Chenin Blanc – versatile & wonderful (9 wine tasting)
I’ve been to some first class tastings recently featuring magnificent wines from Burgundy and Bordeaux in particular. This latest one was a little bit different – not about famous names with ridiculous price tags! Chenin Blanc is a magnificent grape, capable of producing a wide array of wine styles and we tasted wines from the grape’s two heartlands. In the red corner we had the New World contender of South Africa, in the blue corner, representing the Old World, The Loire Valley.
Jimmy Smith, Managing Director & Head Tutor of the West London Wine School loves Chenin. Earlier this year he and Matt Wickstead (who runs “The Cellars” wine storage facility where these tastings are held) went on a tour of the Loire and came back as excited as school kids with tales of magnificence. Jimmy is very keen to tell the world about Chenin and this was the first in a series of events in which they will do just that.
In the blog and the newsletter I often recommend Chenin Blanc as a (superior?) alternative to Sauvignon Blanc. It’s no surprise that they come from the same grape “family”, both being siblings of Savignin. Chenin has huge amounts if acidity but is balanced with delightful tropical fruit, citrus and honey. This tasting cemented my view that if I had £10 to spend on a bottle I know I’ll get far more enjoyment and interest from a Chenin.
All in all we tasted 9 wines, 5 from France and 4 from South Africa but I have written my notes in 3 sections. It starts with four wines of SA followed by the first three Loire wines, all from the Vouvray region. Then there’s the two wines from Savinieres… I’ll get to them later. My preference over the course of the evening was for the wines of Vouvray, which is handy as we’re heading out there in the summer! What you will see throughout the notes is the fantastic value for money that Chenin can offer – you can get one heck of a wine for around £15.
Chenin is the most grown grape variety in a South Africa (@19,000 hectares), with most of it turned into a dry style of wine. What was very apparent in this tasting though is the variety of different styles being produced, from very simple, easy drinking to big, bold and complex. One of my favourite wines of 2012 was the DeMorgenzon Reserve Chenin and I’ll be searching out a few more over the next months. I just think its a real shame that so many South African winemakers are turning to fashionable Rhone varieties when Chenin has so much to offer.
Kleine Zalze Old Bush Vine Chenin Blanc, Western Cape 2012 (Waitrose £7.99)
Melon and a touch of green apple on the nose – after a bit of time it opened up to reveal some citrus notes also. Honeydew melon and limes on the palate with a touch of honey. Light bodied and very easy drinking – almost like a NZ Sauvignon without the cat pee! Was voted best value wine if the night (not mine!). 87 points
Botanica Chenin Blanc, Citrusdal 2010 (The Wine Society £14.95)
Very honeyed nose, combined with tropical fruit – I’m expecting a bit of sweetness on the palate… But it’s bone dry. Very fresh, searing acid and lots of mango and guava fruit with a charming herbaceous edge. There’s a nice balance of fruit and acidity, but maybe a bit shy on the finish. 88 points
Beaumont Hope Marguerite Chenin Blanc, Bot River (The Wine Society £16.00)
This has delightful aromas of baked apples and flakey, sweet pastry, with lovely tropical fruit too. Lovely texture that coats your mouth and a delicious balance of mango, passion fruit and lime. A very nice wine with good concentration and nice level of complexity. 91 points
The Winery Radford Dale Renaissance Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch 2010 (The Wine Society £16.00)
This has huge aromas jumping out of the glass – toasty, with overripe melon and even some caramel. Big concentration and complexity and massive body and texture. Creamy and appley, less acidity than the preceding wines but very good indeed. So different to the Beaumont, yet just as enjoyable. 91 points
Loire Valley – Vouvray
The Loire in North West France is the heart of Chenin Blanc, and the village of Vouvray is perhaps the most famous of all. In this area you will find sec (dry), Demi-sec (off-dry/medium), Moelleaux (sweet), and some very easy drinking sparklers too. There is only half the vineyard area of South Africa (9,800 hectares) but the quality is very high. It’s fair to say that you do get what you pay for… But expect the complexity and concentration in a £20 wine that you would expect to pay double for from Burgundy or Bordeaux. Note all if theLoire wines are from biodynamic vineyards.
Domaine Vincent Careme Spring Sec, Vouvray 2010 (The Wine Society £9.95)
Honeyed nose with baked, even dried fruit. Some fig, spice and just a hint if oxidisation. Stewed apples on the palate, almost savoury note. It reminds me a bit if scrumpy cider with a sprightly acidity… I like it. The almost over developed nose might put a few off but for under £10 the complexity is quite amazing. 90 points
Domaine Huet Haut Lieu Sec Vouvray 2005 (The Wine Society £14.95)
Gorgeous nose of honey, nuts and baked apples, then comes the citrus burst and our first hint of minerality. Nit a big bodied wine, almost glacial in texture and massive acidity with apple skins and lime citrus. So pure and elegant but beautifully balanced and super length. My best value wine of the night. 92 points
Domaine Vincent Careme Le Peu Morier Demi-Sec Vouvray (The Wine Society £18.00)
Our first real sweetness of the night. Oh there’s so much fruit character on the nose – mango, orange, almost marmalade. Beautiful balance of sweetness and acidity – it reminds me of a tin of pineapple chunks. I love this style if wine and I especially love the balance and complexity of this one. Pure summer in a glass. My and the overall best wine if the night. 93 points
Loire – Savennieres
It’s times like this where I realise how much I have to learn! The wines are mostly dry, often produced in a powerful style. These wines are made to age and are very difficult to approach in their youth…. As I found out. There was an oxidised element to the wines, which is to be expected of the region and the alcohol is big. Both of the wines were decanted over 24 hours earlier to give the wines a chance to open up – at tastings in the Loire they put the date when the wines were opened, often weeks in advance! Because this is a totally new style to me, which I found difficult to get my head around, I have not scored these wines but given you the view of more seasoned observers.
Domaine du Closel Clos du Papillon Savennieres 2007 (Fine & Rare £25.70)
Nutty, figgy, oxidised nose. Lots of spice, plenty of ginger and Xmas aromas. Dry and hot on the palate with lots of concentration – I’m struggling to find the fruit. Jancis gives it 17.5/20
Nicolas Joly Coulee de Serrant Savennieres 2005 (Fine & Rare £65.00)
Nutty, spicy almost sherry-like aromas with a touch of petrol and maybe some quince jelly. Big and huge alcohol in the mouth and very toasty. Again I’m struggling to find the fruit – provably 10 years too early! 91.5 point average on Cellartracker