Cathy van Zyl MW on Chenin Blanc

February 20, 2011
by Christian
in Opinion & Analysis
with 2 Comments
Cathy van Zyl MW

Cathy van Zyl MW

Some thoughts on the Chenin Blanc category from Cathy van Zyl MW and panel member at  this year’s Wine magazine Chenin Blanc Challenge:

Interesting but challenging class to judge because of the diversity of styles from the fresh fruit/acid attack versions to the rich, botrytised and oaked creations. There also seemed to be a fair number of wanna-be sauvignons which were very primary, sweaty and cassis; and this is a style that I personally do not believe worth pursuing if you are intent on making a benchmark/serious chenin.

The wooded examples did appear to be better handled than – say – five years ago with many showing a far more empathetic use of oak. Also, the sweetness we have become used to associating with those styles was not as evident as in previous years.

Given so many styles, what does one look for in a chenin? Fruit purity (whether it is the hero of the wine or simply a supporting cast member to other winemaking effects such as oak, battonage, oxidation etc); that defining chenin acidity; a savoury character or impression, and balance.

In a handful of wines (even at the top end), terroir seemed to be playing second fiddle to the style. This is a pity given the old vine theory that many are expounding.  Even given this lack of a sense of place in some wines, I find the chenin very exciting, and believe that consumers should find it an appealing category to delve into, given the diversity of styles. They could, if they wanted, enjoy chenin every day of the week and yet still drink 7 completely different wines. Choice, especially at the quality levels we saw in this competition, should never be sneezed at.

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  1. UdoFebruary 20, 2011 at 1:05 pmReply

    The diversity of chenin is it’s main advantage but also it’s main disadvantage. Customers might be confused. What puzzles me the most is why cheap chenin blanc is cheaper then sauvignon blanc. The last is boring and was (?) just a fashion while chenin is the way forward for the long term. Prices on the low end should go up rapidly to make sure that it’s economicly viable to plant new vines.

  2. Sarah AhmedFebruary 20, 2011 at 12:29 pmReply

    Agree with you Chenin doesn’t need to be a Sauvignon-look/smell-alike – not the way to go. It has lots of bang for buck in its own right and consumers enjoy its combo of honeyed fruit and freshness. For oaked wines be good to see the evolution keeping up with S African Chardonnay where use of wood has become so much more subtle – I don’t think ripe Chenin needs the sweetness factor ratcheting up. I’m a big fan of Cederberg Chenin and be interesting to see more cool climate expressions of the variety.

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