Wine Press: Chenin blanc, a grape with its heart in the Old World

Langlois Brut Crémant

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, which is a bend of  60% chenin blanc, 20% cabernet franc, 20% chardonnay.

Langlois Brut Cremant
Langlois Brut Cremant

Cabernet franc is a red grape; why in a white sparkling then? It plays the same part as the pinot noir grape in Champagne.

Langlois Brut Crémant
Langlois Brut Crémant

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.

Ken Forrester Workhorse Chenin Blanc 2013,
Ken Forrester Workhorse Chenin Blanc 2013,

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.

Forrester Vineyards 2012 Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc
Forrester Vineyards 2012 Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc

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

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
Tussock Jumper Chenin Blanc

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.

Viña Sol 2013
Viña Sol 2013

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 

Liverpool Echo – South Wales Echo – Daily Post Wales – Huddersfield Examiner – The Chronicle, Newcastle – Teesside Evening Gazette – Birmingham  Mail – Coventry Telegraph – Paisley Daily Express

Perk up your Christmas leftovers with a drop of wine

Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Touraine Sauvignon Blanc

PHEW. That’s that for another year . . . now, what to do with the Christmas leftovers in the fridge.

If you don’t have some turkey or sad sprouts staring at you when you reach for the milk, I’ll eat my hat – if I wasn’t too busy eating what’s left of my Christmas ham.

I’ve bought some pomegranate seeds to perk up my turkey in a pilaff – with cook book guidance from Nigella – and I’ll be sipping a crisp sauvignon blanc.

Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Touraine Sauvignon Blanc (£8.49) is from Touraine, in the Loire Valley – more commonly known for SB from the appellations sancerre and pouilly-fumé. The grapes are grown on clay and chalky soils which bring a flint- sharp edge to the classic flavours of gooseberry, apple and citrus zests. Refreshing, dry and pale straw, it has a restrained nod of fruit to brighten up your turkey.

The Co-op also has a Loire SB worth seeking out, Sancerre Domaine Raimbault 2011 is reduced by £3 to £9.99 until January 1. It is made to the north of Sancerre and has a well-defined, but subtle sauvignon fruit character and a refined mineral edge. Try a sauvignon blanc with those sad fridge- imprisoned sprouts, but not before you perk them up with a buttery, black- peppered flash in a frying pan – with a squeeze of lemon.

Muscadet Sèvre-et- Maine sur Lie, Domaine des Ratelles, 2011 (£6.50, is another Loire white, light-bodied with a gentle citrus and green apple background. As it has been on the lees, it brings a hint of creaminess. Pour a glass, then make linguine pasta with ribbons of smoked salmon tickled with dill and a whizz of lemon and creme fraiche – or any light-ish cream Auntie Bessie didn’t devour.

I’m eyeing up a viognier to drink with the leftovers of my ginger- beer soaked, apricot-jam baked ham.

F Stephen Millier Angels Reserve Viognier 2011 (from £6.99, is a delicious, full-on Californian glug of peaches and cream in a glass. Or try Zilzie Viognier which is on offer at Asda for £5.48 until January 3.

If your ham simply needs cheese and bread to satisfy, then seek out a Bordeaux blend.

South Africa’s Vergelegen Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot / Cabernet Franc 2009 (RRP £10.99 Majestic) is medium-bodied with a smooth and spicy mix of berries on the nose and the palate.

Now we’ve emptied the fridge, let’s think of 2013.

For party-time bubbles, Morrisons Cava Rosado, from north-eastern Spain, is on offer for £4.99 from £7.49. It’s a pink to drink with pals, with strawberries fizzily flirting in your mouth – it has won a bronze Decanter award, too.

Stay in Morrisons for Decanter silver award winner Pongracz Brut (£13.99) a stylish South African chardonnay and pinot noir sparkler. It’s a delicious mix of apple and buttery pastry, like an apple choux bun of moreishness to sip and sip some more.

Finally, once Big Ben has sounded, raise a glass of Taittinger Brut Réserve NV (RRP £37.99 Tesco, Majestic, Sainsburys and Waitrose).

This is the signature cuvée of Champagne Taittinger and is made with 40% chardonnay with the grapes coming from prime vineyards. It has a fresh nose with typical hints of biscuit and brioche, but it has lingering levels of vanilla and stone fruit, too.

All the best for 2013 from me and mine to you and yours – chink chink.

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