Few would deny that Chenin Blanc is one of the world’s greats when it comes to grape varieties, but most would recognise that it sits far behind the likes of Chardonnay and Sauvignon in terms of recognition. Chenin is, of course, the de facto flagship grape of South Africa, also playing a strong role in the Loire. Here, in appellations such as Vouvray, Saumur, Angou, Savennieres, and others besides, the best – as with their Cape cousins – are world class, capable of developing great complexity while ageing for a very long time.
Chenin Blanc from Stellenbosch, South Africa
The issue, though, is that Chenin – especially from the Loire – isn’t better known beyond France where, along with Gamay, it’s become a runaway success, not least in natural-leaning wine bars where younger wine drinkers gather. The challenge, then, for both the Loire and to a degree South Africa, is to spark similar interest in other markets for this fantastic and versatile variety.
South African producers have long been open to the idea of a joint Chenin roadshow and the potential interest this could spark, if only their more conservative French counterparts would agree to such a collaboration. Last week, Loire Valley Wines surprised (and delighted) many by taking the initiative, delivering a joint Loire-South Africa Chenin tasting at the hip Hackney seafood outpost that is The Sea, The Sea.
Fronted by UK wine pundits Chris Losh and Jamie Goode, this London event paired off wines from both countries, allowing attendees to explore this multi-faceted grape, before sampling with food. Expressions shown on the day ran the gamut from dry to sweet, still to sparkling, all with the typical acidity and texture and length to pair well with a host of the seafood dishes presented.
Of the variety’s almost chameleon-like capabilities, Losh said: “Chenin Blanc does pretty well what it feels like – it’s the Will Smith of grape varieties; it can sing, dance, act, punch people occasionally… be dry, sweet, fizzy, have oak, and is perhaps the most versatile grape going.
“It is also often very good value for money, and [has] a food-friendly element to it.”
General differences between the Loire and South African samples were also noted. This was highlighted by Goode’s point that many of the differing Chenin vines in South Africa “have, over hundreds of years, mutated, so [they] are slightly different” from the Loire forebears that were first brought to The Cape in 1652. Thus, of the 12 common clones in South Africa and 14 in the Loire, just four still resemble each other very closely, while others are now “quite different”.
A few stats were crunched too, revealing that the Loire is home to around 9,000ha of Chenin, and that records show the grape to have been there since at least 1500. Meanwhile, South Africa is home to double that vineyard area, accounting for 18,000ha of the global total of 35,000ha, making it the obvious choice – with its varietal labelling – to help boost the profile of the grape to an international audience.
Together, as this collaborative event hinted, by coupling Old World tradition with New World chutzpah, the idea is that Loire and Cape producers can create more of a stir, turning heads to a noble variety that unquestionably deserves its place at the top table. Certainly the tasters at The Sea, The Sea were left wanting more, with further collaborations now likely to come.
The wines shown
Vouvray Brut, Domaine Vigneau Chevreau
Saumur Blanc 2021, Château de Villeneuve
Swartland, Mullineux Kloof Old Vines 2021
Anjou Blanc, Ronceray 2020, Château de Plaisance
Savennieres, Les Vieux Clos 2019, Nicolas Joly
Stellenbosch, Ken Forrester, The FMC 2020
Coteaux du Layon 1er Cru Chaume, 2018, Domaine des Forge
Stellenbosch, Ken Forrester T Noble Late Harvest
Full article here: https://harpers.co.uk/news/fullstory.php/aid/30938/Losh_and_Goode_blend_Chenin_from_SA_and_Loire_.html