I’ve been tinkering with chenin blanc in the last few days. It just came over me; I thought I’d have a tinker and here we are.
I don’t mean I wanted to change the structure of its molecules, or mess with its DNA; but just, you know, tinker.
It’s another of those Old World grapes which has been adopted by the New World; in this case, South Africa excels. Wines can be still or sparkling; dry or sweet.
High acidity, lemon-laced, honeyed, leafy, stone fruits; it can appear in a range of styles, including sweet wines from chenin blanc grapes affected by noble rot.
This grape is definitely not a one-trick pony. In France its heartland is the Loire Valley, and it is here I began my tinkering.
Think of French sparklers and you probably think of Champagne. But cremant can be a delicious wine too, made using the same methods as Champagne.
As I’m a mug for a sparkler – I’ll pour sparkling wine into very large mugs indeed, if needs must – I tinkered first with Langlois Brut Crémant (£14, winetrust100.co.uk) which is a bend of 60% chenin blanc, 20% cabernet franc, 20% chardonnay.
Cabernet franc is a red grape; why in a white sparkling then? It plays the same part as the pinot noir grape in Champagne.
Yes a red grape is part of a Champagne blend; but without sitting in its skins to add colour, its juice is as clear as can be. Both play a part by adding weight and texture to the final blends. This crémant has fairy-dancing bubbles lifted up by apple aromas; the bubbles tickle in the mouth, as balanced apple and waxy lemon flavours please and tease.
Vouvray is an appellation in Touraine, at the heart of the Loire Valley; if anywhere is chenin blanc territory, this is it. Château Moncontour Vouvray Demi-Sec 2013, (M&S, £10) is a 100% chenin blanc delight. A squeezy rush of acidic lemon wrapped in apples and pears with a slice of not-too sweetness on the finish.
Also from M&S, and a New World take on chenin blanc with Ken Forrester Workhorse Chenin Blanc 2013, £8.50 (100% chenin blanc). Forrester is definitely a name to trust if you’re looking for a chenin blanc from South Africa.
Apples at the height of ripeness, soft pears and hints of apricot. A short aging in French oak has added a honeyed dimension to savour. Staying with Forrester, and Forrester Vineyards 2012 Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc (£11 also from winetrust100.co.uk)
A small number of grapes used in this wine have noble rot, which leaves more concentrated sugars and giving the wine a honeyed, creamy texture. It is also aged in French oak; and matured on the lees. Layers of complexity from the careful winemaking leads to an interesting nose of pears, honey and stone fruits, bursting in the mouth with apricots and honey.
Tussock Jumper Chenin Blanc (£30.57 for a case of three, exclusively at Amazon). The grapes are grown on vineyards exposed to fresh ocean breezes in the Western Cape. Tropical fruit excite on the nose then clean fresh lemon-cut pineapple-tinged flavours buzz through your mouth leaving a bright juicy aftertaste. Fun too, as the label depicts a rhinoceros wearing a red jumper (not a real rhino, I hasten to add).
Also in my glass … The cheerful and reliable Viña Sol 2013. This white is widely available (Sainsburys, Co-op, Asda, Tesco, Morrisons, Majestic, Waitrose and independents at about £7). A fresh white bite of green apples and citrus, Viña Sol is calming when you fancy a simple midweek white.
There’s a sister wine too from Torres, Viña Sol Rosé 2013 (Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Asda, Majestic, around £6.99 a bottle). A wine the colour of summer pink rose petals, with aroma clouds of both strawberry and raspberry. In this Indian summer, a late afternoon sunshine wine before the chill sets in.
This column first appeared in the saturday extra magazine September 13, 2014