the majority is medium sweet, medium bodied, high acidity and unoaked with citrus (lemon), green fruit (apple) and tropical fruit (pineapple) plus herbaceous (leaf).
    • Anjou-Saumur
      • Like Touraine, Anjou AC and Saumur AC produces a good deal of Chenin Blanc in a variety of styles with Saviennères AC contributing a more dry (sec) offering. The ‘jewel in the crown’ here is the Coteaux du Layon AC (a sweet AC) and it’s particularly important sites Quarts de Chaume AC & Bonnezeaux AC.     Here sheltered by valleys, botrytis develops adding lovely dried apricot, ryevread, sweet biscuits and orange marmalade flavours to these luscious full bodied wines.
    • Some Loire Valley suggestions: –
      chenin blanc 2
      Domain Richou Les 3 Demoiselles Coteaux de l’Aubance
      • Domain Richou 3 Demoiselles
      • Vouvray Les Coteaux Des Tuffiers Demi Sec
      • Domaine de Baumard Quarts de Chaume
      • Clos Naudin Vouvray (sparkling)
  • South Africa
    • Chenin Blanc (known locally as Steen), is pretty much South Africa’s ‘USP’ white grape (Pinotage being their red). This grape takes a large slice of the pie in terms of plantations e.g. around 1/5th. Typically in South Africa, their Chenin Blanc is New World stylistically, riper and dry or off dry, medium or high acidity and medium bodied with citrus and tropical fruit. Some Cape Chenin is oaked. The coastal region and particularly the old vines of the Swartland are producing some good Chenin.
    • Some South African suggestions: –
      chenin blanc 3
      RAATS Family Old vine Chenin Blanc
      • Stellenrust Barrel Fermented Chenin Blanc
      • Belingham The Bernard Series Old Vine Chenin Blanc
      • Rijk’s Private Cellar Chenin Blanc
      • RAATS Family Old Vine Chenin Blanc
      • Beaumont Hope Marguerite Chenin Blanc

So why not try out Chenin Blanc.  Just remember to check out the back label for clues to unlock the style you’re buying.

Happy tasting!

Passerillage: – Technique that concentrates the grapes sugars without botrytis/noble rot. Once the growing season ceases, the stems can no longer process water meaning the water in the pulp of the grape evaporates , drying out and raisining the grape concentrating the sugar and flavours.

French Labelling Terms: –

Dry = Sec

Demi Sec = medium dry

Moelleux = medium sweet

Doux = sweet

Vielles vignes = old vines

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