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.