Chenin Blanc sparkling wineAlways refreshing and hugely versatile, it’s surprising that Chenin Blanc wines with their aromas of apples and pears and honey are so under-appreciated. Apparently this variety used to be planted in many parts of the world. However it’s an obligingly easy-to-grow variety that, if left unchecked, produces masses of rather dilute grapes lacking in aromas and flavours. Many producers took advantage of this to make large amounts of wines that had nothing special apart from their fresh acidity. Unsurprisingly consumers found they preferred other varieties, like Sauvignon Blanc, and Chenin Blanc became unfashionable. Nowadays this variety has just two strongholds in the wine world – the Loire in France and South Africa.  In both countries, producers who want to make serious wines have learned to keep yields low in order to get the best from this wonderful variety.

Chenin Blanc wineIn the Loire, Chenin Blanc grapes are used to produce every style of white wine, from dry through to lusciously sweet, and both still and sparkling. Some of the sweet wines are so good, they can evolve in the bottle for decades. South Africa has recently carved a name for itself for some very quaffable fruit-driven styles, sometimes from old vines.  And the really great news is that Chenin Blanc wines are very affordable.

I’m sure you’ve already picked up on the telltale signs of an enthusiastic new convert: yes, I have most definitely fallen in love with this variety. For a refreshing aperitif or a food-friendly white, I might well ditch Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay in favour of this unfashionable variety and, if you want to taste a serious botyrtised sweet wine, a Bonnezeaux is definitely a great option (see this post for more details).

Here are my notes from a recent Chenin Blanc tasting, revealing just how versatile this variety is.

Wine 1: Laroche L’Horizon Chenin Blanc 2014, Western Cape, South Africa.  The only South African wine available in Chile – available at Mundo del Vino at around CLP10,000.

A pale, lemon-green coloured wine, this was a simple Chenin Blanc with fruity aromas of citrus fruit (lemon), stone fruit (greengage, peach) and green apples and pears. There was a touch of honey from the bottle-ageing.

This was a dry wine with high acidity and with medium levels of alcohol, body, flavour intensity and the finish was medium. A fruity mouth with citrus fruit, stone fruit and green apples and pears with a hint of honey.

This wine is a straightforward, generic Chenin Blanc from South Africa, suitable for drinking now and is predominantly enjoyable for its fruit-forward aromas and zesty acidity.

Chenin Blanc wine from South AfricaWine 2: Bellingham ‘The Bernard Series’ Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2015, Coastal Region, South Africa. 14% ABV. Available in the UK from Majestic Wine Warehouses at £13.50                ,

The grapes for this wine came from low-yielding, bush-trained vines with an average age of 45 years. The grapes were hand-harvested and pressed in whole bunches before single-lot fermentation. The wine was wood-matured for 12 months in 50% new French oak and 50% second fill barrels with extended lees contact and regular batonnage for richness and added depth and dimension.

This wine was pale lemon in colour. A medium nose with lots of fruity aromas of stone fruit (peaches, apricots, greengages), tropical fruit (pineapple, lychees) and green apple. There was a hint of butterscotch and some notes of honey from the ageing process.

This was a dry, medium-bodied wine with refreshing, high acidity, high alcohol and a fairly long finish. A fruit-filled mouth with notes of peaches, apricots, greengages, tropical fruit like pineapple and lychees and green apple. This wine is a nice example of South African Chenin Blanc and has more personality than the Laroche wine.

Chenin Blanc wine from the LoireWine 3: Paul Buisse La Grille Vouvray 2014, Vouvray, Loire, France. 12% ABV. Available in the UK from Majestic Wine Warehouses in the UK for £8.99

This pale lemon-coloured wine had a medium nose, with herbaceous notes of angelica and grass, a hint of blossom and some subtle citrus notes and green apple. This was an off-dry wine with high acidity, medium body, medium alcohol and a medium finish. The flavour intensity was medium, mainly fruity flavours of apples, pears, citrus and stone fruit. A refreshing wine which would pair well with a range of food.

Wine 4: François Chidaine Les Choisilles 2014, Montlouis-sur-Loire. 13% ABV. Available in Chile from Edwards Fine Wines for CLP22,200.

François Chidaine is a biodynamic producer with a range of small vineyards in the Loire. The grapes for this wine were grown in the small Montlouis-sur-Loire appellation. The must was fermented with native yeasts in 600-litre oak barrels, and the wine was aged on its lees in oak barrels. Many wines from Montlouis and neighbouring Vouvray can be off-dry or sweeter, so it’s wise to check the sweetness level before you buy. 

This wine was a richer colour than the previous examples, more pale gold than lemon. This is because of the time spent in oak, which results in some oxygen contact with the wine. The nose was medium (+) and very complex with primary notes of apple purée or apple pie and very ripe golden pears, as well as some tropical and stone fruit notes (pineapple, peaches, apricots). The lees ageing had lent it a slightly creamy, buttery note. There were also notes from the oxidative oak-ageing (cinnamon, sweet honey, syrup, brown sugar and some smoke). This wine was dry, with high acidity, full body, medium alcohol, a long finish and medium (+) flavour intensity with pleasant flavours of apples and pears, stone and tropical fruit. This wine was very good, with good complexity, concentration and typicity.

Sweet Chenin Blanc wine from the LoireWine 5: Mouline Touchais Coteaux du Layon 1996, a one-off bought from Averys in Bristol for £30.00.

This wine was medium gold in colour. The nose was pronounced with a whole pantry full of delicious aromas from the 21 years of ageing and some botrytis notes: honey, orange marmalade, orange blossom, spice, dried fruit like raisins, sultanas, prunes and dried apricots and golden syrup.

This was a sweet wine with high acidity, full body, medium alcohol and a long finish. The mouth was smooth and velvety in texture and packed with complex, concentrated notes of honey and caramel, dried fruit, orange blossom and orange marmalade. This wine was a really superb example of an aged late harvest Chenin Blanc with some botrytis. It had great balance, concentration and integration, though it lacked the depth of the fully botrytic Bonnezeaux I recently tried. This wine is ready for drinking now but could gain further in complexity over a few more years.

Wine 6: François Chidaine Méthode Traditionelle Brut NV, Montlouis-sur-Loire. 12% ABV. Available from Edwards Fine Wines for CLP$15,700

This is a sparkling wine from the same biodynamic producer as wine number 4. The base wine was made in the same way as Les Choisilles, with the must being fermented with its native yeasts in 600-litre oak barrels, hence the colour. The second fermentation took place in-bottle and the wine was kept over its lees for 12 months.

This wine was medium gold in colour. A fairly aromatic nose for a sparkling wine, featuring notes of cooked apples and pears, ripe quince and peaches, as well as secondary notes from the in-bottle fermentation (toast, brioche and yeast). There was also some honey from the bottle-ageing. This was a dry sparkling wine with high acidity, full body and a long finish. It had good balance and medium alcohol. Absolutely delicious and so much more interesting than the many very neutral styles of sparkling wine so in vogue. I would definitely pick this wine for a special celebration.

For details of other French wines, check out these posts:

Tasting French wine – Bordeaux and SW France

Tasting French wine – Loire Cabernet Franc

Tasting French wine – fruity white Alsace wines

I’d love to hear from you. Have you tried a Chenin Blanc you could recommend? Have you come across any great Chenin Blanc wines produced in Chile or anywhere else in the world?

It ranks 17th in the world in terms of number of hectares planted and yet it barely registers as an option when people are deciding what red wine to buy. Why is this? Perhaps it’s just less flashy than its flashier offspring, the deeper coloured Cabernet Sauvignon, and more structured than the soft, plummy Merlot, the two varieties with which it is most often combined to produce Bordeaux blends around the world. In fact, it is only in a few parts of the world where this aromatic, fruity wine shines as a variety in its own right. One such place is the Loire and recently I tried two Loire Cabernet Franc wines and compared them with a Chilean Cabernet Franc made in the Loire style.

Loire Cabernet FrancBernard Baudry Chinon Les Granges 2015, from the Chinon appellation in the Loire, 12% ABV. Available in Chile from Edwards Fine Wines for CLP$11,900

This wine was made with organic grapes in a fresh, fruity style with no oak and is designed for early drinking.

The three wines in this tasting were all a modest ruby colour, as you can see in the photo above.

This was a little slow to open, revealing gentle aromas of fresh red and black fruit (redcurrants, raspberries, cherries, blackcurrants, blackberries), a slight note of spice, like vanilla and some herbaceous notes, like celery. After some time, the wine became quite fragrant, almost floral (violets).

This wine was quite an easy-drinking, dry, fruity red wine with medium levels of acidity, medium, fine tannins and moderate alcohol and body. The mouth revealed that slight note of celery that was apparent on the nose, together with soft red and black fruit. The finish was medium.

Bernard Baudry Chinon Les Grézeaux 2012 from the Chinon appellation in the Loire. 12% ABV. Available in Chile from Edwards Fine Wines for CLP$14,400

This wine was made with organic grapes from an area of stony gravel over clay-silica subsoil, thought to provide a minerality to the wine. The vines are around 50 years old, so yields will be lower and the grapes express greater concentration and, as they are likely to have deep roots, they are likely to express the minerality of their terroir. The wine was aged for 12 months in used French oak barrels to soften the tannins and add body, without introducing new aromas and flavours. The wine was not filtered and is designed to be aged in bottle for 10 years or more.

As with the other Loire wine, this was a little shy to open and the first notes were with mineral aromas of clay and pencil shavings and subtle aromas of dried fruit (cranberries). However, as the wine evolved in the glass, notes of fresh black fruit (blueberries and blackcurrants) became apparent. There was a slight herbaceous note (grass?). The only secondary aroma was a subtle sweet spicy note, possibly from the oak-ageing and the first signs of the bottle-ageing were coming through, in the form of tobacco, leather and coffee.

This was similar to the other Loire wine in being a dry, medium style of wine with nothing too prominent (medium body, medium, fine tannins, medium alcohol and flavour intensity). The acidity was high, making the wine refreshing, without being intrusive. The palate was quite complex, showing minerality and dried fruit like dried cranberries, sour cherries, dried blueberries, probably due to the bottle-ageing. The tertiary notes of tobacco and coffee were also evident. The finish was long.  An enjoyable and fairly versatile wine which would be nice with a red meat or cheese-based meal.

Loma Larga Lomas del Valle Cabernet Franc 2014, Casablanca Valley, Chile. 14% ABV. Reference price in Chile CLP$10,900. 

Loma Larga in Chile’s Casablanca Valley specializes in cool climate reds and has deliberately aimed for a Loire style with this unoaked Cabernet Franc.  Hand-harvested and made in the Loire style. Cold 5-day maceration, then warmed to 18°C  and yeasts added. 3 daily pump-overs and 1 rack and return. 20% of grapes were vinified using carbonic maceration. 5-8 days post-fermentative maceration

The nose was rich in sweet, ripe black fruit (blueberries, blackcurrants) with some herbaceous notes (green pepper, green chilli pepper) and a spicy note like black pepper.

Like the two Loire Cabernet Franc wines, this was a restrained, easy-to-drink wine, dry with medium, fine, ripe tannins, medium body and high alcohol. The high acidity made the palate refreshing and the mouth revealed black fruit (blueberries, blackcurrants), herbaceous notes of green pepper and a cigarbox texture. Medium finish. This was a very enjoyable wine.

For information about other French wines, check out this post:

Tasting French wine – Bordeaux and SW France

Tasting French wine – Loire Chenin Blanc

Tasting French wine – fruity white Alsace wines

Have you tried a Cabernet Franc recently? What did you think?

Tasting French wine So what has the start of 2017 been like for you? For me it’s been pretty full-on, with round-the-clock translation projects, dog health crises and several intensive weeks studying French wine. All against a backdrop of anxiety about world events; we’re certainly living in interesting times. Well, whatever happens, it’s good to know we can always fall back on the simple pleasure of a delicious meal in good company accompanied by a great wine.

I’ve been tasting French wines these last few weeks and it’s been quite a revelation! Like many people I know, my palate has been honed on New World wines, which tend to be big and bright and display all their assets up front. Of course I know there are exceptions, but generally speaking you know exactly where you are with a Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon or Sauvignon Blanc wine, for instance, and can identify it by its aroma at 10 paces.

Well a lot of these French wines are far more subtle and it takes some adjustment to get used to them. Chic and mysterious, they start changing after you open the bottle and keep you guessing all the way to the last drop, kind of like the dance of the seven veils. They change while they’re in the bottle too, often getting better years or even decades after they were made.

So I’d like to share a few of my French wine discoveries with you over the next few posts, starting with three wines from Bordeaux and South West France.

Bottle of French wine from BordeauxThis first wine was from Bordeaux, from one of the satellite areas near Saint-Émilion, an area famous for red blends made from Merlot with Cabernet Franc or Cabernet Sauvignon.

Château Faizeau 2011 Sélection Vielles Vignes, Montagne-Saint-Émilion, Grand Vin de Bordeaux, 13% ABV. 94% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc. Available in Chile from Mundo del Vino.

This wine evolved substantially in the two hours between opening and finishing it. The most immediate sensation was of a very pleasant sweet bouquet of sweet spices (vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg) and sweet ripe fruit, like black cherries, plums, raspberries and cassis. As it opened, some subtle notes of tobacco and leather began to appear. By the end, the nose had become quite herbal and complex and much less sweet, with notes of liquorice, rosehip and prunes.

A dry, full-bodied, well-balanced wine with high levels of grippy tannins, high acidity and a long finish. Delicious in the mouth, with a cigarbox texture and lots of concentrated black and red fruit, like black cherries, black plums, raspberries, spices such as vanilla and that more austere herbal tone that was slow to emerge on the nose, reminiscent of liquorice and rosehips.

The second French wine was from Madiran, in South West France, one of the few places in the world other than Uruguay that are renowned for making wines with the tough, high-tannin Tannat grape.

Château d’Aydie – Odé d’Aydie Madiran 2013. 100% Tannat grapes. Bought in the UK from the Wine Society. 

Dark-coloured and intense nose with three layers of aromas: the first and most prominent were the herbal notes, like aniseed and liquorice, perhaps a hint of fennel, followed by ripe black fruit, especially blueberries and blackberries, with a hint of cranberries. Then finally there was just a subtle hint of vanilla from the oak-ageing, which became more apparent as the wine opened up.

This was a dry, medium-bodied wine with high levels of tooth-coating tannins, high, very fresh acidity, high alcohol and a long finish. In the mouth it had that cigarbox texture typical of wines with high levels of prominent tannins and concentrated herbal notes, like liquorice, fennel and aniseed, ripe black fruit flavours, such as blueberries and blackberries and that subtle hint of vanilla.

Bottle of Jurançon wineThe third French wine is also from South West France, from the region of Jurançon, which is known for its white wines, both sweet and dry, made mostly with the dark-coloured Gros Manseng and Petit Manseng grapes. This wine is so sweet because the grapes were left hanging on the vine until very late in the season, by which time they were shrivelled (raisined), a process which concentrates their flavours, sugars and acidity.

Les Amours de la Reine 2010 made by the cooperative Confrerie du Jurançon. 12% ABV. 60% Gros Manseng and 40% Petit Manseng. Kindly donated by Sophie Bedouin (thanks Sophie!).

This was a lovely sweet, golden-coloured wine. The nose was pronounced, complex and concentrated with a wide variety of different aromas, most particularly of exotic and tropical fruit, such as bananas, cherimoya, mango, passionfruit, pink grapefruit, together with dried apricots and apples, as well as some floral notes (orange blossom). There were also some honey aromas, with hints of marmalade and a touch of spice (ginger) from the bottle-ageing.

The sweetness of this full-bodied wine was beautifully offset by its high acidity, making it fresh and stopping it from being cloyingly sweet. In the mouth it showed a delicious range of exotic and tropical fruit, such as tinned pineapple, grapefruit, bananas, mango and passionfruit, as well as candied apricots and apples, a floral hint of orange blossom, some honeyed notes and a touch of ginger.

Click here to read more about sweet wines.

For information about other French wines, check out these posts:

Tasting French wine – Loire Cabernet Franc

Tasting French wine – Loire Chenin Blanc

Tasting French wine – fruity white Alsace wines

Have you tried a great wine lately? If so, I’d love to hear about it.