Yesterday a tasting of new release examples of Chenin Blanc hosted by the Chenin Blanc Association at Delaire in Stellenbosch. There were 29 wines on display, divided into three broad categories, namely “Fresh and Fruity”, “Rich and Ripe” and “Rich and Ripe Wooded”.
It has been pointed out often enough that the commercial success of the Chenin Blanc category is hampered by the stylistic diversity of the category. There can be vast differences in terms of aromatic and flavour profile, residual sugar and oaking from one Chenin to the next making it difficult for the consumer to make a purchasing decision with any confidence. Efforts to better communicate what’s on offer by the Chenin Blanc Association are therefore to be welcomed.
Some reflections based on yesterday’s tasting: with Sauvignon Blanc the most popular dry white of the moment, I did wonder if so-called “Fresh and Fruity” Chenin really does represent a viable alternative. The wines with the most interest tend to be riper and consequently sweeter which makes them just that little bit less easy to drink.
It’s the “Rich and Ripe Wooded” wines that show real distinction and it’s no coincidence that in the fifteen years that the WINE magazine Chenin Blanc Challenge has been running, an unwooded wine has been overall winner only twice (L’Avenir 1997 in 1998 and Mooiplaas Bush Vine in 2009).
I don’t want to be seen as endorsing oak for oak’s sake however and there were definitely some wines in yesterday’s line-up that I considered excessively rich and heavy. Two wines that stood out for me as showing deft use of oak were Tierhoek 2009 and the 2009 from Reyneke Wines under the “W” label from Woolworths.
Tierhoek winemaker Roger Burton says of the Tierhoek that one-third underwent maturation in old 300-litre barrels for six months, the rest being unwooded, while Rudiger Gretschel of Reyneke explains that two-thirds of his wine was matured in old oak barrels for 13 months, the rest of it vinified partly in concrete eggs and partly in tank.