Wet wool, green apples, barley sugar, honeysuckle and honey
Who’d have thought that these adjectives would be used to describe the same grape variety: Chenin Blanc? At worst wet wool is being kind, at its best green apples and honey describe a sublime taste experience. The home of Chenin Blanc in the northern hemisphere is the Loire Valley in France and it is also widely planted in South Africa, New Zealand and Australia further south.
This grape variety is chameleon-like in the sense that it can produce wines that are bone dry and minerally though all grades of sweetness in luscious dessert wines and is also a good base wine for sparkling wines.
France is the viticultural home of Chenin Blanc where it is widely grown in the Loire Valley making wines with well-known names such as Vouvray, Saumur, Jasnieres, Savennieres and Bonnezeaux amongst others. In regions such as Vouvray there are some delicious Chenin Blanc based wines that can vary from dry to medium dry such as the Sauvion Vouvray les Bosquets with a lightly honeyed finish to the rich dessert wines such as Clos de Nouys so it pays to carefully read the label. The dry wines are refreshingly appley with some greengage and quince notes and an obvious thread of acidity running through them. The moelleux or medium dry wines have much character and a hint of ripe honeyed fruit. A good example is the Coteaux du Tufiers Moelleux / Demi-sec.
At the dessert wine end of the spectrum there are many delicious wines from Loir Valley regions including Bonnezeaux, Quarts de Chaume, Coteaux du Layon and Vouvray appellations. Here the wines have the characteristic ‘wet wool’ Chenin aroma with its underlying thread of acidity but an amazing complex rich lusciousness. If the wines are made from grapes affected by botrytis or noble rot then it will also have a lovely slightly nutty aroma.
There are also stylish cremant and sparkling wines made from the Chenin Blanc grape in the Loire Valley especially from Saumur that are dry and refreshingly crisp – worth looking out for as an alternative to Champagne as many of the best are made by the methode traditionelle.
Looking at Chenin Blanc wines made elsewhere in the world the wines of Jeremy Borg in South Africa come to mind as tasty examples of wines from this grape. He makes a wine from 100% Chenin Blanc grapes under the Den label – this wine is vibrant and zesty and full bodied with beautifully elegant citrus
Character. Other producers of Chenin Blanc such as those from Kleine Zalze in Stellenbosch make soft richer styles with a peachy tropical fruit taste. Bruwer Raats, also from South Africa, has shown with his Chenin Blanc that with careful handling the wine is enhanced by aging in oak and will develop in bottle over many years.
Gordon Russell from Esk Valley in Hawkes Bay, North Island New Zealand shows that this grape variety produces some lovely characterful wines with an appley nose and palate overlaid with some pears and tropical fruit notes.
Try them for yourself and enjoy the versatility of this grape varieties as shown in the diverse styles of wine that can be made from it.