Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Tasting club: Chenin Blanc

Myself and a few local friends have decided to start up a tasting club. What this means is we meet up regularly (we're aiming for every two weeks) and do a 'serious' tasting, based on some kind of theme. This seems like something I should have been doing a long time ago, but organized tastings are hard to organize - trying to get loads of people to commit to a time and date usually takes weeks. The ones we have done have been great fun, but usually descend into chaos - too many people, too much wine - it just becomes a party.

So, the idea here is to have a small number of people who are local, and we'll meet at my house, which is now of a suitable size to host events like this.

For our inaugural tasting, we chose Chenin Blanc as the theme. We chose this because most of us aren't overly familiar with the variety and it is a good opportunity for a learning experience. Chenin Blanc is popular in the Loire valley in France (i.e. Vouvray) and South Africa, but we wanted to see if it was done anywhere else.

Each wine was accompanied by a small snack appropriately matched (you hope).

Here's a summary of what we discovered:

Mlle Ladubay Brut Samur, Loire Valley, France. My contribution. Sparkling Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley. We thought this was quite nice. Dry with notes of honey and green apple (a recurring theme with this variety). I just assumed it was a non-vintage wine, but the Waitrose website says they are currently selling the 2007 vintage. I couldn't find a vintage on the label - maybe it was on the cork? Food match was smoked mackerel, which was a bit of a random choice, but it worked well. Currently £8.99 at Waitrose with 25% off.

Esk Valley Chenin Blanc 2008, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand. Deep yellow colour, dry, and again notes of honey and green apple. Good concentration and acidity. Something we noticed about dry Chenin Blanc is the acid and honey character is at the forefront, but there doesn't seem to be a lot of fruit. I thought this was quite nice - these types of wines are great with food. Tom reckons this was about a tenner from his local wine shop. Food match was prawns sauteed in butter with garlic.

Jean Daneel Initial White 2008, South Africa. This was actually a blend of Chenin Blanc, Columbar, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. It had a more complex nose than the other wines, but let us down on the palate - there was just not much going on. A bit of grassiness maybe from the Sauvignon Blanc, but not much else. Food match: comtĂ© cheese. Dave brought this, and said it was about £14 from his local shop.

Huet 'Le Mont' Vouvray Demi-Sec 2003, Loire Valley, France. This was by far the best. Concentrated honey, slightly sweet but good acid balance. To be honest I didn't think or analyze this too much - I already know I like demi-sec Vouvray, Huet is one of the Loire's best producers and I just wanted to enjoy it without being too critical. Jon brought this from the winery itself, having just returned from a holiday in France. Would probably go for somewhere between £15 and £20 in the UK. Food match: nothing because Jon didn't bring anything. Typical matches would be something like a soft cheese or an apple dessert (nothing too sweet though).

Lessons learned? I still haven't had a Chenin Blanc from South Africa that I've really liked that much. Where are they? Also, the variety doesn't seem to give away much on the nose (at least in the ones we tried), and it's main flavour signature is honey and green apple. It's high acidity makes it a good candidate for sparkling wines, and when sufficiently ripe it enables well-made wines to age for many years. The grape also is capable of producing a large variety of styles - everything from dry and sparkling to sweet and still. My favourite expression of Chenin Blanc is probably demi-sec Vouvray, but that's just personal preference. Either way, a really interesting grape that is probably underrated, which is fine because it'll keep the prices down!


  1. Hi Tim,
    Glad you enjoyed the Mlle Ladubay! You’re absolutely right - it’s a non-vintage - very sorry about confusion and I’ve now updated the website to reflect the correct information.
    Linda (Content Manager, Waitrose Wine Direct)

  2. Hi Linda,

    Thanks for clearing that up!